Chapter 1: One
~Inverness: February 1968~
“Take me with you,” I begged.
“And where is it ye think I’m going, lass?” Gillian laughed condescendingly.
“Through the stones. I need to go back in time.”
“Ye sound stoned. Ye been smokin’ the reefer a wee bit before ye arrived?”
We were sitting in her living room, nursing a dram, and my patience was wearing thin. I came to meet Gillian Edgars for a purpose, and time was running out. Imbolc was only twelve hours away.
“I went to the Institute for the Study of Highland Folklore and Antiquities, Gillian. Your name is on every library book card that has anything to do with the stones.”
“My name is on every book card that the Institute has in its library. I enjoy studying all of Scottish culture.”
“You have a reputation. Everyone I’ve talked to at the Institute referred me to you.”
“It doesna mean I believe I can travel through a stone circle.”
I looked around her house and found evidence of Scottish Nationalism all over the place, reinforcing the stories I’d already heard: flags, pamphlets, books, and artwork. “You want to change history, don’t you? You want to fix the outcome of the Jacobite Rebellion from within the Rebellion itself.”
She narrowed her eyes and smirked at me. “Fix? No’ many sassenachs would use the word 'fix’ to describe changing the outcome of the Rebellion. D’ye have sympathies for my people?”
“More than you know.”
A wicked smile spread across Gillian’s face as she reassessed me. “The gold in yer eyes is glowing with passion. Is that why ye want to go through the stones? Ye want to help the Bonnie Prince take the throne for his father?”
“If I’m being honest, I have no interest in politics. My motivations are far more...personal.”
“Personal?” Her smile melted into a frown. “There is little more personal to my people than British oppression.”
She sipped her whisky with steam coming out of her ears.
“I meant personal to me. I don’t expect anyone else to have sympathy for my cause.”
By the time she looked at me again, she’d fixed her syrupy smile back on her face. “Why is it ye want to go then? To search for treasure? To find love? To escape yer miserable life?”
I put my hand over my chest to feel the pearl necklace I kept close to my heart. “I...I need to stop the murder of someone very important to me.”
I’d caught her off guard. Good.
“Please, Gillian. I need to make sure I arrive in the right place at the right time. I don’t know how to do that. I have to go back there and make sure he survives.”
“Back there?” Her eyes widened. “Are ye saying ye’ve been there before?”
She wanted to believe me; I saw it in the gleam of her eyes. I reached into my purse and pulled out an old and tattered journal, setting it on the coffee table between us.
“I’ll share my story with you if you tell me everything you know about time travel.”
She took the journal off the table, greedy for information. Before cracking it open, she raised a skeptical brow and asked, “And what if there’s nothing useful to me in this tale of yours?”
“I’m willing to take the chance you'll find it quite enlightening. I’ll let you read it in good faith, and if you find something useful—or at the very least entertaining—then perhaps you’ll reciprocate my candidness.”
Gillian smirked and nodded in agreement. Getting her to listen to me was half the battle.
She opened the journal to the first page and read the familiar words out loud. “People disappear all the time…”
Chapter 2: Two
Just a couple of reminders about this 1000 kisses AU: Colum and Jared helped Jamie get a pardon before he returned to Scotland, and Frank died years before Claire went through the stones the first time.
I’ll be posting 3 chapters today (a couple of them smaller chapters). I hope you enjoy!
~Craigh Na Dun: May 1743~
“Home, a ghoistidh. I’m finally going home,” said Jamie, grinning from ear to ear.
“Thank the Lord for that.” Murtagh grabbed his godson and embraced him tightly. The old man smelled of sweat and horse and the very essence of the Highlands. When they pulled apart, the old coot was even smiling a wee bit.
“It was good of ye to come meet me, but no’ necessary,” said Jamie. “Did’ye think I forgot my way home?”
“Ye’ve been in France for so long, I thought mebbe ye’d gone soft,” he teased. “I thought it best I come escort the delicate Laird home.”
Jamie snorted, pleased his godfather made the journey. It had been too long since he’d seen any of his people. “How long have ye been waiting for me?”
“Only a few days. Humor aside, lad, ’tis a good thing I came. Yer uncle is nearby lifting cattle and causing a ruckus.”
“Ye shouldna fash for my sake. I can handle myself just fine.”
“Hmphm. Either way, we best be off lest we run into the bastard. The horses will need a bit of watering before we go, but we shouldna tarry for long. And I dinna want to make camp too close to the faerie hill come dark.”
“Hmphm,” Jamie agreed.
They led their horses to a nearby creek. It was only a few days' ride to Lallybroch once they passed the faerie hill.
“Did’ye ever find out how Colum and Jared were able to get the crown to drop the price on yer head?” asked Murtagh.
“Oh aye. They appealed to a Duke who has sympathies wi’ the Scots. Jared supplied him wi’ good amount of spirits, and Colum made some agreements for trade.”
“Why would the MacKenzie go out of his way to help ye lad? What’s in it for him?”
“He asked me to act as Laird of the MacKenzies when he dies...at least until Hamish comes of age. He helped clear my name because I canna have the running of his clan if I’m exiled to France or rotting in an English prison.”
“Ye didna agree to what he asked, did’ye? Laird of the MacKenzies,” he nearly spat.
“God no. I havena seen my home or family in years, Murtagh. I’m no’ about to abandon them for Leoch.”
“Jenny will be pleased. She misses ye, and she’s about ready to burst wi’ her second bairn.”
“Aye.” Jamie turned away and pretended to busy himself with Donas. He didn’t want to tell Murtagh that the price on his head wasn’t the only reason he stayed away from home for so long, nor was it to recover from his injuries; it was shame for failing to protect his sister from Randall. In the end, she was the one who had to protect herself.
Jamie stroked Donas down his neck as the horse drank deep from the creek. He felt a restlessness building inside him to make it home and set things right with his sister and his people.
Donas lifted his head and whinnied nervously. Murtagh’s horse stamped his feet and backed away from the water.
“What is it, a bhalaich? Gabh air do shocair,” Jamie told Donas.
Suddenly, a shot rang out near the faerie hill.
“Thoir sùil a-null an sin,” said Murtagh. “Dougal and his men. They must’ve been caught.”
“Christ!” Jamie cursed under his breath. “Redcoats.”
Neither Jamie nor Murtagh were disposed to intervene on behalf of Dougal MacKenzie for stealing a few cattle. They watched, concealing themselves in the trees and brush as the MacKenzies skirmished with a groups of soldiers. There were at least four or five redcoats and a similar number of MacKenzies.
Jamie squinted, trying to make out the faces of his uncle’s men. It had been many years since he’d seen any of them. He thought he spotted Rupert, Willie, and Angus darting through the trees.
Jamie kept a wary eye on the soldiers, ready to bolt if they started coming closer. The last thing he needed was to end up back behind bars for something he didn’t do.
A flash of white caught his eye from up on the faerie hill. It was a woman coming down, stumbling on the uneven ground. Her head was turning left and right, wild, brown hair floating around her head, looking as though she was lost. She wore naught but a clean, white shift that hardly made it past her knees.
“Oh, Christ,” he whispered. She was walking right into the stramash.
A hand came down on his shoulder, gripping him tight and holding him in place. “Stay put, lad.”
“But the lass…”
“Ye’ve just been pardoned, ye great, muckle fool! Yer people need ye. Dinna be interfering wi’ the redcoats when ye’ve only just gotten them off yer back!”
Jamie watched as she was spotted by a redcoat with long, dark hair. The officer took slow, steady steps toward the woman. He had one hand on the hilt of his sword, and the other was removing his tricorn hat, tossing it aside.
Jamie’s gut clenched immediately, turning to stone. He knew exactly who that man was. “Randall. No!”
“Jamie!” whispered Murtagh. “Stay put, lad! He willna let ye live if they take ye again.”
“But the woman…”
“I’ll no’ risk yer freedom for a stray lassie wandering around the Highlands in her shift.”
Jamie watched as the lass tried to run, but was cut off by Randall. She darted in the other direction, and he blocked her again. She was cornered, forced against a rock wall with the Devil himself bearing down on her.
Then, the lass spit right in his face.
“Oh no!” Jamie tried to run forward, certain Randall would torture her for such an insult, but Murtagh tackled him from behind.
“She’s no’ yer concern, Jamie! She’ll get ye killed.”
“I willna leave her to likes of that man!” He swung around, his fist connecting with Murtagh’s face. Murtagh fell to the floor, and Jamie clambered to his feet. He ran forward ready to intervene.
From out of the trees next to Randall, Rupert MacKenzie came running with a large stone in his hands. He bashed it against Randall’s head, and the captain fell unconscious to the floor.
Jamie stopped in his tracks, sighing in relief. That gave Murtagh enough time to catch up and start dragging him back to their horses.
Three more redcoats were running toward Rupert and the woman, and Jamie nearly dropped his godfather once again to save her, but Angus and Dougal ran out from the brush, swords slashing and pistols firing.
The woman was thrown over Rupert’s shoulder and carried off into the forest.
“See, lad. She’s alright—better off in the hands of the MacKenzies than Captain Randall.”
Jamie shrugged him off. “Are ye sure about that?”
Murtagh looked him dead in the eyes. “Aye. As are you.”
Jamie nodded, knowing anyone was better than Randall.
“Come,” said Murtagh. “They’ll follow the MacKenzies North. We’ll slip by and head East. None will be any the wiser we were ever here.”
Jamie’s eyes lingered on where the MacKenzies disappeared with the woman. It had felt fundamentally wrong to stand by and let them save her...to let them run off with her. If it had been anyone other than Murtagh who had stood in his way, they would be dead.
“Come, lad! Randall will awaken at any moment. Greas ort!”
“Aye.” Jamie mounted Donas and turned his eyes to the East, setting off in a mad gallop. They didn’t stop until they were far away from the faerie hill and certain no redcoats were on their tail.
As they found a place to make camp, Jamie’s thoughts turned to the poor woman he’d left to the MacKenzies. He knew Murtagh was right. There was naught to be done for her now. He had enough to worry about coming home...back to Lallybroch...back to his family...back to Jenny.
It was just as daunting as facing Randall all over again.
Chapter 3: Three
~Castle Leoch: June 1743~
The Highlands were a bloody beautiful place. I stared out the window of the MacKenzie’s study and looked over the grounds in awe and wonder. The castle was surrounded by rocky mountains, wild forests, and rolling hills of heather. It was truly majestic.
If I wasn’t being held against my will and fighting for my life every other day, I could’ve really enjoyed this eighteen century sojourn. But as things were, I was attacked the moment I came through the stones, followed shortly by a kidnapping, various assaults, and an extended imprisonment.
Colum MacKenzie may have called me his “guest,” but I was nothing more than his prisoner. His brother Dougal was my jailer, and his men, my shackles.
All I wanted was to go home. I wanted to take a hot fucking bath and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread. I wanted access to penicillin and basic fucking bandaids. Most of all, I wanted to come and go whenever I damn well pleased!
“Have a drink, Mistress Beauchamp,” said Colum, filling a glass of Rhenish. I happily obliged.
The Laird was sitting behind a large desk filled with papers, correspondence, and a chess board. From the way the pieces were distributed across the board, it looked as though the match had been put on hold and was yet to be finished.
“What was it you wanted to see me about?” I asked, sitting across from him and sipping from my glass.
Colum eyed me with that shrewd and calculating look of his. I wondered if he possessed any other expressions; if so, I’d yet to see them.
“Dougal has requested he be granted permission to leave Leoch and visit our nephew. The Laird Broch Tuarach owns a sizable bit of property adjoining Clan MacKenzie.”
“And what does that have to do with me?”
“Since you were Dougal’s inspiration for his sudden interest in improving family relations, I thought we could discuss ye accompanying him on his journey.”
“I am the reason he’s visiting your nephew?”
“Aye, ye are. Ye see, Dougal made his request to me shortly after the wee disagreement ye had last night at supper.”
I took a generous sip of Rhenish, recalling the heated argument we had in front of a hall full of people the night before. I’d overheard some of Dougal’s men were raising funds and rallying support for the Jacobite cause. Under the influence of Colum’s Rhenish, I’d advised Dougal that his cause was doomed. I told him they didn’t have the funds, the manpower, nor the cooperation of the other clans needed for victory. I told him their troops would starve from lack of resources and die from poor leadership.
At first, Dougal seemed to write me off as a foolish woman with a loud mouth, but as I drove my point home, he became more and more incensed. Colum quickly put a stop to our discussion, but I could see the wheels turning in Dougal’s mind all throughout supper.
“Why would our conversation about the doomed Jacobite cause inspire Dougal to visit your nephew?”
Colum sighed as he carefully chose his words. “Because he seemed to take your criticisms to heart and is working to remedy them. Our nephew, the Laird Broch Tuarach, would be a considerable asset to the Jacobite Rebellion, should Dougal be able to convince him to join it.”
“What makes him so valuable?”
“I can discern at least three reasons an alliance with him would be advantageous. The first is that my nephew’s property is situated at a location that would give strategic advantage to an army fighting in the Highlands.
“The second is that he is the product of my sister’s marriage to one of the bastard sons of Lord Lovat of Clan Fraser. The Laird Broch Tuarach would be an essential ally in bringing Clan MacKenzie and Clan Fraser together in a fight against the English.”
“And the third reason?”
Colum seemed to almost smile for a moment. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought pride gleamed in his eyes.
“My nephew came to foster wi’ the MacKenzies in his youth. Dougal trained the lad to wield a sword, and I trained him to wield even greater weapons.” Colum tapped the side of head. I shivered at the thought of a man possessing both Dougal’s skill in battle and Colum’s capacity for strategy. “The lad was also bestowed some gifts from his father. That of charm...charisma. In later years, he spent some time in Paris at University, then went on to fight in the army as a mercenary.
“Ye see, the young Laird is a bright, educated, and ruthless man. And he has the ability to draw men close to him, to move them, inspire them. If Dougal is heading into battle, he’ll want our sister’s son at his side.”
I refilled my glass of Rhenish and drank deeply. It was absolute madness for me to be mixed up in clan politics and the Jacobite Rebellion. I was nurse from the twentieth century, for fuck’s sake! But here I was in the thick of it.
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
“As you may already ken, Mistress Beauchamp, I’m no’ interested in a war wi’ the English. Just like you, I believe the Jacobites’ efforts to be doomed. My only concern is for my clan.”
“Then why don’t you just forbid your brother to go?”
“I can only control Dougal so much.” Colum sipped his wine, his eyes never leaving mine. “I’m no’ long for this world, Mistress Beauchamp. I’ll be lucky to have another two or three years left in me, and with the pain I suffer, they may be miserable years at that.”
My breath caught in my throat. I knew Colum’s condition, Pycnodysostosis, was incurable, and his body was growing weaker by the day, but I didn’t expect him to know just how close to the end he was.
“As I near my final days, I must turn my attention toward the future of my clan. Hamish is still too young to lead, and Dougal...well, the bloody-minded man would lead my people to ruin for the glory of Scotland.”
We both took a drink, the silence in the room thick and oppressive. Finally, he went on. “I requested my nephew come to Leoch some time back. It was, in fact, the reason I worked so hard to secure him a pardon—he was wanted for murder, ye ken, and exiled to France. I had planned on him leading the MacKenzies until Hamish comes of age, but he declined my request, preferring to see to the needs of his own land and tenants.”
“Again I ask, what does this have to do with me?”
“Dougal will be seeking out our nephew as an ally in his Rebellion. I ask that you accompany my brother to Broch Tuarach and deliver my request to the Laird with the same passion and fervency in which you spoke last night at supper.”
“You want me to convince your nephew to lead the MacKenzie Clan at the same time Dougal is trying to convince him to join a rebellion?”
Colum curved his lips into a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He knew exactly how dangerous this could be for me.
“Why me? I know you think I’m some sort of spy and have the capacity for deception, but I really don’t. I’m just plain Claire Beauchamp, and all I want to do is go home.”
“Dinna underestimate yerself, Mistress. Ye have a voice that can deliver my message with logic and sincerity. And I ken ye dinna have any allegiance to Dougal, so I will trust that ye’ll do yer best to sway my nephew to lead his mother’s people as he was born to do.”
“What’s in it for me if I succeed?”
“I’ll have ye taken home. Wherever that may be. Inverness, Oxfordshire, France. No questions asked.”
My heart fluttered at the thought. “And if I fail?”
“I dinna think ye have it in ye to fail, Claire. And if ye did, I would have to assume that it was intentional, and that yer allegiance is no’ to me...and no’ to England for that matter, but to the French...and to Dougal.”
I shook my head. The bloody bastard still thought me a spy. And if he thought I was helping the French to rally the Jacobites into a war he didn’t want...well, I knew what Colum would do to such a threat against his clan.
“What if I refuse to go to Broch Tuarach altogether?”
“Then ye can spend the next several years of yer life here at the castle, tending to the diminishing health of yer Laird.”
I looked out the window over the great expanse of land once more, but I could no longer feel the awe it once inspired.
If I failed in convincing the Laird of Broch Tuarach to lead Clan MacKenzie and turn away from the Jacobite Rebellion, Colum was sure to have me killed or imprisoned for the rest of my life for being an enemy of the MacKenzies. If I succeeded, Dougal might be the one to kill me for interfering with his cause. If I refused to go altogether, I was as good as a prisoner for at least the next few years, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near Scotland during the Rising.
Then again, if I went with Dougal and found an opportunity to slip away, I might be able to find my way back to the stones and travel back to the twentieth century. I’d be walking a very thin line between two fires in order to gain my freedom, but it was clearly my only chance of making it out of Scotland alive.
I felt like a pawn on his chessboard, dodging the strikes of bishops, rooks, and queens.
With a great sigh, I turned back to the MacKenzie, my decision made. I’d be no man’s pawn in any century. “How soon do we leave?”
“We’ll be leaving at dawn,” I told Mrs. Fitz.
“So soon? Alright then. I’ll be sure to pack all ye need. Give me a list of the medicines and such ye’d like to take along with ye, and I’ll have them ready.”
“Thank you so much.”
“Think nothing of it, dearie.”
I turned to leave the kitchen; there was much I had to get done for my patients before we left. But a thought had me stopping in my tracks. “Mrs. Fitz?”
“Yes dear?” She looked up from the dough she was rolling out for the evening’s bannocks.
“Have you met the MacKenzie’s nephew? The Laird Broch Tuarach?”
Her mouth quirked into a grin. “Oh aye. I kent him well when he was fostering here wi’ his uncles.”
“What’s he like?”
“Weel, it has been some time since he was here, and only a lad of sixteen, but if ye’d like to see him, there’s a portrait of his mother, Ellen, hanging in the castle. He’s her spittin’ image, to be sure, save his father’s eyes and wide mouth. Come. I’ll show it to ye.”
She led me up the stairs and down a long corridor. We stopped in front of a large painting of an elegant young woman. She had long waves of vibrant red hair and a glimmer of mischief in her eyes.
“She’s beautiful,” I said.
“Oh aye. And so is her son, and he kens it well enough,” she chuckled.
I looked at the woman who gave birth to the Laird and murderer whose great strength and leadership was so coveted by his uncles, and I wondered what horrors he had to endure in his youth to not only survive his uncles, but to earn their respect.
It was then that it occurred to me: I wasn’t just walking between the two fires of Colum and Dougal...I was headed for a blazing inferno in the form of the Laird of Broch Tuarach.
Chapter 4: Four
~Lallybroch: July 1743~
“Why have ye brought me here, a ghoistidh?” asked Jamie. He and Murtagh stood on a forest hill overlooking the road to Lallybroch. They were mostly concealed by rocks and trees; only someone with knowledge of their whereabouts would be able to find them. “And why did ye have me dress in my finest shirt and Fraser colors?”
Less than an hour before, Jamie was working in the barn with Ian, when Murtagh came riding in like mad and demanded he go home to clean up, saving all explanations for the sake of haste.
“Yer uncle is on his way to Lallybroch.”
“Aye. And he’s no’ alone.”
Jamie raised a wary brow. Dougal rarely showed his face on Fraser land. He thought it an insult to be forced to make the effort to visit his nephew and always demanded Jamie come to him.
“How did’ye find out?” asked Jamie.
“Old MacGregor was staying the night at the tavern down by Cnoc Fraoich. He spent the evening drinking wi’ Dougal’s men. He thought it best to leave early in morning—before the MacKenzies set off—to warn ye of their impending arrival. Only he ran into me first.”
“What did he have to say?
“He said they’re traveling wi’ a lass. She’s a sassenach, or so she says, and a wise woman wi’ a reputation as a fine healer. Dougal thinks she may be a spy, perhaps for the English or the French.”
“Why does he think her a spy?”
“She’s a strange one, even for a sassenach. She speaks verra fine English and French. Yet she has no people that anyone’s heard of. No money. No property. And her husband is long dead. She’s shrouded in secrets and gives no reasonable explanation for her oddities.
“Apparently,” Murtagh smirked as he did when he was about to speak bawdy, “MacGregor was under the impression she and Dougal were quite familiar wi’ each other, if ye ken what I mean.”
“She’s his mistress?”
“Seems so. And ken this, laddie,” he narrowed his eyes significantly, “MacGregor says Dougal found her by the faerie hill not two months past, wandering around by herself and wearing naught but her shift.”
Jamie felt his jaw go slack. He shook his head to compose himself. “Are ye saying she’s the lass Randall attacked on the faerie hill?”
“I’d wager my best coo on it.”
“Why would he bring her to Lallybroch wi’ him? Certainly, a lass would slow him down on his travels and stop him from raiding cattle and causing a ruckus.”
“Aye. ’Tis strange. Dougal wouldna be hauling her around unless he was getting something out of it for himself. He’s a MacKenzie. Ye ken they’re chocked full of nefarious intentions. Ye’ll need to watch yerself, aye? Be wary of Dougal and the sassenach.”
Jamie sat down on a nearby rock and rubbed his face in his hands. He was hoping to come home and find himself a bit of peace. He wanted to work his land and care for his people. He was tired of politics and outlanders and that filthy lout Randall.
If he never had to see a person named Randall again, it would be too soon.
But he had to admit, a part of him was curious about the sassenach woman. He’d thought of her frequently since that day on the hill. His thoughts were usually colored with the regret of failure. But it seemed there was more to her than he’d ever imagined.
“So why did ye bring me here to tell me?” asked Jamie. “And why am I wearing this?” He pointed to his Fraser tartan.
Murtagh knelt down next to him, keeping an eye out on the road. “I ken Dougal is yer uncle, and he fostered ye as lad, but ye’re Laird now. Ye must make an impression. A statement of yer strength and stability as leader. I willna have ye waiting around to receive him in yer own home as though the Bonnie Prince has come to visit from Rome. Dougal will be waiting on your whim. And if this sassenach he’s bringing wi’ him is truly a spy, then I’d have her see ye at yer best, no’ covered in muck and manure like the animals the English think we are.”
Jamie snorted, looking at the dirt his godfather was presently kneeling in.
“And when are they meant to arrive?”
“Anytime now. MacGregor wasna certain when they left the tavern, but they were still sleeping when he set off.”
Jamie put a hand on Murtagh’s shoulder. “Thank ye, a ghoistidh. You and MacGregor. Now, if only we kent Dougal’s intentions...he and his sassenach spy.”
They waited in the shade of the forest for several hours before there was any sign of the Leoch party’s arrival. They took turns staring down the dusty road, lest they be caught off guard.
It was the middle of summer, and the hottest part of the day. It hadn’t rained in over a week, and the roads were hard and dry. Jamie noticed a cloud of dust from a group of galloping horses before he saw any of their riders. He ensured his Fraser red was well-concealed in the brush as Dougal and his men came closer.
Jamie’s fingers combed his hair back out of his eyes to get a clear view of the visitors. His hair was still growing out from the last time he was forced to cut it short, and the wind often blew it in his way while he was hunting or fighting. He’d be pleased when it grew long enough to bind back.
With a clear view of the road, he saw Dougal was riding with a smaller group of men than was usual for him. Perhaps there were others in the party riding separate in order to keep their numbers unknown. Jamie spotted Rupert, Angus, and Willie in a line, and in the very center of the men was a woman.
His eyes lingered on the brown-haired lass as she neared his perch. He almost snorted at the sight of her wild, uncapped hair. She wore only half of it up, and most of it that was trying to escape its pins. He couldn’t see much in the way her features at such a distance, but he found her posture graceful and her curves alluring. He remembered the elegant lines of her body in that wee shift on the hill. It was no wonder his uncle was so fond of her.
They rode past Jamie and Murtagh without a glance in their direction.
“Should we no’ have warned Jenny of their arrival?” said Jamie.
“Yer sister will handle herself just fine, and Ian can entertain Dougal for the time being.”
“How long should we wait then?”
Murtagh smirked. “A good while yet. Make ’em restless to see ye, lad. Give yerself the upper hand.”
Jamie stared after the trail of dust on its way to his family’s home. Images of wild, brown hair billowing in the breeze filled his thoughts as he prepared to sit and wait before going home to greet his guests.
“If that woman really is a spy and a harlot to boot,” said Murtagh, “it was damn good thing I was there to stop ye from coming to her aid and bringing her to Lallybroch. She’d probably have yer kilt above her ears and virtue stolen before ye made it halfway home.”
Jamie snorted at the old man, grateful for his support and guidance in the absence of his father.
He watched the cloud of dust disappear as the group neared his home. He thought this could possibly be his first true test as Laird since coming home from Paris. He reached in his sporran and pulled out his father’s ruby ring, donning it for the strength it gave him.
He lifted his chin, looking over his land and his family’s home, and whispered quietly to himself, “Je suis prest.”
“Stad an seo!” called Dougal from atop his horse. He held up a hand, and we all rode to a stop. He dismounted from his horse and gave the reins to Rupert. “A moment of yer time, Mistress Beauchamp.”
He didn’t wait for me to dismount. He walked some distance away so we wouldn’t be overheard. I reluctantly followed him through the long grass and up to the top of a small hill.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Look over there.” Dougal nodded to the South. “The North Facing Tower. Broch Tuarach. My nephew’s home is just o’er yonder.”
A tall, round tower stood above the trees in the distance. The Laird’s home was not far away; it seemed more a large stone house than a castle, at least in comparison to Leoch. The grounds had none of Leoch’s hustle and bustle of people, nor did it have its guard towers or soldiers. The estate was quiet. Peaceful. It was almost as though it had grown from out the land rather than been built upon it.
At least...it appeared so from such a distance.
“I just wanted to review our agreement before setting foot in that house,” said Dougal.
I shook my head in annoyance. Dougal had immediately figured out why Colum sent me with him, and as soon as we were on the road out of Leoch, he made me a counter offer...one I had no means of refusing.
“I’m very clear on what it is you want from me,” I said. “If I can help you convince the Laird to join the Rebellion and allow the use of his lands in the service of the Bonnie Prince, you’ll give me my freedom.”
“That’s right.” He stepped close, leaving me no room to breathe. His eyes darkened hungrily, and he ran a gentle finger across my cheek. “Ye’re a verra alluring woman, Claire. Aside from yer sharp tongue and biting wit, ye’ve a way about ye. I’ve no doubt my nephew will be susceptible to yer charms...if ye dinna snap at the lad the way ye do everyone else.”
I rolled my eyes at the idea of being irresistible bait to a Highlander. It was utter madness.
“Ye’ve seen and heard too much in yer time at Leoch,” he went on. “If I’m to risk letting ye go free, ye’ll have to prove yer sympathy for our cause...by any means necessary.”
What Dougal really meant was I’d have to incriminate myself by conspiring with the Scots before he’d risk me going back to the English. Unless I helped him, I wouldn’t make it out alive.
Yet, if I did help him, Colum would have something to say about that, as well.
“And if ye attempt to sabotage me wi’ my nephew, then I’ll have to decide what would be worse for ye,” his fingers traced over the swell of my bottom lip, and I could still smell the fish on his hands he’d eaten for lunch, “killing ye outright, or handing ye over to Captain Randall at Wentworth Prison.”
My body quivered as ice ran down my spine. Black Jack Randall. An ancestor of my late husband. The man who tried to assault me atop Craigh Na Dun.
I reminded myself that I would soon sneak away and escape the MacKenzies and the eighteenth century altogether. I’d be long gone through the stones before anyone even knew I left.
The question was, how was I meant to handle the Laird Broch Tuarach in the meantime? I knew I needed to placate Dougal before I made my escape, but the dilemma I was having was an ethical one. I knew the outcome of the Rebellion. Every Scot that took arms against the English would be slaughtered. Convincing Dougal’s nephew to join the rebellion was the same as convincing him and his people to line up at the gallows.
How could I be convincing enough to satisfy Dougal, but careful enough to not be sending who knows how many men to their untimely deaths?
“We’re in agreement, are we no’?” He stared down his nose at me, his fingers holding tight to my chin.
“Of course we are,” I said. As if I had a choice otherwise.
“Aye. Then mount up, and we’ll be on our way.” He looked me up and down one last time. “The Laird has a weakness for a lass wi’ a great round arse. He’ll no’ ken what hit him.”
Dougal swatted my bottom with an uncomfortable overfamiliarity before setting off down the hill to mount his horse.
“Fucking bastard,” I grumbled loud enough for him to hear and followed suit.
Acid rose in my throat as I thought of his nephew and hoped the young Laird’s manners were nothing like his uncle’s.
“Welcome to Lallybroch,” said Janet Murray as she served drinks around the parlor. “It will take but a minute to have rooms made up for ye, being that ye didna send word ahead that ye were coming to visit, Uncle Dougal.”
“We’ve come on urgent business wi’ the Laird, lass. There wasna time to accommodate such niceties. But seeing as how we’re family, I should think our visit more than welcome, whether expected or not.”
“Of course,” said Janet, though the look on her face didn’t reflect her words. Clearly, this wasn’t a close family.
Janet scowled as she brought me a glass of whisky. I was in such desperate need of the spirits, it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
I did find it amusing the difference in appearance between Dougal and his niece. She was about a foot shorter than her uncle and couldn’t look more unlike him with her jet-black hair and cat-like, blue eyes. The only features that seemed to have any sort of family resemblance between the two of them were the mutual sneers they wore for each other.
“How was the journey from Leoch?” asked Ian, Janet’s husband. Unlike his wife, Ian wore a jovial expression, as though he was finding as much amusement in this bizarre encounter as I was.
“Warm and dry,” was all Dougal would say. His men seemed to have gone entirely mute.
Silence overtook the room once more, and I watched as everyone’s glasses emptied swiftly down their throats while we sat in awkward discomfort.
I took the opportunity to observe the beauty of the parlor. There was a grand fireplace in the large room, made of carefully selected stones that were arranged in a most pleasing manner. The house was well kept and obviously quite modern for the times, but it most certainly was not a castle. It was a home. Not at all what I expected of the murderous, young Laird.
“D’ye no’ ken where the Laird rode off to?” asked Dougal, his restless impatience showing ever more as time passed on. “Perhaps I might ride out and meet him?”
“No,” said Ian with a broad grin. “He rode off some hours ago on business, but I’m sure he’ll be home before supper.”
“Any news from Leoch or Beannachd?” asked Janet. “How is my Aunt? Is she well?”
Oh dear, I thought. Dougal coughed and drank back his glass of whisky before standing abruptly and walking out the door.
Janet looked shocked and scandalized at her uncle’s seemingly rude behavior.
“His wife died some weeks ago,” I informed her. “It was quite unexpected.”
“Oh heavens,” she said, crossing herself and whispering a quiet prayer.
“We had never any occasion to meet her,” said Ian, “but we offer our condolences all the same.”
“Of course,” I said, not knowing why I felt compelled to accept the condolences for the loss of a woman I’d never met before either.
Janet came around, temporarily humbled by her faux pas, and refilled our glasses as we waited in more awkward silence for the Laird to arrive.
“How long is it ye plan on staying?” asked Janet.
Her husband coughed, though I couldn’t tell if it was in amusement or chiding.
“I’m not sure, actually. We’re all at Dougal’s whim,” I said.
She narrowed her eyes at me and crossed her arms in front of her. “And how is it a sassenach came to be in the company of a band of traveling men?”
“Well...hmm. I…” I traveled two hundred years through a fucking circle of buzzing stones! “It all happened quite by accident.” I laughed awkwardly.
“We rescued Mistress Beauchamp from the redcoats,” said Rupert. “She’s a fine healer and has agreed to stay on wi’ us for some time, seeing as how a group of fighting men are prone to injury.”
“Hmphm,” Janet made a noise deep in her throat that seemed to convey either disbelief or disapproval.
I was rescued from having to answer further questions by the arrival of the servants, who informed the lady of the house that the guest rooms were ready. I was escorted up the stairs and to a small, private room with a lovely view facing the tower to the North.
I took the opportunity to freshen myself up from the long journey. I changed my clothes—ready to smell of something other than horse—and tamed my hair into some semblance of submission. I found myself quite presentable by the time I made my way downstairs to enjoy more social hostilities between the MacKenzie relatives.
It seemed Dougal had calmed himself down and reentered the parlor. He was waiting near the fireplace with his arms crossed in front of him, looking ever as much the war chieftain as I’d ever seen him.
As I descended the final steps into the room, the sounds of a crazed pack of dogs drifted in the house through the open window.
“Well, there we are,” said Ian, pleasantly. “It seems the Laird has just returned home.”
I looked around the room to find all of Dougal’s men shifting in their seats to face the entrance of the parlor. After the noise of the dogs died down, I listened for the sound of footsteps in the halls that would announce the Laird’s presence, but I was surprised to find that none came.
As though walking silently on a bed of grass, one of the largest men I’d ever seen in my entire life walked through the door. He was taller than Dougal and broader in the chest. His palms were the size of canned hams, and his boots were the length of a medium-sized dog.
Mrs. Fitz had been right about him, he did look like his mother...like the MacKenzies in general, save for those eyes that matched his sister’s, and the wide set of his mouth. His gorgeous hair nearly blended with the crimson of his tartan, and he was armed with a great heavy sword and a fine dirk.
I’d never seen a more impressive sight in my entire life.
His eyes scanned the room with an indifferent expression, stopping for a moment on his uncle, then once again on me. I felt trapped in his gaze, hypnotized, unable to pull away.
I could barely hear his sister’s voice over the buzzing in my ears. “May I present to you our Laird Lallybroch: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.”
Jamie’s eyes were held prisoner by her beauty, captivated by the iridescent glimmer of fine pearl where the afternoon light reflected off the curve of her cheek. Almost against his will, they were drawn down the line of her jaw to a pair of cherry blossom lips, parted slightly, taking in shaky gasps of air.
He thought she might be nervous as she stood on unsteady legs. Her pulsing heart thrummed wildly in her neck, like ripples on a loch during the first rain of Spring. A flush fell over the expanse of her bosom, and a thin layer of sweat glistened off the swell of her breasts—breasts that were spilling over the top of her stays with every quivering breath.
But as he lifted his eyes to meet her own, he realized it was not fear that rendered her body so flustered...but passion. She was watching him with dark, hooded eyes, somehow full of both surprise and longing.
It took only the space of a breath as he met her golden gaze to think in the words of the Bard, I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes.
“This is Claire Beauchamp.” The sound of Dougal’s voice reminded Jamie of the nature of her amorous relationship with his uncle. “She’s a healer we met along our travels. We happened upon her being attacked by Captain Randall near Craigh Na Dun.”
Jamie masked his face with inscrutability, feeling foolish for wanting to throw himself at the feet of the woman who pleasured his uncle only the night before. The heat of resentment immediately replaced that of desire.
He forced courtesy into his tone as he greeted his guest. “Welcome to Lallybroch, Mistress Beauchamp. I’m sorry for your unfortunate encounter with the redcoat captain. I can assure ye, he is no friend to anyone here at Broch Tuarach.”
She opened her mouth several times before a sound escaped her lips, and when it did, it was spoken with a sensual tone, not that of a maid, but of a woman. “I thank you, my Laird.” He couldn’t stop himself from closing his eyes so that his ears may take in the sound of the sassenach uncolored by the distractions of light. “It’s comforting to know I’m in the company of people who don’t condone such behavior.”
“Hmphm,” was the only response he could bring himself to give. Speaking of Randall always made his wame curl, but the thought of that bastard’s hands on such fair skin made him sick with rage.
Jamie turned around and gestured to the man behind him. “This is my godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser.”
“A pleasure to meet you both,” said Claire.
“Our uncle says he’s come on business that requires your urgent attention, brother,” Jenny interjected. “Perhaps ye shall take him to yer study to discuss this business so we dinna hold him up on his travels any longer than need requires.”
Mistress Beauchamp snorted quietly and failed in her attempts to hide her amusement at Jenny’s obvious desire to rid Lallybroch of her uncle.
Jamie didn't conceal his own amusement as he turned to Dougal and said, “Would that please ye, Uncle? Or have ye come purely for the pleasure of our company?”
Never one to beat around the bush, Dougal assured him, “Though it does please me to ken my sister’s children are situated well, young Janet is right in that I have pressing matters to address. I think it best we speak a moment in private.”
“Aye.” Jamie nodded and beckoned Dougal to follow him deeper into the house, leaving Murtagh with Jenny and Ian so they wouldn’t be so outnumbered by their guests. He couldn’t help stealing one more glance at the sassenach, whose eyes seemed fixed on him as they walked away...or perhaps they were fixed on Dougal.
He led his uncle into his father’s study—his own study, he reminded himself—where he took his seat behind the heavy oak desk. Dougal appeared reluctant to sit down, but after a moment’s consideration, did so in the seat to the left.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Uncle?”
Dougal spoke deep and strong to project the importance of his message. “The tides of the seas are changing, Jamie. A great wave is rising. One that will cleanse Scotland of the wicked filth of the English.”
Jamie huffed in frustration, all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. “Ye’re speaking of rebellion?”
“I’m speaking of rising up and taking back what’s ours. Of restoring a Stuart king to the throne.”
“What is the urgency ye speak of? Is King James on his way to Scotland?”
Dougal leaned forward and spoke softly, as though the information he shared was a great secret, a gift bestowed on a favored nephew. “I’ve had word that Bonnie Prince Charlie will be making his way to Paris soon. He’ll be raising funds and seeking support from his cousin, King Louis.”
“So he has not yet raised the funds needed for this war he intends on bringing to our land?”
“Dinna twist my words the way yer father often tried,” Dougal snapped. “We’ve raised thousands of pounds for the Stuart King in the Highlands alone. He has the support of the Italians and many English noblemen in Geordie’s court. One such nobleman of which you owe your freedom to, laddie.”
“Owe my freedom? I didna commit the murder I was accused of. I owe no man my freedom.”
“Aye, but ye would still be exiled wi’out his intervention.”
“I was under the impression that the price on my heid was dropped, no’ because of the Jacobites, but because Colum set up trade agreements wi’ the man, and Jared offered incentive in the way of spirits to secure my freedom.”
“Weel, I’m sure it didna hurt that ye have known ties to leaders of the Jacobite cause, Jared being one of them.”
Jamie reached into his desk and found a bottle of whisky and two glasses. He poured generously and passed one to his uncle. “What is it ye want from me then? Is it money? We dinna have any. Our crops and tenants have suffered in their Laird’s absence. All we have will be spent to secure the wellness of my people and improve production of crops. We have naught to spare to fund a war when we can scarcely feed the people who would be fighting it.”
Dougal shook his head. “I ken money is in short supply wi’ ye being gone for so long, and I’m sure now that ye’ve returned, the state of things will improve for yer family and tenants. I’ll no’ be asking ye for a financial contribution today.”
Jamie noted Dougal’s assertion did not preclude asking at a future date.
“Is it soldiers ye want then? If so, I must tell ye right now that I’ll no’ make demands of my men to fight this war. If they choose to take up arms for a cause they believe in, I willna stand in their way, but I shall not ask it of them.”
“Yer people will follow their Laird. If you commit to the cause, they will follow ye as they should. They’re devoted to ye, lad.”
“And I to them. Committing to a war that will do little but ravish our home is a puir way of caring for them.”
“So is leaving them to the rule of the English and the likes of Captain Randall!”
Jamie locked his jaw and fisted his hands. He wanted nothing more than to strike his uncle for using that bastard Randall to make a point. Dougal was there when Jamie was beaten, when his father died watching Randall flay his back open for a second time. He knew the strength of his words.
Jamie spoke low and dangerous to convey his ire, “Careful, Uncle. Yer words arena having the effect ye want them to. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“If ye’re angry at Randall, then why would ye no’ rise up against the crown who commissions him?”
“Because my people need stability. They need farmable land to live off of and a Laird to see them well. They dinna need war and death and uncertainty.”
“Yer people need freedom!” he yelled, standing up and banging his hand on the desk between them.
Jamie stood and faced him head on. “War shallna be forced upon my men for a dream held by their Laird’s uncle. All they want is to raise their families and live their lives in peace.”
“Ye think these farmers ken what’s best for themselves? They ken of naught but their crops and animals. ’Tis the job of their Laird to decide what action must be taken.”
“And their Laird has decided that no action shall be taken at this time.”
They stared each other down, neither wanting to concede to the other. Jamie knew he must hold his ground against his uncle, or the MacKenzies would find a way to have the run of his land and lead his people to ruin.
Finally, Dougal grabbed his glass and drank its contents. “And what if yer people should hold the same dream as I? What if they desire a Stuart King once again?”
“I willna stand in the way of any of my men wishing to fight for their own dream.”
“Would ye fight wi’ them? Care for them on the battlefield as ye would on the farm?”
Jamie drained his own glass before he answered. “That is a hypothetical question I am no’ prepared to answer at this time.”
Dougal’s eyes seemed to flare with the light of victory.
All Jamie could do was shake his head and refill their glasses.
“I havena tried the water pepper,” said Ian, running a hand over what was left of his leg.
“I can make it for you, if you’d like. I brought some with me from Leoch. It should help with the pain and inflammation.”
“Why thank ye, Claire. ’Tis kind of ye.”
“It’s no trouble at all.”
Angus, Rupert, and Willie all sat quiet and disconnected from our hosts, drinking their whisky and engaging with no one. Janet and Murtagh were so frigid, they brought a chill to the stifling hot parlor on this hot summer day.
I did my best to break the tension with some degree of civility and was kindly aided by Ian Murray.
“’Tis rare we have a healer come through these parts,” said Ian. “If Dougal plans on staying for any length of time, some of our tenants might have need of yer service if ye…”
“Our tenants,” Janet interrupted, “can travel to Broch Mordha when the Beaton arrives as they’ve always done.” She sniffed audibly and smoothed out her dress in false nonchalance. “There is no reason to burden a guest wi’ the ails of our people.”
“It really is no trouble,” I said. “I’ve been doing the same for Clan MacKenzie. I find my work rather enjoyable.”
“Weel, we shall see what Dougal’s plans are for ye when they finish their meeting. It may be that ye leave tomorrow,” she said, not disguising her hope for such an outcome.
I sighed heavily and sipped more whisky. When I set my glass down, I noticed my head was not unaffected by the drink. A light-headedness stole over me as I sat back up. The heat of the room made me all the more uncomfortable. It occurred to me that after taking too much drink the night before—as I had been doing regularly since arriving at Leoch—I’d hardly eaten throughout the day.
“I’m sure Dougal is in no hurry to leave the company of his niece and nephew so soon, lass,” Rupert told Janet, smiling. We all knew that Dougal had no intention of leaving Broch Tuarach without getting what he wanted from its Laird, and I couldn’t imagine him obtaining a commitment to join a rebellion after a single conversation in the middle of the afternoon.
A gentle cooing came from the doorway, and I turned to find a housekeeper holding a small infant. By the size of the bundle of blankets, it couldn’t have been more than a couple of months old.
“Is wee Maggie ready for her dinner then?” asked Janet.
“Aye, Mistress,” said the woman. “She’s rooting around, looking for something more than I’ve got to offer.”
“Oh, come here ye wee thing.” She took her little one from the housekeeper and addressed the rest of the room. “Pardon me, but I should like to feed her in the nursery.”
I was shocked to see the small-framed woman had so recently had a child. No wonder at her irritability with unexpected guests—particularly war-mongering guests—when her body was still recovering from having a baby.
“Of course,” I said. “And congratulations on the little one.”
She only gave a forced smile before heading up the stairs.
“Thank ye, Claire,” said Ian. “Wee Maggie was born no’ two months past. It was a hard delivery on my wife; the midwife had fallen ill at the time and couldna come to help.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear.”
“Aye. But Jenny is as fierce as her heart is warm. She delivered the bairn mostly on her own, while Jamie, Mrs. Crook, and I all ran around like fools, making everything worse.”
“Oh, I highly doubt that. She probably counts herself very lucky to have such an attentive husband. Do you have any other children?”
“Aye. Wee Jamie is our eldest—only two years old. He was named for his uncle, of course. The Laird returned home just in time to meet the wee laddie before he was made an uncle again for the second time.”
“It must’ve been difficult, having the Laird away for so many years. I’m guessing much of his duty fell to you while he was gone?”
“To Jenny and I both, but it was nae bother. Jamie is a fine man and a dear friend. Jenny and I would happily do anything we could for him.”
Ian Murray surely had a penchant for cold and brusque souls, given his fondness for his wife and his Laird. Janet Murray was a formidable woman in her own right, but James Fraser’s appearance had been downright alarming, with his enormous size, flaming hair, and being armed to the bloody teeth.
The way he looked at me during our introduction was not something I’d soon forget. His gaze was icy and severe, giving nothing away of what was going on behind those dark, sapphire eyes. I could see why Dougal would be eager to gain such an ally in the war to come.
Speaking of Dougal, raised voices could be heard down the hall, where I assumed Dougal and Fraser were getting to the meat of their conversation. They were fierce and loud, and they’d only been gone for twenty minutes.
Bloody Christ, what was I to do? If I did either Colum or Dougal’s bidding, and the Laird found out I was manipulating him, God only knew what consequences he would rain down on me.
For a moment, I considered being honest with the Laird and informing him of both his uncles’ demands of me, but if Dougal found out that I told Fraser about all the MacKenzies’ scheming, then I’d have him to deal with.
I just wanted to go home!
I needed to start planning my escape sooner rather than later.
“Are ye alright, Claire?” said Ian.
“Of course,” I said. But I was anything but alright. In fact, I was feeling quite overheated. My heart was racing madly, and my stays wouldn’t allow me to breathe enough air.
“Ye look a bit flushed, lass. Would ye like me to take ye outside for some fresh air? It might d’ye some good.”
Air. That was exactly what I needed. Fresh air to clear my head and cool my skin. “That sounds lovely, thank you. I think I’ll take you up on that.”
Ian stood and held out an arm. I locked my own around his and allowed him to escort me outdoors. I didn’t miss the venom in Murtagh’s eyes as we walked by.
Ian led me back the way we came in, though it was slow going given my dizzy state and his wooden leg. With little in the way of a breeze coming in through the gate, he led me past the great archway that served as the entrance to the house and into the shade of a tree beyond.
We were no longer in hearing distance of the large, aggressive men, nor in the same room with constant vitriolic stares, and my blood pressure immediately dropped. The serenity of the grounds helped calm me further; it was difficult to be caught up in a panic when breathing in the scent heather and ferns in the shade of a sweet chestnut tree.
“There,” said Ian, “that’s much better. It looked as though ye might pass out for a moment, but yer color is returning back just fine.”
“Indeed. It’s been a long few days of travel,” few hundred years more like, “and I probably just need a bit of rest and something to eat besides alcohol.”
“I’ll be sure to have Mrs. Crook prepare an early supper for ye.”
“I’m sorry for the trouble.”
“’Tis nae trouble, Claire.” His eyes were soft and compassionate. “I ken what it’s like to be in a strange land and surrounded by dangerous people.”
Dangerous people, he said, acknowledging the precariousness of my situation. I wondered if he was referring to Black Jack Randall, the MacKenzies, or his very own Laird.
My eyes looked over the vast expanse of grassy meadows and wild forests that surrounded Broch Tuarach. I looked to the North and found the road we’d come in on from Leoch. I wondered how far away we were from Craigh Na Dun and my only chance at making it out of this century with my life intact.
Ian was watching me with sympathy. I took a leap of faith in trusting that he wouldn’t tell Dougal if I asked, “Do you know where the hill is...the one where I was attacked by Jack Randall?”
“Craigh Na Dun?” His eyebrows raised. “Aye. ’Tis about three days ride to the East.”
“Three days?” My heart clenched tight in my chest. Would I ever be able to lose the MacKenzies and keep ahead of them for so long? If I did, could I survive the wilderness on my own? Did my time in the war and with Uncle Lamb prepare me well enough for such a treacherous journey?
“Possibly two days, if ye were a fine rider, had a strong horse, and kent just where ye were going,” he whispered.
I took a deep breath and stared off into the forest, wondering if I’d ever make it to freedom.
“Ye’ll be safe here at Lallybroch,” said Ian, softly. “Jamie willna stand for violence on his lands.”
The murdering Laird didn’t like violence? I would’ve laughed if I didn’t feel so hopeless.
“Oh, I’m alright,” I said, wishing I could mean it. I added another lie on top of the last, knowing they’d soon start to pile up so high, I’d never be able to keep them straight. “I’m just trying to get my bearings in a place where there’s so much green that everywhere looks the same. I scarcely ever know where I am.”
I took one last breath of fresh Highland air before stealing my spine to return back to my captors. “We should go back inside, or they might think we’ve run off…”
I turned around and walked right into a solid wall of red plaid. The stifling heat of the parlor returned full force when I looked up into a pair of sapphire eyes. I don’t know how long I stared captivated by their brilliant depths before I ran out of breath and everything went dark.
“I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes.”
- William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V, scene ii
Chapter 6: Six
“Claire!” Ian cried.
Jamie caught the woman as her legs gave way beneath her. She fell lifeless in his arms, save for the heat radiating from her body.
“What’s happened?” he asked, laying her flat on the grass to check for injury. She was breathing, thank the Lord, and her heart was beating strong.
“She said she had too much whisky and no’ enough to eat. By the look of her, though, I’d say nerves were getting the best of her.”
Jamie bent down to inhale the scent of her breath. He could smell the whisky, but it was certainly not enough to fell a grown woman. No...he caught the scent of herbs, flowers, and freshly dug earth on her skin more so than spirits.
But she was wheezing, straining to take in air. Her chest was bright red with exertion and heaving over the top of her stays.
The heat of embarrassment crept up his ears as he pulled at her laces, giving her lungs room to breathe. With the stays loosened, her breasts and belly rose up while she pulled in air. A soft sigh of relief escaped her lips, and he almost laughed, his worry assuaged.
“I’ll find Mrs. Crook and see to getting her some food and drink,” said Ian.
“Thank ye, a charaid.”
As Jamie heard Ian’s uneven footsteps fade away, he went back to tending to the unconscious lass. Unfortunately, there was little to be done to help her until she woke up, save watch with bated breath. He couldn’t yet bring her inside when the cool grass and fresh breeze would do more to steal the heat from skin than the stifling indoors.
So he knelt there over her body, with naught to do but watch her breathe. He took more than a little comfort every time her breasts lifted to their peak, then dropped back down once again. His hand traced over her cheek, ensuring that her temperature was falling as it should. Her skin was clammy down her throat and over her chest, but it seemed to be helping to cool her off.
The movement of a small wood ant near the wild curls of her hair was almost a relief, in that it gave him something useful to do. He flicked the ant away, protecting the lass from the wee creature's painful bite. He looked around for more and was relieved to find the ant was on his own. Just to be sure, he lifted the sassenach’s head and placed it gently in his lap. If any other little beasts were to come crawling out of the ground, they’d find him first.
Much of her hair had escaped its pins in all the fuss. It was probably for the best; she didn’t need anything pulling on her hair or making her head strain when she was feeling so ill. He set himself to the task of removing them one by one.
He gently ran his hands through her hair to find each pin. It was surprisingly soft, for all its unruly appearance. Upon closer inspection, the color ranged from nearly black to a caramel shade of whisky—a deeper color whisky than her eyes...golden as though his glass was lit by the sun.
“Christ, ye’re lovely,” he whispered softly.
He tucked pin after pin into his sporran, until at last, he could comb his fingers through her hair and find no resistance.
He struggled to let her be as he ran out of things to do to assist her. He took to grazing his fingertips up and down her temples and over her forehead to ensure she continued to cool down.
Finally, like a butterfly spreading its wings for the first time, her eyelids fluttered open to reveal her golden gaze.
“Tapadh le Dia,” he breathed in relief. “Ye’re alright, Mistress. Ye just fell a bit faint.”
She brought a weak hand clumsily to her face, checking her own temperature. “Dehydrated,” she groaned. “And overheated. A bit buzzed. Overtired. And…” She cut herself off, finishing her assessment of her condition in her head. The flush rose up once again in her cheeks as she met his eyes, and she sat up quickly.
“My hospitality is that bad, is it?” he teased.
“I’m terribly sorry,” she said, hands gripping her loosened stays. “I can’t believe I collapsed on you.”
“’Tis alright, lass. Dinna fash. I was glad I was there to catch ye. Ye had me worrit for a bit.”
Clearly surprised at his words, she looked up and met his eyes. She blushed a deep shade of crimson as she looked him over. Jamie worried she might fall faint again as heat returned to her face.
“Ye alright, lass?” He reached out a hand to her cheek, hoping she wasn’t getting too warm.
“Much better, thank you. Though I could use some cold water and a bite of bread.”
“Aye. Of course. Let me help ye to yer feet.”
He rose up and bent to place his hands on her narrow waist. He lifted, bearing most of her weight until he was certain she could stand on her own. He towered over her small frame, and his fingers nearly wrapped entirely around her.
“What the hell were you thinking, sneaking up on me like that?” she asked, her tone lacking venom in her state of exhaustion.
“My apologies, lass,” he chuckled. “I’ll be sure to grunt and stomp around like an ogre if it should prevent another collapse.”
Her quiet laugh fell sweet and lazy on his ears.
“Come, Sassenach.” He wrapped an arm tightly around her waist, and he held her hand up delicately with the other. “Let’s get ye to yer room, and I’ll have food and water brought up to ye.”
They walked slowly, Jamie carrying most of her weight. Whenever he looked down to see if she was alright, his nose was tickled by her absurdly beautiful hair in wild disarray.
“Bòidheach,” he whispered.
“Hmphm,” he hummed dismissively and quickly changed the subject. “Was it a difficult journey from Leoch?”
“Define difficult.” She smirked up at him. “Was it physically taxing? I suppose more so than I’m accustomed to. Was the company difficult? Again, more so than I’m accustomed to.”
Jamie chuckled quietly. “Aye, my mother’s family has always been...challenging.”
“And your father’s family?”
He barked a laugh. “Possibly even more so.”
“Remind me not to get rescued by any of them anytime soon.”
“Try to keep yerself out of danger entirely, Sassenach. Although, I suppose some people just canna help it.”
Her leopard’s eyes narrowed at him curiously. “Are you one of those people?”
“Hmphm. I suppose I am, aye. I’ve been rescued by Dougal and his men once or twice myself and faced similar difficulties as you for my trouble. Careful wi’ the steps here.”
She tried stepping up herself, but her legs nearly gave way. Jamie lifted her from around the waist and escorted her inside. She leaned on him once again as they walked through the parlor and to the stairs.
“Claire?” said Dougal, standing up and blocking their way. “What’s happened?”
“I think I was a little dehydrated, and I fainted. Thankfully, the Laird was there to catch me as I fell.”
Dougal’s eyes narrowed, and there was a slight curve to his mouth that disappeared so quickly, Jamie wasn’t sure it was ever really there.
“Excuse us,” said Jamie, his tone disapproving. “I’ll be taking her up to her room for rest and nourishment, which seem to have been neglected on her journey.”
Dougal rolled his eyes and let Jamie and Claire pass by. When they arrived at the bottom of the stairs, she tensed and sucked in a breath, clearly concerned about her ability to make it all the way up.
“May I?” asked Jamie, holding out his hands to lift her.
She flushed a deep shade of crimson, but nodded her acquiescence. He lifted her quickly—before she could change her mind—and moved swiftly up the stairs.
“Which room is yers?” he asked, not setting her down as they reached the landing.
She pointed to a North facing room on the second floor. He wondered uncharitably if it was next to Dougal’s room.
He took her inside and was immediately hit with the floral scent he’d detected on her skin outside. He breathed it in as he brought her to the bed and set her down.
“Thank you,” she said, struggling to meet his eyes. “That was quite...gallant.”
“Not at all,” he dismissed, though couldn’t help the swelling of his chest. “I’ll just go check wi’ Ian and Mrs. Crook about yer refreshment.”
As though summoned by their names, Ian’s steps could be heard coming down the hall with Mrs. Crook’s quieter shuffle right behind. They came into the room with concern in their eyes.
“How are ye feeling, Claire?” asked Ian.
“Much better.” She took the glass of water and drank slowly.
“Mrs. Crook, would ye mind tending to Mistress Beauchamp while we return to our other guests?” said Jamie.
“Of course, my Laird.”
He turned back to the whisky-eyed Sassenach and spoke softly, “Please call if ye need anything, Mistress.”
“Thank you, my Laird.”
He wanted to correct her, to have her call him by his Christian name, but the sound of “my Laird” on her lips was a pretty thing indeed. And if there was any truth to McGregor’s intelligence, then he’d best keep distance from the lass he was so drawn to.
He bowed formally and walked out the door.
To his surprise, he found Dougal loitering out in the hall. “Can I help ye, Uncle?”
“I came to check on Mistress Beauchamp.”
Jamie’s spine went stiff and his voice cold. “I assure ye, she’s well. Mrs. Crook will tend to whatever needs arise.”
Dougal nodded and made to step around Jamie to enter the room. Jamie moved in his way.
Dougal spoke low and dangerous. “Get out of my way, lad. ’Tis my responsibility to see the woman well and ensure she is being cared for.”
“That responsibility fell to me the moment she stepped foot on my land. I will care for her until she sees fit to ask me otherwise. Now, if ye dinna mind, Uncle, I wouldna want any impropriety to color the lass’s reputation by yer unnecessary visit to her bedchamber.”
Dougal stared him down with a cold fury and breathed heavily through his nose. Finally, he nodded and stepped back.
As they turned and stepped toward the stairs, Dougal asked with as devilish tone, “And when is it ye’ll be having yer Quarter Day, nephew? It should be soon, should it not?”
“Aye,” said Jamie warily. “In three days time.”
“Three days?” A grin snaked across his lips. “Our timing was fortunate then. I’ll be pleased for an opportunity to meet wi’ all yer tenants.”
Christ, thought Jamie. The last thing he needed was his uncle sowing seeds of rebellion in the minds of his men.
“In fact,” Dougal went on, “I think I should take the opportunity to ride into Broch Mordha and meet some of the tenants before Quarter Day. It would be nice to find familiar faces on the day of the celebration.”
“Hmphm. Do what ye must, Uncle.”
“Aye. I’ll just have Willie stay behind to see to Claire if need should arise.”
“That willna be necessary, Uncle, I can assure ye.”
“Be that as it may, please let her ken she’s no’ alone in a strange place.”
Jamie nodded his acquiescence. He didn’t see the harm in that.
He walked his uncle back down to the parlor where he and his men took their leave. Willie, it appeared, was ordered to stand guard outside of Lallybroch and keep an eye on things.
When his house was empty of MacKenzies, and the only stranger left inside was the sassenach upstairs, Jamie called Jenny, Ian, and Murtagh into his study.
“What the hell does he want, lad?” asked Murtagh.
“Revolution,” Jamie spat, pouring whisky all around. “He’s gone to the village to plant seeds in the ears of my tenants. He intends on staying for Quarter Day.”
“He’s a fool if he thinks he could sway our people to his cause,” said Jenny. “They’re loyal to the family, and that is that.”
“Aye. But dinna underestimate Dougal. Our uncle is accustomed to getting what he wants and making those who stand in his way suffer the consequences for doing so.”
“And what of the sassenach?” asked Murtagh. “D’ye think her a spy?”
Jamie shrugged. “I dinna ken. She passed out cold in my arms, and we spoke little when she awoke.”
“Caution, brother,” said Jenny, “a bee’s honey is awfully sweet, but it may no’ be worth the sting.”
“Och,” he dismissed her with the wave of his hand.
“Listen to the lass, Jamie,” said Murtagh. “A lady is made a spy to cloud a man’s judgment wi’ her charm and good looks.”
“I dinna think she’s a spy,” said Ian.
Jenny rolled her eyes. “Of course ye don’t, mo chridhe.”
“I mean it. I talked to her longer than the rest of ye. All she thinks in her heid shows plain on her face. If she’s a spy, she’s a terrible one at that.”
“If she’s no’ a spy, then why would Dougal bring her?”
“I dinna ken why the man does anything, but she seems a knowledgeable healer and doesna appear to have much affection for Dougal. In fact, it seemed to me that Dougal was keeping her against her will.”
“Why would he do that if she’s no’ a spy?”
“Aside from the obvious,” grunted Murtagh.
“Hush now,” said Jamie. “We dinna ken if what MacGregor said is true.”
“What did he tell ye?” asked Jenny.
“That’s none of yer concern.”
“He told us she’s Dougal’s mistress,” said Murtagh.
“Weel,” said Ian, “if he’s keeping her against her will, that wouldna make her a mistress, but a hostage who’s body is being taken against her will.”
Jamie shook his head. “He may be a bastard, but I’ve never kent my uncle to do such a thing.”
“MacGregor was likely mistaken, Jamie,” said Ian. “Claire doesna seem the type to appreciate Dougal’s abrupt and aggressive nature.”
“Oh?” said Jenny, crossing her arms and staring down her husband. “Since ye ken her sae well, what type does she seem?”
“If I’m being honest…” Ian took a drink of his whisky before going on, “I’m no’ entirely convinced she’s no’ one of the Fair Folk.”
Jenny snorted, and Jamie chuckled. Murtagh was mumbling under his breath and rolling his eyes.
“Hear me out,” said Ian. “She asked me how she could get back to the fairy hill where Dougal saved her from Randall.”
“That doesna mean she’s a fairy, an duine agam,” said Jenny.
“’Tis no’ just that, mo ghraidh. Look, I’ve traveled a bit around England and France, and I’ve no’ met anyone who looks or talks quite like her. The essence of her is foreign.”
“Aye,” Jamie agreed. “Her English is a bit strange.”
“D’ye think she may be French?” asked Murtagh.
“I dinna ken. If I hear her speak French, I’ll be sure to ken if the language was her first.”
“I’ve ne’er met a Frenchwoman like her,” protested Ian. “There’s a strangeness about her that doesna feel of this land.”
Jamie would be lying if he said he didn’t notice, too.
“Well, I never heard of a fairy being a sassenach,” said Jenny.
“Hmphm.” Neither had Jamie. “I’ll speak wi’ her at supper and see what I can gather. Until we have any reason to believe the woman means us any ill will, we will treat her as an honored and respected guest. Is that understood?”
“Aye,” said Ian. Jenny and Murtagh rolled their eyes in a surprisingly similar fashion, but grumbled their consent.
“Promise me one thing, brother,” said Jenny.
“Guard yer bollocks from the woman. Ian was right about one thing. She canna hide a thought from her face, and we all saw how she looked at ye when ye walked in the room. If she is a spy, I’m sure she’d find it no hardship to bed ye to get into yer good graces. Keep yer virtue away from her clutches, aye?”
Jamie huffed into his whisky and took a long drink. He shamed himself for the thought that if he was going to be made a fool, he’d at least prefer it to be by a woman like Claire Beauchamp over any other.
Lallybroch’s dinner table looked as it did any other night. There were no visiting relatives or strange sassenachs seated next to the family. Dougal and his men were still away at Broch Mordha, and Claire didn’t come down from her room. Jamie was more than a little disappointed by her absence, and if he was being honest, it was not only because of the missed opportunity to take her measure.
Mrs. Crook made Claire a plate when supper was finished. She was about to take it upstairs when Jamie intervened. “I’ll take it to her. I’d like to ensure she’s well.”
He didn’t miss his housekeeper’s glance at him out of the side of her eye as he made his way to the stairs. She could think what she liked; he didn’t really care.
When he got to Claire’s door, he knocked softly, wanting to alert her to his presence if she was awake, but not disturb her if asleep. When no sound came from inside, he softly opened the door and peered in the room.
His heart skipped a beat when her bed was empty. He rushed in, worried she’d collapsed somewhere on the floor. He scanned the room and found her sitting on the ledge of the window.
It was a deep ledge, several feet wide, made from the thick stone his father used to build the house. The window was open, and she was curled up in her shift, fast asleep. The poor lass must’ve still been overly warm in the house and sought the coolness of the breeze. But his heart raced at the thought of her falling out the window two floors down.
He set the tray of food on the side table and moved to the window. Softly, so as not to wake her, he lifted her up in his arms. She moaned contentedly and leaned her head against his chest. He was certain the thundering of his heart would sound like war drums in her dreams.
Her face was chilled from the breeze blowing on her clammy skin, and her body shivered as it absorbed his warmth. He brought her to bed and laid her down on the cool sheets. He didn’t cover her, fearful of overheating her once more.
She moaned softly and stretched out her body. She was long and graceful, and as she wore naught but her shift. Jamie could see the curves of her body concealed by her bumroll and petticoats earlier in the day. She had a great, round arse and a slender waist that inspired such lewd thoughts, he began feeling ashamed of himself for staring.
“Slàinte mhath,” he whispered, moving a dark curl behind her ear, “agus aislingean tlachdmhor.”
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept so long. In truth, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt safe enough to sleep so many hours. Ever since coming to the eighteenth century, I’d been either on the run or fearing for my immediate safety almost constantly. But when the Laird brought me to my room the previous afternoon, I felt so weak and exhausted, I could hardly stay awake long enough to eat a bit of cheese and a bannock.
It wasn’t an entirely restful sleep. I’d woken up sweating and uncomfortable several times throughout the night, thanks to the hot July air. Though quite groggy, I was certain I’d gotten up to sit by the window at some point throughout the night, but I somehow woke up back in bed. I thought perhaps I was sleepwalking until I saw the tray of food next to me. Something told me the frail, old Mrs. Crook wasn’t the one who managed to carry me back to bed.
Despite my restlessness, I didn’t wake in a panic for my life even one time. Strange, considering the threat of the MacKenzies still lingered over me.
It was with this thought that I stepped out into the hall and crossed paths with Dougal MacKenzie. He seemed to be just going into his room from a long evening out. The stench coming off him told me exactly why he was just getting home.
“Smells like you had quite a night.” I tried not to breathe in the scent of sweat, sex, and metabolizing alcohol as I walked by.
Unfortunately, Dougal wasn’t interested in letting me escape with my olfactory bulb intact. He grabbed my arm and stopped me in my tracks. He whispered low in my ear, his hot breath hitting me like a brick wall. “My nephew appeared quite taken wi’ ye yesterday.”
“He was a courteous host, tending to a guest who fell ill.”
“He was adamant about protecting yer honor while ye’re under his care. As chivalrous as he may be, I was certain I detected something baser in his motivation.” Dougal’s smile made me shiver in discomfort, not at the thought of the Laird having particular interest in me, but of Dougal’s eagerness to exploit it.
“Just remember, lass, young Jamie may have inherited his father’s charm, but he can be a cold, calculating, and violent man. Guard yerself, aye? And remember our arrangement.”
“As if I could forget.” I pulled my arm out of his grasp and left to find breathable air. I walked away with his eyes boring into the back of my head.
The house was nearly empty, and it took a little wandering around the grounds to find Mrs. Crook. I finally found her coming into the house with a pail of goat’s milk.
“And how are ye feeling this morning, mistress?” she asked, heaving the pail onto the counter.
“Much better, thank you. I don’t think I’ve ever been so well rested in my life.”
“The Laird ensured I saved some food for ye, if ye’re feeling up to eating.”
“Yes, thank you. And do you happen to know where I can find the Laird? I wanted to thank him for helping me yesterday.”
“Oh, aye. He’s out in the hay fields I’d expect. We’ve much to do before Quarter Day.”
“It’ll be the first since the Laird’s return. ’Tis a celebration and time to collect the rents from the tenants. Mistress Murray has ensured it’ll be a grand gathering indeed.”
“When will this happen?”
“In three days time.”
My thoughts turned to Dougal staying out so late the night before. If he and his men engaged in the festivities on Quarter Day, that could grant me enough time to make a run for Craigh Na Dun. Until then, it might be a good idea for me to get to know the grounds and find the best path for my exit.
I looked outside and tried to gauge the time of day by the height of the sun. It must’ve been around ten-thirty in the morning. “Mrs. Crook, does the Laird usually come home for lunch?”
“No’ when he’s out in the fields, mistress. I’ll send the stable boy out wi’ some lunch in an hour or so.”
“If it’s not too disruptive, I’d like to take it out to him a little early. Could I help with packing the basket for him?”
“Dinna fash. I’ll get it packed wi’ enough for the twa of ye and Mister Murray.”
Within fifteen minutes, I was being escorted out to the hay fields by a little stable boy named Rabbie. He showed me the way to the stables, the barn, and the broch. We passed the apple orchards and the shed where they made their ale. Finally, when I was able to spot the large haystacks in the distance, I sent little Rabbie back to the house while I set off to find the Laird.
He was easy to spot, with his enormous size and glittering hair. I watched him wield a pitchfork, tossing a scoop of hay into a large wagon. He was dressed differently for his work in the field. He wore a hunter’s kilt in colors of green and brown to readily blend into the forest. He didn’t carry his sword, but his dirk was strapped to his belt.
He was no less impressive in his work attire than his finest clothes. Perhaps even a bit more wild and intimidating.
As he turned around and his eyes met mine, I realized I’d been staring for some time. I dropped my gaze to hide my blush and made my way over to him.
“Good morning, my Laird,” I bowed my head.
His mouth curved into a pleasant smile, and his eyes danced with humor. “Good morning, Mistress Beauchamp.”
“Yes, well…” I laughed. “I did sleep in longer than planned.”
“Good. I’m glad ye were able to get some rest. And how are ye today, lass?”
“Much better, thanks to you. And to Mister Murray and Mrs. Crook.”
I lifted the basket and displayed its contents. “I asked Mrs. Crook if I could bring you an early lunch as a thank you. Whenever you take a break, maybe we could sit and eat?”
The sweetest smile graced his face as the breeze blew his curly red locks over his eyes. He combed his hair back with a hand and nodded warmly. “Aye. Let’s sit under yon tree,” he nodded to the North, “and keep ourselves out of the sun.”
I knew he was worried about me overheating again. As thoughtful as his concern was, I typically wasn’t a fragile being, and hoped to remedy his misguided notions. I shook off the thought, reminding myself of two things: first, he was a murdering Laird who was a means to an end with the MacKenzie brothers, and second, I would be leaving in three days, so it didn’t matter one bit what he thought of me.
When we made it to the tree, I laid down a blanket for us to sit on. I folded my legs under my skirts and watched him stretch out his long limbs next to me. In an attempt not to stare at his inner thigh peeking out from his kilt, I busied myself with taking out all the food. I thought perhaps Mrs. Crook overprepared the quantity of food needed for three people, but it was apparent very quickly that it took a significant amount of fuel to sustain the Laird’s formidable body.
“Your land and home are beautiful,” I said, looking out at the fields. “It’s quiet here. So peaceful.”
“A bit of a change from Leoch, aye?”
“A favorable change, I assure you.” Particularly since it put me that much closer to Craigh Na Dun.
“You like peace and quiet then?”
“I do. I would spend the rest of my life foraging around in a quiet little garden if I could.”
“Is that why the saddlebags in yer room were overflowing wi’ weeds and wee herbs?”
The poor man must’ve thought me rather odd. “They’re mostly medicinal. I’m a healer.”
“Aye. A good one too, I’ve heard.”
I nodded, no need to be modest. “If any of the family or tenants needs to be seen while I’m here, I’d be happy to oblige.”
“I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunity to take ye up on that offer, Sassenach.”
We both reached for a bannock at the same time, and our hands grazed against each other.
“Go on,” I said.
He waited with a sweet smile in his eyes for me to go first. I took it, and he grabbed the one beneath. After I finished a bite, I asked, “So, are you very close to your uncles?”
“I dinna ken about close, but I fostered wi’ Dougal for some years in my youth. He taught me much about wielding a blade and leading men into battle.”
“Aye. He taught me to play chess.”
“Chess?” I laughed.
“Chess,” he confirmed, “and no’ just on a chessboard.” He blinked at me in the oddest manner, almost like a wide-eyed owl staring at its prey. It took me a moment to realize he was trying to wink, though couldn’t close just the one eye.
“I see,” I chuckled.
“Do ye?” His eyes bore into mine.
“It would seem as though they were trying to prepare you for something with all that training.”
“Or use me.” His smile no longer met his eyes.
There was only one reason he would tell me, a stranger, such a thing. “You know what they want from you, don’t you?”
He nodded humorlessly. “And they asked ye to help them get what they wanted, did they no’?”
I didn’t say a word, but he could see the truth of it in my eyes.
“And which of my uncles d’ye intend on trying to help?”
“Oh, I have no heart for politics and would probably warn you away from both of them if I didn’t have concern about their reaction if they found out. I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other and eventually find my way home.”
“Where is home?”
“And is there someone ye’re going home to? A family? A husband? Children?”
“No. All my family are gone...dead. My parents passed when I was a child, my uncle died five years ago, and my husband shortly after that.”
“I’m sorry to hear. I didna mean to bring up auld wounds.”
“I’m fine. Really.” I smoothed my skirts to give my hands something to do. “How about you? Are there any Parisian ladies or local girls who’ve captured their Laird’s attention?”
He flushed to the tips of his ears and chuckled. “Och, no. I’ve only been a free man for a short time and home for an even shorter time than that. I’ve no’ been a good prospect for a wife...until recently.”
My eyes seemed to move up and down his body of their own accord. “I’m not so sure about that.”
“’Tis true. I was a wanted man for years. Wanted for murder. I couldna set foot in Scotland wi’out risking my own life, much less that of a wife.”
“But Colum’s cleared that up, has he not? He told me he got the price taken off your head.”
“He has. As I said, I’m a free man now.”
“And a fine prospect for a wife.”
“Perhaps.” He grinned mischievously. “But did’ye ever wonder if I actually killed the man, Sassenach? D’ye no’ want to ken if ye’re alone out here wi’ a murderer?”
His amusement kept most of my fear at bay. He truly didn’t seem the kind of man to take pleasure in the loss of life, whatever Colum and Dougal’s allusions to the contrary. “Are you saying you didn’t commit the murder you were wanted for?”
“No. I did not. Though I have killed many other men in battle besides, I didna kill that particular man. I had witnesses to prove it, as well.”
“Well, that’s good to know. Now I can go about my lunch without worry of being disemboweled by my dining companion.”
He chuckled pleasantly.
“And I’m sure all the ladies of Broch Tuarach will be lining up for a chance to dance with their non-murdering Laird come Quarter Day. I bet they won’t sleep for days in anticipation.”
He chuckled heartily.
“What? What’s so funny?” I demanded.
“’Tis nothing, Sassenach. Only…” he laughed a bit more, “...only that ye’ve just slept near twenty hours straight. Ye dinna seem to be suffering from the same anticipatory affliction as yon lassies.”
I couldn’t help my own giggle bubbling out of my lips. I took a bite of some smoked meat and watched him do the same.
“Can I ask you a serious question?” I said.
“What are your plans for the Jacobite Rebellion? Are you interested in joining the cause?”
“Nae, Sassenach. As far as I’m concerned, it doesna signify unless the violence of war touches my land or my people. Besides, from what I ken, the Prince has only just arrived in Paris, and he’s currently wi’out the funds or support to fight a war.”
“Funds and support or not, he’s coming to Scotland...and soon. Probably within the next couple of years. What will you do then?”
He narrowed his gaze at me. “And who wants to ken? You? Or is it Colum or Dougal? Or perhaps someone else entirely?”
“I’m not a spy, despite what you may have heard. I asked only for the sake of curiosity and concern. War is coming. I hope you’ll be prepared, whatever direction you choose to lead your people.”
He considered my words for a moment before he let out a quiet chuckle. “And ye said ye didna care much for politics.”
“I’ve no interest in politics, and that’s the God’s honest truth. But I do know all about the dangers of war. This won’t be the first one I’ve seen.”
“Aye...and hopefully no’ the last either. So long as men live, they’ll be fighting, so as long as ye keep seeing war, then ye’ll ken ye’re still alive.”
“That was painfully accurate and entirely demoralizing. I actually intend to be long gone from Scotland before war ravishes this land and its people. It won’t be a pretty thing.”
“That sounds like a warning, Sassenach. Though I canna tell if it is one from Colum, Dougal, or the English.”
“As I said before, I’m no one’s spy. I’m just trying to be honest...for whatever that’s worth.”
He reached out a hand and grabbed mine. “I’d say friendship has room for secrets, but no’ lies.”
I smiled tenderly, enjoying the feel of my hand enveloped in his. They were large and rough and warm. “Are you asking me to be your friend?”
“Would it no’ be better than being my enemy?”
“Just so, my Laird. And that I can say with all honesty.”
“Aye. Then we’ll be friends. And as such...ye can call me Jamie.”
After my new friend and I finished our lunch, I gave him the basket to give what was left to Ian. He walked me to the edge of the field. As I was preparing to take my leave and let him return to work, he spoke to me in the most elegant French tongue I’d ever heard. He said, “Whether there are dozens of ladies lining up to dance with me on Quarter Day, or none, will you, my friend, save a dance for me?”
My heart fluttered madly in my chest as I responded in French in turn. “Knowing how light you are on your feet, how could I possibly say no?”
He laughed heartily. “And how do you ken I’m so light on my feet?”
“Because you snuck up on me so stealthily yesterday, that you knocked me completely unconscious. I can only imagine how easily you’ll move across the dance floor.”
He blushed to the tips of his ears and didn’t hide the breathtaking smile that graced his face.
“I’ll see ye at supper, Sassenach.”
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, watching the servants scurrying around to and fro to prepare for Quarter Day.
“No’ at all,” said Jenny, hardly looking in my direction. “Ye’re a guest in this house, and I willna have my guests saddled wi’ chores and housework and the like. Go on and busy yerself wi’ whatever amusements suit yer fancy.”
“It would be no hardship, I assure you.”
“’Tis no’ yer place, Mistress Beauchamp.” Her tone brooked no further opposition.
I held my head up and sighed, “As you wish.”
If I couldn’t be of use in the house, then the best thing I could do for everyone was to not be a nuisance in it. I tracked down a large basket from the kitchen and set off outside to forage for some medicinal plants.
“Pay no mind to Jenny,” said a quiet voice behind me as I walked out the door.
I nearly jumped out of my skin. “Jamie! Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, you said you wouldn’t sneak up on me anymore.”
He chuckled as we made our way into the morning sunlight. “I didna realize I was sneaking around my own home.”
“How a bloody giant walks around as quiet as a mouse, I’ll never know.”
Pointing to my basket, he asked, “Where are ye off to, Sassenach? Looking for more of yer wee herbs?”
“As a matter of fact, I am. If you can point me in the direction of a nearby creek, I’d much appreciate it. There are a number of plants that grow along the water’s edge I’d like to see if I could find.”
“Aye, follow me. I’ll show ye to a pretty, little glade wi’ a creek running through. All sorts of plants grow along where the sun shines down. May I?” He took the basket from my hand to carry it for me.
“Thank you.” I looked up at him so he’d know I was sincere. “I know an Englishwoman in the Highlands isn’t always welcome. I appreciate your kindness.”
He put a hand on my arm in both acknowledgment and consolation. “Dinna fash about Jenny. She’s rarely left our land and doesn’t take kindly to most strangers, no’ just the English.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
We walked quietly through the long grass, away from any roads or paths. I was unaccustomed to hiking over such uneven ground, but it was second nature to Jamie. After the second time I caught my shoe on a rock, he took my arm and hooked it around his for the sake of stability.
He was, without question, the most sturdy man I’d ever met in my life.
“I have a wee confession, Sassenach,” he spoke out of the blue.
“I was there the day ye were found by the MacKenzies in yer shift at Craigh Na Dun.”
I tried my best to think back to that day, but couldn’t remember seeing anyone that could possibly resemble Jamie on the hill. “Where were you?”
“Some distance away, but I ken it was you. I tried to help ye wi’ that bastard Randall, but...but my godfather interfered. Ye see, I’d only just been pardoned, and my sister was about to have her wee bairn, and my people had been suffering wi’out me. Murtagh’s words made me pause...I hesitated when I should ha’ just...By the time I fought past him, it was too late. The MacKenzies had taken off wi’ ye.”
As I gripped his firm and reassuring arm, I wondered how different things would have been if it were Jamie that had come to my aid, rather than Dougal and his men.
“I think I have to confess something, as well,” I said.
“I’m pretty certain I am the reason Dougal is here at Lallybroch in the first place.”
“Sent him here, did’ye,” he laughed, “in yer wee spy games?”
“No. Nothing like that.” He lifted me bodily over a particularly rough patch of earth before I continued on. “Dougal and I had an argument at Leoch. A very public, very loud discussion of the Rising.”
“Not the Rising of 1715. We were discussing the upcoming rebellion Dougal wants to start. I...I thought I was being helpful in telling him Scotland doesn’t have a chance of winning. I told him the clans are too disconnected to come together, that they lack decisive leadership and resources. Instead of getting even more angry with me for doubting him, or giving up altogether as I had hoped he would, he took my words to heart and decided to go on some campaign to bring the clan leaders together...starting with you. I’m afraid my big mouth is responsible for bringing you this trouble.”
Jamie’s whole body bounced with humor. “Weel, then it serves me right for letting him take ye away to Leoch. I kent there was a reason I should ha’ gone after ye and kept ye for myself.”
“Jamie,” I chided.
“Claire, ye’re no’ responsible for my uncle’s decisions. Ye were only trying to help. And even if he didna come now, he’d come later. I’m certain of it.” He patted my hand gently and we walked arm in arm. “Dinna fash yerself, lass. ’Twas inevitable.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Tell me something though. Why would Dougal bring ye to help him convince me to join his cause if ye’re so opposed to it?”
“It was Colum who sent me. He wants you to lead the MacKenzies when he dies. He said if I convinced you, he’d send me home. Anywhere I wanted to go. Dougal, of course, deduced his intentions and gave me a counter offer: convince you to join his cause, and he’d send me home...fail, and he’d consider me an enemy to the rebellion.”
“I see,” he nodded gravely.
“Aye. I ken my uncles well. I’m often caught between them just as you are now, though their threats to me are none so direct, seeing as how they fear my opposition as much as they desire my allegiance.”
“Apparently, they’re not too concerned about my opposition.”
“Because they’re fools,” he chuckled.
We were in the cover of the forest now. The ground was blanketed in bracken and moss, and the sun struggled to make its way through the leaves and pine. I held on a little tighter to his arm, worried I might slip on the slick surface beneath my feet.
“Ye’re safe here at Lallybroch. Ye ken that, right?”
I acknowledged him with a squeeze of his arm. I did feel safe with him. It was a strange realization, seeing as how devious, violent, and conniving everyone painted him out to be. I’d only known him a short time, but he made me feel calm and reassured.
“Why do you call your home Lallybroch?” I asked, wanting to change the subject to more pleasant things.
“It means ‘Lazy Tower.’ Ye’ve seen the ancient broch has a bit of lean to it?” An amused pride had him curling his mouth at the thought of his land.
On and on we walked through the forest, stopping only to pick some wild berries. He gave me a handkerchief from his sporran, and I filled it up and tucked them away into the basket—though I kept a handful to eat along the way. I gave a few to Jamie; they seemed so tiny in his massive hands. I could only imagine how many he’d have to eat to assuage potential hunger.
He popped them in his mouth and chewed slowly, seemingly to let the flavor linger on his tongue. He had a look of deep consideration as his jaw worked lazily up and down. It wasn’t until he spoke that I realized he wasn’t thinking about the berries. “Ye’re no’ planning on running away, are ye, Sassenach?”
“Running?” I said, flustered. How could he possibly know that?
“It wouldna be safe for ye to do so. Ye ken Dougal is having ye followed?”
I looked behind us and saw nothing.
“Dinna fash. Willie is far enough away no’ to hear us talk so quietly, but he is there, lass. He was there yesterday, as well, when ye came to see me in the hay field.”
“Goddamn fucking bastard Dougal,” I grumbled, defeat almost immediately replacing rage.
“Aye,” Jamie confirmed. “Dougal and his men ken the Highlands as well as anyone, and they’ll catch ye before ye get back to Craigh Na Dun.”
“How did you know where I was going?”
He smiled a little sheepishly. “Ian told me ye asked him where to find it.”
“Of course he did,” I sighed.
“’Tis no’ just Dougal’s men that should have ye worrit. The redcoats patrol these parts more so than Leoch. We’re closer to Fort William, ye see, and they’re often in need of supplies and such. I should hate for Captain Randall to happen upon ye while ye’re alone in the Highlands. And that’s to say nothing of the Watch or any other folk none too keen on a strange sassenach wandering around their land.”
I sighed heavily, feeling my old life slip further away.
“I’ll take ye there myself,” he said, “after Quarter Day. Ye’ve done naught to deserve being anyone’s prisoner. I ken the feeling well enough. The anger...the unfairness...the helplessness. I’ll take ye to Oxfordshire or France or Craigh Na Dun. I’ll take ye wherever ye like.”
I stopped in my tracks, and he paused with me, as though anticipating my movement. I searched his eyes for any sign of deception and found nothing, save genuine warmth. “You’d do that for me?”
“Hmphm. Let me worry about my uncle...both of my uncles. I'd very much like to see you safe.”
And he meant it too. For a man who could so easily mask his thoughts, he was purposefully letting his guard down so I could see the truth of it.
“Thank you, Jamie. But if you think I’d throw away a friend to the wolves like that, then you don’t know me at all. I understand exactly what it would mean to Dougal if he thought you were undermining his cause. I’ll not be responsible for the consequences of that, for the position it would put you in.”
“D’ye no’ think it my decision to make?”
“Not yours alone. I refuse your assistance, just as I’m sure you’d refuse to put me in a situation that might cause me harm.”
He tensed his jaw and sighed in frustration. “Then it appears we are at an impasse.”
“So it does.”
Our eyes locked for what felt like an endless moment. I could see the concern in his gaze...and if I was being honest, something more. And I very much liked it.
His mouth quirked, and he turned away, holding out a hand to lead me forward. I took it, enjoying his touch far more than I should. In fact, I was so consumed by it, I hardly noticed when he brought me through the last of the trees and into the sunshine.
It was the flames of his hair in the morning light that alerted me to our change in scenery. I turned to find the most picturesque glade, illuminated by dapples of sunlight filtering through the surrounding trees. A small creek ran noisily around the edge of the glade, where water gently splashed against boulders, trees, and solid earth. Nearly the entire glade was covered with wildflowers, ferns, and long grass.
“Jamie…” I whispered breathlessly, head clouded with the scent of summer blossoms.
“Here’s flowers for you,” he recited from A Winter’s Tale. “Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram; The marigold that goes to bed wi’ the sun, And with him rises weeping."
Only such a man could draw my eyes away from the beauty of the glade. His thumb caressed the back of my hand, as though playing the strings of my fluttering heart.
“Come.” He led me down to the creek. “D’ye see any of the herbs and such ye were hoping for?”
I laughed aloud. “More than could’ve imagined.”
“Alright then. I’ll help ye dig up what ye need.”
“Don’t you have work to do back at the house or out in the fields?”
“Aye,” he grinned. “But for now, I’m pulling up weeds and plants for my new sassenach friend.”
“Your sister is going to hate me.”
“Mebbe for a bit, just until she lets herself get to know ye.”
With medicinal flora in abundance, it took no time at all to fill the basket overflowing. I was actually quite pleased that Jamie came with me for more than just his pleasant company. Carrying the large basket all the way back the house through such rugged terrain seemed daunting.
“Ah, look!” said Jamie enthusiastically, pulling up a humble, spiny weed with a purple flower adorning its top. “Thistle.”
“You know, the roots of the thistle can be decocted for respiratory conditions, and the flowers can be made into tea for a heart tonic.”
“Is that so? I didna ken that.” He fingered the spiny bits with amusement. “Did’ye ken that this bitty weed saved the lives a great many Scotsmen in the 13th century?”
I shook my head, rapt with interest.
Jamie leaned forward as I’d seen a few clansmen do at Leoch as they were preparing to tell a story. “There was a Norse king by the name of Haakon who quietly invaded Largs on the western coast of Scotland. Haakon and his Vikings meant to creep up on the clansmen in the dead of night, long after they’d fallen asleep. So cautious they were to maintain the element of surprise, that their leaders ordered they all go barefoot into battle so their footfall wouldna rouse any of the Scots. Fortunately for the clansmen, the Vikings’ bare feet came down upon Scottish thistle, and their cries of shock and agony woke the sleeping Highlanders who were able to defend their lives and their land with the comfort of boots on their feet.”
I laughed as much at Jamie’s enjoyment of his own story as the content of the story itself.
“And that is why we prize the thistle as we do,” he continued. “It has become a symbol of strength and tenacity...much like the Scots themselves.”
“And beauty...albeit a bit rugged sometimes.”
Jamie feigned offense. “Are ye calling the likes of Murtagh a bit rugged, Sassenach? He’s a canty wee bird if I’ve ever seen one.”
“Canty?” I tried to imagine the sour-faced Scot as canty, but came up entirely empty aside from a fit of laughter.
“’Tis a good thing he’s no’ here. Ye might’ve injured his feelings wi’ yer disbelief.”
“I’m sure he’d find a way to recover.” I wiped tears from the corners of my eyes. “Will I be able to witness some of his cantiness during Quarter Day?”
“Oh, to be sure. His taciturn nature and severe countenance aside, the man has the voice of a songbird.”
I bent over in a fit of giggles once again.
“I’m telling ye the truth!” he insisted, gently nudging under my chin in chastisement. “I told ye I wouldna lie to ye.”
“Oh, I believe you mean it. It’s just that I’m seriously questioning your judgment and wondering if you’re tone deaf.”
“Weel, ye’re none sae wrong there, lass. I dinna have much an ear for music, but Murtagh’s voice is known around these parts as something verra fine to hear.”
“Wait...you’re tone deaf, and you still plan on dancing with me?” I snorted at the foolish image in my mind of Jamie and I dancing wildly off the beat of the music to a roomful of scandalized spectators.
“I can hear the rhythms just fine, but it all just sounds like noise. Yelling and screeching and the like.”
“Oh, this evening you have planned sounds like a marvelous time.”
“Oh aye,” he said, and recited a rhythmic poem:
“We'll confound the reckoning quite,
And lose ourselves in wild delight:
While our joys so multiply,
As shall mock the envious eye.”
“That’s beautiful. What poem is it?”
“Oh, ’tis nothing,” he waved me off. “Just an auld Latin poem from Catullus.”
“Gaelic, English, French, Latin...how many languages do you speak?”
“A fair few quite well. A few others poorly.”
I shook my head in wonder. “You’re nothing like everyone painted you out to be. You’re just one surprise after another.”
“And what wretched rumors did’ye hear before ye came?”
“That you’re a violent, manipulative, self-serving Laird, who would gut a man as soon as he invited him to dinner.”
The smile remained on his lips, but disappeared from his eyes. “They didna speak untrue, Sassenach. I am all those things as much as whatever else ye’ve seen.”
“I can’t imagine you’d take pleasure in such things.”
“Ye’ve only kent me a few days, Claire. I’m sure wi’ further acquaintance, ye’ll no’ have need to imagine such things. Ye’ll have opportunity to see for yerself.” He wasn’t smiling at all any longer.
A shiver went down my spine despite the heat of the day. I forced myself to look around and picked the first flower in reach. It was a small plant with little purple-blue blossoms fanning out here and there. “A forget-me-not,” I said, remembering it being the last thing I’d seen before traveling through the stones.
“Does it have medicinal use?”
“Some say it might help with nose bleeds and lung problems, but it’ll harm your liver faster than it fixes anything else.”
“Then why are ye picking it, lass?”
I shrugged. “It’s pretty.”
“Ye like pretty things then?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Aye. So do I.” A heated blush rose up to the tips of his ears, and I knew he was no longer talking about the flower.
As Jamie walked back to the house with Claire on one arm and a basket of greenery on the other, he knew it was how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. He was certain he was not alone in his affections. Her eyes told him she was quite taken with him as well...he only wished he knew how much.
She was stunning. As beautiful as she was sweet. And if her hands felt so bonny on his arm, he could only imagine how they’d feel lower down.
He remembered watching her sleep the night before. Christ, how her shift curved ’round her arse as she slumbered. He could almost feel her in his hands, fitting her bottom in the curve of his pelvis.
“Thank you, Jamie. You really didn't have to take so much time out of your day to help me.”
“’Twas my pleasure, Sassenach.” He led her into the house and to the drawing room. “I’ll just bring these plants up to yer room wi’ ye.”
“Jamie!” barked Dougal, coming inside armed from head to toe. “If ye’re no’ out working, come cross blades wi’ me. I’ve no’ had decent practice since we left Leoch.”
Jamie turned slowly to address his uncle, frustrated with the interruption. Though, he was pleased for the opportunity to practice with such a fine fighter. He’d likely not get the chance again for some time. “Aye. I’ll just deliver these to Claire’s bedchamber and be down shortly.”
Jamie followed Claire up to her room and welcomed the herbaceous scent as he stepped inside. Claire had to clear away old plants and herbs off a table to make room for the basket.
“I’ll have another table brought up here for ye, and some wee pots and bowls and jars, if ye like.”
A soft gratitude melted the expression on her face. “I don’t know how to thank you, Jamie.”
“Really, Claire, ’tis my…”
They were interrupted by a shout coming from somewhere upstairs.
“Jenny!” he said, darting past Claire and out of the room.
He could hear Claire’s footsteps trailing behind as he flew up the stairs to find his sister. When he made it to the third floor, he followed the sound of a baby crying in the nursery. Claire caught up to him just as he opened the door.
Wee Maggie was wailing and cringing in pain. Again. The poor lass had been crying more often of late. Jenny was holding her, rocking her pressed tight against her chest.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Jenny shook her head and went back to rocking the baby, indiscernible Gaelic being whispered to the wean.
Movement drew Jamie’s attention to the other side of the room. Ian was holding wee Jamie, and Mrs. Crook stood there looking worried at Jenny and the babe.
“Maggie is hungry,” said Ian, “but she still doesna want to eat. She tried this morning, but boaked all o’er her Ma just after.”
“Boaked?” asked Claire.
“Vomited,” said Jamie. “The wee lass hasna been eating well, and when she does, she falls ill, retching and crying and writhing in pain.”
“She’s fine,” Jenny asserted. “She’s just no’ feeling well. I’m sure it’ll pass.”
“Why were ye yelling, a nighean?” asked Jamie.
Jenny only huffed and went back to rocking the baby.
“Mrs. Crook…” Ian hesitated, then proceeded to speak with care. “Mrs. Crook suggested that mebbe ’tis no’ Maggie at all. She said...perhaps a fairy replaced the wean wi’ a changeling.”
“And a damned fool suggestion if I ever heard one,” said Jenny, emphatically. Though the distress in her tone made Jamie inclined to believe his sister held some little doubt of her own. “I ken my own daughter, Jamie! She may be ill, but she isna a damn fairy!”
“Aye, mistress,” said Mrs. Crook, “but ye ken the fairies are a tricky sort. They could but use a glamour…”
“This child is my daughter! D’ye hear me? I’ll no’ be having anyone suggesting otherwise!”
“A changeling?” said Claire behind him. Jamie could hear the disbelief in her voice. She whispered low so only he could hear. “Jamie, you know that’s ridiculous.”
“Aye.” Then he spoke loud enough for Jenny to hear, “Would ye look at the wean, Claire? She may no’ be a fairy, but she is most certainly ill. Perhaps ye can find a tincture or tea of some sort to help her feel better.”
“My daughter is braw!” Jenny insisted. “We’ll wait for the Beaton to come…”
“Claire is no’ going to hurt the lass, mo phiuthar.”
“Let her look, mo chridhe,” said Ian, patting wee Jamie gently on the back. “Just hear what she has to say.”
Jenny looked down at Maggie with pain and fear in her eyes. She reminded Jamie of a wild animal whose child was threatened, ready to lash out at anything that came too close.
“You can hold her, Jenny,” said Claire. “Perhaps I can just take a look and ask you a few questions?”
With a glance down at her daughter, and a final reassuring nod from Jamie, Jenny finally acquiesced. She turned little Maggie around and invited Claire to come closer.
Maggie continued to scream as Claire opened up the bundle of blankets. Jamie watched as Claire checked the rhythm of the baby’s heart. She cooed to the little one as she worked, telling Jenny every move she was going to make before making it. Claire listened to the child’s lungs, checked all her limbs, then pressed gentle fingers into her belly.
“When did this start?” Claire asked.
Jenny shrugged. “She’s always been a bit fussy, especially after she eats, but it’s only gotten worse over time. The last few weeks have been awful for the puir lass.”
“She’s not had any convulsions? An uncontrollable tensing and shaking of her body?”
Jenny shook her head. “’Tis always just like this.”
“Is she alright, Claire?” asked Ian, coming closer now that Jenny was less feral.
“Well, I can’t be certain, but I think little Maggie is having a bad case of reflux.”
“What?” asked Jenny, narrowing her eyes at Claire.
“You see, babies have an immature digestive system. It usually takes some time for it to fully develop, but some babies have more problems with it than others. There are acids, fluids, in our stomach that break down food. I think Maggie’s body is just having a hard time keeping her milk and those acids in her stomach where they belong. It makes her sick and causes her to have pain, so she cringes and cries. Then she cries some more because she’s so hungry.”
“So ye dinna think she’s a changeling?” asked Jenny.
“Of course not.”
“Can ye help her, Sassenach?” asked Jamie.
“There’s not much to be done, unfortunately. We can employ gravity to help her out. May I?” Claire asked, holding her hands out for the bairn.
Jenny hesitantly handed Maggie over. Claire took the wean and demonstrated to Jenny, “If you feed her by holding her upright, the milk will drop down her esophagus much easier and be digested where it should. Keep her sitting upright or rock her to sleep on your shoulder, like this, for at least a half hour after she’s done eating. Try propping her up when she sleeps so all the fluid stays down at the bottom of her belly.”
Jamie snorted with the simplicity of it all. He’d spent more than one evening overeating the rich food in France and suffered for it with pains in his chest and bile coming up his throat. Sitting up certainly helped him to feel better. “See, a nighean, all will be well.”
“I can’t be one hundred percent certain, of course,” said Claire. “But try it out over the next few days and see if it helps. If it does, just keep doing it for as long as she needs. It usually goes away after a few weeks or months.”
Jenny didn’t look entirely convinced, but Jamie was certain he saw a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
“Ye’ll do as she says?” Jamie asked, wanting confirmation.
Jenny nodded. “I suppose it wouldna do the lass any harm to be more upright.”
Maggie had finally cried herself to sleep on Claire’s shoulder. Jamie didn’t know how the bairn wasn’t awoken by the wisps of Claire’s curly hair tickling her face, but he thought it probably a fine thing for the wean to be resting so comfortably on the lass’s bosom and Claire’s gentle hands stroking the soft expanse of her back.
Jenny must have been thinking the same, because she asked, “Ye were marrit before, Claire? Did’ye no’ have any children of yer own?”
Though Claire kept smiling, she couldn’t hide the sadness in her eyes. “No. We tried, but...I couldn’t get pregnant. I suppose it’s just not in the cards for some people.”
“I’m sorry to hear.”
“It’s alright. There are other ways to have children. Whenever I’m ready one day, perhaps I’ll find a child who needs a mother as much as I need a little one.”
Jamie hadn’t realized he wasn’t breathing until he started feeling dizzy. Though hearing the woman could not bear his children was a blow, what was worse was her clear suffering over it. And there was nothing he could do to fix it for her.
“Jamie!” Dougal’s impatient voice came through the window. “Get yer scairt wee bollocks out here a’fore I find ’em and drag ’em outside!”
“Hmphm,” Jamie grumbled. He caressed his sister’s cheek and asked, “Ye alright, a leannan?”
She nodded with a small smile. “There is at least some small thing I can do now, which is no little comfort.”
He kissed the top of her head, then moved to Claire and Maggie. He bent over the bairn and whispered, “Cadal gu math, a nighean.” He placed a soft kiss on her warm temple before standing up to his full height.
Claire’s eyes were on him, smiling sweetly.
“Thank ye, Sassenach.”
“It’s my pleasure,” she repeated his words from earlier.
Jamie forced himself to pull away and went to his nephew. “Come, a bhalaich. Help me don my sword and shield. Ye want to see yer uncle practice wi’ a blade?”
Wee Jamie reached for him from his father’s arms, and Jamie carried him out of nursery. Thoughts of Claire holding little Maggie burrowed their way into his mind as he searched for his sword and shield.
He was distracted still as he showed wee Jamie how to strap them on. And when he made his way outside, he thought of what it might be like to bring his own child with him to teach him how to fight.
“There ye are, ye coward!” said Dougal, as Jamie stepped into the courtyard. “Ye’ve gone soft in France, lad?”
“Haud yer wheesht, auld man. I ken ye’re no’ long for this earth, but ye canna be rushing everyone around ye.”
Jamie put his nephew a safe distance away from where the fighting would take place. “Careful now as ye watch yer uncles, aye? I dinna want ye getting trampled on nor skewered wi’ a blade.”
Wee Jamie nodded enthusiastically, his wide, brown eyes staring at Jamie's long sword. Jamie’s heart was full and warm at the sight of the child’s awe and wonder.
He moved to the center of the courtyard, where the servants and family had started to gather around to watch the show. Jamie’s eyes rose up to the nursery on the third floor and saw Claire sitting on the ledge, still holding wee Maggie. He smiled softly, looking between her and wee Jamie, and thought, This alone is more than a man has any right to ask for.
“Ye ready to be gelded, laddie?” asked Dougal with a grin.
Jamie took his stance and said, “Je suis prest, Uncle.”
Dougal mirrored his stance and yelled, “Tulach Ard!” before running forward and swinging down his blade.
"...Wee’l confound the reckoning quite,
And lose our selves in wild delight:
While our joyes so multiply,
As shall mocke the envious eye."
Out of Catullus by Richard Crashaw
They were at it again, the great brutes. Every day, multiple times a day. This time it was with their great claymore blades. I could see why Dougal was so eager to practice with Jamie. No one else could possibly keep up.
Jamie’s enormous two-handed blade was at least as tall as me from hilt to tip. He could only wield it if he used both hands, making it impossible to hold a shield at the same time, but it was so large, it was both weapon and shield on its own.
The great Scots hammered away at each other with astonishing power. The sound of blade crashing against blade must’ve resonated through the air for miles around. Every clash was jarring, reverberating down my spine.
But as terrifying and awe-inspiring as it was, it was also breathtakingly beautiful. The men were soaked in sweat, making their white shirts a tedious formality. I could see every sharp curve and smooth plain of muscle through the transparent fabric clinging to their bodies. The speed at which they moved whirled their kilts around in the air, showing off their long, athletic legs.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Jamie. It was impossible to watch his muscles flex and stretch without thinking about what a body like that might feel like on top of me. And even if I could pull my eyes away, it wouldn’t matter. It was impossible to hear the sounds of his grunting and straining without wondering what he might sound like climaxing inside me.
And every interaction we had outside his practice sessions were now tainted by what I had witnessed in them. Like when we sat down to supper the night before and he conversed politely about the state of the mill, all I could hear in every word he said were echoes of the growls and groans I’d heard watching him fight.
As I began readying myself for the Quarter Day celebration, I was no less affected. I stood at the window in my shift, peering down over Jamie and Dougal in combat. Again I watched as muscle and sinew flexed and rippled under their shirts. I tried, failing miserably, not to imagine Jamie’s powerful thighs between my legs or what it would feel like to press myself against his sweaty body and hear his heavy panting in my ear.
As though he could feel the force of my thoughts, his eyes lifted up to my window. I couldn’t help the blush on my cheeks nor the shiver down my spine, but still, I held his gaze.
It wasn’t until Dougal threw a small rock at his head that Jamie looked away briefly to curse at his uncle. It was at that moment I realized I was still in my shift. Jamie’s eyes lifted back up as I moved away so my half-naked body wasn’t on display for the whole courtyard to see.
Mrs. Crook had already brought in a basin with steaming hot water so I could wash for the festivities. The water was almost painful to the touch, but after too many days in the eighteenth century without such a luxury, I gladly endured the discomfort.
With images of Jamie’s form fresh in my mind, I was very aware of my soft shift sliding down my hypersensitive skin. I worked up a lather in my hands with Jenny’s fine-milled French soap and brought the warm, wet suds over my chest. Clearly, they were my own fingertips running up the side of my neck and down my throat, but my imagination rejected the idea that it wasn’t Jamie who was touching me. That it wasn’t his sizable hands moving down my arms and to my belly.
Foolish, I thought to myself. I planned on being gone very soon, and fantasizing about so intimate a touch—one likely to never become a reality—would only lead to frustrated disappointment and regret.
But as I gently washed over the soft skin of my breasts and tight, achy nipples, I wondered if it would be such a terrible thing to let him touch me before I left. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I’d harbor all the more regret if I didn’t share such intimacy with him before leaving this century forever.
He’d have to want to, of course, but by the look in his eyes as he had gazed up at me from the courtyard, I was certain his lack of wanting wouldn’t be a problem.
Opening my mind to amorous possibilities had me moving my lathered hand over the smooth curves of my waist and hips...and then further down. As they reached the apex of my thighs, my small fingers slipped delicately between my lips.
And somehow I knew that no amount of imagination would ever do the reality of his own hands justice.
“Failing means ye're playin, laddie!” said Jamie, as he pleasantly slapped the shoulder of a young man of about sixteen. “Keep up yer practice wi’ the longbow, and I’ll ha’ ye come wi’ me to find a buck next week.”
If I’d thought James Fraser couldn’t surprise me anymore with the different manifestations of his personality, I was proven very wrong at the Quarter Day celebration multiple times over.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been taken so off guard—Colum and Dougal had informed me of his charisma—but watching him with his tenants was a revelation. They flocked to him, drawn by his magnetism. All this time, I thought him more introverted like myself, but I watched that assumption prove false as connection to all the people around him fueled his energy, rather than depleted it.
He talked to every one of his tenants, from the infants to the elderly. He laughed, he drank, he told stories, and he listened. I stood at the edge of the room with a whisky in my hand and watched him narrow the full force of his attention on one person at a time. I saw the power it had on the recipient to be cared for by their Laird. I watched grown men’s shoulders straighten with pride, children dissolve into fits of laughter, and smitten young ladies bow their heads and look up at him through fluttering lashes.
I snickered to myself after one such young lady with blonde ringlets pinned high upon her head walked away licking her lips and fanning her flushed skin. I wasn’t laughing at the poor girl, but rather at myself and my own susceptibility to his charming smile and quick wit.
Even fully aware that I was only one of hundreds of people vying for Jamie’s attention, I still fell under his spell the moment he turned his gaze in my direction. It was the way he looked at me, like he was watching a sunrise. Though by the weakness in my knees, I was far more likely to be a sunset; there was no way I could stay upright for long if I continued to stare into those deep blue eyes that glittered prettily in the candlelight.
Was this the effect he had on everyone? I supposed I wasn’t the only one deluded into thinking I was the center of his world when he turned his focus on me.
He was impressive once again with his Fraser colors and hair plaited back. I wore a dress Mrs. Fitz made for me for a MacKenzie gathering during my stay at Leoch, and I was pleased to see Jamie’s eyes appreciating it at length. He stepped toward me, slow strides with long legs.
Someone attempted to approach him, but it was as if he switched the polarity of his magnetism, the intensity of his gaze on me, pushing everyone else away.
“Good evening, Sassenach. Ye look...enchanting, as always.”
“Thank you. Your people are pleased to have you home.”
“Aye. They’re like family.”
“I can see that. Although,” I looked at the young blonde woman staring at me with venom in her eyes, “I think there are a few ladies here who would jump at the opportunity to become a little closer to the family if you asked them.”
He let out an amused breath, but didn’t look away. “Ye mind, ye promised me a dance. If I ask ye for it now, does that mean I forfeit another wi’ ye later?”
“I suppose that depends on how the first one goes.”
He bowed formally before me and offered his hand. “Then I must find a way to rise to the occasion.”
His hand dwarfed my own, but he held it with that same tenderness he showed out in the glade. His thumb traced softly over the back of my knuckles, as though holding something immensely precious to him.
Foolish, I told myself once again. Did I not just watch him make dozens of other people feel the same?
Despite my logical protestations, I was more than overcome by his touch. Flashes of my earlier imaginings of what that very hand was capable of sent a fiery heat down my spine, tickling all my senses as it made its way between my thighs. I shivered, and a quiet whimper escaped my lips.
My reaction didn’t go unnoticed. He squeezed my hand in supportive reassurance as he led me to the drawing room for our dance.
Eighteenth century dancing was nothing like the swings and hops I was accustomed to in the twentieth century, but thankfully, Mrs. Fitz attended to my social education during my stay at Leoch. I had to admit, I would’ve very much preferred to just press our bodies close together and sway in each other’s arms to the music—or even cradle each other alone outside to the sounds of hooting owls and chirping crickets—but the benefit of dancing meant that Jamie was mine and mine alone for the length of the dance. There would be no eager tenants cutting in for his attention and no pretty girls trying to catch his eye. It was just the two of us uninterrupted...likely the only time it would be so for the rest of the night.
His grace and elegance of movement was no surprise, so in control of his body as he always seemed to be, even if the dancing was more refined and contained than the ferocious striking and leaping about he’d been doing with Dougal over the last few days.
When the dance ended, he escorted me off to the side of the room. Though he seemed unaffected by our exertions, I was breathing a bit heavier than normal and retrieved my handkerchief to dab away the light perspiration over my neck and chest.
“Ye enjoyed the dance then, lass?”
“What was not to like? Good company and fine music are always a pleasure. Where I come from, music plays everywhere all the time. It’s something I miss a great deal.”
“Perhaps, if ye stay here for any length of time, I may have to obtain a set of bagpipes and learn how to play for ye. I canna have my guests feeling melancholy during their stay.”
I chuckled and cringed at the thought of this tone deaf man attempting to play the bagpipes. “You won’t have many guests staying here for long if you do that. Perhaps that’s how the Scots can keep the English out of the Highlands. Give bagpipes to every man, woman, and child without teaching them to play.”
“Ye wound me, Sassenach,” his eyes shining as though he’d never known the meaning of the word.
“Jamie!” We were abruptly interrupted by his godfather who gave me a sour look before turning his head up to Jamie. “I’ve been looking all over for ye. Ye’re needed in the study, lad.”
“It canna wait?” Jamie asked.
Murtagh made a grunting noise that brooked no opposition and eyed me with irritation.
“Aye,” said Jamie.
“Duty calls,” I said.
“I’ll find ye later, Sassenach, and see if I earned that second dance.”
As Murtagh pulled him toward the study, I wondered if Jamie was genuinely needed elsewhere, or if his godfather was trying to keep him away from the wicked sassenach invader.
Peering around the room, I saw more than a few hostile eyes on me. I wondered if it was a result of the Laird’s particular attentions, or if it was because I was English.
“I suppose those things aren’t mutually exclusive,” I mumbled to myself.
There was one set of eyes that weren’t exactly hostile. Dougal MacKenzie—who was drinking directly from a bottle of whiskey as though it was water—was eyeing me with an uncomfortable amount of desire. He’d made it quite clear in our months together at Leoch that he was interested in getting to know me on a more physical level. I had made it quite clear that I had no desire to bed the man responsible for my extended captivity. Thankfully, he seemed to respect that boundary for the most part—aside from a few lewd comments and uninvited pats on the arse.
I turned away, not wanting to spend any more time under that hungry gaze than decorum required. I made my way to the dining room to find a little food and drink to fill my time while the Laird was kept busy with his duties.
I salivated at the scent of traditional Scottish fare, and contemplated on what I wanted to sample first. Just as I was reaching for a clootie dumpling, a little boy no more than four years old started crawling up on the table, trying to grab a small treat.
“Here you go,” I said, picking up a sweet and holding it out to him.
The child’s eyes grew wide with fear as he stood frozen to the spot. Finally, he reached up; his hand hesitated several times, fearful of my offering.
“It’s alright,” I said as friendly as I could muster. “Go on.”
“Alistair!” yelled a woman from across the room.
The boy immediately shrank back as his mother came to whisk him away with a look of horror in my direction. Apparently, the English possessed an uncommonly high quantity of cooties.
I sighed noisily and decided to forgo the food and head straight for the drinks. And since no one wanted anything I touched, I decided it safest to just take a whole bottle of whisky with me.
Scots of all ages, shapes, and sizes parted like the Red Sea as I made my way outdoors. It was a cool evening, and a breeze hit me as I walked out the large entryway and out to the grounds. The swig of whisky I drank down warmed my belly immediately and rushed a pleasant heat to my limbs.
I made my way out to the fence by the kailyard. I climbed on top of it—no easy feat in my petticoats and stays—and sat to enjoy a most excellent bottle of whisky.
The moon was barely peeking through a large mass of clouds, and the stars were invisible in the overcast skies. Rain would surely be falling shortly.
Music and chatter mingled in the air from the direction of the house, but I felt removed from it all without the presence of Jamie. It was strange how comfortable the man made me feel in the most foreign of places.
I drank deep, wondering how I’d gotten so quickly swept up in such a silly infatuation with a man who would be two hundred years dead when I returned home to the twentieth century. It was senseless to foster further attachment when I’d only have to grieve the man the moment I made it back to my normal life.
Quiet Gaelic conversation from a shed not far away interrupted my melancholy musings. There was a familiarity in one of the voices, but it spoke with a tone I’d never heard before.
Two men were in the midst of an intense conversation. One was wobbly and unsteady on his legs—probably quite drunk. The other seemed very in control of himself and spoke with stern authority; I recognized him immediately as Jamie.
I had no idea what they were talking about, but I could see both tempers rising as the conversation went on. My own heart rate increased along with the severity of Jamie’s tone. He was clearly making demands of the man, and the foolish drunk was putting up some pathetic form of resistance.
As I wondered what on earth Jamie could possibly want from that pitiful drunk, he put his hand on the man’s shoulder, mumbled quietly in his ear, and punched him hard in the gut.
I felt a sympathetic impact in my own stomach as the man cried out in pain. Knowing the size and strength of Jamie’s fists, I wondered if the poor sot was suffering from internal bleeding or other damage to his organs.
I was already slipping off the fence to make my way toward the one-sided fight as Jamie pulled back his fist and gave the man an uppercut to his jaw. I was certain I heard something crack. The blows rained down over and over, and my feet moved faster to intervene.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I yelled.
Jamie stopped mid-strike and turned to look at me. I thought I’d find feral bloodlust in his eyes, but all I saw was a cold resolve. He ground teeth together when he recognized me as the intruder.
“He’s not even fighting back!” I said.
“Go on, Sassenach,” he said, holding the man up by the scruff of the collar. “I’ll find ye in a minute.”
A pair of hands came down on my arms and started pulling me back. “Come, lass,” said a gruff voice. “’Tis naught to do wi’ ye.”
Murtagh! I’d apparently stumbled on the Laird’s duty Murtagh spoke of earlier.
I yanked my arms free to come to the injured man’s aid.
“Christ,” Murtagh cursed, and his arms came fully around me, picking me up and dragging me back to the house.
“Let me help that man!” I demanded.
“That’s exactly what Jamie is doing.”
“By beating him to death?”
“Och, he’ll be fine come morning.” He set me down when we arrived back at the house. “Jamie willna kill him, but he needs to ensure the bastard will feel it come morning.”
“Why? Why is he hurting him?”
“The Laird must seek justice and bestow punishments as he sees fit. ’Tis no’ for a sassenach to question how things are done here.”
“I thought Quarter Day was supposed to be a day to collect rents and celebrate the Laird’s return? What was his crime? Coming up short on rent while the Laird was off in Paris away from his people?”
“Christ, woman, ye’ve got a mouth on ye.” Murtagh opened the doors and waved me in. “Come on inside now. Jamie said he’d find ye when he was done.”
I hesitated, looking back in the direction from where we came.
“Mistress Beauchamp,” Murtagh spoke softly, “he kens how to hit a man. Trust that he wouldna disable a tenant he’s kent his whole life beyond what’s required for justice.”
I looked back once more, clenching my teeth. I shook my head and took a deep breath. I couldn’t understand why I was getting so worked up when I planned to be long gone from this estate in the next few days. That man would be subject to his Laird’s justice whether or not I was here or in the twentieth century.
I realized I still had the whisky bottle in my hand. I tipped it back and took several large swallows. I’d had enough to drink already so that it burned little on the way down.
“Fine,” I said, walking past Murtagh and into the house. I began making my way through the crowded drawing room in order to get to the stairs. I wanted to be done with the evening and go up to my room. In truth, I wanted peace and quiet so I could start planning my return back through the stones.
It took me a moment to realize why the beating bothered me so much. The cold violence in Jamie was shocking. Only half an hour before, he was touching me with the sweetest tenderness. He was laughing and smiling and dancing. Now, he was pummeling a man outside who was in no state to defend himself.
This was exactly what Dougal warned me about.
I made it halfway up the stairs when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Claire,” said Jenny. “I was calling for ye, lass. Did’ye no’ hear me?”
“I’m sorry. I was distracted.”
“We have a tenant in need of a healer. Will ye come down to the kitchen wi’ me?”
Claire could see the worry in Jenny’s eyes was greater than it would be for a minor ailment. Certain I knew exactly who it was that needed tending, I felt some bit of relief that someone in the Fraser household would see to the wellness of all their tenants, no matter what their Laird demanded.
She took me by the hand, her grasp somehow both softer and rougher than her brother’s, and led me to the kitchen. I looked for the drunken man as I walked through the door, but it wasn’t him who was lying on the table, whimpering in pain.
“Rabbie!” I scurried to his side, setting my bottle of whisky down. The poor child was battered and bruised with a cut under his eye spilling blood down his cheek. “What on earth happened to him?”
“His father,” said Jenny. “That bastard MacNab. Murtagh and I watched him wallop him something fierce for doing naught but asking Mrs. Crook for a bannock. Dinna fash, Claire. Jamie’s out seeing to MacNab, and we’ll be having Rabbie stay wi’ us until Jamie sees his father fit to raise a child.”
“Oh, Rabbie, darling, I’m so sorry you’re hurt.” I stroked a small part of his chin that wasn’t swelling or bruised. “You’ve got a cut on your face that I’ll need to clean and stitch up, and I’ll need to check the rest of your body for injury, but I promise we’ll have you right as rain in no time.”
Rabbie nodded through tears and shuddering breaths.
I turned to Mrs. Crook. “Please bring down my medicine chest from my room.” I hoped I had a bit of laudanum left for the poor child. I looked down at him, and my heart broke into a million little pieces.
Jamie’s behavior finally made sense. As Laird, it was his duty to protect all the people of his land, including the children of his tenants.
I examined Rabbie’s body while waiting for Mrs. Crook to return. Every bruise and abrasion on the child reinforced the thought that though as violent as Jamie may be, perhaps like a surgeon using a blade to effect healing, he wielded his force to promote the welfare of his people.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely sober, but there was no one else capable of helping the boy, so I did my best to tend to him without inflicting any more damage than his father had already done. I used what was left in the bottle of whisky to disinfect my instruments and Rabbie’s wound. Thankfully, Jenny was prepared with a second bottle as I finished up the last of the stitching, so we could attempt to drink away the strain of the evening.
After her second shot, Jenny set her glass aside and said, “I thank ye, Claire. ’Tis a comfort to ken we’ve such a fine healer at Lallybroch, for however long ye choose to stay.”
“Of course. Anytime.”
Jenny stood up and stretched her stiff and aching back. “Now I must go tend to our guests before ’tis time to put wee Maggie to bed.”
She left the kitchen with Rabbie in the care of Mrs. Crook. I stroked a gentle hand over the sleeping boy’s head and sighed heavily with exhaustion. Ready to retire for the evening myself, I grabbed the bottle of whisky and my medical supplies before following her out. I made my way to the stairs, feeling quite differently than I did only an hour before.
As I reached the landing on the second floor, I was so tired and distracted, I walked straight into the chest of a large, solid man. At first, I thought it was Jamie, but the hands that steadied me were not nearly as tender as the Laird’s.
“Dougal,” I groaned. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to go to bed.”
“A moment of yer time, Mistress Beauchamp.” He spoke low, though I couldn’t say his words were soft.
In my own state of mild inebriation, it took a few moments to recognize the War Chief was affected similarly by excessive drink, perhaps even more so than I was.
“Young Jamie seems to be quite taken wi’ ye. Ye’ve weaved yer magic on him as I kent ye would.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“Anyone wi’ eyes can see it so. Ask all the disappointed fathers down there, angry wi’ their daughters for no’ catching Jamie’s eye, angry wi’ me for bringing ye here to steal him away to yer wee dun.”
“Aye.” He lifted his hand to my cheek, tracing the line of my jaw.
“Maybe their anger with you has nothing to do with me. It sounds like the Lallybroch tenants haven’t shown as much excitement for your cause as you’d hoped, and that their loyalties lie with their Laird and not with his opportunistic uncle.”
“They are a smaller-minded people than I expected.” He was inches away now, and the fumes of alcohol were radiating off him. “We’ll just have to find a way to convince young Jamie to broaden their minds.”
“You can’t possibly think a man like Jamie is going to let a stranger, an Englishwoman no less, convince him to risk the lives of his people for a cause he cares nothing for.”
“Oh, I’ve no doubt ye’ll find a way to steer the lad’s passions wherever yer heart desires.” He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of me. “Ye ken, Claire...I find ye to be the most singular woman. Just because ye’re assisting me wi’ young Jamie doesna mean ye should be forced into yer own celibacy otherwise.”
“You’re drunk, and you forget yourself. Please let me pass.”
“Come now, lass. Jamie willna ken if ye slip into my room rather than your own.” He leaned forward and tried to kiss me. My hands were full of my medical supplies and whisky—neither of which I was willing to drop for the sake of a MacKenzie—so in my irritation, I did the only thing in my power and kicked him in the balls.
“Ifrinn!” he cried out, backing away and gripping himself with both hands. Using his momentum to my advantage, I pushed past him with my shoulder, and knocked him on his arse.
“Claire!” said another voice from the stairs.
I turned to find Jamie watching in open-mouthed horror. He shook his head and leapt up the last few stairs, stepping over Dougal’s groaning body to get to me. He took my box of medicines and looked me over. His hand was soft on my cheek as he asked, “Are ye alright, lass? He didna hurt ye?”
I looked down at Dougal who happened to be gripping his manhood and grunting in Gaelic. “No, he didn’t. The alcohol not only took away his good judgment, but his balance and coordination. Though I can’t imagine he’ll be too pleased with me come morning.”
“Dinna fash, Sassenach.” Jamie looked down at his uncle in disgust. “He’s so pished, he’ll no’ likely recall why his balls ache when he wakes. Come, let’s get ye to yer room, and I’ll deal wi’ this tosspot so he doesna cause anymore ruckus.”
Jamie grabbed me by the arm and escorted me the rest of the way to my bedchamber. He came in and dropped off my medicines on one of the tables he had brought up for me a few days before, and I took to lighting a few candles. One of the servants had already started a fire in the small brazier, fighting off the bite of the cool night air.
“Are ye sure ye’re alright?” he asked, stepping close and inspecting me once more.
“I’m fine. Really. Drunken soldiers are nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
“Aye,” he nodded, “but I didna just mean about Dougal. I meant about what ye saw with me and MacNab earlier.” He looked down at the floor as though worried I thought less of him.
“I saw Rabbie. I know why you had to do it. I’m just sorry the responsibility falls to you. I can’t imagine you took any pleasure from your duty.”
He looked up at me with relief. “I canna say there was no pleasure in giving him a taste of what he did to his bairn. Nor can I regret it being my responsibility, for it would fall to Ian or Murtagh or someone else otherwise. Better it’s left to me. ’Tis what I was built for.”
“How very noble of you,” I said with all sincerity. His ears turned a bright shade of red as his eyes lifted to mine.
“Weel...I’d better get Dougal to his room. I’d hate for Mrs. Crook to trip over him if he passes out on the landing. Or worse, mistake her for you.”
I sucked in a breath. He so rarely used my name. “Hmm?”
“Ye need no’ be scairt of Dougal or anyone else. No’ while I’m here.”
Words seemed to escape me; none of them seemed sufficient enough to express my gratitude. All I could do was nod, but I hoped he saw what I felt in my eyes.
He took his leave with a soft smile and an informal bow. I was left standing alone in my room, holding a half-empty bottle of whisky.
I was no longer tired. The quiet of my empty room seemed to magnify my awareness of the state of my body. Adrenaline pumped madly through my arteries as though ready for another fight. Despite my faith in Jamie’s reassurances, my body seemed to forget that I was no longer on the landing with Dougal.
Then again, I supposed there could be another reason for my heart to be fluttering so wildly in my chest.
I shook my head at my own foolishness. I was prone to amorous impulses when my adrenaline was pumping. It had made the war a very confusing time for a young nurse.
Instead of ruminating, I forced myself to shed my skirts and stays and get ready for bed. I took my time with washing my hair and cleaning my teeth, hoping the bedtime ritual would help me settle down.
It didn’t work.
When I pulled back the blankets and blew out the candle, I was just as wired as when Jamie left. I lay still in bed, listening to the muffled chatter of people still reveling from the floor below. It wasn’t long before rain started falling against the window panes, finally drowning out the loud tenants’ voices.
Still, I couldn’t sleep. All I could think of were strands of mahogany hair...and locks of gold and ginger...tresses of copper and auburn...and wisps of deep cherry. I wondered just how many unique shades of red I could find by brushing his hair.
A thump on my door told me someone was just outside. If Jamie had deposited Dougal in his bed only for the man to get up to try and finish the kiss he’d previously started, I shuddered to think how I might fight him off without causing much of a scene. Perhaps Jamie wasn’t too far away to hear me call for him if needed.
I grabbed an empty candlestick off my nightstand and raised it up, ready to strike as I made my way to the door. Strangely, there was neither a knock nor a wiggling of the latch expected from someone trying to break in. As slow and quiet as I could muster, I reached for the handle.
As soon as I opened the latch, the door swung inward, and a heavy body fell in at my feet. I raised the candlestick, ready to strike, until a glimmer of light from the hall reflected off a shock of red hair.
“Jamie? What in heaven’s name are you doing?”
He peered up at me, cringing—in pain or embarrassment, I didn’t know. “I wasna going to leave ye unprotected wi’ Dougal’s room only feet away. My own room is too far should he arise wi’ wicked intent.”
It was then I noticed an old Fraser plaid he had wrapped around his shoulders as though he meant to stand guard all night. I bent down to help him to his feet. He rose up, towering over me with that ridiculous height. Without my shoes on, my face barely reached the hollow of his chest.
“You were protecting me?”
He shrugged and blushed sweetly.
“But all your guests downstairs…”
“They’ve gone years wi’out me; they can handle one more night.”
“And what if someone sees you sleeping outside my room? Will they not jump to conclusions?”
“’Tis better than the alternative.” He looked at Dougal’s door.
“You can’t sleep out there. It’s cold and uncomfortable and unbefitting of a Laird.”
“I’ll no’ leave ye unprotected, lass.”
“Then sleep in here. At the very least, you’ll stay warm.”
“Are ye mad, woman? Yer reputation will be ruined!” His scandalized face was adorably amusing.
“No more so than if they think you're sleeping out there because you’re waiting your turn.”
“Waiting my turn? Christ!” He rubbed a hand over his face.
I noticed blood, scrapes, and swelling over his knuckles. “Jamie! You’re hurt. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Hurt?” He seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. I grabbed his hand to inspect it, but I needed more light. I pulled him in and shut the door behind him. I escorted him to my bedside and lit a candle to examine his wounds.
“Claire,” he protested weakly, “I’m none so sure this is any better than what Dougal just tried to do to ye.”
“Don’t be silly. I didn’t want Dougal to touch me, but I very much enjoy your company. And I need to clean these cuts before they get infected.”
“Miniscule little beasts in dirt and filth will cause fever and inflammation. Wait here.” I forced him to sit before I hunted down the whisky, a bandage, and a clean rag to tend to the wounds.
Jamie squirmed uncomfortably when I sat beside him. I was still in my shift, and I noticed he was doing all he could to avert his gaze and respect my modesty.
In truth, modesty was the last of my concerns at the moment, and I was growing all the more fond of the flush of his ears when he was embarrassed.
I took his hand in mine and looked it over near the candlelight. He didn’t require stitches, but…“Jamie, some of these are still bleeding. They can’t be from when you hit MacNab earlier. Those should’ve stopped by now.”
“Hmphm. Aye.” He flexed his hand in front of his face. “They were likely reopened by Dougal’s chin. I think I might have inherited his hard heid.”
I thought my heart would genuinely melt. “You gave him a little of the Laird’s justice, did you?”
He shrugged a shoulder. “I couldna let him get away wi’ treating ye so, Sassenach. And I wanted to ensure he was knocked out solid so as no’ to disturb ye this evening.”
I took his hand once again and rubbed my fingers tenderly over the uninjured skin. “Thank you, Jamie. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Aye. I did.”
I looked up at him, wordless yet again, wishing I knew a way to express my appreciation. We held each other’s gaze, affection plain on both our faces. He gave my hand a reassuring squeeze.
“How d’ye kill the wee beasties trying to give me fever?” he asked.
I held up the bottle of whisky and gave it a playful wiggle.
“Of course,” he laughed. “I wonder if the beasts are English then? If they were Scots, whisky would only make them stronger.”
I giggled, imagining microscopic redcoats melting away like the Wicked Witch of the West. I suspected the Scots might actually believe whisky to be spiritual.
“This will burn a little,” I warned before applying the whisky. He didn’t move a muscle nor make a peep. Tough as nails, the Scots. “There,” I said as I wrapped his hand in a bandage, “it should be fine come morning.”
“Thank ye, Sassenach.” He flexed his fingers and checked his mobility. Satisfied, he looked around the room as if deciding what he should do next. “Perhaps I’ll go sleep over there next to the door.”
I stopped him with a hand on his arm. “You don’t have to, you know. You can sleep here.”
“Claire…” He shook his head. I could see I pushed him a step too far. He stood abruptly and walked to the wall next to my door. He leaned against it, sliding down until he sat on the floor, his ears a fierce shade of red—more so than his hair. His eyes refused to look in my direction.
His sweet chivalry was annoyingly endearing.
I grabbed the whisky and followed him to his spot on the floor. His face was scandalized as I sank down next to him. I handed over the bottle; the poor lad looked like he needed a drink.
“Sláinte,” he toasted and drank from the bottle.
“I’m sorry you’re up here dealing with me rather than downstairs romancing a potential wife.”
“Dinna fash yerself about that. ’Tis no hardship.”
“Not for you maybe, but the ladies downstairs are surely put out.”
His grin wrinkled the corners of his eyes.
“Will you get to choose your wife? Or will it be arranged like Colum’s and Dougal’s?”
His smile remained, but his eyes softened. “My mother was meant to have an arranged marriage. She and my father wouldna have it, and Colum wouldna consent to her marrying a bastard. She snuck away wi’ my father in the dead of night, and they ran off determined to marry for love. Wi’ bad blood between my father and the MacKenzies, they turned to each other more so than most couples. They were the dearest of friends and most passionately in love.” He finally looked at me, his gaze tender yet resolute. “I shall settle for nothing less. I’d rather emptiness than disappointment.”
My mouth fell open to take in a quivering breath of air. I knew by the softness in his eyes and the passion radiating off him, he hoped it might be me.
I looked away, confused and uncertain. I needed to get home to the twentieth century, but for fuck’s sake, all I could think about was how badly I wanted him.
Needing a moment to gather myself, I stood up and went to find the small bowl of berries I’d picked with him near the glade. I took my time fiddling with the bowl before allowing myself to be drawn back by his magnetic pull.
“Hungry?” I asked.
He smiled softly. I imagined a man his size was always hungry. I sat back down next to him and offered him the bowl. He took a single blackberry and held it up for inspection.
“It’s not poisoned,” I teased.
“Let’s see then,” he said, bringing it to my lips. My quivering jaw parted at his silent command, and he set the berry gently on my tongue.
It took me longer than it should have to chew and swallow.
“And you?” I asked, lifting one to his lips.
He surprised me by grabbing my wrist and holding it inches away, not allowing me to feed him.
“Ye ken...in the Highlands, we’re taught as wee lads no’ to take food or drink from the fairies. ’Tis believed ye’ll be their slave for all eternity. Bite no bit and drink no drop.”
“You don’t really think me a fairy?”
He didn’t say a word. He just pulled my hand closer to his mouth, opening his lips to allow me to place the berry on his waiting tongue.
He released me and chewed slowly.
My heart thundered as I said, “If I were a fairy, I suppose that would make you mine now.”
“Aye,” he breathed.
Weak and shaky, I set the bowl down, certain to drop it otherwise. I put my hands in my lap, gripping them together, hoping he wouldn’t notice just how flustered I was.
We sat for a while, listening to the rain tapping on the windows, neither of us with the courage to look at the other.
I attempted to will my body into relaxation, hoping prolonged time in his presence would make me less sensitive to it. It was a fool’s errand; every moment we spent so close, I only wanted more and more to kiss him. I wanted to take his face in my hands and press our lips together, forgoing oxygen for the sake of passion.
He took one of my shaky hands in his and said, “I ken, Sassenach. I ken.”
He dropped his head to my hand, but instead of using his lips, he pressed it to his forehead.
“Jamie…” I whispered, wanting so much more.
“I shallna allow my lips to touch yer skin. No’ tonight. For when I do, I shall never be able to stop.”
“Perhaps I don’t want you to stop.”
He turned his head and smiled sweetly, my hand now pressed against his cheek. “I ken, lass. And that’s what scares me.”
Claire fell asleep wrapped around Jamie’s arm. He sat there for hours, not wanting to move, not wanting to deprive himself of her touch. But finally, his concern for her comfort overwhelmed his selfish need for closeness. He gathered her up in his arms and brought her to bed.
He sat on the edge looking over her pale lips in the darkness, and whispered:
“Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum…”
Then he sighed deeply, and with the strength of Hercules, forced himself to pull away.
Claire’s hand stopped him, grabbing hold of his arm. She mumbled sleepily. “Stay, Jamie. You’re mine now.”
And that he was. “Aye.”
He kicked off his boots and sat up in her bed against the headboard. He would not lay with her, not like this, but he would stay because she asked.
Her arm wrapped around his leg, and she rested her head upon his lap. He stroked her hair away from her face as she drifted off back to sleep.
He hardly slept at all, but he still forced himself to rise before dawn to leave her reputation intact. After going up to his room to change his clothes and ready himself for the day, he set out to find Mrs. Crook.
She had a bowl of parritch awaiting him in the kitchen. “Thank ye kindly,” he said.
“Aye, my Laird.”
“Mrs. Crook. I have a task for ye if ye dinna mind.”
“Please have Mistress Beauchamp’s things moved to the third floor. The guest room on the North side.”
“My Laird?” She raised a brow. She knew very well it was the room next to his.
He narrowed his gaze in a silent command.
“Aye, my Laird. I’ll do so when she goes out to the kailyard today.”
“Thank ye, Mrs. Crook.”
Dougal would never get a chance to harm her ever again.
“Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum…”
"Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand, then a hundred..."
From Catullus 5
"And what you've not to do is this: bite no bit, and drink no drop, however hungry or thirsty you be; drink a drop, or bite a bit while in Elfland you be and never will you see Middle Earth again."
From The Ballad of Childe Rowland
The absence of Jamie woke me just before dawn. His body’s heat lingered on my sheets, so he couldn’t have been gone for long. I laid my cheek on the last remnants of his warmth and breathed in his scent.
I couldn’t say I’d slept well that night. How could I when I knew he was in my bed? Comforted in an extreme, but mad with want, I’d held him close, drifting in and out of blissful dreams.
He must’ve also slept poorly. His large hand caressed my head throughout the night, fingers tangling in my hair. His lap was my pillow, and I held onto his leg, large and firm, so warm to the touch. I thanked the Highlands for his soft kilt where I lay my head.
He’d said he was mine, and as mad as it was, I embraced it. It was with that thought fresh in my mind that I forced myself out of bed, eager to see him in the light of day after that grand pronouncement. Instead of planning my escape—as I should’ve been doing for days now—I searched for reasons it would be a terrible idea, and the reasons I came up with were quite convincing.
Running away would put my life in grave danger; Dougal and his men would track me down and kill me before risking me talking to the English. Then there was the potential danger of traveling through the stones, already painfully uncomfortable the first time, potentially life-threatening the next.
But if I was being honest with myself, fear wasn’t why I procrastinated my escape. It was Jamie. I was drawn to him in all his manifestations. Whether quoting poetry or bestowing violent justice, whether holding me tenderly or sparring with his uncle, I wanted more of him.
There was something there between us—something beyond mere attraction—and I was not yet ready to give it up.
Perhaps it was a mistake to delay my return for a man I hardly knew, but he didn’t feel like a stranger. My soul seemed to recognize him as some sort of kindred spirit, cut from the same cloth.
And then there was a thought that had plagued me since my arrival. Time travel was a strange and unique gift. Who in their right mind would be given such a power and refuse to use it? To squander it away by returning home and pretending like it never existed? I’d be a fool not to stay in a place where I knew I was safe—in Jamie’s presence—and explore one of the most vital feelings I’d ever experienced in my life.
I supposed I could look at it as one might look at dating a man in the 1940s, except I’d not only be dating Jamie, but also his century...and his family.
It was suddenly dawning on me how lucky I was in my marriage to Frank that my in-laws—with exception of a certain sadistic ancestor—were not kidnappers, inciters of rebellion, and traitors to the crown. I cringed at the potential of tying myself to a family like the MacKenzies. I didn’t even want to know what the Frasers of Lovat were like.
At least Jamie's more immediate family members weren't so awful, and his sister seemed to be warming to me of late.
It was rare for me to rise early enough to have breakfast with any of the family, but I was able to force myself to get dressed and go down just as Jenny and wee Jamie were sitting at the table to eat their morning porridge.
“Good morning,” I said, dodging around servants busily cleaning up after Quarter Day.
Jenny juggled little Maggie in her arms while trying to assist her two year old wield his spoon, her own food growing cold in the meantime. “Can I hold her while you eat?”
Jenny hesitated a moment before giving in. “Thank ye, Claire. Ye dinna ken how rare ’tis to eat a warm meal when ye have one wean, much less two.”
She passed Maggie over to me, and I cradled the sleeping baby upright in my arms to mind her reflux. “Hello, little one,” I whispered soothingly, trying not to wake her. “Has she been feeling better?”
“Oh aye. She still has her struggles, but it only took but a day to see some improvement.”
I breathed in the scent of the baby, stimulating an old longing in my heart. “If ever you’d like me to watch her, please don’t hesitate to ask. It would be my absolute pleasure.”
“Perhaps I’ll take ye up on it some evening. I can have Jamie tend to his nephew while Ian and I have a moment to ourselves. I’ve forgotten the meaning of the word privacy these last two years.”
“Where are Ian and Jamie?”
“They’re out building something or other in the woodshed. I havena seen Dougal or his men yet this morning. They must still be sleeping off the drink.”
Memories of the night before intruded on my pleasant morning, and I was struck with an urge to avoid the hungover War Chief. “Would you mind if I helped out in the kailyard this morning? I’m not much for cooking or needle work or many things indoors, but I’ve been known to have a green thumb.”
“Oh aye. The kailyard has been sorely neglected the last year while I was wi’ child. Jamie’s made mention of just digging the whole thing up and starting from scratch.”
“I’ll go out today and see what can be salvaged.”
“Just dinna stray too far from the house. The tenants were saying last night that a few were harassed by some redcoats near Broch Mordha. Trust me when I say ye dinna want to be wandering alone and fall into the hands of a certain Captain of His Majesty’s 8th Dragoons, especially an Englishwoman spending so much time wi’ band of troublesome Scots.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.” I supposed one benefit of Dougal having me followed was that I was never really alone.
“I’ve no doubt Dougal’s presence here is attracting their attention,” said Jenny. Her coldness toward her uncle kept making more and more sense. Thankfully, she was of the same mind as me about getting on with her day before her uncle joined us for breakfast, and she didn’t take long with her meal. I ate quickly when she was done so I could be sure to be gone before he woke up.
It was no longer raining when I went outside, but the grounds were still soft and muddy from the overnight downpour. When I got to the kailyard, I was quite pleased with how the excessive moisture made the earth easier to dig up.
Jenny wasn’t wrong about it being neglected. I cringed at how little nutrient the family was likely getting in their diet. Perhaps they would listen to my suggestions regarding the state of their long-term health now that they didn’t think I was a spy attempting to drive them all to war.
It felt good to get my hands dirty. The scent of fresh rain on Highland grass filled the air, almost drowning out the odors coming from Jenny’s goat pen not far away. I was there for hours, hot and sweaty, but in my element. I cleared away most of the weeds and overgrown plants, and I tilled the moist, rich soil into something workable.
Just as I was making a mental list of seeds I’d planned on asking Jamie to buy, his welcome voice interrupted my thoughts. “Jenny finally put ye to work, Sassenach? I’m surprised it took so long.”
I turned around and found him leaning forward, elbows resting on the fence. I was unable to hide my silly grin. “Hello, Jamie.”
I wiped my hands on my apron, making an even bigger mess of myself as I walked over to him. His expression mirrored mine, grin stretching ear to ear. I was close enough to catch the scent of him—sawdust, sweat, and the same pleasant masculine aroma that was left on my sheets.
“Ye should ha’ told me ye were demolishing the kailyard. I would’ve helped.”
“You were gone so early this morning, I didn’t get a chance.”
He licked his lips, no doubt remembering our bed-sharing last night. It took all I had not to close the small distance between us and recapture that physical intimacy from the midnight hours.
“I found something today and thought of ye.” He reached into his sporran and pulled out a handkerchief. He unfolded the small piece of linen, and there sat two strawberries hanging from the same stem.
“Union in partition,” I said, quoting A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“Aye.” He finished the quote for me, “Two lovely berries moulded on one stem; So with two seeming bodies, but one heart.”
He plucked one off and presented it to me in his large palm. I took it without hesitation and bit into the sweet, summer strawberry as he did the same with the other.
I watched his lips as he chewed, wishing we were in private so I could get to know them more intimately...if his chivalry would let me.
It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t know how to “date” an eighteenth century man. Was I supposed to cook for him? Embroider him a handkerchief? If I kissed him, would he think I had loose morals?
Was I supposed to live without indoor plumbing for stolen glances across the dinner table?
“What do ye need for the wee garden, Sassenach? Shall I hunt ye down a few bushes of berries?”
“I can gather a few things myself around here, but I'll make you a list of seeds to pick up in town. Although, some you may have to send for.”
He cocked a brow. “Medicinal herbs?”
“No. Potatoes. They’re a good crop, and they hold up well in this climate. If ever there should be a shortage of food, potatoes could most certainly get you through a famine.” I looked around. “Though, I’d recommend using much more land than just this garden.”
“Potatoes?” he laughed.
“Trust me, Jamie,” I said very seriously. “Plant as many as you can.”
He read my face like a book. “Ye think the coming rebellion is going to wipe the land of food, don’t ye?”
I didn’t say anything. There was no explanation for my knowledge.
“Is there anything else ye’d recommend, lass?” He tried to lighten the mood with a soft smile. “Aside from potatoes?”
I hesitated, knowing there was more than a little advice I could give him on how to keep his people alive over the next few years. I decided to start with small things first. “You could dig the house a priesthole. Just in case.”
I nodded. “You don’t want to start making one when you need it. You’ll want it ready, and hopefully it will never have to fulfill its purpose.”
He narrowed his eyes and nodded in consideration. I wondered if he thought me mad. Or maybe he was rethinking his belief that I wasn’t a spy.
He reached up and pulled a piece of vegetation from my hair with affection in his eyes, soothing my worry about his assessment of me. “’Tis a braw suggestion, lass. I’ll start on it as soon as I finish in the woodshed.”
“What are you building in there?”
“Just a piece of furniture is all. It’ll be done in a few hours. I thought I’d stop for a wee bite of lunch before carrying on. Would ye care to join me?”
“I’d like that very much.” I looked down at my muddy apron and skirts. “Though it might take me a moment to wash up.”
“Dinna fash. I’ll wait for ye. Come.”
He met me at the gate and opened it with a subtle bow. I stepped through, feeling rather like I was floating on a cloud.
“Claire...” he stopped me, taking my hand and turning me back to face him. He reached in his sporran once again and pulled out a small, green stem with a bundle of forget-me-nots on top. He picked a single flower and weaved gently it in my hair just above my ear. “I found these this morning and thought of ye.”
He presented the rest of them to me, not masking his feelings in the slightest. I couldn’t stop my hand from shaking as I accepted his gift. “Jamie...neither strawberries nor forget-me-nots grow anywhere near the woodshed.”
His answering smile lacked anything close to shame. “I said I found them for ye; I didna say it was wi’ lack of intention.”
“Where were they?”
“The glade. I thought...I thought ye might like them more from there, so I set out early this morning.”
Breathing was suddenly a chore. “Oh, Jamie…”
“Come,” he said, grabbing my filthy hand and tucking it in the crook of his arm. “Let’s go inside and get ye fed.”
I no longer felt like I was floating on clouds. How could I when my knees were so weak? I held onto his arm firmly, for practicality’s sake as much as affection, and let him lead me to the house. When we made it inside to the drawing room, he stopped me from going upstairs and called for Mrs. Crook.
“Is Claire’s room ready?” he asked.
“Aye, my Laird. And hot water is waiting for her, since I kent she’d be coming in from the kailyard.”
“Tapadh leat gu mòr. Could you show her up for me then?”
“Of course, my Laird.”
“Jamie?” I asked.
He took my hand, dwarfed it in his own, and gave it a squeeze—no matter that it was caked with mud. “You’ll be up on the third floor wi’ the family now, lass. I’ll no’ be having ye fall prey to Dougal again. I’ll be able to hear ye much better should he attempt anything untoward.”
I wanted to reach up and touch his face, do something to acknowledge his care for me, but all I could seem to muster was a breathless, “Thank you.”
“Come along, Mistress Beauchamp,” said Mrs. Crook.
I reluctantly stepped away from Jamie, holding on to the tips of his fingers until his hand was completely out of reach. I had to force myself not to turn around and stare at him as I followed the housekeeper up two flights of stairs.
“Here ye are, Mistress. Let me know if there’s anything else ye need.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Crook.”
I didn’t take it lightly that Jamie trusted me enough to house me closer to his family, nor that he thought me worth the trouble of protecting. He was smitten, unabashedly so, and so was I.
I cleaned up quickly, eager to get back to my lunch date, wondering what the decorum for such a thing would be. I placed the little bundle of forget-me-nots in a small cup of water before doing my level best not to bound downstairs like a besotted teenager. As I neared the first floor, I overheard angry voices whispering back and forth in quiet rage. I stopped halfway down the last flight of stairs to watch and listen in.
“I just came from her room, and all her things are missing,” snapped Dougal.
“Aye. After ye tried to put yer grubby paws on her last night, I moved her upstairs. Ye’re lucky I havena requested ye correct this offense wi’ a duel, Uncle. If she was promised to me, it would most certainly be so.”
“Well, she isna promised to ye, and she’s my responsibility…”
“Not while she is on my land, and she will remain on my land as long as she sees fit to be so.”
Dougal grinned maliciously at his nephew. “Ye’re quite taken wi’ her, are ye no’?”
“That is none of yer concern.”
“That’s where ye’re wrong, laddie. But dinna fash. I’ll allow ye to court her, so long as it doesna interfere wi’ my plans.”
“I dinna see what my courting her has anything to do wi’ you.”
“Mistress Beauchamp is more than she appears, and so long as I ken she means my cause no harm, then the twa of ye are free to rut around to yer hearts’ content. But if I find she’s attempting to sabotage the rebellion, there would be naught ye could do to stop my vengeance.”
“And if I find ye trying to force yerself on her or anyone else at Lallybroch, there will be naught ye can do to stop my vengeance.”
They stared each other down and seemed to come to an agreement. Slowly, Dougal turned away, talking to Jamie over his shoulder. “Let the lass ken I’ll be in town for the next few days. She doesna have to fear me creeping in on her in the nighttime.”
“Good,” said Jamie. “And take Willie wi’ ye. I’ll see to the protection of Mistress Beauchamp. I dinna want him following her around any longer.”
“Protection?” Dougal snorted. “He’s no’ following her for her protection.”
“As Laird of this land, I shall see to the well-being of all my tenants and guests, and I willna have her followed and stalked by yer men. Have him patrol the grounds all ye like, but if I see him following her again, I will make him suffer for it.”
“Are ye afraid of what the lad might see while ye’re wooing her in the forest?”
“Aye. He’ll no’ be following her anymore. But...make it clear to yer sassenach lassie, if she tries to leave this land, I will ken it, and she will regret it.”
Dougal patted Jamie on the shoulder before he turned and walked out of the room.
I took slow and quiet steps down the last few stairs, not wanting to rush up on him after the heat of that exchange. He sighed heavily and released the tension permeating his body before he turned unsurprised to see me there.
“Sorry about that,” he said, reaching out a hand. I accept it with gratitude, allowing him to tuck it through his arm once more.
“Thank you, Jamie. You didn’t have to do that for me.”
“Aye. I did.”
He led me to the dining room, pulling out the chair just next to the head of the table. I took his hand again when he sat down, marveling at how even the smallest touch in this high-stakes courting dance we shared sent a thrill through my heart.
“How is your room? Is it to your liking?” he asked.
“It’s perfect. Thank you.”
“I’m just next door to ye, if you should need anything. And dinna fash, I'll be a more courteous neighbor than your last.”
“Why is it always the ones you don’t want who try to force their way in, while the ones you do want restrain themselves?”
“Claire,” he laughed, turning a bright shade of red.
“Sorry,” I said, not realizing I’d gone too far.
He didn’t really mind. I could feel it in how he held my hand. He didn’t let go when the kitchen staff brought our food. Nor did he let go to eat, having conveniently placed us so our strong hands could still wield utensils while my left and his right could remain linked together.
“If it’s not too much trouble, I was hoping I could borrow a book,” I said. “Perhaps one nobody is likely to use in the next few days.”
“On any subject in particular?”
“It’s more the size and weight I’m interested in than the content. I’d like to use it to press some flowers...to preserve them.”
“Aye. I have the perfect one. I’ll get it for ye after we eat.”
“Thank you.” The thought of his forget-me-nots withering away pained my heart; I was determined to keep them for as long as this infatuation lasted.
He was quiet for a moment, seemingly focused on his meal, but I could feel the rapid beating of his heart through the delicate skin of his wrist. Finally, he worked up the courage to ask, “I have a question for ye, if ye dinna mind.”
“Yer husband, before he died, he was a good man? He treated ye well?”
I sucked in a breath, not expecting questions about Frank. “He was. He was very kind. He died in battle some years ago.”
“D’ye think he’d have any great objection to…” He looked down at our hands connected beneath the table.
“He’d want me to be happy, and he’d respect my choice.”
“I hoped as much,” Jamie nodded. “I just didna want ye to think ye couldna speak of him. If it were me, I’d hope whoever came after would honor and respect what came before.”
“That’s very sweet of you.” I tried not to laugh.
“’Ye dinna think me foolish?”
“Not at all.”
“And yer parents? What would they think of ye wandering about the countryside wi’ a Scot?”
“I don’t know for certain, seeing as how I was a child when they died, but I’d assume they’d have faith in my judgment. My Uncle raised me. He was a scholar of antiquities, and we traveled all over the world for his work. He, too, would’ve trusted my judgment. At the very least, he would’ve trusted my ability to handle whatever consequences my choices may bring.”
I watched his lips as he chewed his food and the lines of throat as he swallowed it down. He was beautifully made and impossible to resist.
“What about your parents? Would they have approved of this?” I squeezed his hand.
“I told ye how my parents wed?”
I nodded, remembering the story of their elopement.
“They wouldna get a say in who I chose to court. Their refusal to allow such interference in their own lives wouldna hold up well in an argument if their wishes were contrary to my own. But,” he breathed deeply, a fond nostalgia glazing over his eyes, “I ken they would’ve been pleased to know ye.”
He picked up a piece of cheese and offered it to me. I accepted it, the morsel tasting all the sweeter coming from his hands.
“Besides, if ye can warm the likes of Jenny’s frigid heart, I dinna think anyone could escape yer charm.”
“Oh,” I laughed, “I’m sure Murtagh would have something to say about that.”
Jamie smiled. “Gi’ him time. He only worries for me.”
“The canty wee bird.”
We ate the rest of our lunch in peaceful conversation, both acutely aware that we’d made our intentions toward each other clear. And though we couldn’t seal our pronouncement with a kiss in a house full of curious eyes, our hands stayed locked in an erotic dance of linking and releasing, squeezing and caressing.
After we ended the meal, he took me to his study to find me a book for my flowers.
“Here,” he said, bringing me to his desk and picking up a book that was open in front of his chair.
“You could give me one accumulating dust on the shelves, not one you were clearly in the middle of reading.”
“No, I think this would do the job justice better than the rest...that is, if ye think it’ll suit yer needs.”
“It’s perfect. Thank you.” I took it from him, curious what the Laird thought would be a suitable book for pressing flowers.
He held my gaze, blue eyes soft in the muted light of his study. I licked my lips, wanting desperately to rise up and kiss him, but so fearful of what he’d think of me if I did. I could see the want in his eyes, but I could feel the restraint in his hand on mine.
“Jamie!” voices called from somewhere in the house. “Where ye hiding, man? The damn thing is all put together!”
The tension broken between us, and he stepped away. “I better get on,” he said. “I have work I must tend to.”
“Of course.” I turned away, not wanting to be a burden on his time. I passed Ian and Murtagh in the hall and told them where they could find Jamie. Then, I made my way up to my room to get the little flowers pressed into the book as soon as possible, not wanting them to lose their vibrancy or their petals before they dried.
I took a handkerchief and grabbed the flowers, inhaling them one last time before sentencing them to their eternal fate. I opened the book Jamie gave me to the page marked with a ribbon. My eyes read over the poem in the middle of the page:
Come and let us live my Deare,
Let us love and never feare,
What the sowrest Fathers say:
Brightest Sol that dies to day
Lives againe as blithe to morrow,
But if we darke sons of sorrow
Set; o then, how long a Night
Shuts the Eyes of our short light!
I gasped as I read the next lines, knowing quite well that had I kissed Jamie downstairs only moments before, he would’ve never turned me away:
Then let amorous kisses dwell
On our lips, begin and tell
A Thousand, and a Hundred, score
An Hundred, and a Thousand more,
Till another Thousand smother
That, and that wipe of another.
Thus at last when we have numbered
Many a Thousand, many a Hundred;
Wee’l confound the reckoning quite,
And lose ourselves in wild delight:
While our joyes so multiply,
As shall mocke the envious eye.
He was absolutely right. It was the perfect book for my flowers.
“A fool, that’s what he is,” scoffed Murtagh.
“Aye,” said Ian. “He’s a lovestruck puppy. Though, I canna blame him. She’s a sweet lass.”
“I’ll thank ye no’ to talk about me as though I’m no’ in the room,” said Jamie. “I'll be back out to the woodshed in a minute and all the quicker about it if you two bugger off.”
“Ye need a moment to compose yerself, Jamie?” said Ian, grinning stupidly at his discomfort. “Claire was looking a wee bit flush as she scurried out of yer study.”
“Haud yer wheesht,” Jamie warned. They could speculate all they wanted about him, but he didn’t like them doing so to Claire.
Ian plopped himself down on one of the chairs in front of Jamie’s desk and took a load off his leg. “Moving her up to the third floor wi’ the family, building her a cabinet for her plants and medicines, predawn strolls in the glade...cupid’s struck ye right in the arse, mo charaid.”
“In the cock, more like,” said Murtagh. “Certainly not in the heid. Have ye forgotten about MacGregor’s warnings, Jamie?”
“I have not,” said Jamie. “Nor do I believe he kent a thing about Claire before he was running his mouth.”
“Oh, I’m sure he meant well,” said Ian. “Good intentions aside, I think he missed the mark. One look at her and Dougal and ye can see there’s no love between them. Claire and Jamie, however...”
Jamie shot him a look to cut him off.
“Aye. She does seem convincing,” Murtagh acquiesced. “I thought she’d skelp me when I pulled her away from ye last night wi’ MacNab. Her passion canna be hidden.”
Jamie chuckled at the memory of her ferocity. “She’s got fire in her.”
“Good,” said Ian. “She’ll keep ye in yer place.”
“Hush now,” said Murtagh. “He’s only just met her. Ye’ll have him marrit next week!”
“Ye think anything I say is going to sway a Fraser’s mind?” scoffed Ian. “Heids of solid bone! The lot of them.”
“I’ll tell Jenny ye said so,” grumbled Jamie.
“I’ve told her so myself. When yer minds are made up to do something, there’s no stopping ye. And I see yer mind is made up when ye’re looking at Claire.”
“Just dinna rush it, laddie,” said Murtagh. “I ken ye’re eager to stick yer cock in a lass, but ye dinna want to be saddled wi’ the wrong one.”
“Enough,” said Jamie.
“Can ye blame him, Murtagh?” said Ian. “Three and twenty years is a long time to wait.”
“I dinna see how a few more months would make much difference,” Murtagh grumbled.
The thought of waiting months or longer to lie with Claire made Jamie sick to his wame. If he thought she’d say yes, he’d have asked for her hand already. But he did have some bit of pride and would wait until he was certain of her answer.
“I do have a question for ye,” Jamie spoke tentatively, hoping they wouldn’t chafe him too hard for asking.
“What’s that?” said Ian.
Jamie cringed at asking his sister’s husband such a question, but Ian was also his auldest friend since long before they were married, and he was someone Jamie trusted not to lead him astray. He swallowed his pride and pressed on. “No’ that I’m of any mind to have a wedding night anytime soon…”
“Christ,” Murtagh muttered.
“...but whenever it might happen, and whoever it might be with, I should want to ensure the lass finds it just as pleasing as I might.”
“Why?” Murtagh seemed dumbfounded.
Ian snorted, shoulders bouncing in amusement.
“It doesna matter why,” Jamie grumbled. “How can I make it so?”
“Women dinna care much for it, Jamie. Best ye be about yer business quickly so she can get some rest and no’ resent ye for taking too long.”
Jamie deflated at the thought of Claire not wanting to lie with him.
“Dinna listen to the auld coot,” Ian laughed. “Women like it fine when ye tend to them and take yer time. Ye’ll see how she’ll rouse to yer touch if ye’re careful wi’ her.”
“So what is it then? Fast or slow?” said Jamie.
They answered at the same time. “Fast!” said Murtagh. “Slow!” said Ian.
“Christ. Forget I asked.”
“Whatever yer speed,” said Murtagh, “ye must be gentle wi’ em so they’ll let ye back in their bed the next night.”
That made sense to Jamie, and he filed it away as good advice.
“Weel, no’ always,” said Ian, grinning. “Some lassies like a good, strong hand...or belt.”
Jamie clenched his fists, knowing Ian was talking about Jenny. If he ever heard her scream in pain, Ian would have his fists to answer to.
“If the lass doesna care for it in the nethermouth,” said Murtagh, “have her try it in her beak. Ye’ll spill much quicker that way.”
Jamie’s eyes widened at the revelation. Dear God, there’s no way a woman like Claire would ever put it in there.
“If ye’re going to ask her to do that,” said Ian, “ye’d better reciprocate in kind, or she’ll grow tired of choking down yer seed for naught in return.”
“Stop, man!” Jamie paced back and forth behind his desk, trying not to imagine such things.
“I’ve never put my mouth on it, lad,” said Murtagh, shaking his head in disgust.
“Aye, and the lassies dinna seem to enjoy it much wi’ ye,” Ian laughed.
“Quiet down, the both of ye. Forget I ever asked.” He turned away and looked out the window, both horrified and uncomfortably aroused.
“Look, Jamie,” said Ian, “Claire doesna seem to have any trouble speaking her mind. Just talk to her. Listen to her. Take yer time to learn what it is she likes, and do it over and over and over until she…”
“What? Until she what?” Jamie looked to Murtagh, who seemed just as ignorant he was.
Ian, thankfully, didn’t laugh—though he did still have that foolish smile on his face. “Until she reaches...la petit mort.”
“No,” said Jamie, dumbstruck. “Women canna…?”
“I’ve ne’er heard of such a thing!” said Murtagh.
“I gathered as much,” snorted Ian.
“Do they…” Jamie searched for a fitting word, “...shoot seed?”
“It isna seed, but ye’ll no’ be dry if ’tis done right.”
“Oh, Christ,” said Jamie, feeling suddenly overheated. He pulled at his stock and took deep, heavy breaths.
He had more questions now than when he started. He wondered if it felt for women anything like it did for a man. His cock was rock solid, imagining how it might be if they reached their peak at the same time.
Jamie adjusted himself, frustrated that his kilt was doing a poor job of hiding his cockstand. He needed air, and he needed to put an end to their ridiculous conversation.
Jamie moved quickly, walking out of the room, barking an order over his shoulder, “I’m going out to the woodshed. You two find something else to do.”
He turned the corner quickly and strode down the hall, narrowly missing his sister, but bumping straight into Claire. His arms came around her reflexively as she lost balance.
When the shock of the collision dissipated, he was left with the woman in his arms who, only moments before, inspired a fierce, aching want in his balls...and the ache was anything but gone in her proximity.
She gave the most adorable throaty giggle at their clumsiness...until she caught the look in his eyes. He watched the flush spread down her neck and to her breasts, and her mouth parted to suck in air. She looked just as he remembered her in their first encounter. Only this time, she was in his arms, and her body was plastered tight against his.
Like a small boat on a quiet loch, her hips rocked gently against him through layers of skirts and kilt. Images of her mouth on his cock were too fresh in mind. Fantasies of holding her from behind and pushing inside as they found their pleasure in each other had him thinking he might die if he didn’t have her right there in the hall, to hell with anyone watching.
As she rocked slowly against his cock, he heard the softest whimper escape her lips, and he realized she was rousing to his touch. He needed no advice from his friend nor godfather when the woman was Aphrodite herself. All he needed to learn, he could gather from watching her move, from feeling her body, and listening to her sweet sounds.
“Let the poor lass go, Jamie,” scolded Jenny. “Unless ’tis she who’s holding you upright?”
Jenny’s voice was like a cold bucket of water dumped on his head. He gathered his wits and planted Claire’s feet firmly on the floor. “Ye alright, Sassenach?”
She licked her lips and whined a little before she spoke. “I’m well, thank you.”
He leaned forward and whispered quietly in her ear, “’Twas my pleasure.” And if she could feel the strength of his desire through her skirts, she’d know just how much pleasure he took from it.
He could still smell the flowers in her hair and the rose hips on her skin. He could feel her breath on his cheek and the rocking of her hips. He still saw the hunger in her eyes and the flush on her skin. Her whimpers played like a harp in his ears.
His tongue raged against his other senses in a fit of jealousy that he’d yet to taste any part of her as they greedily had their fill. How badly he wanted to taste the flavor of her mouth, her skin, and Lord help him, her quim.
He was obsessed with her, his every waking thought consumed by her. He was desperate to know the peak of her pleasure as badly he wanted to find his own.
Abusing himself may have been a sin, but as his father once told him, better he do so to himself than impose such sin on a lass. And God Almighty, he wanted to impose his sin on her. So he hid in the woodshed alone, stroking his cock to the memories of the woman he loved, so he wouldn’t cast his shame upon her by using her body to fill his unholy need.
As he neared the end, he sped his hand and imagined his hips slapping against her fat, round arse while he buried his face in her ridiculous hair.
“Oh, God! Oh, Claire!” he grunted, spilling his seed on the sawdust-strewn floor.
Pulsating pleasure lingered in his body until his wits started coming about him. As his mind was released from the frenzy of his cock, he realized what he’d just done. Shame filled him for his indiscretion, though if he was being honest with himself, it was not altogether unpleasant. Like a child covering up an unsavory misdeed, he kicked the sawdust over his spunk so none would be any the wiser.
Though not exactly fulfilled, his body was no longer raving mad, and he could get back to the task at hand. He spent the next few hours finishing the final touches on the gift of Claire’s medicine cabinet. They’d built it with a long, wide countertop, adorned with cupboards above and below. He’d carved small bundles of flowers into the little doors—forget-me-nots and Jacobian thistle. When he finished the final polish on the dark wood, he enlisted a farmhand to help him bring it up to her room.
Thankfully she was nowhere in sight, too embarrassed by his earlier behavior to meet her eyes. He retrieved ink, a quill, and a piece parchment from his room and wrote a note to tuck into one of the cabinet doors.
For you, my Sassenach, and all your wee herbs.
He thought for a moment, then added a line from King Lear:
“Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination.”
Your obedient servant,
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart.
– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 3, Scene 2.
Come and let us live my Deare,
Let us love and never feare,
What the sowrest Fathers say:
Brightest Sol that dies to day
Lives againe as blithe to morrow,
But if we darke sons of sorrow
Set; o then, how long a Night
Shuts the Eyes of our short light!
Then let amorous kisses dwell
On our lips, begin and tell
A Thousand, and a Hundred, score
An Hundred, and a Thousand more,
Till another Thousand smother
That, and that wipe of another.
Thus at last when we have numbered
Many a Thousand, many a Hundred;
Wee’l confound the reckoning quite,
And lose ourselves in wild delight:
While our joyes so multiply,
As shall mocke the envious eye.
- Richard Crashaw, Out of Catullus (artistic translation of Catullus 5)
Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination.
- William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 2
Chapter 10: Ten
I was struck with the scent of freshly carved wood the moment I opened the door. The cabinet was impossible to miss, taking up as much space as it did. But it was only when I lit a few candles that I could see the carvings and read Jamie’s note.
My Sassenach, he called me. There it was on paper. He’d claimed me as his own.
And he made me a piece of furniture. It wasn’t a flower that might wither away if I didn’t press it and protect it. It was large and solid and something I couldn’t take with me elsewhere. It was meant to stay in this home forever.
I don’t know what held a stronger grip on my heart, his gift or his proclamation.
I ran my hands over the carvings in the cabinet doors as my eyes welled up with tears. Thistles and forget-me-nots. An extravagant way to give a woman flowers!
My heart was certain to flutter right out of my chest.
I didn’t get a chance to thank him that night. He was nowhere to be found when I searched the house. I got the feeling he was avoiding me after our little collision in the hall. I wanted to tell him there was nothing to be embarrassed about. Remembering the substantial feel of him through my skirts, I’d say he should be quite pleased with himself.
I slept poorly again that night, caught up in endless fantasies blending with strange erotic dreams. I rose out of bed early for the second day in a row, but this time, I was aroused, emotional, and overheated. I moved to the window in an attempt to liberate the stifling heat suddenly concentrated in my room.
The overcast skies were dark and heavy; it was likely to rain again soon. With the sun hidden from the skies, little natural light came in when I opened the latch. I leaned out the window to let the morning breeze cool my flustered skin.
“Sassenach,” said a quiet voice to my left.
I turned my head to find Jamie sitting on his own window ledge, as though the Laird was spending the morning staring out over his great expanse of land. His unkempt hair and open collar did nothing to stop the effects of the lewd dreams I had been attempting to chase away.
“Good morning, Jamie.”
“Aye. It is.” His gaze was soft, and his eyes glazed over dreamily.
“Well, are you going to come over here and let me thank you properly for my gift?”
“Sassenach,” he chided, losing none of the affection in his eyes.
“Then I shall come to you.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Gi’ me a moment to dress, lass. I’ll be there shortly.”
He winked foolishly with both eyes before slipping back into his room. Knowing I didn’t have time to dress fully, I decided on donning my stays without the skirts. Jamie might have a stroke if I let him in my room in broad daylight wearing nothing but my shift.
Intending on giving him a proper thank you, I hurriedly cleaned my teeth and dug out a few mint leaves to chew on while I finished tying up the laces of my stays.
When his quiet knock sounded on the door, I rinsed out my mouth and took a deep breath to compose myself before welcoming him inside.
“Good morning, Mistress,” he said, trying to stifle a grin.
“Good morning, my Laird,” I teased. I held the door open for him, waiting for him to enter.
“Claire, I dinna think…”
I grabbed his hand and pulled him in, shutting the door behind him. He stepped quietly to the cabinet to look over his handiwork. “Ye like it then? Ye’ll find use for it?”
“Like it?” I laughed. “It’s perfect, Jamie.” I stepped in close, once again surprised by his towering height and broad shoulders. “It’s the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me.”
He twirled one of my wild, morning locks around his finger, whispering quietly, “I’d give ye the whole world if I could.”
“I don’t want the whole world.” I placed my hand on his chest just over his heart.
His own hand covered mine, and his whole body shuddered. “Sassenach..."
I smiled up at him through my lashes and said, “Come and let us live my Deare, Let us love and never feare…”
His fingers traced lightly over my lips as he finished, “Then let amorous kisses dwell, On our lips, begin and tell…”
I kissed his finger softly, and with a groan, he broke free of his restraint and brought his mouth down on mine. My knees buckled, and I clutched at his shirt to keep me upright.
His full, warm lips moved over mine with the awe and eagerness of a lost soul who’d found the gateway to Paradise. He cradled my head, kissing me again and again, moving from top lip to bottom and back again.
Like a lock clicking shut, I felt as though my fate was sealed. With a kiss like that, I would be forever tied to this man. I’d never go another day in my life without craving more. A Thousand, and a Hundred score...A Hundred, and a Thousand more.
“I kent kissing ye would be a foolish thing to do,” he said, nuzzling my forehead with his own. “I’ll never, ever be able to stop.”
He kissed me again and again, confounding the reckoning quite...losing ourselves in wild delight.
I slipped my tongue between his lips, and he groaned, licking back. Our mouths sealed over each other, not letting a breath of air come between. I didn’t think I’d ever need oxygen again until he spoke against my lips. “How I’ve yearned to ken yer taste...wondering if ye’d be as sweet as summer berries...So daft was I to believe ye were made of this earth.”
My tongue sought its mate that professed such pretty words, knowing it could go another two hundred years and never hear the likes of something so sweet. His arms enveloped me, holding me so close, my toes lifted off the floor. With every stroke of his tongue, he ruined me more and more for any other man.
He no longer suffered embarrassment over the state of his body. With nothing but my shift and his kilt between us, there was no hiding his substantial arousal.
“How am I supposed to tend to my land or care for my people when yer lips are so soft?” he muttered. “How am I to pull myself away from the warmth of yer tongue?”
“You have no idea what I’d give up for you, Jamie. For this.” And I kissed him again.
With his lips still on mine, he bent down and lifted me up, cradling me in his arms. For a moment, I thought he would take me to bed, and I was all too willing to oblige, but he settled himself into a chair with me on his lap and no recognizable intention to ever allow our lips to part again.
His kisses filled a need I never realized I had before their existence. A vital need. A panic tore through me at the mere thought of them ever being taken away.
Sensing my urgency, his hand gripped my hair, holding me steady against him. I held him tight, hands cradling his face, feeling his jaw open and close with every passionate caress of his tongue.
“It’s too soon to feel like this,” I whimpered. “This is all happening so fast.”
He nuzzled my cheek, breath faltering and voice wavering, “My father said when I found the woman for me, I’d just ken it...nothing else would feel so right.”
“But we don’t even know each other yet. How can it be something more than infatuation?”
“Oh, Claire. I’m enamored with all I ken of ye thus far, and I’m predisposed to think fondly of whatever else I’ll learn. ’Tis as good a place to start as any.”
Would it be enough? I wondered. I’d have to confess the truth of my time travel at some point. Would his predisposition to think fondly of me stop him from tossing me aside or having me burned at the stake?
“Jamie,” I said seriously, “there are things you need to know about me.”
He smiled and brushed his thumb over my cheek. “And I look forward to learning every one of them.”
I stilled his hand. “Dougal was right; I’m not who you think I am.”
“Weel, I ken ye’re no’ a spy, Sassenach. Ye’ve no love for the redcoats. Yer French is fine, but ye're no’ from France; I can hear it in yer voice. And ye canna speak false wi’out it showing plain on yer face. Ye’d make a terrible spy.”
“I already told you that, and I promised you honesty.”
“Then what is it, lass?” He nuzzled my nose with his. “Ye canna think after kissing ye like that, I’d let anything else stand in our way.”
I sighed deeply, not ready to give up what it was between us.
“Come now, Murtagh thought ye a harlot, and Ian, a fairy. None of the like have scared me off yet, mo nighean donn…my brown-haired lass,” he added at the question in my eyes. “Do ye really think there's anything about ye so terrible it would push me away?”
I allowed myself a small laugh. “What if I was a fairy who came to Lallybroch, stealing babies and replacing them with changelings? Would you still want me then?”
“Aye.” He kissed the line of my jaw, humming in amusement. “But if ’tis weans ye want, I’m sure we could find a way of giving ye some of yer own so ye dinna have to nick anyone else's.”
“Do you think I’m a fairy?”
“I dinna ken. And is doesna matter.”
“Doesn’t it though?”
“No. I like the strangeness of ye, from wherever it may come. And I ken yer heart well enough, standing up to me and Murtagh the way ye did when ye thought I was bullying MacNab, and how ye helped wee Rabbie wi’ his injuries. Ye're a kind woman. An honest one. And ye’ve a backbone of steel, the way ye handled Dougal MacKenzie.”
“And what if that’s all a show, and I’m really a horrible person?”
“Ye ken, Sassenach. I dinna think I care.” He kissed me gently.
I laughed, unable to stifle the hope bubbling up inside me. “You’re quite mad, you know.”
“And you might think I’m mad when I tell you the truth.”
“Good. We can be deranged together.”
“Oh, Jamie.” I brought his lips to mine again. He really felt too good to be true. No one person should be allowed this much happiness when so many others suffered so severely.
Quiet, Beauchamp! I chided myself. I’d already lost everyone I ever loved in my life; one lesson those losses taught me was to enjoy whatever time I had with someone while they were right in front of me and not taint it with futile worry.
So I wrapped my arms around his neck and opened my mouth to suck languidly on his tongue.
We had to pull ourselves apart eventually, though it did take a good long time. Long enough that Ian came knocking on Jamie’s door next to my room, yelling something about the ledgers needing attention before Jock took off to Edinburgh. Jamie froze against my lips, and we giggled quietly until Ian’s footsteps could be heard going back downstairs.
We stumbled over each other, kissing as he walked me backward toward the door. Then he kissed me against the wall until he pulled his mouth off mine reluctantly, grumbling about the “bloody ledgers.”
He kissed me again until he slipped out the door, leaving me dizzy and lightheaded. Then he came back just before the door closed and kissed me one last time.
I sank to the floor when he was gone, trying not to feel like a giddy teenager falling for a boy for the first time.
After losing Frank, I never expected to love anyone as much as I loved him. I certainly never expected anything like this.
I took my time getting dressed, lost in the lingering bliss of lovers’ first kiss. I hardly remembered how I’d gotten into my skirts and stomacher; however, I did clearly recall looking in the mirror and finding my lips bright pink and swollen as I pinned up my hair.
With a large, new apothecary cabinet that needed filling, I grabbed my foraging basket and headed downstairs. My heart sped wildly as I reached the bottom floor, knowing I might get a brief glance at him before I went outside.
I took my time dawdling around, chatting with Jenny and Mrs. Crook, eating a bannock, and packing a little food for lunch. When I could find no further reason to waste time, rather than leaving through the kitchen door, I walked through the house for one last chance at a glimpse at Jamie.
My efforts were rewarded when I walked down the hall, and a strong hand grabbed my arm, pulling me into the study. His lips were on me before I could see his face, but my body was ready, dropping my basket to the floor and wrapping my arms around his neck.
“Oh Claire,” he moaned against my mouth. “Christ, ye’re bonnie.”
His tongue was deep in my mouth, and his hands were on my waist, thumbs grazing the underside of my breasts. I moaned in want, yearning for his touch on the most sensitive parts of me.
Just as I was about to beg him to touch me, the door opened next to us, and we were met with Murtagh’s astonished face. It was the first time I saw him with an expression other than a scowl. He flushed a deep shade of red as Jamie peeled himself off me.
“Good morning, Mistress,” Murtagh mumbled.
“Good morning.” I sniffed deeply and held my chin high despite wanting to sink into the wall behind me.
“Jock is awaiting yer coin,” Murtagh told Jamie.
“Aye,” Jamie huffed.
I bent down to retrieve my basket. “I better be on my way. You two gentlemen have a lovely day.”
Jamie took my hand before I could go and brought it to his lips, kissing it more ardently than I’d ever seen a gentleman do before. Moisture lingered where he vacated both my hand and my mouth. “I’ll find ye later, Sassenach.”
I nodded my goodbyes to both men and left them to their business.
A lazy drizzle fell from the dark clouds overhead as I stepped outside. No matter the lack of sunshine, I felt more buoyant than I had since long before the war. I floated across the long grass, letting my feet carry me in the direction of the glade.
I’d made it about halfway there when I got distracted by vibrant, yellow mushrooms growing on the forest floor.
“Chanterelles!” I rushed over enthusiastically. They were an excellent source of Vitamin D and other minerals, so I gathered as many as I could find. I followed a trail of them deep into the forest, careful to remember from which direction I came.
Time passed quickly, as it always did when I was outdoors. I’d become accustomed to the near constant rain of Scotland, so the light, morning sprinkle was of little consequence, particularly when I was in such a jovial mood.
I was lost in daydreams of spending a lifetime foraging in these woods and returning home to Lallybroch...to Jamie...making love by a roaring fire to warm my cold, wet body, when I heard the slosh of footsteps coming up behind me.
I smiled, pleased Jamie was able to get away from work so quickly and track me down to continue our amorous engagements from the morning.
Until I remembered...I’d never known Jamie’s feet to make a sound when he was walking.
I turned around and stared into the eyes of my dead husband wearing a soldier’s tricorn and a blood-red coat.
“A pleasure to see you again, madam,” he said as a predatory smile overtook his all too familiar face.
They saw the redcoats riding in from a quarter mile away. Jamie’s whole body seized as the sound of a faraway whip echoed in his mind.
“Go, Jamie!” yelled Ian. “Go now! If ‘tis Randall, this will be nothing but trouble for ye.”
“I am Laird of this land, and I willna run like a coward.”
“Randall doesna ken ye’re home. If he finds out ye’ve come back, his visits may come more frequently.”
“Then I will find a way to deal wi’ him. I willna run from an Englishman on my own land!”
“Jamie,” said Murtagh, “where’s Claire? If he finds her here after the stramash on the hill…”
Jamie’s heart stopped at the thought. “No. God no.”
“Go!” said Ian “I’ll take care of the redcoats. Find her, and keep her away until they’ve gone.”
“Jenny?” said Jamie, not wanting his sister exposed to that man again.
“I’ll take care of her and the weans, lad,” said Murtagh. “Be gone!”
Jamie nodded and turned to run in the direction of the glade where he saw Claire headed only an hour before. He was in the cover of the forest in no time at all, sprinting through the rugged Highland terrain.
Memories intruded in his mind of Randall pulling Jenny inside their house. And with every stride he made, he could feel the pain of Randall’s whip ripping through the skin on his back. He couldn’t let such a thing happen to Claire. He’d promised her she’d be safe on his land, safe with him.
He dashed through the forest, heedless of the noise he made or the tracks he left behind.
Finally, the glade was in sight. He bounded into the clearing, eyes peeled for her wild hair and green dress.
She wasn’t there. She wasn’t near the creek where she liked to forage, nor near the wildflowers or heather.
Where could she have gone?
“Claire!” he called.
His mind was an endless stream of terror. Where is she? How far did she wander? Did the bastard already find her?
The berries! Perhaps she was foraging for berries. He bolted in the direction of the blackberry bushes she was so fond of.
“Claire!” She wasn’t there either.
He searched and searched, running as fast as his legs would allow, trying to think of where a woman who was unfamiliar with the forest might go.
He didn’t know if he searched for one hour or two or ten—time was always distorted in panic or misery—but he began to fear that after so long being gone, she’d make her way back to the house with her basket of herbs, right into the hands of the redcoats.
Exhausted and breathing heavily from prolonged exertion, he forced himself to press on. He doubled back to the line of the forest near Lallybroch to see if he could pick up on her tracks.
The rain had made the earth soft, ensuring any being who stepped foot in the forest would leave their prints behind. And thankfully, it wasn't falling heavily enough to wash them away. Jamie finally found the impressions of a woman's shoe some distance to the west of the glade. He could see she was diverted by the promise of plentiful foraging, evidenced by footprints through a decimated troop of mushrooms.
He should’ve been relieved to find her tracks, except there was another set of prints that overlaid hers—the boots of a man.
He tracked them through the wilderness as quickly as his eyes would allow. He could no longer call out to her, fearful his voice might take away the element of surprise should Randall have her in a compromised position.
“Jamie!” he heard Claire’s voice on the wind. He clung to the sound and followed the tracks, knowing the Highland winds could take her voice and lead him in the wrong direction.
She called for him again and again, desperation coloring her tone. Her movement told him she was being pursued, and rage overtook fear as he became a predator stalking his prey.
Randall’s bright red coat made him easy to find. He had Claire pinned against a tree, his long blade held up to her throat.
Jamie didn’t hesitate for a moment, running straight at Randall, barreling him into the ground. A terrible pain ripped through his shoulder as they landed on the rocks below.
Ignoring his pain in the face of his enemy, he rolled up on his knees, unsheathing his dirk and turning to Randall. The bastard was bleeding from the side of his head, but his sword was raised from where he knelt on the ground.
Jamie watched Claire come from behind with a large stone and bash it down on Randall’s head. Jamie lunged forward as Randall stood stunned by the blow. He stabbed the dirk into Randall’s belly, shoving it up into his heart.
He savored the sounds of Randall’s life being drained from his body—the gurgling of blood in his lungs, the groaning realization of the end coming to pass, and finally, the collapse of his body on the ground.
“Jamie…” Claire whispered, the distress in her eyes still there as her hands shook by her sides.
“Oh, Claire.” He stood up, rushing to comfort her. He tried to take her in his arms, but he could only move the left one without pain. He dropped his bloody dirk to embrace her.
She threw her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. At his grunt of pain, she stepped back to examine him.
“You’re hurt,” she said, hand grazing over his arm.
“Aye. My shoulder will need to be set back in place.”
She nodded. “I can do it for you.”
He led her some distance away from Randall’s body to a large rock he could sit on to brace himself. Claire’s cold hands grew steadier as she helped him remove his shirt to get a better look at his arm. She stepped around him to help pull the shirt over his head.
He heard her suck in a breath at the sight of his scars. Her frozen fingers moved over his damaged skin.
“It was Randall,” Jamie said, looking toward the redcoat’s body to confirm his demise. “Some years back, he came to Lallybroch for supplies and harassed my sister. I stepped in and paid the price. One hundred lashes on top of one hundred lashes, only a week apart. My father died watching it happen.”
He glimpsed over his shoulder at Claire. “When I told ye he was no friend to anyone at Lallybroch, I meant it.”
Her arms wrapped around him from behind, and she rested her forehead on his back. Gentle kisses pressed over the worst of his scars. He shivered from head to toe at the sweetness of her touch.
“He was a wretched bloody man,” she whispered.
“How on earth did you survive?”
“I almost didn’t.” He sighed heavily, remembering the misery of the weeks after his beatings. He pulled her around in front of him so he could see her face and know she was well. He held her hand with his good arm and told her what he could recall. “Murtagh and Dougal helped break me out of the prison. They brought me to an abbey in France where my Uncle Alexander was abbot. I was all but dead. I dinna recall what happened, but Murtagh said a small Frenchman who looked a wee bit like a frog came by to pray over me. I awoke the next morning, and the fever was gone...though the despair remained.”
“You must’ve suffered terribly.” Tears filled her eyes.
He brought her hand to his lips to push away the memories of excruciating anguish, not just from what happened to his back, but the loss of his father, the attack on his sister, and the banishment from his land.
“You came to help me,” she said in awe. “You knew the worst of what could happen to you...but you still came for me.”
“I vowed ye’d be safe wi’ me, Claire. I dinna make promises lightly.”
“How did you know I was in trouble?”
“I saw the redcoats coming, and I worrit what might happen if Randall found ye after what transpired between ye at the fairy hill.”
She nodded, kneeling on the ground before him. “When he found me, Randall said he came to Lallybroch because he heard Dougal brought me there. He said they searched the house and couldn’t find me. They split up to scour your land and hunt me down. He found my tracks and followed me here.”
“When he doesna return, they’ll come looking for him.”
“What will we do?”
He smiled without joy. “Weel, you can fix my arm so I can take care of the other redcoats. The Highlands are a dangerous place, and wi’out witnesses or bodies, the English will never ken how their soldiers disappeared.”
“Oh, Jamie.” She buried her face in his chest that was covered in rain and Randall’s blood. “I’m so sorry.”
“’Tis alright, lass. I should be thanking ye for the opportunity to kill the bastard.”
She lifted her head to meet his gaze. “But you’ll have to kill the other men, too.”
“Aye. I’ll take no pleasure in it, but I’ll do what must be done.”
Her eyes dropped sadly to the floor.
“Ye dinna think me a monster?” he asked weakly.
She looked back up at him and shook her head with the utmost sincerity. “I’m beyond grateful for who you are.”
With a deep breath, she stood up and steeled her spine. “Now, let’s set that arm.”
With a task to occupy her mind, she didn’t allow herself to be overtaken by overwhelming worry. Jamie was obliged to endure a few moments of excruciating pain before his shoulder was forced back in place, her small hands somehow much stronger than they appeared.
He rolled his shoulder, savoring the aching relief. “I thank ye, Sassenach. It doesna hurt anymore.”
“It will. I’ll need to strap it to your body so you don’t use it for a few days.” Her tone brooked no argument, even as he knew he’d have to do so when he hunted down the remaining redcoats later that day.
“Here,” she said, walking over to Randall’s body. “He won’t be needing his belt any longer.”
She froze still as she stood over him. Not even her lungs seemed to move.
“Claire?” He stepped up behind her, placing his hands on her arms. He looked down at Randall’s lifeless body, the vibrancy of his blood a contrast to his greying skin. “I’m sorry ye had to see him killed.”
She shook her head. “I’ve seen many men killed in battle. It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
Her voice was hollow when she spoke, “It’s seeing his face once more...only, it’s not his face.”
Jamie turned her around so she wouldn’t have to see the body. “I dinna ken what ye mean.”
“I...I think my husband was a relation of Captain Randall. Frank looked just like him. Frank Randall.”
The blood froze in Jamie’s veins at the thought of Randall’s kin touching Claire...marrying her...lying with her.
“Frank died in the war...there was a bomb...and explosion. I never got to say goodbye. And there was no body left to bury.” Her eyes met Jamie’s, tears mingling with the rain. “He looked just like him, but they were so different.”
Jamie pulled her to his chest, letting her cry in his arms, grieving her husband moments after she helped kill his kin. He held her small body for as long as he could allow, knowing he must get her home so he could find the other redcoats before they realized something was amiss.
Claire was the one who pulled herself away to retrieve Randall’s belt and bind Jamie’s arm. When that was done, he gathered his shirt and dirk, and she retrieved her basket, before setting off back to the house, Claire tucked firmly in his side.
He returned her home to the care of Ian and Jenny, and then set off with Murtagh to find the other redcoats. There were five total, including Randall, and one of them was standing guard over their horses and wagons just outside the entrance to the house. After they killed that one, they only had three left to find.
Two of them were raiding Lallybroch’s ale, already gone with drink when Jamie and Murtagh found them, making them easy enough to dispatch. The final man was a more cautious soldier, wary of his surroundings. They tracked him into the forest, where he put up an impressive fight. Jamie regretted having to kill him, but it was the least of what he would do to protect Claire.
He and Murtagh retrieved all the bodies and disposed of them, so none would ever be the wiser they ever arrived at Lallybroch that morning.
It was dark when Jamie and Murtagh finally made it home. The house was quiet, and all were in bed, save Ian who stayed up to ensure there was no trouble. Jamie ate a quick meal before heading upstairs to his room.
He stopped at Claire’s door, tempted to check in on her, wanting to tell her that all was well. He listened at the door for any sign of movement that might indicate she was still awake.
He moved on to his room, feeling somewhat empty walking away from the woman he loved without a word. Once inside, he stripped down naked to wash away the blood of five dead soldiers off his body before getting into bed.
Sleep never came easily after he took a life, no matter how necessary or deserving the victim. He lay in bed, mumbling prayers of peace for their souls. He dared not ask God for forgiveness, because Jamie knew he would do it again should the situation require. Instead, he asked for compassion and understanding.
In the quiet hours just after midnight, he heard someone opening the latch on his door. His hand moved under his pillow, gripping his dirk, ready to bloody his hands once more.
He relaxed when the door opened to reveal Claire standing there in the wisp of her shift with worry in her eyes. She had a bundle of rags in her hands, gripping them tight to stop from shaking.
He sat up in bed, but waited for her to shut the door before he spoke. “Are ye alright, lass?”
She didn’t say a word. She closed the distance between them and crawled onto his bed.
“Sassenach…” he said nervously. He was completely bare beneath his sheets.
She didn’t seem to care about the state of his undress. Her eyes told him her thoughts were turned toward more pressing concerns. In them, he saw anguish and grief. Relief and gratitude. Affection and worry.
She caressed his face softly before checking on his injured arm. Wordlessly, she bandaged him up, strapping his right arm tight against his body.
“Thank ye, lass,” he said when she was done.
“Did everything go as planned?”
“Aye. Ye’ve nothing to fear.”
She leaned forward and kissed him, soft and gentle, more a ministration to his wellness rather than satisfying a desire.
“Lay your head,” she whispered, stroking the hair out of his face.
His tired body listened without objection, allowing her gentle caresses until his eyelids fell heavy. As he was dozing off, he felt her slide in under the sheets and settle into the curve of his left arm. She fitted well there, as though she was made to lie with his body.
He pulled her close, kissing her forehead, and drifted off to sleep.
Jamie’s shoulder made him restless throughout the night, adjusting and readjusting anytime he was in one position too long. When he stirred enough to rouse me awake, he’d mutter quiet, indecipherable words in my hair until I fell back asleep.
His body was as warm and comfortable as a heated blanket. It wrapped around me with its long limbs and caressing hands. Despite the novelty of sleeping in his embrace, it was almost like I’d been there a thousand times before. Like my body was recognizing its home...like I was always meant to wind up curled into his side.
His nudity over the course of the night seemed such an inconsequential thing. The only cares in the world I had were to be near him, to tend to him, and to feel the safety of his presence envelop me. But in the light of dawn—far from the deaths of Captain Randall and the other redcoats—the significance of his lack of bedclothes grew more profound.
I ran my hand over his sculpted torso, relishing a moment of private appreciation of his fierce beauty. As my hand moved over his abdomen, a shiver ran down his whole body, telling me he was already awake and likely only still in bed to indulge me.
I peered up at his face to find him watching with a tender smile.
“Did you sleep well?” I asked.
“No,” he laughed.
Knowing about his high pain tolerance, I concluded his arm must’ve been bothering him something awful. I rose up to inspect it for swelling or any other potential problems, but aside from a bit of inflammation and bruising, it seemed to be healing nicely.
He groaned in aching relief when I rid him of his bandages and allowed him to stretch out his arm. I instructed him to demonstrate his range of motion, and he dutifully obliged. He was unhappy, however, when I advised him his arm would require a sling, and he wouldn’t be allowed to use it for at least a day.
“You’ll only cause more damage if you don’t listen to me,” I insisted. He ceased his grousing and grumbling when I pressed firmly against the large contusion left by the rock he landed on when tackling Randall.
He let out a quivering breath, and for a moment, I thought I might have seriously hurt him with all my poking and prodding, but one look at his face told me he came out of my examination unscathed. His breathing difficulties were a product of his eyes staring down the loose neckline of my shift. He was so mesmerized at the glimpse of my breasts, I thought if I began swaying them back and forth like a pendulum, I might have him completely hypnotized.
“Mmphm?” His eyes lifted to mine, and he caught himself, the heat of his blush warming my skin in our close proximity. “Sorry.”
I did my best to stifle my laughter at his expense, choosing rather to lean forward and press my smiling lips to his.
To save him further embarrassment, I crawled out of bed and hunted him down a shirt and a pair of trousers. I helped him dress—both of us mindful of his modesty—and strapped on his boots. Despite his reluctance, he allowed me to fashion a sling and tie his arm to his side.
“There,” I said, helping him to his feet.
The natural intimacy of our night together was suddenly replaced with a youthful uncertainty. Last night we craved closeness and expected only the comfort of each other’s touch. But now we were back to navigating this strange physical relationship of ours that didn’t seem to fit within any parameters of his century or mine.
He took my hand and walked me to the door. I wasn’t sure how to leave things between us after all that had occurred in the last day. Though I craved the delirious kisses of the morning before, it felt strange to allow myself to be swept up in such giddiness when the man had just murdered a small company of soldiers for the sake of my safety.
“Thank you,” was all I could come up with, resenting my lack of eloquence.
He opened his lips to respond, but the words never left his tongue. Instead, he bent down and kissed me sweetly, chastely, stealing my breath.
When he pulled back, he still looked as though he had something to say.
“What is it?” I asked.
He shook his head, embarrassed.
“Tell me, Jamie.”
“’Tis nothing...only...I verra much enjoy having ye sleep in my bed wi’ me. I was going to say ye’re welcome to do so again anytime ye like, but...I thought maybe it wouldna be right to offer after yesterday. I dinna want ye to feel obliged for the sake of…”
I reached up and pulled him down for another kiss. It was neither sweet nor chaste, my desire for him breaking its feeble restraints. He groaned into my mouth, wrapping his good arm around me to hold me firmly against him.
It was with the lingering feeling of his tongue on mine that I made my way back to my room, eager for the day to be over so I could taste it again.
Summer days were unreasonably long when your body craved diversions of the night. After breakfast, I puttered around the garden and went foraging for some wild fruit I could transplant without Jamie’s assistance. Then, I fussed about with my new medicine cabinet, organizing all my supplies for the next illness or injury to present itself.
Late in the afternoon, Jenny noticed my restlessness and took pity on me, thinking it resulted from my encounter with the redcoats the previous day. Disinclined as I was to inform her that it was due to an amorous encounter with her brother, she set herself to the task of distracting me. Her generous spirit resulted in a determination to teach me how to wield a pair of knitting needles. As the hours stretched on, I became proficient enough to no longer feel like stabbing neither her nor myself in the eye due to frustrated incompetence.
I was about halfway through knitting an overly large and rather lumpy sock at the end of the day, when Ian’s uneven footsteps made their way into the parlor. Jamie and Murtagh walked in just behind him, all three of them filthy from head to toe.
My eyes met Jamie’s, and we both sighed in deep relief, our parched souls drinking in the sight of each other.
Ian went to harass his wife with filthy kisses, while Jamie knelt in front of me to inspect my progress. “Look at you, Sassenach! Impressive.”
“Oh stop,” I blushed.
“It’s a fine start to a fishing net,” he teased.
“Fishing net? It’s a sock! For you, you little shit.”
“For me? Ye’re making me a sock, lass?”
She shrugged. “I was making them for Maggie, but the size seems to have gotten away from me. I’m afraid you’re the only person whose foot might fit in here now.”
Jamie’s shoulders bounced in amusement. “Weel, I thank ye for thinking of me in consolation. Here, ye dropped a stitch…” He reached for my needles and performed some sort of maneuver to fix a gap in my stitching. “There. We wouldna want my ankles getting cold now, would we?”
“Don’t worry,” I whispered. “I’m sure we could find a way to keep them warm.”
His eyes darkened, and his tongue shot out to lick his lips. “Aye,” he said, breathless.
“Get on upstairs and wash for supper!” Jenny ordered, pushing her husband off her. “All of ye!” She whacked Jamie in the head as she passed by, heading to the kitchen.
Jamie stood with a smile, eyes never leaving mine.
“Come on, Jamie,” said Ian. “Ye can make doe eyes at the lass o’er the dinner table. I’m starving.”
Not the least bit ashamed, Jamie blinked playfully at me before turning to the stairs.
“Oh, Murtagh,” I said, standing up to stop Jamie’s godfather from leaving. “Can I have a moment?”
Jamie eyed the two of us curiously before giving a shrug and turning toward the stairs. Murtagh stood awkwardly in front of me, a hand on his dirk—not in any menacing way, rather to keep his fidgeting to a minimum.
“I just wanted to thank you,” I said softly, “for helping Jamie yesterday. I know I’m not exactly your favorite person, being an outlander and all…” he blushed profusely and dropped his head, “...but it means a great deal to me that you helped him with...well...” Helped him with murdering the redcoats and disposing of their bodies.
Murtagh glanced up briefly, only to bow his head once again. “Aye, mistress. ’Tis no hardship to rid this land of such filth.”
“Even for the sake of a harlot?” I teased.
His cheeks were a furious shade of red. “The lad told ye?”
“He did.” I laughed to let him know I wasn’t bothered.
“My apologies, mistress.”
“None needed. You were only worried for Jamie.”
“In all sincerity, I do want you to know how grateful I am for yesterday.”
The corner of his mouth twitched, making me think he might have nearly smiled. “Think nothing of it,” he murmured quietly. Then he bowed his head and turned away to follow Jamie upstairs.
When they were gone, I set my pathetic attempt at domesticity aside in Jenny’s knitting basket and followed her to the kitchen to help however I could with dinner. Being that no one yet trusted me with food preparation—which was quite astute of them and no loss for me—I was quickly redirected to tend to Maggie whilst waiting in the dining room.
Jamie arrived back downstairs before the other two men. He wore a clean shirt and smiling eyes of pure sunshine.
“And how was your day?” I asked, warming at his joy in seeing me.
“Long. Far too long. And yers?”
“Come sit here, Sassenach, next to me.” He held out a hand for us to join him at his right hand side.
“Jamie!” I chided. “What happened to your sling?” In my excitement to see him, I’d completely forgotten about his injury
“Och,” he rubbed his shoulder as if he’d forgotten about the injury. “I took it off when it got in the way of shoveling. Dinna fash. ’Tis much better. It’s no’ as though I was stabbed or shot.”
I juggled Maggie in my arms so I could pull the collar of his shirt aside to inspect for any additional damage or swelling. Things seemed to be healing fine. Still, I couldn’t help but scold him a little. “Next time, don’t remove any bandages or slings until I say so. I don’t put them on you for the pleasure of your inconvenience.”
“Oh, you don’t fool me, James Fraser. I know there will be plenty more times I have to bandage you up.”
He smiled broadly and took my hand in his, fingers tracing around the bare skin of my ring finger. “Does that mean I get to keep ye around for a good long time, lass?”
It was my turn to blush and smile.
Ian and Murtagh entered the dining room with noisy footsteps and loud groans of hunger. I pulled my hand from Jamie’s just as they walked in to try to keep up some illusion of decorum.
Jamie chuckled quietly and dropped his hand to my leg under the table. He didn’t remove it when the food and wine were brought out, nor when his sister sat down to join us. It remained there when Mrs. Crook came to take Maggie while we ate dinner. He removed it only for the brief moments of leading grace, but promptly returned it back after an emphatic “Amen.”
The way Jenny’s knowing eyes kept flashing between her brother and me suggested Jamie’s feeble attempts at discretion were failing—though knowing Jamie’s capacity for hiding his thoughts, it must’ve been an intentional failure. Fortunately, Jenny didn’t seem too displeased.
“Oh, Jenny,” said Ian, “Jamie tells me he’s going into the village come morning if ye want him to send yer letter to Aunt Jocasta.”
“The village?” Jenny narrowed her eyes at Jamie. “What business have ye got there? Ye just went but two weeks ago.”
“I need to see the smith about a few things, and I told Claire I’d pick up some seeds for the kailyard.”
“The smith? Ye ken Macauley is off visiting the Grants. He willna be back ’til August.”
I caught the flush creeping up Jamie’s neck as he met his sister’s gaze. “I intend to meet up wi’ the other smith...MacLaren.”
“MacLaren?!” Jenny shook her head. “What business have ye got wi’ a sil…”
“Did ye try the wine yer cousin sent from Paris, Jenny?” Ian interrupted, handing her a glass. “’Tis the best we’ve had in some time.”
Jenny’s eyes didn’t leave her brother’s, though whatever words she intended to speak were sealed behind tight lips. Jamie’s grip on my leg was growing uncomfortably tight. I placed my hand on his and stroked it lightly, and his response was an immediate softening.
Jenny took the glass of wine and drank it down with resignation and a roll of her eyes.
“The wine is really quite good, Sassenach. Have a taste.” Jamie pushed my glass toward me. “For ‘good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used’.”
I obliged, stifling my curiosity at the unspoken conversation between siblings.
He was right, the wine was wonderful. Its scent alone was full-bodied and intoxicating. It washed over my tongue like liquid velvet.
“Mmphm,” a quiet hum vibrated in Jamie’s throat as he watched me drink. He licked his lips, as though he was the one tasting the wine instead of me.
“It’s wonderful. A generous gift from your cousin,” I said.
“Aye. I worked wi’ him for some time. Helped him make a fair profit too. He’s trying to convince me to expand his business up North.”
“Oh my. You really do get it from your family on all sides, don’t you? Everyone wants something from you.”
“I canna say I blame them. I’ve used them all for my own needs at some point or another. And I can be quite demanding myself.” His eyes flickered to Murtagh and Ian.
“They’d gladly help with anything you asked...and so would I.” I squeezed his hand under the table, wishing I knew how to tell him just what I’d do for him.
By the way he was gazing at me, I thought maybe he could see something of what he meant to me. His thumb caressed the back of my hand with the utmost tenderness.
“Jamie!” called Jenny.
“Mmphm?” Both our heads turned in her direction.
“I was asking when ye’ll be done digging that damned hole in my kitchen?”
“Just a couple more days, a nighean. Dinna fash.”
Jenny eyed him with irritation, though I didn’t know if it was for the inconvenience of a priest hole being dug in the back of the kitchen, or for the strange exchange they shared moments before.
Jamie just shrugged and went back to eating his food, our hands still linked together.
Dinner was delicious, and the wine seemed to loosen whatever tensions were between Fraser siblings. By the end of the meal, everyone was rosy-cheeked and full-bellied, and Jamie was ready to move us all into the parlor to exchange the dinner wine for port.
Jenny immediately started clearing the table with one of the servants.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, knowing she’d likely say no, but hoping my persistence would one day pay off.
Jenny looked as though she was about to decline, but her eyes flashed to her brother briefly, and her shoulders sank in resignation. “Aye, Claire, I suppose so. If ye dinna mind helping me clear off our mess of a Laird’s plate, I’d be grateful.”
“Oh. Of course.” Knowing it was no easy concession for her to make, I dutifully fulfilled my task with more eagerness than I’d ever felt in cleaning a man’s filthy plate.
When we finished, Jenny and I made our way to the parlor to join the men. Never one for idleness, Jenny immediately took up her knitting needles as she engaged in conversation with her husband. I grabbed my half done sock and found an empty seat next to Jamie, where he was awaiting me with a full glass of dark, rich port.
I took a large drink, letting the wine sit in my mouth. Jamie was watching me with a sparkle in his eyes, ignoring the conversation in the rest of the room.
Hyperaware of his eyes on me, I set my glass aside and picked up my needles, attempting to remember everything Jenny taught me only a couple hours before.
My obvious struggle was more than a little amusing to Jamie. “I’ll never ken how yer hands are so sure and careful when ye’re healing a patient, yet so clumsy wi’ the click-it.”
He covered my hands with his, showing me how to make the loops and turn my wrists. “That’s it, lass. Lovely.”
I snorted. “Lovely?”
He shrugged in defeat; not even his hormone-addled brain could defend the disaster in my hands.
My body was comfortably warm next to him. He smelled of lye soap, wine, and hardworking man, and it was as dizzying as the port absorbing into my brain.
I wanted him badly...and he knew it. His sapphire eyes watched me intently as I mindlessly disfigured his lumpy sock.
The evening stretched on for an eternity. I didn’t know how Jamie could sit there so calmly, so patiently, knowing the night would bring our bodies together.
I had to turn away from him to cool myself off, lest I commit ravishment right there in the parlor. I distracted myself by watching Murtagh carve a small wooden dirk for wee Jamie to play with.
“Does your godfather live here too?” I asked Jamie.
“He has his own place a few miles away, but I have such regular need of him, he keeps a room here.”
“His devotion to you is admirable.”
I looked up at him. “Colum told me you had the ability to draw people in...charisma, he called it. It’s so much more than that, isn’t it?”
“My clan are my people...and I am their Laird. I am theirs as much as they are mine.”
“Their devotion matches your own?”
He nodded significantly, as if renewing a pledge to serve them.
“Dougal is on a fool’s mission, isn’t he?”
“I certainly hope so.” He reached up to finger a stray lock of my hair.
“He is,” I said firmly.
“Ye sound certain.”
“I’ve only known you a short time, and I feel it too…”
His eyes flared with the blue flame of a driftwood fire. I stared, completely transfixed, lost in a glimpse of the passion burning inside him.
I was desperate to pull him upstairs into the privacy of his bed. Desperate to lose my body in that fire, have it warm me, surround me, burn me for all I cared.
Jamie forced his eyes away, fixing them on a blank spot on the wall. He reached blindly for his port and drank it all the way down. He was no less affected than me.
“I think I’m feeling quite ready for bed,” I announced to the room, incapable of composing myself for company any longer. “Thank you all for a wonderful evening.”
I mindlessly put away my knitting and excused myself to bed, too embarrassed to meet anyone’s gaze. I somehow remained on my feet all the way up the stairs and to my bedchamber.
I whispered quiet gratitudes that Mrs. Crook had a basin of hot water awaiting me. I stripped down and set to the task of washing myself thoroughly. I meant to be touched tonight...if Jamie would have me.
I hung up my clothes to air out and donned a fresh shift before sneaking out of my room and down the hall to Jamie’s door. His scent hit me full force as I closed myself in the Laird’s room. A fire was lit in the large hearth, and the window was thrown open to let in the fresh, evening air. Cool air and blazing fire...just like the man himself.
His feather bed was large and comfortable, enveloping me in its softness as I waited for the master of the house to come find me.
I didn’t have to wait long...I knew I wouldn’t. The door opened again about twenty minutes after I’d closed it.
Jamie was peeling off his clothes before the door shut behind him. I watched him remove his waistcoat, belt, and kilt before he even noticed my presence.
My breath caught at the sight of his long, muscular legs and the curve of his bottom under his white shirt. Hearing the sound that escaped my lips, he stopped in his tracks to find me in his bed.
I smiled, biting my bottom lip and pulling the blankets back in invitation. He kicked off his boots and stockings, eyes never leaving mine. He wore only his shirt when he joined me.
His large body dwarfed mine as I so badly craved. Our mouths sealed over each other, and our tongues lashed out, paying the other back for the torturous time they spent apart.
He cradled my head in his too large hands, bending me to the will of his eager lips. His weight was crushing, and I didn’t remotely care. I rolled my body in a wave beneath him, moaning with the building pleasure inside.
“Christ, I could devour ye whole, woman.”
“For God’s sake, do it.” I pulled at his shirt until my hands found his gloriously beautiful arse. He grunted as my fingers clenched, urging him to come inside me.
“Claire…” he moaned, his cock pressing hard against my pelvis, his shirt and my shift insubstantial barriers between our bodies. I kissed down his sharp jawline, my tongue licking over his three-day scruff.
“Oh God…I need...I canna...” He forced himself away, rolling off me and groaning in frustrated want. My own body revolted against his absence, fighting my conscience to climb up and mount him.
We lay side-by-side, staring up at the ceiling, trying to catch our breath. I didn’t dare look at his body, knowing what I’d find tenting his shirt.
“I’m sorry, Claire,” he groaned.
“For misusing ye so...rubbing all over ye. Groping and touching like a fiend.”
I chuckled. “I think you're describing what I just did to you.”
“Bah,” he dismissed any wrongdoing on my part.
I found his hand next to mine and gave it a squeeze. “You know I want you...don’t you? I like when you touch me like a fiend.”
“Aye, I gathered as much. ’Tis only,” he spoke to the ceiling, unable to meet my eyes, “my father instilled in me that I shouldna lie wi’ a woman unless I’ve made promises. If I should get ye wi’ child...”
He finally turned to look at me. “I do intend to make promises to ye, lass. I swear I’ll no’ play ye false, but…”
“It’s alright, Jamie. You don’t have to explain.” I leaned over and kissed him chastely.
“At times,” he breathed, “ye’ve got me feeling a lascivious wretch, and others like a sheltered wee bairn. I ken ye’ve been marrit before, and this must seem so foolish.”
“Not foolish at all.” I stroked his cheek. “You want to be careful...you want to be sure.”
“I am sure of ye, Claire. Truly. ’Tis only,” he blushed, “I always had it in my mind as my father said...I shouldna be using a lass to abuse my body until we’re marrit...then sin becomes sacrament, ken?”
I tried my best not to laugh. “Abuse your body?”
“Aye. Makes it sound as though I’m no’ enjoying it so much.”
I couldn’t hold in my laughter any longer. He laughed with me, recognizing the absurdity.
“Have you never made love to a woman before?” I asked.
“No. I have not. I mean to be wi’ one woman my whole life, Claire. Only one.”
I gripped his hand even tighter. “Does it bother you that I’m not a virgin?”
“No. I reckon one of us should ken what we’re doing.”
We laughed pleasantly, and I realized our bodies had turned toward each other.
Wondering just how chaste he’d been for most of his life, I asked, “Have you ever...abused yourself...you know, without a woman present?”
“Aye,” he flushed, grinning. “Da said if my need was so great that I must make a choice between abusing myself or imposing my sin on a lassie, then I should make the noble sacrifice.”
I had to wipe the tears of mirth from my eyes to see him clearly. “How very gallant of you.”
“Aye. And in the short time I’ve kent ye, Sassenach, I’ve had to be gallant a half dozen times at least.”
“Jamie,” heat rushed down to my core, “are you saying you’ve touched yourself thinking of me?”
“I may have done so...to stop from imposing sin on ye.”
I had to gather my lost breath to say, “I may have done the gallant thing for you a time or two myself.”
The humor drained from his eyes as shock stole over. “Ye’re saying women...please themselves too?”
I gave an amused nod.
“And ye’ve done it? Thinking of me?”
I nodded again.
I didn’t laugh anymore, not wanting to shame his ignorance nor discourage curiosity. “Well...you like to be touched and rubbed and fondled, don’t you? Do you think I’m any different?”
“I suppose not.” He licked his dry lips, eyes trailing down my body. I wondered how easily he could see through my shift. A mischievous smile overtook his lips. “So what ye’re saying is that if I dinna touch ye...ye may be driven to abuse yerself?”
“I might just be...yes.” I lifted my hand, tracing the curve of my breast, touching the sensitive nipple over the thin layer of fabric.
“So, I’d be tending to yer soul if I committed the sin for ye…” he deduced.
“How very chivalrous of you.”
“Aye.” His breath was heavy, eyes never leaving my hand still teasing my nipple. “And I wouldna be risking a bairn if my seed doesna spill inside ye.”
“That’s very logical.”
“And I dinna think I could abandon ye to commit such sin alone.”
“You seem to be convincing yourself quite nicely.”
He ran his hand down the curve of my waist and over my hip. “I was schooled by masters of rhetoric in Paris, Sassenach.”
I couldn’t help my laughter any longer, wondering what other immoral acts he found a way to justify with his robust education.
His hand traced up the curve of my waist, settling just under my breast, thumb stroking lightly. “D’ye ken how badly I burn for ye, Claire? How my body aches wi’ need to fill ye?”
“I feel it too, Jamie.”
His lips pressed to my forehead, strong and firm. “Ye’re mine, ye ken...as I am yours. I willna forsake ye. I swear it on my life.”
I lifted up to kiss him, knowing he meant every word, trying to convince him I felt the same.
“Claire…” he pleaded, moving his hand over my breast.
I pulled at the laces on my shift, loosening the fabric around my shoulders. He hooked his finger over the top and brought it down, revealing my breasts.
He stopped breathing, eyes dark and focused. His fingertips grazed like feathers over my sternum, leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake. He circled the swell of my breast, his breath finally escaping in an uncertain shudder. It felt like the first time I’d ever been touched.
My chest swelled with a deep inhale when his fingers reached my nipple. The little bud tightened firmly under his touch as he circled around. He took it lightly between his thumb and forefinger, not pinching or pulling, only touching softly.
“Jamie,” I whimpered, burying my face in his chest, pulling my body closer to his.
With a deep breath, he spread his large hand wide and groped the whole mound of my breast, strong fingers sinking into soft flesh. “Christ, ye’re beautiful,” he groaned, releasing his grip and grasping again, each squeeze firmer than the last. “Ye feel sae bonnie.”
Our lips met hungrily, his virginal eagerness intensely erotic. His mouth moved over mine with twenty-three years of building desire driving him on, and as he pinched my nipple in his hands, I craved for that mouth to minster over my skin.
I threaded my fingers in his hair, pulling him down to my chest. He groaned as his lips connected with skin, tongue darting out to lick the sensitive nipple. My whole body squirmed, eager moans encouraging him when words failed me.
He hollowed his cheeks and sucked deep, pulling a string of pleasure tied from one erogenous zone to another. I squeezed my legs together, trying to quell the urgent hunger below.
He moved to the other breast, starving mouth and greedy hands. He sucked and nibbled and kissed. He squeezed and pulled and caressed. My hands gripped his hair, keeping us locked together.
He looked up at me through his long auburn lashes and lapped his tongue over my nipple. His eyes glazed over, lost in the needs of his body’s senses.
My hips rolled, trying to find friction against the air itself. I couldn’t help myself any longer. I reached down and moved my shift, fingers splitting my lower lips.
Jamie, grunting like a boar, noticed my hand and sat up to watch. I dipped my fingers inside, gathering moisture and spreading it around.
He grabbed my shift, pulling it off and tossing it aside. My hand found its place once again and picked up where it left off. Jamie grabbed my thighs, pulling them apart and pinning them down to better watch my hand. I rubbed myself—circling, stroking, teasing, and tapping. Then, I sunk my fingers in deep, massaging inside and out.
Jamie watched, entranced, with a focus I’d never seen before, as intense as when he was fighting, but infused with a barely controlled delirium. His hands moved up my spread thighs, still holding them down, framing my sex like a work of art.
I rubbed myself between two fingers, and he spread my lips wide to watch.
“Jamie…” I groaned, needing him to touch me.
He was eager to oblige. He started with a finger, tracing up and down my lips, rough calluses over smooth, wet silk. He lifted his hand, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together slick with my arousal. I nearly squealed when his tongue licked slowly over the pad of his thumb.
He dropped his hand back down, touching again, this time dipping his fingers inside. He didn’t start thrusting or massaging in hormonal madness. He touched and caressed, fingers exploring a brave new world. His wrist turned to feel the different shapes and textures all the way around.
When he found the soft space that made me squirm and whimper, his mouth dropped open, and he watched my body respond. He huffed a laugh, eyes dancing with delight. He set to work like a child with a new toy, pressing buttons and pulling levers to observe the results of winding me up.
I stopped touching myself to grip the sheets on either side. I was stuck between a mad desire for release and an irrational need to keep it going forever.
I shrieked as Jamie dropped down, kissing the line of my inner thigh, his fingers still massaging inside me. Every touch of his lips was like a jolt to my core, until his face was buried between my legs—then it turned to constant flowing electricity.
He licked for the sake of tasting me; I could feel it in how he stroked his tongue. His resulting groan told me how it pleased his palate. He licked the same way he did my nipples, eyes open, watching my body’s response. I had no choice but to give it to him completely uninhibited.
His tongue fluttered madly, and my hips rose off the bed. I yelled his name and clamped down on his fingers, pulling his hair as climax raged through me, his mouth and hands relentless in their pursuit.
“Please,” I begged. It was all too much.
Finally, he stopped, staring up at me through a curtain of red curls hanging over dark eyes. My body was still quaking beneath him, and his cool breath on my hot, wet skin was too much to bear. I closed my eyes, floating on the waves of buzzing pleasure that rolled through me.
I felt Jamie’s weight shift as he rose up on one knee. The sound of his breath quickened, catching at irregular intervals.
I opened my eyes to find him rapidly stroking his impressive length. His eyes drank me in as quiet grunts left his mouth.
I sat up quickly, pulling his shirt over his head, wanting to see the muscles of his body work and strain to find release. His skin pulled taut over chest and abdomen, and I thought his bicep might try to completely break free.
I ran my hands over his shoulders and down his chest, teasing his nipples along the way. He groaned like a wounded animal at the touch, so I leaned forward and took one in my mouth.
As hard as he was beating himself off, I understood why he might think it abusing himself. “Jesus Christ! Claire!” He tensed, and hot, viscous fluid shot on my belly and chest. “Oh God, stop!” he begged, pulling my mouth away.
I wrapped my arms around his neck, bringing him down on top of me and burying my face in his hair. His heavy weight covered me, and his heart pounded like mad against my chest. His cock was still solid on my hip, and I squirmed, enjoying the feel of his slick semen between our chests.
Jamie was unresponsive, prostrate on top of me, no doubt exhausted and overwhelmed from his first time touching a woman. I wrapped my legs around him, holding him in place, never wanting to let him go.
It was some time before he stirred, long after his heart slowed to a normal pace. He adjusted his weight off me, and my lungs pulled in a grateful breath. Holding himself up on his elbows, he cradled my head in his hands, eyes glittering like stars in the night sky.
“You are mine, mo nighean donn," he whispered, "now and forever.”
“Yours,” I breathed. “Forever.”
Jamie kissed Claire until his lips were raw and swollen. His greedy hands were tangling in her hair, caressing her skin, and gripping the fleshiest parts of her body.
When she finally started drifting off to sleep, he curled himself around her, pulling her bum into the curve of his pelvis and gripping her breasts as though they were made for his hands.
He should have waited to touch her—at least until he asked for her hand—but he already felt as though they were sacredly bound. He brushed away the guilt of sin, believing whatever time he spent in purgatory for having his wife a short time before they wed would be worth it.
He’d learned from his father’s death...and his mother’s...and Willie’s...that life was too short to waste time when it came to the ones he loved.
He fell asleep with the taste of her on his lips and his lazy cock nestled between the cheeks of her arse.
Jamie woke up before dawn in the same position in which he fell asleep. His cock, however, was on the move. It was hard and eager and desperately trying to find a way between Claire’s legs.
He grumbled, reaching down and grabbing hold of it by the head, the way he’d snatch up a snake ready to bite.
Claire, unhelpful as she was, giggled sleepily and pressed her buttocks back against him. He rolled her over to face her head on, trying to put space between his cock and the way to her quim. She was smiling with closed eyes, perfectly content to let him maneuver her like a ragdoll.
He gasped as he felt her hand close around his cock and start rubbing. No one had ever touched him in such a way before, and he nearly lost it at a dozen strokes. He did lose it when her golden eyes opened like the sunrise and her mouth swallowed his moans with a kiss.
He spilled his seed on her belly again, no less shocked than the night before at the intensity of possessiveness it made him feel. Surprising him even more, was Claire rolling him on his back and straddling his belly, one hand propped on his chest and the other dipping down to spread his seed over her body. She rubbed it on her quim, using the slick texture to give herself pleasure like the night before.
Jamie’s hands gripped her fat, round arse as her hand worked furiously. He watched her face knot up in seeming agony, while her whole body tensed, and a shriek erupted from her mouth.
“God, the sounds ye make, my Sassenach...I’ve ne’er heard a prettier wee noise in all my life.”
She was still making all sorts of sounds as her body settled into the crook of his arm.
They stayed there until the dawn light intruded into their privacy. Jamie's body revolted against having to get up and start the day. He wanted to lie there forever, lazy and in love.
“Will you be gone a long time?” she asked.
“I should be back by nightfall. I dinna think I’m capable of sleeping wi’out ye in my arms any longer.”
He caressed the delicate line of her jaw, as smooth as any porcelain surface he’d ever felt in France. “Promise me ye willna go foraging wi’out me here, Claire. I dinna think the redcoats will have any notion that Randall has gone missing yet, otherwise I wouldna be leaving ye, but stay close to Ian and Murtagh while I’m gone, just in case.”
Thankfully, she didn’t fight him on it. She just nodded her head and snuggled into his side for their last few moments together before he must start his day.
“'Tis almost morning,” said Claire softly, in the words of Juliet. “I would have thee gone. And yet no further than a wanton’s bird.”
“I would I were thy bird,” he said.
“Sweet, so would I... Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
Jamie gathered his coin purse and shoved it in his sporran. He had a long ride and a busy day ahead of him, knowing how excited his tenants became when he rode into the village.
He breathed deep, steeling himself to part from Claire, knowing he’d see her again soon. He walked out of his study, closing the door quietly behind him and making his way outside.
“Brother,” called Jenny from behind him.
He turned to see her standing in the hall, eyes boring severely into him. “What d’ye need, a nighean?”
“’Tis no’ what I need, but what you need.” She carried with her one of their mother’s old candlesticks. “If ye’ll be going to the village to see the silversmith, ye’ll likely be needing some silver.”
“Jenny,” his heart melted, knowing she was giving him much more than a few ounces of her beloved heirloom.
“Here.” She held it out to him, feigning irritability, though he could see the moisture in her eyes and the twitch of a smile pulling at her lips.
Jamie tried to stifle his foolish grin, but his heart held too much joy. He stepped close and pulled his sister into his arms. “Thank ye, mo phiuthar. Tapadh leat bho mo chridhe.”
“Go on.” She pressed the candlestick into his hand, wiping a tear from her cheek. “Ye’ll need the ring to marry the puir lass before I have a niece or nephew raising a ruckus in these halls.”
He blushed, unsurprised that Jenny was aware of every occurrence that happened under their roof. “Aye.”
She sighed deeply and gathered herself before turning to walk away. He watched her go with tears filling his eyes.
He set off to buy Claire’s ring with his mother’s silver in his hand and his sister’s blessing in heart.
Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used.
- Othello - Act 2, Scene 3
'Tis almost morning. I would have thee gone.
And yet no further than a wanton’s bird,
That lets it hop a little from his hand
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silken thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.
I would I were thy bird.
Sweet, so would I.
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
- Romeo & Juliet - Act 2 Scene 2
“What size should I make it?” asked MacLaren.
Jamie fingered through a small box of rings in the silversmith’s shop until he found the right size. He’d been holding Claire’s hand so often, he was certain it would fit.
“Here.” He handed it over. “About that big around.”
“And ye want thistles on it?”
“Aye.” I’m turning her into a Scot after all. “And could ye inscribe this on the inside for me?” He handed over a scrap of parchment.
MacLaren held it low so he could read it with his spectacles. “Da mi basia mille. What does it mean?”
“Just an auld poem,” he murmured.
“So, ’tis true then, my Laird? Ye’ve fallen for the MacKenzies’ sassenach? I didna get to meet her at Quarter Day. Is she as bonnie as they say?”
“I dinna see how the MacKenzies have any claim on the lass,” Jamie spoke sharply, putting an end to further questions.
“Oh, aye, my Laird. Of course. And when d’ye need the ring? I can send young Kenny to Lallybroch next Tuesday.”
“Can ye no’ finish it today? I’ll stick around as long as I need.”
Jamie didn’t miss the curve of the smith’s mouth before he said, “Of course, my Laird. I’ll work on it first thing. ’Tis an honor that ye’d trust me wi’ the task.”
“I thank ye, man. I ken ’tis in good hands.” Jamie clapped him on the shoulder before turning to leave. When he got to the door, he paused and said, “MacLaren?”
“Aye, my Laird?”
“Whatever ye’ve heard of Claire...she’s bonnier.”
“Good day to ye, my Laird,” said Mistress Kerr some hours later, coming up behind Jamie’s horse. He was packing Claire’s seeds into his saddlebags, as well as a small gift he found her at the silversmith’s shop.
“Madainn mhath, Mistress Kerr. I hope yer family is well?”
“Oh aye. We’ve just welcomed our sixth grandchild into the world. Wee Thomas.”
“Aye, I heard all about it from Jenny. My congratulations. I’ll come by and visit the wean soon, when his Ma and Da are ready for me.”
“It would be an honor, sir.”
“And the tavern? Business is good?”
“Indeed. Even better since yer return.”
“Good. Is there anything I can do for ye?”
She reached into her apron and pulled out a letter. “This was delivered to the tavern for yer Uncle Dougal wi’ no little haste. Only, he took off wi’ his men to visit some of the tenants at their farms before I had a chance to gi’ it to him.”
Jamie ground his teeth together at the news of his uncle harassing all his tenants in their homes.
“I wasna sure if he’d be coming back to the tavern or heading o’er to Lallybroch,” she said.
“I’ll make sure he gets it.” He accepted the letter, tucking it into his sporran. He pulled out Jenny’s in turn. “Ye ken of anyone heading out to visit the Camerons? Jenny’s got a letter for my aunt.”
“Oh leave it here.” She took it from him. “I’m sure someone will be headed that way in no time.”
“I thank ye, mistress.”
“Glad to be of service, my Laird.” She curtsied and made to turn away.
“Mistress Kerr?” he stopped her. “Ye were at the tavern when Dougal was talking wi’ the the men, aye?”
“Did they listen to him? Did’ye get the sense he roused their patriotic sensibilities?”
“Weel,” she nodded her head, “I must say yer Uncle has a way about him. When he’d talk of what the redcoats did to you, my Laird, I’ll no’ say the men werena ready to fly out the door and charge into Fort William on the spot.”
“Aye,” Jamie grumbled. The memory of Randall’s whip sometimes stirred something in him, as well.
“But rumor has it,” she smirked conspiratorially, “that Randall and a company of redcoats left here but twa days ago heading to Lallybroch, but they ne’er made it back.”
“Is that so?” Jamie smirked wi’out humor. “I suppose they got lost in the heather. I dinna recall them coming for a visit.”
“Aye...so the men concluded. Wi’ Randall...lost in the heather...the tenants are none so eager to cause more problems wi’ the English—so long as their Laird doesna call on them to do so.”
“I assure ye, mistress, their Laird only cares for peace.”
“Ever sensible, sir.”
“D’ye think ye can inform the men of such? Discreetly, of course.”
“It shouldna problem at all.”
“I thank ye, lass.”
Mistress Kerr moved in close and whispered, “When Randall was here, he was asking around about the MacKenzies and their sassenach…”
“Mistress Beauchamp is not their sassenach,” he interjected. She’s mine, he left the words unsaid, but Mistress Kerr heard them loud and clear.
“Oh aye. I meant Randall was inquiring about the MacKenzies and...Mistress Beauchamp. He seemed to be under the impression that she and yer uncle were stirring up trouble for the English.”
“I see.” He tapped restlessly against his leg, worried Randall may have discussed his suspicions about Claire to the other redcoats. He didn't need more of them raiding his land to find and question his woman. Jamie hoped Randall’s general dismissiveness of the king’s justice over his own—and his penchant for excessive brutality—inhibited him from sharing his concerns about Claire to the other officers so that he may see fit to handle her interrogation privately. The thought made him sick to his stomach, but it allowed for some hope that more redcoats wouldn’t come looking for her. He’d start a rebellion against the crown all on his own should they try to take her from him.
He was getting ahead of himself. There was hope that the other redcoats didn’t know anything at all about Claire. All they knew for certain was that Randall and his men left Fort William and never returned.
“Ye ken,” said Jamie carefully, “wi’ a redcoat company gone missing, they’ll likely send another company out to search for them. D’ye think ye can pass along my desire for everyone to forget Randall and his men ever came to Broch Mordha?”
“Indeed, my Laird. Come to think of it,” she nodded gravely, playing along, “I think I heard tell of some redcoats skirmishing wi’ the Watch just over the Grants’ border...and I’m sure that’s how the rest of yer tenants will recall things, as well.”
Jamie smiled warmly, wrapping an arm around Mistress Kerr’s shoulder and kissing her cheek. “I thank ye. Truly.”
He watched the flush move up her neck and color her cheeks. “Come on o’er to the tavern now, sir. We have fresh stew and a fine ale ready for ye.”
“Oh, that sounds grand. Could ye tell I was starving?”
“Aye, I could hear yer stomach growling from all the way over at the silversmith’s this morning.” She smirked and peered up at him out of the corner of her eye. “Is it true Lallybroch will be having a new Lady soon?”
Jamie smiled softly. Although he’d rather not speak of it until Claire accepted his offer, he knew Mistress Kerr was doing him a service disseminating information to his tenants. Some people were paid in coin for their work...and others in information. He conceded, “If Mistress Beauchamp will have me, then my people will soon have their Lady.”
“Oohhh, congratulations, my Laird! Yer Da would be sae proud. I canna wait to see the next wee Laird running ’round the streets of Broch Mordha.”
“She must agree to have me before she gives me children.”
“Of course. Of course. Though ye must let us make ye some pies for the wedding. Ye’ll be inviting all yer tenants, will ye no’?”
Jamie chuckled as he led her back to the tavern, wondering what Claire would think of the coming madness.
As he rode home, daydreams held the reins of mind, driving through a thousand possibilities of how he’d place the ring on Claire’s finger and proclaim his possession of her to God and anyone else who would listen...of how he’d wake up to her every morning for the rest of his life and fall asleep with her wrapped in his arms.
The ring in his sporran seemed to be pulling him eagerly to Lallybroch, as though it knew whom it belonged. He didn’t blame it; he was wrapped around her finger as well. He reached in and felt the little piece of silver with longing in his heart.
Donas, picking up on Jamie’s eagerness to be home, galloped swiftly down the road.
The sun was setting, lighting up the cloudy sky with fiery colors of passion. The evening breeze bit at the tip of his nose as he rode quickly through the hills. All he could think of was crawling into his warm bed with Claire...naked and alone.
He bent down over Donas and urged him on faster.
The dogs announced his arrival with their incessant barking. Donas was, thankfully, mostly accustomed to them by now, and refrained from spooking and throwing Jamie off his back.
There was a strange lack of activity around the house. Not a stable boy, tenant, nor servant in sight.
Jamie rode directly into the stables to tend to his steed. He fed and watered the beast, brushing Donas and giving him all the praise he deserved. When the horse was taken care of, he turned his sights toward the house and to the woman who awaited him inside.
He regretted having to wait through an entire evening with his family to be properly welcomed by Claire, but it was only a small regret, for he loved his family dearly.
“Good evening, my Laird,” said a soft, husky voice from the kailyard to his left.
The sun had given way to twilight, and it took a moment for Jamie’s eyes to adjust to find the source of the voice. She nearly glowed, sitting there on the fence, skin fairer than the moon itself.
“Sassenach,” he breathed, the tension of the day melting away at the sight of her. As he walked to his Lady, he whispered a quiet thank you to his servants for their thoughtful disappearance.
“Welcome home, Jamie.”
He sighed warmly, taking her hand and bending to give it a kiss. His lips were drawn to a certain finger, the one that would soon be decorated with silver thistles.
Her other hand caressed his cheek, and he could feel the want in her touch. He stood up and looked around, ensuring no one was watching. Even if they were...to hell with them.
Jamie stepped between her legs, slipping his arms around her waist. Her breasts pressed against him when she wrapped her arms around his neck. They kissed softly, slowly, sweetly, until there was nothing else in the world but the two of them.
“Mo ghraidh,” he whispered. “I think I might die if I couldna kiss ye like this again.”
They kissed to the edge of the night, just as raindrops started to fall from the scattered clouds. Not yet ready to share his time with anyone else, he reached under her bum and picked her up, her legs locking around his waist.
He kissed her as he walked—slowly so he wouldn’t stumble—back to the cover of the stables. He brought her to a stall that was empty save a pile of freshly cut hay. The scent of it was pleasant on his nose, though not nearly so pleasant as the peppermint on Claire’s tongue.
He lay her softly down, still cradling her in his arms as he adjusted his weight to keep from crushing her.
“D’ye mind the hay?” he asked.
She shook her head and pulled him down for more kisses still. Their bodies rubbed together through layers of skirts and plaid, and their tongues danced languidly to the thrumming music of raindrops on the wooden roof.
Desire quickly overwhelmed affection, all thought forcing itself downward to his cock. His thoughts turned once again to spilling his seed on her belly, milky droplets decorating skin of pearl.
He tried with all his might not to think of flipping her over and pushing inside, shooting his seed deep in her womb. Having a piece of him stay in her long after his cock was gone. Having it take hold in her belly, truly making their bodies one.
His cock was in agony. If it wasn’t so unconscionable to propose marriage to Claire in a pile of hay in the stables, he would’ve done it then and there, so that with promises made, he could have her on the spot.
But, ifrinn, his Lady deserved so much more. He tried to roll back on the hay, forcing separation to stifle his furious need.
“No!” she demanded, holding tight, grinding her pelvis against him.
“Mmphm…” His hands moved down to cup her arse through her skirts, squeezing her buttocks as she rocked against him. Claire released her grip only to pull up her skirts, revealing the soft, warm skin of her legs and the fiery heat between her thighs.
Jamie realized she’d lifted his kilt, too, when his cock pressed naked on her hip. She started rubbing her slick quim against his thigh, whimpering the same sounds she’d made in their bed last night.
“Oh, God,” he groaned into her hair, overcome with the knowledge that he could rouse the same pleasure in her that she gave him. His hips joined in the motion of her body, grinding her deeper into the hay.
“Yes,” she moaned, eyes glossed over, as dark as marmalade in the disappearing light.
“Ohhh!” she stiffened, her body as hard as a board beneath him, and her face reflecting his own wild delirium.
Conscientious of her body in the throes of pleasure, he stopped grinding against her so not to disrupt her climax with his own ravenous need. He rose up on a knee, stroking his cock, spurned on by the scent of her pleasure and the loud moans echoing in his ears. He jerked his cock madly, desperate to meet his woman in her state of frenzy.
He felt the familiar tightening of his balls and the clenching of his stomach, and then the surge rose up in him. Her stays covered her belly, but his cock didn’t seem to mind. He aimed at her quim, ears ringing with his own muddled cries.
He watched his seed spill on her dark curls and soft, pink flesh. It dripped between the folds of her lips, down toward her bum. It was the most sinful, depraved act he’d ever committed in his life.
“We are the devils incarnate,” he mumbled breathlessly.
His cock still in hand, he brought it down to rub the tip over her seed-spattered quim. It was too much to bear. His body shook with the tremors of rapture.
Her quim was slick and warm on his cock as he mingled their juices together. She shuddered as it touched a more sensitive place, and he thought he might come yet again.
“You’ll be the death of me, James Fraser.” She smirked with lazy satisfaction, pieces of hay adorning her curly hair.
“God, I hope not. I told ye, I canna live wi’out yer kisses, lass.”
“Da me basia mille…”
“...dein mille altera, dein secunda centum, deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum…” He bent down to kiss her again and again, their bodies pressed together, making an absolute mess of each other.
Claire laid her head back in the hay, sucking in a deep, contented breath. Jamie’s lips couldn’t extract themselves from her salty skin, so he continued confounding the reckoning quite by kissing lazily down her neck.
“Mmmm,” she shivered, a smile spreading over her lips. “You’re so good with your tongue.”
He chuckled, licking over the expanse of her chest.
“How was the village? Did you finish your errands?”
“Mmphm,” he affirmed, never ceasing the course of his lips.
“Your tenants were happy to see you?”
“Mmphm.” He pulled down on her stays, lifting her breast over the top to capture her nipple in his mouth.
She was quiet for a time, fingers stroking through his hair as he fondled her with his mouth and tongue.
“God, yer breasts are sae soft and bonnie. I could live on them like an unweaned bairn.”
The aforementioned breasts bounced in his mouth with her amusement. He nibbled on them playfully before returning back to his languorous exploration.
He lifted his eyes at her serious tone. “Did you see your uncle?”
“No, I did not.” Determined not to let Dougal ruin the moment, he palmed her breast and massaged deep into the flesh the way he’d learned she liked the night before.
Her hand rested on his, stilling him, but not pushing him away. “I’m concerned about him,” she said. “You know...he wanted me to seduce you to change your mind about the rebellion. He did not want me to fall head over heels for you and tell you all his secrets.”
“Dinna fash about Dougal, Sassenach. I willna allow any harm to come to ye. I could cause far more trouble for him than ye’re worth as a spy.”
“And Colum? He won’t be happy with me either. I wasn’t worried how they felt about me when I’d planned on going back home, but if I’m to stay...they’ve both threatened to…” Her words fell off.
Jamie moved up, adjusting himself to meet her gaze, realizing what she was saying. “They threatened to kill ye. Ye’d risk yer life to stay here wi’ me, lass?”
“It’s not an incredible sacrifice when you think about it...it wouldn’t be much of a life without you in it.”
His heart swelled painfully in his chest. “Dinna fash, mo nighean donn. Ye’ve the protection of my family, my clan, and if need be...my body, as well.”
“Would that I could offer you something in return.”
“I only want you, my Sassenach. There is naught ye could give me that’s greater than yer heart, for you hold mine in the palm of yer hands.”
She propped herself up on her elbows to whisper against his lips. “It’s yours.”
They didn’t make it into the house until everyone else was in bed. He walked Claire through dark, empty halls to his room with an arm snugly around her waist, not caring if anyone came out a saw.
Mrs. Crook, thankfully, had left him food on a table in his room. He skipped it for the moment, wanting to help Claire undress for bed. She removed her pins as he untied her laces. One by one, he relieved her of her skirts, bodice, stomacher, and stays, and then folded them all neatly on a chair.
He licked his lips as he pulled on the strings of her shift, the final covering of her radiant skin. She rolled her shoulders to help the fabric over her arms, then watched it fall silently to the floor.
Firelight glowed warm on her skin, framing her curves in the shadows they cast. It was somehow different seeing her body outside the heat of passion. When they made love, he was so intently focused on one piece at time...her mouth, her breasts, her pretty pink nipples. But standing there naked before him, he could appreciate her body as a whole, like the sculptures adorning the palace of Versailles.
He’d seen naked women in brothels before, and he surveyed hundreds of paintings on canvas and lewd sketches soldiers brought with them to battle...but never had he seen one so close...not one made of flesh and blood…and never one that was his.
Never one so perfectly made to fit his hands.
She reached for his belt and pulled it free, grabbing hold of his kilt so it wouldn’t fall to the floor. She took it in both hands and shook out the pleats, before twirling it around her body, smiling at him like a wicked wee thief cocooned in his plaid.
“Lovely...but…” Jamie stepped to his bureau and opened the bottom drawer. He found what he wanted and brought it back to Claire.
“Fraser colors,” he said, pulling the drab hunting plaid off of her body and wrapping her back up in the crimson fabric of his people. He enveloped her in layers of the vibrantly patterned wool, so that she looked like a rosebud in the first of spring.
“Yer hair,” he said, touching a stray ringlet. “In the dark, ’tis like obsidian on ivory.” Then his thumb caressed her delicate skin. “Such war of white and red within her cheeks.”
Her breath shuddered against his hand. “Take off your shirt,” she said, opening up the plaid in invitation, “and join me.”
He did as he was bid, letting his shirt fall to the floor, and stepped into her embrace. He lifted her up, hands on her glorious bottom. He kissed her softly, walking slowly to bed. He lay her down still wrapped in his red plaid, skin like chantilly cream on a bed of strawberries.
“Your dinner’s getting cold,” she said.
He’d forgotten that he hadn’t eaten. He kissed his way down her belly and smiled. “It feels warm enough for me.”
Mrs. Crook was no longer apt to pretend I was sleeping in my own room. Knowing I liked to wash in the mornings—and evenings and frequently in between—she entered Jamie’s room just before dawn with my hot basin of water, linens, and a bar of soap.
It had scared the bloody hell out of me. I was fast asleep, curled into Jamie’s side, and covered only by his plaid, when the sound of her quiet knock nearly had me leaping out bed, save for Jamie’s tight grip keeping me pinned to his side.
I buried my face in the crook of his arm with his plaid thrown over my head. His body bounced with amusement, but mercifully, he waited for Mrs. Crook to leave before letting out his audible laughter.
“You better make an honest woman of me, James Fraser.” I smacked him on his belly.
His eyes glittered with a quiet enthusiasm, as he placed a gentle kiss on my nose.
Adrenaline already surging, we rose out of bed to greet the day. The musky scent of love-making was heavy on his skin, so I brought him to the wash basin to scrub him down with me.
“Lye soap?” I asked lathering up my hands with the foul smelling stuff to wash him down.
“Aye,” said Jamie, smirking. “Jenny saves the fine French soap for our guests.”
"Oh." I couldn’t help the warmth in my heart at being treated like a member of the family—even if it meant losing a few dermal layers every time I washed. I would, however, need to find ulterior methods of cleansing if my skin was to survive Scotland.
As I started washing him down, I tried to remember the best oils for making soap that we might have access to in the Highlands. Olive oil? Sunflower oil? If I couldn’t find a feasible recipe for a softer soap, I would need to make a decent moisturizer to ensure my hands survived the torments of lye. Lanolin perhaps?
I groaned at the thought of smelling like sheep secretions.
“Ye want me to hunt down the fine soap for ye, Sassenach?” he chuckled.
“Absolutely not.” As if I’d spit in the face of Jenny’s acceptance of me into the family. “But if you can hunt down some seeds to grow sunflowers, I’d very much appreciate it.”
“A lot of them. As many as you can find.” I was sure we could make a pretty penny selling soap in Edinburgh.
Much to his credit, Jamie didn’t even ask why. He just nodded and said, “Turn around and I’ll wash my spunk off yer arse, aye?”
We made our way downstairs with clean, dry, and scratchy hands—not to mention arses. The family was at the breakfast table already eating their morning parritch when we arrived. We sat together and enjoyed the food and company while it lasted, before each one of us would splinter off to deal with the duties of the day.
It all felt so routine...in the best way. Like this was what I was meant to be doing. It was beginning to feel like home.
It was just an expectation now that I would help clear the table after meals, and it was a novel enough task that I performed it with more eagerness than it called for.
To my surprise, Jamie was waiting for me when I was done. I was more than certain he had plenty of work to catch up on having been gone the entire day before, but he seemed to be in no rush. His hand was in his sporran, fiddling mindlessly with something while staring out the window deep in thought.
“I was hoping for a break in the clouds today,” he grumbled. “D’ye think it would be too troublesome for ye to take a walk wi’ me to the glade, Sassenach? I ken ’tis a bit dreary out.”
“Oh, I don’t mind the rain.”
“Aye. Go on and get yer wee basket, then. I’ll carry yer plants for ye.”
Just as I was about to retrieve my foraging basket, Mrs. Crook stepped in front of us, stopping my progress. “I beg yer pardon, but some of the tenants have arrived asking to see ye.”
Jamie sighed deeply and rolled his shoulders. “Alright then. Just give me a few minutes, Sassenach.”
“Pardon me, my Laird, but they’re here to see Mistress Beauchamp. They heard tell of how she patched up wee Rabbie and tended to Mistress Margaret. I believe they require her services as a healer.”
“Mmphm,” Jamie narrowed his eyes. “Is that so?”
“Aye, my Laird.”
He shrugged and smiled. “What say you, Sassenach? D’ye mind?”
“Not at all.” I looked around. “Where should I examine them?”
“Weel, for now, ye can use my study. Though, I suppose I should get started on building ye a surgery. Ye dinna want to have me grumbling o’er ledgers while ye’re examining someone’s bowels.”
“Jamie…” I nearly melted, placing a hand on his chest in gratitude. “You don’t have to do that for me.”
He covered my hand with his own. “And you dinna have to care for the people of this land, but ye do, so I will.”
“We’ll go for our walk tomorrow, then?”
He peered crossly at the clouds outside. “Aye. It isna such a fine day for walk to the glade anyway. Tomorrow it is.”
“It’s a date.”
He looked at me with amused curiosity, as he typically did when I spoke with phrases from the future. Then, he shrugged and lifted my hand to his lips before taking his leave.
As it turned out, “some” of the tenants turned out to be a large crowd of people lined up outside in the courtyard, waiting their turn to see the healer. Most only needed a tooth extracted or a wound bandaged, nothing too serious, but it was nice to utilize my rusty skills after the last couple of weeks with only three patients to tend to.
By midday, however, I was getting the feeling that the tenants came more to talk with their Laird’s new girlfriend than they did to be healed. I had met many of them at the Quarter Day celebration, but at the time, I was seen only as an outlander, and was avoided like the plague. Now that it was clear I would be sticking around, they seemed to want to know more about the strange sassenach who captured their Laird’s heart.
My suspicions were confirmed when a gray-haired woman by the name of Mistress Kerr—who came for what appeared to be arthritis of the knee—was eyeing my lower regions with an intrusive amount of curiosity. I did my best to ignore it until she said, “Ye’ve good set o’ breeding hips, my Lady. Ye’ll need em for a Fraser bairn. ’Twas Brian’s family who ye can thank for the great solid heids the lot of yer weans will be likely to have.”
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! I was surprised she didn’t come with a speculum to examine me.
One of the benefits of seeing patients again was that they always brought something as a form or gratitude for my care. Though I never asked for payment, the Scots would find it ungracious to reject a gift. Sometimes, they would give something as small as a vase with fresh flowers. Other times, they would bring large pelts, vibrant plaids, or soft, knitted blankets.
The next several days played out in much the same way. Tenants waited for me after breakfast, and I was busy tending to their various illnesses and injuries throughout the day. Jamie and I saw each other mostly at breakfast and dinner, but had no real private time together until everyone else was in bed. And unfortunately, with summer days in Scotland being so long, and with Jamie and I both working so hard, there was little time left for romance at night if we intended to get enough sleep to get us through the following day.
About midway through the week, I was taking a brief break to grab a bite of lunch to sustain me for the next several hours, when the dogs announced the arrival of even more guests. It was beginning to feel like I was working at a hospital again, triaging and treating an endless supply of patients.
I shoved the last of a bannock and a slice of cheese into my mouth and made my way out to get a glimpse of the new arrivals just in case they needed emergency intervention.
“Fuck,” I cursed, staring out the window. It wasn’t more tenants coming to meet me; it was the MacKenzies back from their Rebellion tour.
I was surprised to find Jamie already out in the courtyard to greet them as they dismounted. He must’ve received word they were coming back to the house, because I knew him to be working in the field that morning.
There was a tension buzzing in the courtyard at Dougal’s appearance, highlighting peace Lallybroch sustained in his absence. No wonder Jenny had been so hostile toward him upon our arrival.
I realized when I looked at Jamie, that he was the embodiment of the tension everyone felt. He was standing to his full height, shoulders back, jaw stiff, and staring down his nose at his uncle. Only the Laird of Broch Tuarach could make Dougal MacKenzie seem a small man.
My nerves jumped further when I saw Jamie’s sword belted to his side. He never wore his sword when he was working in the field.
Dougal approached him cautiously. They exchanged quiet, severe words back and forth, all the while, their bodies squaring up to each other like baboons getting ready to fight. I knew Jamie was unhappy with Dougal for harassing his tenants at their houses, rallying them to a cause Jamie wanted no part of, but this confrontation was fueled by something more...the conversation we’d had several days ago about Dougal’s threats to my person.
Unable to contain my curiosity, my feet carried me outside.
The courtyard was already a busier place than normal before Dougal’s arrival, what with all the tenants coming to see me. The addition of Dougal’s men made the place seem crowded. Some of the field and stable hands were watching the confrontation from the perimeter, and Murtagh and Ian were flanking Jamie’s right and left side.
Even Jenny followed me out with Maggie curled tightly in her arm. Her face was as severe as Jamie’s, and her other hand was suspiciously in the large pocket of her skirt.
Dougal leaned in to whisper his final words in Jamie’s ear, and Jamie’s hands clenched in response, clearly itching to pull out his dirk.
The exchange, mercifully, ended without bloodshed. They stayed staring at each other even as their conversation ended, and Dougal backed away, following his horse to the stables.
“Dougal!” Jamie called after him. He reached into his sporran and pulled out a letter. “I almost forgot. Ye’ve an urgent message from Ned Gowan.”
Dougal narrowed his eyes and strode forward to take the letter. He broke the seal and read it quickly.
If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought a look of sheer panic stole over his face, but in a blink, his features were once again composed.
“Bring me back my horse!” he yelled to the stable hand.
“Dougal?” asked Rupert. “What’s happened?”
“We’re leaving,” he said. “To Cranesmuir. We’ll need provisions,” he demanded of Jamie.
“Cranesmuir?” Jenny mumbled next to me. Despite her confusion, she wasn’t going to let this opportunity to get rid of her uncle pass her by. “Mrs. Crook! The MacKenzies will need provisions for their travels!”
“Aye, mistress!” came Mrs. Crook’s voice from inside.
I noticed Jenny didn’t move to help her speed the process like I thought she would. She kept her eyes on her uncle and her hand in her pocket.
“Mistress Beauchamp!” called Dougal. “Pack yer things. We’ll be leaving shortly.”
“I beg your pardon?” I snapped.
“Ye heard what I said. Be quick about it.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” I took purposeful steps down into the courtyard. “The Laird has invited me to stay as long as I like.”
“Oh, I just bet he has.”
“Careful, Dougal,” cautioned Jamie.
“Listen, lass,” said Dougal, ignoring his nephew, “I’ve no’ the time for arguing just now. Ye’re my responsibility, and ye’ll come wi’ me when I bid ye.” He grabbed hold of my arm and made to pull me inside.
The very distinct sound of a sword being pulled out of its scabbard echoed through the courtyard. Dougal turned to face Jamie who was pointing the blade at his uncle’s heart. “I’ll thank ye to take yer hands off my...guest.”
“Ye sure ye want to do that, laddie?” Dougal squeezed my arm even tighter.
There was no question or hesitancy in Jamie’s eyes. He stood, blade drawn, ready for a fight.
Dougal looked at his men, all of whom were circling around, drawing their own weapons.
Ian and Murtagh reciprocated in kind. I looked around to find all the tenants and servants moving around the Mackenzies. Some had blades, others only spades or pitchforks. And the secret of what was in Jenny Murray’s pocket became abundantly clear when she pulled out a pistol and cocked back the hammer.
Dougal was aware of every person in the courtyard and every weapon they carried. I could feel his tension vibrating in his grip on my arm.
He pulled me in close and whispered in my ear. “Ye did yer job better than I’d anticipated. I should ha’ kent no’ to trust a sassenach.”
“Trust? You kidnapped me and threatened my life...repeatedly.”
“I dinna have time to stay here and squabble, so I’ll allow ye to remain for the time being. Ye’d slow us down anyway. But if I hear that ye betray what ye ken of the Jacobites to the redcoats, or if ye sabotage me to my nephew anymore than ye already have, I will slit yer throat and his as well. Do I make myself clear?”
I yanked my arm free of his grasp and lifted my chin up to his face. I whispered with all the venom I could muster, “If you touch one hair on his head, I will cut out your heart and eat it for breakfast. Do I make myself clear?”
Dougal’s eyes flared and his mouth twitched. I couldn’t tell if he was more annoyed or amused. Either way, he could shove it up his arse, because I’d meant every word.
“Mmphm,” he scoffed, but finally released my arm.
Jamie took my hand and gently pulled me behind him. I noticed Jenny was still aiming her pistol at Dougal, Maggie sound asleep in her other arm. In fact, no one put away their weapons until the MacKenzies had mounted their horses, taken their provisions, and disappeared through the archway.
Jamie sheathed his sword and turned to me, worry in his eyes. He traced a thumb lightly over my cheek, and I could feel the restraint in his shaky hand. He wanted to hold me, to take me in his arms and ensure I was alright.
“Did he hurt ye, lass?”
“No, not at all. I think I’ve angered him though.”
“He’s always angry. Ye did nothing wrong.”
I looked at him incredulously. “He was in a right state, Jamie. Don’t you think he could be a problem for us?”
“Dougal’s been a problem for me most of my life.”
“I wonder why he tore out of here so quickly. What do you think was in that letter?”
“Weel,” he put an arm around my waist and led me back to the house, “that is something I do ken.”
All around us, servants and family were dispersing back to their work, and my patients’ weapons were once again concealed in their clothes as they fell back in line as if nothing happened.
I did have to admit that it was more than a little comforting to see how quickly they all jumped to the aid of their Laird...and his particular lady guest. The protection of his clan, his family, and his body indeed.
I gave them a grateful smile as we passed them on our way inside.
In the privacy of Jamie’s study, he wrapped his arms around me and kissed the crown of my head. He didn’t move his lips as we held each other quietly for a time, his warm breath in my hair, intimate and comforting. I buried my face in the hollow of his chest—my new favorite part of his body—and hugged him close.
We stayed locked together as the door opened behind me without a warning knock. I turned to find Jenny coming inside with Maggie in her arms. Ian and Murtagh followed just behind.
“Are ye going to tell us what in God’s name that was about?” demanded Jenny.
Jamie kept an arm around my waist, clearly uncomfortable with any degree of separation. God, I loved him for it.
“Dougal has been threatening Claire and harassing my tenants. When he arrived, I warned him that if he meant to do it again, he wasna welcome to step foot in this house.”
“Ye should ha’ warned us,” said Jenny, reaching in her pocket to pull out the pistol and setting it on the large, oak desk. “I’d prefer to put the baby down for a nap before I prepare to blow a man’s head off.”
“Aye, weel, I suppose I underestimated the impact that letter would have on him.”
“What was in the letter?” I asked. “Were you able to sneak a look before you gave it to him?”
“Aye. ’Twas only a few lines from his lawyer.”
“Lawyer?” said Jenny.
“Aye. A woman by the name of Geillis Duncan was to be tried and burned for being a witch. Ned was doing what he could to hold off the trial until Dougal could return.”
“Duncan, ye say?” Murtagh sneered. “I’ve met her. She’s the fiscal’s widow in Cranesmuir. I’ve heard tell she’s been Dougal’s mistress for some time. Funneling money from the fiscal to the Jacobites.”
“Ye sure about that?” said Jamie. “It wouldna be the first time yer information about a mistress of Dougal’s was inaccurate.”
Murtagh’s eyes flashed briefly to mine before they dropped to the floor. “Mmphm. Aye, weel, this I heard from Angus when I was at Leoch o’er the winter. He was a bit taken wi’ drink, and said Dougal was at the fiscal’s house dipping his hand in the man’s purse and his cock in the man’s wife.”
“Dougal must’ve cared for her greatly to risk leaving me behind without a fight,” I said. “He still thinks me a spy for the English.”
“Perhaps,” said Jamie. “In the letter, Ned said the lass claimed was wi’ child, and she made verra specific assertions about who sired the bairn.”
“No wonder he tore out of here as though the Devil was on his tail,” said Ian. “Surely they willna burn the lass before she has the bairn?”
From what I knew of the mania of witch trials, I feared it wouldn’t be much of a deterrent, especially if the pregnancy wasn’t advanced enough to be visible.
“At least it drove Dougal away from Lallybroch,” said Murtagh. His eyes softened as he flickered in my direction, and then back to Jamie. “Give ye enough time to do what ye must to ensure he has no claim on Claire when he returns.”
“You think he will return?” I asked.
“Aye,” said Jamie. “His business isna finished here.”
I sank against Jamie’s body, feeling suddenly exhausted as the adrenaline left my system. Jamie turned me to face him, holding my face in his hands. “Dinna fash, Claire. I willna allow him to lay a finger on ye.”
“And neither will we,” said Ian.
“Aye,” said Murtagh.
“I don’t know how to thank you all,” I said.
“There’s no need,” said Ian, reaching out a hand to his wife. “We take care of our own.”
Jenny nodded in what appeared to be resignation.
“Now,” said Ian, “we’ll give ye a moment to decide what ye want to do wi’ that line of people waiting out there for ye.”
He escorted Jenny and Maggie out of the study, with Murtagh following close behind.
“D’ye want me to send them home?” asked Jamie “D’ye need some rest, Sassenach?”
“Oh, no. I could use the distraction.”
“Ye sure?” he smiled softly. “I could find other ways of distracting ye, if ye like?”
“I just bet you could. But really, I’m fine.”
“Alright.” He pulled me close. “But tomorrow, I intend on stealing ye away for a time, ailing tenants be damned.”
“I look forward to it. Besides, I need to replenish my stock of medicinal plants. Hopefully the skies will be clear tomorrow.”
“I dinna care if it snows in July; come morning, I will have a moment wi’ ye wi’out the prying eyes of every damn tenant on my land.”
“I await that moment with bated breath.”
I tried to keep such happy thoughts present in my mind after Jamie kissed me goodbye and left me to my work. Dougal was gone, for however long or short a time, and that was something to be grateful for.
But for some reason, I couldn’t get the thought of that poor woman about to be burned at the stake out of my mind. I said a quiet prayer for her soul and that of her child, hoping Dougal would make it there in time.
“They were the devils incarnate.”
- William Shakespeare, King Henry V
“Such war of white and red within her cheeks!”
- William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew
Chapter 13: Thirteen
~Inverness: February 1968~
Gillian dropped the journal on the floor, her mouth parted in horror. “Geillis Duncan was burned as a witch?”
“Apparently so. Have you heard of her before?”
She bent down to retrieve the journal without looking me in the eyes. “The name rings a bell. This says she was pregnant when she was killed?”
I nodded. “Tragic how women were treated at the time.”
“This Dougal MacKenzie was fond of her?”
“From what I understand, they were both Jacobites. They shared a passion. An ideal. I could see how that would bring two people together.”
Gillian grabbed the bottle of whisky and refilled our drinks. She took a long, deep pull as though it might drown out the news of the woman’s death. Apparently, it worked, because when she set her glass down, she was once again calm.
“Can I ask ye a question?” she said. “Do the stones sing to ye?”
“The buzzing, you mean?” I nodded. “They do. Like a swarm of angry bees.”
“Not angry. Excited. Anticipating. Ravenous.” She closed her eyes, grinning a little madly, seeming to savor the memory of the horrific sound. “I’ve decided to help ye, lass. I’m leaving tomorrow, and if ye want to come with me, ye’re welcome to do so.”
“But you haven’t finished reading yet.”
“You can summarize the rest for me on the way there if ye like...or not.”
My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. “So, how do we do it? How do we travel to a precise moment in time?”
Gillian stood and walked to a desk in the corner of the room. She opened a drawer and fished out a small notebook of her own. “I’ve researched the stones for many years. All the information I could find that seems remotely viable is in here.”
She tossed me the notebook. I opened it to find page after page of writing in English and Gaelic, with sketches and symbols interspersed in between.
“Ye’ll need to find something to wear,” she said. “And gemstones. As many as ye can get.”
“I have some stones already. I knew I’d need them. And...I have a dress...from Lallybroch. And a few other things besides.”
“Ye came prepared.”
“Good. We dinna have much time.”
I knew that better than anyone.
I looked down at Gillian’s notebook and skimmed over all the pages. In the very back there was blank page, save only four words written in blue ink: For Scotland - Geillis Duncan.
I looked up at her with a question in my eyes. She nodded, confirming that it must have been her—or will be her—that would bear Dougal’s child only to be burned at the stake. Apparently, she would successfully travel back through time...I only hoped I could do the same.
“Come, lass. Let’s go save yer Jamie and my own hide as well.”
“Gillian. You realize that if you never go through the stones, you won’t be burned at the stake.”
She raised an eyebrow at me. “And if ye stay here, lass, ye could find a nice charming lad, settle down, have some children of yer own.”
“I can’t stay here when there’s something I can do to save him...to save all of them.”
“Aye. And I canna stay here when there’s something I can do for Scotland...for the Rising and the Bonnie Prince.” She smiled and shrugged. “And I wouldna miss a chance to meet this Dougal MacKenzie.”
Her quiet giggle felt nothing short of maniacal. She was most certainly a little bit mad...then again, I knew I must be too.