Dawning in Dust: Part XII
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The large dining room table was filled to capacity thanks to the unexpected visitors. Claire entered the room and caught Jenny’s gesture to sit down between herself and Jamie, who was at the head of the table. Dougal unfortunately sat directly across from her on Jamie’s right. Claire met his eye as she sat down, not giving him an inch. She felt Jamie’s knee brush hers in acknowledgement as he watched his uncle.
“So, Jamie lad,” Douglas said, eying Claire in an appreciative sort of way. “I heard tell that my nephew had been overcome by bloody Sassenachs and came as soon I could to lend aid. We met yon French lad on the road and found out ye’d been rescued already.”
“Aye,” Jamie responded, shoulders shrugging slightly.
Claire belatedly wondered if his bandages were bothering him. She hadn’t had the chance to change them today in the chaos of preparation.
“I wasna up to helpin’ o’ermuch but they did brawly and got me home. Why did ye keep comin’, if ye kent things were well here?” Jamie asked, taking a bite of roll and chewing. Dougal looked amused.
“Weel, I was halfway here at any rate. Didna want to pass up a chance at seein’ my favorite nephew. Imagine my surprise, though, when I found out there’s an English lassie stayin’ at Lallybroch. A healer, to boot.”
Jamie’s passive mask faltered, but only for a moment, then he inclined his head toward Claire.
“Dougal, this is Claire Beauchamp. Claire, this is Dougal MacKenzie, my uncle.”
“Pleasure,” Claire replied sardonically, taking a drink of the whisky in front of her.
The warmth of the alcohol slid smoothly down her throat, sending calming tendrils of heat throughout her body. She caught Jamie’s slight smirk out of the corner of her eye. Claire also noticed that Jenny, while seemingly engaged in listening to the boisterous telling of a tale from the end of the table, was very well aware of the conversation happening near her.
“Dougal happened upon my surgery when he arrived here. We were in the middle of a very interesting conversation, were we not?” she said.
“Oh aye?” Jamie asked. “What was the subject matter?”
Jamie turned toward Dougal at this. Claire felt Jamie’s thigh brush hers and she relaxed. Murtagh must have relayed what had happened. She nudged him back and took another sip of whisky, looking at Dougal over the rim of her glass. Dougal looked at her for a moment, an inscrutable look on his face.
“I was just curious how a lass such as she happened to find herself in Scotland. Especially considering the Sassenach problem ye’ve encountered the past year,” he said, eying Jamie now. “I wondered if she might be a spy.”
Above the table, Jamie stayed relaxed. Below, Claire felt the muscles of his leg stiffen with tension.
“Claire came here at the request of my sister, to aid me. She’s a verra talented healer and offered to stay at Lallybroch until Ian and Jenny’s bairn arrives. She is my guest until she chooses to part wi’ us,” Jamie added, implication subtle, but clear.
Claire took a bite of mutton, unsure if her flushed cheeks were from drinking too much too fast or from Jamie’s words. She pressed the length of her thigh against his, but this time didn’t pull back. She watched Jamie’s throat move as he swallowed.
“I see,” Dougal replied lowly. “Well, then..”
He lifted his glass in toast then sipped as he gazed at her. Claire looked down at her plate again, appetite completely gone. So, he thought she was a spy. Clearly Jamie did not, which was a comfort. She could also feel something else in the undercurrent of their conversation. Privately, Claire hoped Dougal and his entourage would make a quick and quiet exit. Jenny nudged her elbow and gave her a brief but encouraging smile before turning back to her other conversation.
Am I really that bloody easy to read? she thought, taking another drink.
Apparently so, for thirty minutes (and three glasses of whisky) later Jamie leaned toward her. His arm brushed hers. She could smell the scents of woodsmoke and whisky coming from him, feel his warmth through his shirt.
“Sorry to ask but could ye come wi’ me? My bandages are chafing..”
He shrugged, like his shirt was too tight. Claire didn’t think Jamie the sort of man who would admit to being in pain in front of these men even if his arm was falling off. She had a reason to know. Suspicious, yet grateful to leave, Claire nodded and rose with him. Bidding everyone good night, the pair moved to the hallway.
“Here, Sassenach,” Jamie chuckled, pulling her closer as she stumbled up the stairs a bit.
“I’m not drunk,” Claire said without preamble.
“Oh aye?” he asked, not letting go.
“Aye,” she quipped, smiling up at him. “Are your bandages really chafing or are you just being a gentleman and escorting me to my room?”
Even as the words slipped out, the heat in her cheeks, and in her belly, deepened. Jamie’s grip tightened briefly, but he let her go as he opened her bedroom door for her. They stepped inside. Jamie, after a moment’s hesitation, shut the door behind him. Mrs. Crook had lit the fire at some point; the light from the flames lit his face.
“What’s the matter?” Claire asked, seeing his troubled look. He exhaled.
“I want to apologize for my uncle’s behavior and assure ye that I’ll have a word wi’ him.”
“Oh,” she said, looking away and fidgeting with her hands. “Yes, well..”
“Claire, I promised ye that ye dinna need to be scairt. I dinna make false promises. I…” he sighed, running a hand through his hair.
Touched, Claire reached for him, squeezing his arm. He met her eyes then, the look in them enough to melt any inhibitions that may have been left. She wasn’t sure who moved first, but his mouth was on hers, his arms coming around her back to pull her tight to him. One hand gripped his waist, careful of his scars, and the other tangled itself in his thick, ruddy hair. Opening her mouth to him, her tongue skimmed his lower lip before meeting his. She could taste the whisky and mutton from dinner; and something else that was just him.
Jamie groaned into her mouth, turning to press her against the rough stone wall. The bricks were cold on her back while Jamie was warm as a furnace on her front, flushing his hips with hers as his thumbs found the skin just under the hem of her shirt. He bit her lip lightly and Claire gasped, grinding into him, wanting more. Wanting him.
Suddenly, Jamie pulled his lips from hers. He was gasping, looking at her in a way she’d never seen before.
He made a small noise, shaking his head before pressing his forehead against hers. He was shaking with restraint as he brought up a hand to cup her cheek.
“Claire, I’m sorry. I dinna ken..”
He shook his head again, tucking her under his chin and burying his nose in her hair. Claire slowly brought her hands up to hold him, more than a little bewildered, her breathing evening out as her senses came back to her.
“Christ,” he said, pulling back again. “I’m sorry. I swear I didna mean for this to happen. I..”
“Shush,” she whispered, stilling him. She cupped his cheek and traced his lower lip with her thumb. “Don’t be sorry. Please.”
She said the last word shakily, inwardly cringing at this display of vulnerability. Jamie took it for the token it was, kissing her forehead softly and gently pulling her in.
“I’ve wanted to do that from the first moment I saw ye,” he whispered, after a little.
Claire smiled softly, pulling back and meeting his eyes.
“What stopped you?” she asked.
“Jamie! Ye’re needed downstairs,” a gruff voice hollered, earning a groan from Jamie.
He exhaled, looking her over. Claire thought her hair must be ridiculously mussed, her lips kissed red if the tingle she felt was accurate.
“Ye’re so beautiful, mo nighean donn,” Jamie said, divining her thoughts as he brushed a curl behind her ear.
“James!” the gruff voice yelled again.
“Aye, hold off, I’m comin’” Jamie hollered back, earning a soft giggle from Claire.
“Himself is needed.”
“Aye,” he replied, smiling self deprecatingly.
“Talk tomorrow?” she asked tentatively.
Jamie nodded then bent to kiss her once more, tenderly.