He raised his face at last, wiping his nose on the back of his hand. He picked up the pictures again, gently, as though they might disintegrate at his touch. “What did ye name her?”
“Brianna,” I said proudly.
“Brianna?” he said, frowning at the pictures. “What an awful name for a wee lassie!”
I started back as though struck. “It is not awful!” I snapped. “It’s a beautiful name, and besides you told me to name her that! What do you mean, it’s an awful name?”
“I told ye to name her that?” He blinked.
“You most certainly did! When we—when we—the last time I saw you.” I pressed my lips tightly together so I wouldn’t cry again. After a moment, I had mastered my feelings enough to add, “You told me to name the baby for your father. His name was Brian, wasn’t it?”
“Aye, it was.” A smile seemed to be struggling for dominance of the other emotions on his face. “Aye,” he said. “Aye, you’re right, I did. It’s only—well, I thought it would be a boy, is all.”
“And you’re sorry she wasn’t?” I glared at him, and began snatching up the scattered photographs. His hands on my arms stopped me.
“No,” he said. “No, I’m not sorry. Of course not!” His mouth twitched slightly. “But I willna deny she’s the hell of a shock, Sassenach. So are you.”
I sat still for a moment, looking at him. I had had months to prepare myself for this, and still my knees felt weak and my stomach was clenched in knots. He had been taken completely unawares by my appearance; little wonder if he was reeling a bit under the impact.
“I expect I am. Are you sorry I came?” I asked. I swallowed. “Do—do you want me to go?”
His hands clamped my arms so tightly that I let out a small yelp. Realizing that he was hurting me, he loosened his grip, but kept a firm hold nonetheless. His face had gone quite pale at the suggestion. He took a deep breath and let it out.
“No,” he said, with an approximation of calmness. “I don’t. I—” He broke off abruptly, jaw clamped. “No,” he said again, very definitely.
His hand slid down to take hold of mine, and with the other he reached down to pick up the photographs. He laid them on his knee, looking at them with head bent, so I couldn’t see his face.
“Brianna,” he said softly. “Ye say it wrong, Sassenach. Her name is Brianna.” He said it with an odd Highland lilt, so that the first syllable was accented, the second barely pronounced. Breeanah.
“Breeanah?” I said, amused. He nodded, eyes still fixed on the pictures.
“Brianna,” he said. “It’s a beautiful name.”
“Glad you like it,” I said.
He glanced up then, and met my eyes, with a smile hidden in the corner of his long mouth.
“Tell me about her.” One forefinger traced the pudgy features of the baby in the snowsuit. “What was she like as a wee lassie? What did she first say, when she learned to speak?”
His hand drew me closer, and I nestled close to him. He was big, and solid, and smelled of clean linen and ink, with a warm male scent that was as exciting to me as it was familiar.
“‘Dog,’” I said. “That was her first word. The second one was ‘No!’”
The smile widened across his face. “Aye, they all learn that one fast. She’ll like dogs, then?” He fanned the pictures out like cards, searching out the one with Smoky. “That’s a lovely dog with her there. What sort is that?”
“A Newfoundland.” I bent forward to thumb through the pictures. “There’s another one here with a puppy a friend of mine gave her…”
The dim gray daylight had begun to fade, and the rain had been pattering on the roof for some time, before our talk was interrupted by a fierce subterranean growl emanating from below the lace-trimmed bodice of my Jessica Gutenburg. It had been a long time since the peanut butter sandwich.
“Hungry, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, rather unnecessarily, I thought.
“Well, yes, now that you mention it. Do you still keep food in the top drawer?” When we were first married, I had developed the habit of keeping small bits of food on hand, to supply his constant appetite, and the top drawer of any chest of drawers where we lived generally provided a selection of rolls, small cakes, or bits of cheese.
He laughed and stretched. “Aye, I do. There’s no much there just now, though, but a couple of stale bannocks. Better I take ye down to the tavern, and—”The look of happiness engendered by perusing the photographs of Brianna faded, to be replaced by a look of alarm. He glanced quickly at the window, where a soft purplish color was beginning to replace the pale gray, and the look of alarm deepened.
“The tavern! Christ! I’ve forgotten Mr. Willoughby!” He was on his feet and groping in the chest for fresh stockings before I could say anything. Coming out with the stockings in one hand and two bannocks in the other, he tossed the latter into my lap and sat down on the stool, hastily yanking on the former.
“Who’s Mr. Willoughby?” I bit into a bannock, scattering crumbs.
“Damn,” he said, more to himself than me, “I said I’d come for him at noon, but it went out o’ my head entirely! It must be four o’clock by now!”
“It is; I heard the clock strike a little while ago.”
“Damn!” he repeated. Thrusting his feet into a pair of pewter-buckled shoes, he rose, snatched his coat from the peg, and then paused at the door.
“You’ll come wi’ me?” he asked anxiously.
I licked my fingers and rose, pulling my cloak around me.
“Wild horses couldn’t stop me,” I assured him.