Jamie felt like he was swimming through the thick and sterile air as he strode purposefully down the endless hallway. It wasn’t Claire’s weight in his arms that slowed him, but the hollow agony in his chest each time he glanced down at her still form sprawled in his arms. Her limbs swung uselessly with his hurried gait. He couldn’t even protect her head properly as it thumped against his shoulder.
Murtagh had guided the yacht to shore in only minutes, but time had stretched mercilessly ahead as Jamie waited, exhausting the possibilities to coax a response from Claire.
The back-up officers they had radioed had been waiting on the dock in full force, more than equipped to drag the barely stirring forms of Randall, Wolverton, and their bloody goons into police cars.
“Let’s go,” Jamie had commanded the first unoccupied officer he passed.
“But Agent…” the man had squabbled, eyes darting around for someone of higher authority to disagree.
“Drive, damn ye,” Jamie had insisted. He wouldn’t wait for an ambulance to push through the growing crowd when they had been only streets away from the hospital.
Jamie had ducked into the back of a patrol car with Claire stretched over him, Murtagh having promised to report back once he resolved matters at the scene.
He had patted the perspiration from her face and felt for her weakened pulse as the car’s sirens drowned out the mad thoughts rushing through his head. As his fingers had run through her gnarled curls, they had come into contact with a harsh knot on her head, the swelling worsening as time passed.
Jamie’s rapid thoughts matched the pace of his steps as he finally burst through the last set of doors.
Several faces looked up as they entered the confined space. “Please,” Jamie rasped without taking a new breath.
Registering the pallor of Claire’s countenance, an orderly turned to pull a hospital trolley forward.
Much as he didn’t want to let go of her, Jamie laid Claire delicately on the trolley as the staff around him rolled off questions and phrases he couldn’t process.
“By Christ!” The young man’s eyes widened as he examined Claire’s face while fastening a blood pressure cuff around her bicep.
The nurse taking her vitals followed his gaze, her own face going a shade paler. She stepped to face Jamie as the rest of the party rolled the bed down the hall. She stepped in front of him, her badge reading “Phaedre Cameron, Staff Nurse” prominent.
Jamie allowed an infinitesimal nod as his feet set into motion underneath him. “Alexander Malcolm,” he responded over his shoulder as he made his way past her.
The nurse held him back before his steps could quicken to the pace of the trolley as it carried Claire beyond double doors. “Are you family?” she asked briskly.
“Please,” Jamie said again, barely sparing a glance at her as the attendants pushed his heart away from him. “She carries my child,” he said softly, rising to his toes to keep track of her curls through the miniscule windows as they disappeared further down the hall.
“So you’re her husband?” Her voice returned, warily following his gaze through the glass. She surely had recognized the leader of her country by now, but would know of no such relationship.
Jamie grunted, but did not argue. She wasn’t altogether wrong.
The nurse hesitated, nodding before finally leading him beyond the doors. They caught up with Claire and the other nurses just as they rounded the corner into a secluded area.
She left his side to confer with the doctor leading operations, each stealing glances at Jamie as their conversation grew more serious.
Chaos. Monitors flashing, machines beeping, more wires attached to Claire than he could count. He wished he could touch her, hold her. Was she in pain? Or worse, beyond registering the sensations tethering her to life? He folded sloppily into a nearby chair as his legs gave way.
He yearned for her eyes to fly open and for her to give them all a tongue lashing for focusing on her and not checking on her child.
Christ. The bairn. Jamie pitched forward and put his head between his knees, balancing precariously on the edge of the chair. That she be safe, she and the child.
He fell to his knees and raised his chin to the heavens, the motion around him falling away.
The room held its breath in anticipation, creating a silence broken only by the steady pulsing of the heart monitor.
The beat sounded steady, for all Jamie knew. But after a few minutes it was rivaled by the echo of a faster, fluttering rhythm, nearly stopping Jamie’s own heart.
It was the first time their child had made its presence known. There’d scarcely been time to schedule a scan as of yet, though they had estimated how far along Claire might be.
The roomful of people trickled out of the door, leaving only three occupants. Four, Jamie scolded himself absently.
The lead doctor snapped his gloves off and turned to face Jamie as he waited in the corner in agony.
A sheen of perspiration glowed over the man’s dark skin as he drew closer. An easy smile rested on his face. “Alex, is it?”
Jamie’s hand rose instinctively to grasp the other man’s. He nodded, focus not trailing away from the chest rising and falling across the room.
“Joe Abernathy.” The doctor stepped into Jamie’s line of sight to hold his attention.
He tried to take in the news the kind American doctor relayed to him, making sure to nod when appropriate. Everything sounded fine, but he couldn’t allow himself reprieve until she set her eyes upon him once more.
Severe dehydration, he said.
“I can guess how troublesome her morning sickness has been. We’ll get her caught up on fluids and monitor things from there.”
Minor concussion, he said.
“I’m sure you know she’s been knocked around pretty thoroughly, Mr. Malcolm.”
It’s up to her now, he said.
“We’ll have to wait for her to wake up. Their heartbeats are both strong, which is our main concern for now.”
Jamie had done his best to follow along and swallow his emotions, but couldn’t control the sob that escaped him at that simple statement.
Abernathy gripped his shoulder. “You did well, man. We might be telling a different story if not for you.”
As Jamie stood and pulled his chair behind him, the doctor clapped him on the back, then pulled the sleeve of his white coat up to glance at his smartwatch.
“I’m told the Doctors Beauchamp are stuck in parade traffic.” Dr. Abernathy’s finger swiped smoothly across the small screen. “There’s also a small crowd in the waiting room that’s anxious to see the two of you.”
Goistidh. Jamie unlocked his mobile. Eight missed calls from Murtagh. Five from Claire’s assistant, Mary McNab.
“I’ll tell you now, but will also be sure to let the persistent young lady in the waiting room know, that no one on our staff will speak a word.”
Abernathy looked up to meet Jamie’s eye once more, seeming to finally take a closer look at him. “That’s a nasty cut you’ve got there, man.” The doctor gestured toward Jamie’s eye. “I’ll send someone up to see that it gets taken care of.”
Jamie shrugged the doctor off. “‘Tis nothing to fash over.”
“The stitches might help take your mind off things,” Abernathy suggested.
“Dinna want to ‘take my mind off things,’” Jamie mimicked. Another bout of guilt flooded him. “I’m sorry, Doc.” He swallowed deeply. “This is almost more than I can bear, myself.”
Abernathy fixed him with a look. “She was in good hands, Mr. Malcolm. She still is.”
The doctor exited the room and closed the door quietly behind him, leaving only Jamie’s thoughts to fill the silence.
Jamie didn’t spare space between his chair and Claire’s bed. He reached for one of her cold hands and rubbed it between his own.
“Wake up, lass,” he whispered. A surge of feeling rose in his chest. “If ye’ll ever obey anyone in your life, let it be me, now, Claire.” He scrubbed his dirty, scuffed palms across his eyes. “Please, mo chridhe.”
Motion at the door stirred him from his greeting. A blonde blur sped in and hit him squarely in the chest. “Nunkie!”
“Germain Henry!” drilled a stern feminine voice. “Give yer uncle some space.”
Jamie squeezed the toddler against him and ghosted his own lips over his forehead before Marsali swung him up and settled him against the swell of her belly, patting Jamie’s hand soothingly. Her expression became disapproving as she took in the damage to his face.
He looked up as his future brother-in-law squeezed his shoulder as he circled the bed, pulling forward the chair on the other side.
Fergus leaned forward to brush his lips over Claire’s clammy forehead. “Milady,” he whispered, the light French lilt from his university and medical school days in Paris echoing in the sentiment. He gripped her hand with both of his, eyes not leaving her still form.
Jamie’s heart twisted. The moniker had been bestowed on a prim and proper young Claire by Uncle Lamb when she struggled with culture shock during her first trip to the edge of the earth. Soon after she’d gained her bearings, her passion for the world she lived in had established itself, along with her heart for helping its people.
Marsali allowed Germain to roam once more with a warning to ‘nae get underfoot.’ She washed her hands at the corner basin and slipped on a pair of rubber gloves, helping herself to the cotton swabs and peroxide stored in a high cabinet.
Jamie winced at the sting as she swabbed the wound under his eye.
Satisfied, she ruffled his hair and helped herself to the medical chart fastened near the bed. She surveyed the information with her experienced obstetrician’s eye, her observations undetectable until a gasp emitted from her and her gaze landed on Jamie.
He immediately knew what the file had revealed to her, and nodded his permission for her to speak it aloud.
“Did ye know, a bràthair?” Marsali whispered.
Fergus snapped to attention, both his hands still grasping Claire’s.
“Aye.” Jamie breathed, the barest of grins tickling his lips. “She was – is – sae excited to tell ye both at Thursday night supper.” He clapped his hand over his mouth, unable to stifle the sharp intake of air that followed. He met Fergus’s eye. “Ye should know, man, it’s driven her mad to keep it from ye…”
Fergus nodded slowly, stroking Claire’s wrists. Jamie suspected he was seeking her pulse points himself. “She will,” he said firmly. “She’ll tell me.”
Jamie sniffled hard in an attempt to regain his composure. “I’m sorry I didna protect her,” he whispered.
“You have, ye dolt,” Marsali cut in. Her steady hand smoothed the wrinkled bed covering over Claire’s belly where Germain had tugged it, attempting to check on his aunt for himself.
“I met Claire when she was but 15, a gangly wee thing gettin’ in her uncle’s way. She’s always been headstrong and determined. But I’ve never seen her so passionate, so content. Not until ye came along.”
“You couldn’t have expected this,” Fergus added, boosting Germain to his lap.
Marsali’s mobile vibrated.
Jamie could hazard a guess at how many times it had sounded that day based on the weary expression that crossed her face as she answered it.
She began speaking in rapid Gaelic, making it clear who was on the other end of the line. She could give Jenny a clear update without worrying Fergus unnecessarily.
Jamie flinched as he overheard rough translations for ‘still out’ and ‘hard knock to the head.’ She kept their big news to herself for now, and Jamie couldn’t help but imagine the sheer joy that would cross his sister’s face when she heard. Not to mention the bizarre hints he’d heard about their father today. How could he drop something like that on her, especially if it wasn’t true…
But he could puzzle all of that out later. As long as his stubborn lass woke up, all would be well.
The moment Marsali switched back to English, stepping toward the door and whispering into the receiver, Jamie knew she was talking about him and his own haggard appearance. There was no language the women shared that could conceal their worries from him.
As Germain’s impatient questions and complaints of an empty belly increased, Fergus and Marsali finally escorted him out of the room and to the cafeteria, promising to bring something back for Jamie. He doubted he’d have the will to eat it.
And so he was alone with his desperate thoughts once again.
Claire struggled against her heavy eyelids as awareness came back to her. Her immediate line of sight was blurred, and she ached all over. Gone was her torn pantsuit, a starchy white gown in its place. Her sorry state was apparent, almost as if she were taking account of her injuries from outside her own body.
She tried to recount what had happened in the last few hours… days? She had a vague recollection of a gun being drawn and shots firing, and someone going down painfully. Jamie?
Claire jolted at this thought, her vision adjusting to recognize the profile standing at the window across the room from her, with dazzling afternoon light refracting off his cinnamon waves as his head hung low and shoulders drooped. Though she could barely make him out in the shadows, she knew she loved him. He appeared healthy and strong, uninhibited by ballistic injury. So how much of what she remembered was actually real?
Could she trust her own tender feelings, anything besides the pull she felt toward him in spite of the weight of her limbs gluing her to the bed?
Had they truly shared all the things she thought she remembered, or was it all just lovely images her mind her created to comfort her as her body healed?
Jamie lifted the corner of the curtain with just the tips of his fingers. The car park was littered with news vans, camera bulbs flashing as hospital officials created a barrier between the crowd and their front doors. In the hours that had passed since he carried Claire in, it was clearly no longer a secret where the prime minister was recovering, nor how she had fallen victim to betrayal and neglect. He dropped the flimsy material in disgust. Just once, if they would leave her alone…
He barely registered the rustling on the other side of the room, but spun to attention. Claire was moving.
Her head flopped across the pillow as she sniffled, then moaned.
Jamie released a startled cry, just watching in relief as she flexed unused muscles.
Claire stilled, eyes focused on him. She looked awkward and unsure.
He cursed himself for putting distance between them. She should have woken with her hand in his as he watched her closely for any simple comfort he could provide.
Jamie raced back to her side. “Thank Christ,” he whispered, kneeling to adjust the pillow under her as she sat up.
Claire tensed and leaned back into the pillow as their eyes met. Jamie wished he didn’t see it, but there was fear in her expression.
“C—Claire…” he soothed. “It’s over. You’re whole.” His mouth curved into what might have been a smile, but it apparently had no calming effect.
She gulped and took shallow breaths, wild eyes looking anywhere but at him. A panic attack.
Understanding dawned on Jamie. She didn’t remember. Dr. Abernathy’s term returned to him: Concussion. He wondered briefly how bad it would be, whether she would remember him at all. He wouldn’t be able to bear hearing her call him “Alex” or “Agent Malcolm” without a hint of the flirtatious banter or sultry tone of jest that usually accompanied the nicknames.
He couldn’t bear not to know, either.
“Seas, a leannan,” he cooed. He curled his fingers under her jaw. “Breathe with me, mo ghraidh.”
Her eyes locked on his as he spoke the language of his heart. “… Jamie?” Her face lit with hope.
Jamie’s nerves unknotted themselves. “Just me.” His other hand smoothed her tangled curls from her glistening face.
Claire’s breathing slowed as she leaned her cheek into his palm, grimace giving way to peace.
He boosted himself into the bed beside her, relief flowing through him as she curled into him, careful of the IV running between them.
“I’ve been having terrible dreams, I think…” She shook her head. “I was worried I’d dreamt it all.”
“Nay, mo nighean donn.” He kissed the side of her head, her sweaty neck, anywhere he could reach as his palm stroked down her side.
Claire’s hand flew to her middle, features crinkling once more. “Our baby, is everything...?”
“A braw one like ye,” he managed to choke out. “Has a good wee heart, I’ve heard it myself.”
The door squealed open again just as Dr. Abernathy finished setting up the ultrasound machine.
Claire exhaled as her extended family piled through the door.
Amid the bustle of activity in the crowded room, she and Jamie had barely managed to speak discreetly about all that had occurred that day.
Claire had insisted on letting Jamie squeeze her hand as Nurse Cameron had placed five stitches under his right eye. His grip had been mild, but he had let her see him wince as the nurse had tied off the final suture. They had no secrets, and if she could bear a bit of his pain, she would.
She had stroked his curls as he recounted all the possibilities that had raced through his mind at the mere suggestion that Brian Fraser was alive. Much as he wanted to find out for himself, Jamie couldn’t risk investigating if it meant leaving Claire and the baby behind.
His tears had soaked into her gown as he apologized for not suspecting Frank sooner and taking care of the problem himself.
“Shh, shh,” she had whispered. “You had nothing to go on. I can just imagine it, ‘ Metropolitan Police Protection Officer breaks into the House of Commons to tackle Home Secretary to the ground.’” She had scratched his stubbled chin. “You’d still be in gaol now.”
Jamie had snorted against her shoulder, shaking with the force of her own laughter. “It’s no’ funny, Claire.”
“Are you quite sure?” she had asked, lips curled. “I’m looking forward to the joy of seeing both those characters put away for awhile.”
“Aye,” he had rasped. “I’ll see to it, a nighean.”
Claire had tilted his chin to lock eyes with him. “We will.”
Jamie had sniffled and nodded firmly, grasping her palm to place a kiss there.
Fergus set Germain at the foot of her hospital bed, but her nephew jumped onto her sore legs instead. “Auntie Bear!” he cried.
She tried to withhold her groan as she gathered him to her. “Gracious, but you’re getting big, my lad.”
Claire got a lovely whiff of his lingering baby scent as her sister-in-law stooped beside her bed and took her face in both hands. “How are ye, a chridhe?”
Claire grasped her hands over Marsali’s. She had never been able to hide anything from the other woman’s intuitive gaze, so she shouldn’t have been surprised when Marsali glanced down then met her eye knowingly. She darted a glance to Jamie, who shrugged helplessly in the midst of feasting on his newly delivered hamburger and chips.
“My wife read your chart,” Fergus’s voice sounded as he closed in on their huddle to ruffle her curls. “Congratulations, ma cherie.”
Claire laughed and took a wonderfully full breath. “I don’t suppose I could have kept it from you for long. You might have been suspicious otherwise when I booked an appointment with you.” She squeezed Marsali’s hand before leaning into Fergus’s arm around her shoulders.
“Alright, Ms. Beauchamp,” Joe interrupted the lovingly chaotic scene.
Claire smiled up at him. In the half hour since he’d walked in to find her conscious, she had already grown to like the young doctor for his wit and gentle manner.
Nurse Cameron gestured that she was ready with the cool gel.
Fergus swept Germain out of her lap as Jamie nestled closer on the edge of her bed, shielding her as she wrestled the thin hospital gown up over her hips.
A few minor adjustments later and Claire’s eyes filled with tears as she watched a tiny form swim on the screen in front of her. She held onto Jamie – perhaps not as tightly as he clutched her – to make sure it still wasn’t a dream.
She had no idea how she’d do it all, but knew she could with the support of those around her.