Chapter 1: Part I
Prime Minister Claire Beauchamp closed the doors to her private suite within 10 Downing Street and leaned against them. She breathed in and out, blowing the stray curl out of her eyes. It was hardly her first day, but she’d not made any more headway in cooperation among the Cabinet of late.
A five-knock pattern sounded on the door behind her. She cracked it wide enough to reveal a distinct streak of red and a knowing smirk. Claire edged the door further open to allow the head of her security detail to slip in past her. She nodded to the site guard in the hall, who didn’t bat an eye as she closed the door behind her bodyguard.
Agent Malcolm opened his arms as Claire dove into his chest. His lips met the parting in her hair as the back of his fingertips caressed down her spine.
Agent Alexander Malcolm, known as James Fraser outside of Protection Command and the eye of the public, had been the first friendly face Claire had spotted during her initial tour and introduction to the personnel.
On their first excursion, she had asked him what name he preferred to go by. He didn’t look like an Alex.
“Ye can call me Al,” he had told her, blinking with a sly grin.
From that day on, they were practically inseparable. The agent never took a sick day. The fiercely independent prime minister no longer refused an escort, even on personal outings.
He watched from a close but immoveable distance as she enacted policies to better the lives of the citizens of their homelands. He came to understand her more deeply as she advocated for orphans and young women in STEM.
She sensed his movements behind her as he perked up when she mentioned the importance of prenatal and universal healthcare.
Claire allowed herself to sniffle against him, head burrowing into the hollow of his chest. She pulled back to meet his eyes.
Their companionship had deepened into something more the evening after a terror attempt on the borough Claire was visiting went awry. They had ridden back in her town car, hips pressed together as Claire’s shaking threatened to rattle Jamie’s teeth.
Her grasp on his elbow hadn’t loosened as they crossed the threshold of Number 10; instead she had led him up the staircase to her residence. The night had ended with him holding her within his arms to quiet the tremors, legs tangled beneath her covers and duvet.
“Ye’ll ken the name’s no’ Malcolm?” he had whispered into her hair.
She nodded against his shoulder. She had a keen mind for observation herself.
“I love you, Jamie,” she’d whispered back.
But there in the dark with her, he’d felt he had no name. He didn’t need one.
“Ye did well, love” his voice rumbled low. “The tricky wee bastard may know a thing or two about history, but he doesna have the heart for the people that you do. And he’s no match for it.”
Home Secretary Frank Randall had scarcely given Claire a break, making every effort to best her and rebuff her ideas. Perhaps it was because she was young, brilliant, and a woman, or maybe he was threatened by her higher position of power. But Claire figured it most likely was because she had spurned his advances at every turn.
She knew it boiled Jamie’s blood to stand steps behind her as Frank lifted her hand to kiss at public events, bowing in front of her to request a dance.
Claire accepted no more often than their positions made proper, catching Jamie’s eye at every turn. She would find his face set grimly, his fingers tapping an anxious rhythm against his thigh.
“Soon,” she whispered to him, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Jamie pulled the clip out of her hair, allowing her curls to spring free. He tangled his fingers in them, his forehead against hers in silent promise.
His contract with London’s Metropolitan Police Service was due to end in six months, at which time Claire had insisted they would make their connection known. Murtagh, the man who had trained and all but raised Jamie, would take over his position.
He trusted no one more to see her safe. But Jamie would never be far from her side, either. After all, he had promised her the protection of his body, if necessary. And soon that of his name and clan, as well.
They were to marry the day after he turned in his badge. She would take a long weekend and accompany him to Lallybroch. Jamie’s sister was already planning a small ceremony in the dooryard of his family home.
Hours later, Claire had changed into her dressing gown, but was still on the sofa in her sitting room, poring over documents littered across the coffee table.
Jamie leaned over the back of the couch. “Go to bed, mo ghraidh,” he breathed into her neck, lips tracing the pattern of freckles he loved.
“Not yet,” she squirmed. “I have to be prepared for… tomorrow.” A long yawn interrupted her sentence, the last words whistling through her teeth. “Meeting with the queen,” she mumbled.
He lifted her over the back of the couch and carried her across the apartment. Her eyes were closed before he could lay her in bed. He kissed her brow, planning to sneak out the back door of the headquarters.
“I love ye,” he said tenderly, placing another soft kiss on her lips.
But as he turned, she yanked him back by the hand.
He whirled to see her staring up at him dreamily. She patted the empty bed space next to her.
A protest formed on Jamie’s lips, but it was gone with one look into her golden eyes. He let his boots thump to the floor and opened his designated drawer in her dresser. After tying the waistband of the Fraser tartan pyjama trousers she had purchased him, he slid under the sheets and gathered her to him. Claire rolled towards him to bury her face in his neck, hands pressed against his chest.
He knew he would have to rise early to leave without rousing suspicion, and would likely have a dead arm in the morning. But he wouldn’t move for the next few hours to free Scotland.
Chapter 2: Part II
Thanks to @phoenixflames12 and @quietcatastrophe for the beta reads!
Tumblr: @mo-nighean-rouge/ @soinspiredbyyou
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Three Months Later
Jamie Fraser knelt on the ground with his head in Claire Beauchamp’s lap. She leaned back into her worn armchair, feet propped up onto the matching ottoman she had moved into her residential suite from Uncle Lamb’s house, now occupied by her older brother.
Birdsong and the murmurs of the gathering crowd could be heard from the window opened to let in unspoiled air.
They still had two hours before her scheduled appearance at the parade for Pride in London, and were taking their time getting ready after a rough morning for Claire.
“I should be the one to run out for yer wee antacids and the like,” Jamie muttered against her hip.
Claire gave him a small smile. “Leave silly things like that for Mary,” she said hoarsely. “You’re right where I need you,” she ran her hand over his forehead and into his already mussed hair.
“Mmmph,” he muttered. “Still, is there anything I can do for ye within these four walls?”
She thought for a moment, rotating her swollen ankles in the air experimentally. “Perhaps some tea?”
Jamie’s knees popped as he straightened to his feet. “One cup of exemplary mint tea coming up,” he kissed Claire’s clammy forehead and slipped out the door quietly, locking it behind him.
He jogged down the stairs to the in-house kitchen, nearly colliding with Mrs. Fitzgibbon’s armload of pot roast.
“Och, sorry lad!” she trilled as Jamie helped her right the pan. They shared a jovial laugh as she rested it on the counter and wiped her hands on her apron.
“What can I do for ye, Mr. Malcolm?” she winked conspiratorially.
“Just some tea for now, Mrs. Fitz,” he grinned back. “I can handle it since you’ve got yer hands full.” He moved to the familiar cabinet that held Claire’s daily beverage.
“Nonsense!” The chef ducked under his arm to beat him there. “How is our lass today?”
Mrs. Fitz was one of many support staff and regular dwellers of Number 10 that had taken quickly to Claire upon her appointment and arrival.
“Not the best morning so far,” he answered regretfully, though he couldn’t hide the grin on his face. “She’s not let it get her down yet, though.”
“And I’m not the least bit surprised,” Mrs. Fitz beamed back as she steeped the tea into Claire’s preferred mug, a painted and signed gift from her nephew. “I’ll have lunch for the both of ye sent up soon.”
Jamie accepted the mug she offered and rushed through the building once more to return to Claire. He nodded to the stationed guards along the way, none of whom were surprised to see him running menial errands at this point.
While he and Claire had managed to keep their relationship under wraps from the majority of the public, those who interacted with them on a daily basis and noticed that Jamie never left the walls of 10 Downing Street without his charge were harder to fool.
As he took the last set of steps two at a time and rounded the corner to Claire’s apartment, Jamie couldn’t stop the chill that ran down his neck.
He gulped as he crossed the entrance uninhibited, the door leaning against the frame and the hinges lying on the floor.
To his confusion, Murtagh stepped up to greet him, but didn’t speak immediately, clearly stricken.
“Where’s Claire?” Jamie asked, swallowing hard.
“Lad…” Murtagh’s voice was choked in the silence.
The air flew from Jamie’s chest. Shapes and colors flashed in front of his eyes.
The dark red of her lipstick staining his cheek.
The blue scarf she wore to cover the purple bruises his teeth left along her collarbone.
The two perfect pink lines that matched her cheeks as she proudly revealed them to him only three nights ago.
“I kicked the door in when neither of ye answered…”
He dimly heard Murtagh’s reply over the noise in his own head.
Claire’s ottoman was overturned, the ceramic pots her herbs grew in knocked from the window sill. The floor was severely scuffed under the same window, scratch marks that continued in a trail to the armchair.
Jamie’s hand shook as he placed the tea down on the side table to preserve the precious mug and the beverage inside. He’d have her back in time to drink it before it cooled, he tried to tell himself.
His hand brushed over a piece of paper as he lifted it from the slick surface. He unfolded it and squinted as he tried to concentrate on the written words.
Ran to the drugstore, back in a blink, the note read. Jamie’s eyebrow furrowed. Not only did the message make no sense, it wasn’t in Claire’s hand. In fact, it strongly resembled penmanship he had seen from a distance on many occasions.
Claire’s mind and body rebelled as she attempted to lift herself to her hands and knees. She tried to remember how she had come to be lying on her belly on her hardwoods.
She could hear voices in the distance, or perhaps nearer by? They were of similar cadence, but one rang much more familiar in her ear than the other. Her eyes refused to open to discern if she recognized its source.
Approaching footsteps rattled in Claire’s head. Her earlier nausea returned in full force as she managed to crack one eye and turn her face toward the visitor.
A gleaming smile and pointed chin greeted her. “Hello, love,” wolfish grey eyes burnt unblinkingly into her own.
Claire groaned at the invading sound. She knew the voice and face very well.
As she attempted to gain her bearings, another figure appeared in her periphery. She looked up to see that her vision of Frank Randall had now doubled, both smirking at her smugly.
Claire blinked once again to clear her vision.
Standing above her were two Franks.
Jamie paced Claire’s suite as he tried to think.
What could the wee fiend want with her?
More importantly, where would he have taken her?
Murtagh stepped out of his way once more before spinning him to a stop. “What’s yer plan, Jamie?”
As Jamie stood still, his mind finally moved. One idea stuck out above all the others, though he would try them all until one prevailed. He and Claire both were subject to more information about the home secretary than one could ever hope for due to her proximity to him.
He had a place to start.
Jamie led Murtagh through the doorway to the private residence.
Unbeknownst to either, Claire’s mug shattered to the floor as it vibrated underneath their harried steps.
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 3: Part III
Thanks to @phoenixflames12 and @whiskynottea for the beta reads!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Claire fought her disorientation as she squinted up at Frank.
“What am I doing here?” she managed to croak out at last. She did her best to shift to a sitting position, inhibited by the rope biting into her bound ankles, flitting her eyes from her feet to her home secretary and narrowing her brow as she did so.
“Oh, my sincerest apologies for that, my dear,” Frank shrugged. “We didn’t think you’d go without a fight.”
Sunlight streamed through the round windows above Claire’s head, warming her back as she took in her surroundings. The dark wood paneling that swirled in her vision at last betrayed their station to be the hold of an old yacht.
“You haven’t answered my question,” Claire bit back, anxiety mounting. Frank’s behavior had made her weary and suspicious before, but his eyes were now cold and calculating, holding dark potential she hadn’t thought him capable of. “Where are we?”
“Your location will be disclosed, Madame,” the deeper voice of the figure looming behind Frank sounded. “At such a time when you…”
Frank waved his hand to cut his identical accomplice off. He hadn’t missed the way Claire curled protectively over her belly. He glared at her middle, his eyes tracing back over her figure to meet her own disdainfully.
“I thought something seemed different about you, Prime Minister Beauchamp.” He looked at her speculatively. “The way you moved.” He leaned closer. “The gleam of your hair.”
His lip curled, making Claire shiver. “It was that hulking bastard that follows you around, wasn’t it?” He stood and began to pace around her slowly, his partner looking on with interest. “He does look at you like a puppy.”
Frank turned suddenly, his next words cutting sharply into the still air. “That’s quite an indiscretion, Claire. What is the public to think, their beloved minister shamed by a child out of wedlock?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Claire spat. “We’re engaged, if you must know. He’ll be here soon.” She could hear her voice waver, even through the haze that was steadily building around her as twinges echoed all over her body.
“I don’t think so, Minister,” the third member of the standoff sneered. He waved a smashed mobile in her line of vision. Hers, she realized. And now destroyed beyond function.
“Claire,” Frank’s face formed a self-satisfied smile. “I don’t believe you know my cousin, Jonathan Wolverton.”
“The family malevolence is hard to miss,” she snorted as the sight of them swam before her. The more she looked at them, she noticed the subtle differences between their appearances. Wolverton’s features were sharper, more haggard. His eyes were more sly, and his sinister grin worried her as to what he might put Frank up to.
Frank and his cousin exchanged glances once more.
“I’m sure you’re anxious, Right Honorable Beauchamp,” Frank sneered. “To know why you’re here today.”
“Please,” Claire bit back. “Don’t keep me in suspense any longer.”
The despicable smirk rounded Frank’s mouth once more. “You never do lose your wit, do you darling?” He straightened and his face grew sterner. “Be careful how you exercise it today.”
Clearing his throat, Frank leaned back against the paneling of the wall, his eyes never leaving her face. “I’m sure you know, Claire, that my true potential is not being met in my current position.”
Her eyebrows rose of their own volition. Frank was barely holding onto his office, going out of bounds with his ideas about limiting the benefits tied to Universal Credit.
“So, you have a couple of choices, Minister,” he continued. “Ring the queen and a few others to withdraw from your position now, making sure to promote my own strong qualities as your successor…”
Claire’s icy stare into Frank’s cold eyes didn’t waver. He must be mental.
“Or, you can sit here and rot with Johnny until you are missed and declared unfit for your own title,” Frank finished, clearly satisfied.
Behind him, Wolverton lifted a pistol from the counter, swaying it menacingly.
Claire cocked her head, even as bile rose in her throat. Time was of value in this predicament, and the surest way to gain it would be to humor Frank by pretending to consider his options.
“Do you truly think either of those plans will work?” She tried to keep her voice even. “I’ll be missed this afternoon. Today’s events are held dear in the hearts of a great percentage of the United Kingdom’s population, whether you give a care for its diverse voices or not.”
Frank tipped his head, lips pursed. “Fine. You may do it the hard way.” He strode to the door, not sparing a glance behind him. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be making some appearances to apologize for your unforgivable absence and offer Her Majesty and the people what counsel I can in response to your grievous apathy.”
At that moment, the yacht tipped and he was thrown off balance, wobbling as the floor shook beneath them. He threw a concerned glance to Jonathan, whose face mirrored the same startlement and confusion.
Claire’s heart raced. She’d seen Jamie make quick work of a situation before, but she didn’t know if she could dare to hope that he’d already found his way to her. She was barely able to finish the thought when the yacht tilted again and her eyes and stomach rolled in unified discomfort. The wooden floors of the boat creaked ominously as it rocked back and forth, settling into motion.
“Tell him the child is mine.” Frank grinned, his voice was soft with malice, his face barely an inch from her own.
“I beg your pardon?” Claire choked.
Randall pulled her up to face him, bony fingers digging into the flesh of her upper arms. “I’ve thought of a third, more generous option for you,” he began, grasping her cheeks with his chilled palms. “Acknowledge the child as my own and marry me. And of course, accept any and all of my political counsel.”
Claire grimaced in his grasp, unable to stop the memories of just a few nights ago from resurfacing.
“Are ye no’ feeling any better, mo nighean donn?” The sound of Jamie pacing outside the locked loo door had further tightened the knot in her belly as she had stared down at the plastic wand in her shaking grasp. It would be just 30 seconds before either her life would change, or her hopelessness would be affirmed.
“Do ye suppose it’s something ye ate?” Jamie’s voice cut into her thoughts again. “Should I speak with Mrs. Fitz? Or even run another sweep of the kitchen…” He rambled urgently. He was surely anxious to see her, as she hadn’t emerged since his return to the suite from a debriefing with Murtagh and the other lads.
The timer shrilled as her mobile reverberated against the marble countertop.
“Claire?” Jamie’s voice drew closer as he leaned against the other side of the door.
“A bit of privacy, Jamie, really!” she responded at last, sharper and louder than she had intended.
A dead silence, followed by the slow shuffling of boots down the hallway toward the sitting room.
She squeezed her eyes shut in regret, then took a deep, shuddering breath, turning the stick over in her palms.
Claire felt her cheeks warm and her eyes flood as she studied the distinct lines that had formed in only moments, but would determine the course of her life for years to come. She covered her mouth as a noise of unidentifiable feeling attempted to escape.
It was the best that news that she could imagine, that which had filled her dreams abstractly in recent years, especially after holding her newly born nephew for the first time.
But countless doctors had been almost certain that no, such a promise was not in the cards for her.
Now that promise would be fulfilled at a time when she had least expected it, with a man that she had never dared to hope for.
She had dragged Jamie into every aspect of her life in the past year, asking him to give up more than she could offer in return. He had done so completely, constantly. His presence fitted into her empty spaces naturally, filling gaps that she hadn’t acknowledged before.
Claire had even been the one to initiate a proposal to him, seeking stability and something for them both to look forward to under the strain of her office and the unknown future. But as soon as he realized what she was doing, he had taken over, calloused palms holding her jaw delicately, wiping the tears from her face just as she did his own.
But this. She couldn’t ask him to rise to a role they had never discussed, accept a circumstance that she had thought impossible.
Claire suspected how he might feel. She had observed the look on his face as she visited her brother’s patients in the pediatric ward of the local hospital.
But what if this was his breaking point? Raising a child while they were still very much in the public eye, opening them up to gossip about the abrupt timeline of their relationship and impending marriage.
She wasn’t ready to watch him walk out of the door for the last time, unwinding his soul from hers. But she would have to let him go. She couldn’t prolong the impasse any more.
Claire tucked the evidence into the pocket of her dressing gown and twisted the doorknob slowly. Her light steps creaked on the old floorboards, causing Jamie to look up sharply as she appeared in the doorway in front of him.
His knee bounced under him and the fingers of his right hand tapped against his thigh, his face unreadable. The dim light reflected in his piercing gaze, casting shadows over his features. He stood stiffly as she came closer.
She shook her head and placed her hand on his shoulder, guiding him back into Lamb’s overstuffed arm chair.
Jamie braced her thighs to help her settle as she climbed onto his lap, pressing her forehead against his. His fingers resumed their rhythm, this time on her knee as she remained silent.
“Please, dinna keep me in the dark,” he rasped, breath stilted against her ear.
Claire’s loose braid bobbed against her neck with the subtle movement of her head. She cupped his cheek, his face contorting as he leaned into her touch.
Her mouth slowly collided with his, her hot tears streaming into the mix of their lips and fingers. One last time, she thought.
Jamie grasped her hips, tightening his hold as she pulled back, his eyes suddenly wild, fearful.
Claire took a quaking breath and extracted the future from her pocket. She held it within his line of vision, bracing for impact.
He met her gaze, then trailed down to what was clenched in her grip, blinking at the two pink lines, stark against their white background. His eyes flew up to hers, his hand landing over her belly.
A shuddering gasp emitted from Jamie. His features trembled as his eyes shone. “Christ, but I should have known.” His low laugh vibrated where her ribs pressed into his.
“What?” Claire chirped.
Jamie’s hands trailed lower, caressing and inspecting. “Ye’ve been aglow, and ripe as a peach.” He hummed in approval, rolling the ‘r’ sound as his burr thickened.
Claire squirmed and pinched his shoulder in retaliation, tampering down her rising elation as she waited for reality and rationale to settle over him.
“How far along are we, do you think?” he asked, one hand settling to rub circles into her lower back, while the other returned to its place of honor on her abdomen.
She swallowed thickly, the question still pressing. “W-we? You want this?”
Before she realized what he was doing, Jamie’s hands met each other to cup the back of her head, drawing their faces close as his mouth twitched to the side. “It’s everything I could want, Claire.” The words rumbled from deep in his chest. “Ye and our… our child. Our wee family.”
Claire laid her cheek against his shoulder and allowed the air to flow freely through her. “It’s just… You’ve already given me so much…”
Jamie shrugged to urge her back up. She nearly couldn’t face the dismay he did little to hide. “And ye thought I’d do less for ye now?”
She shook her head, mussed curls falling from her hair tie.
“Shh shh shh,” he cooed into her ear as he brought her closer against him. He didn’t have to hear it again to understand that the anxiety she battled after losing so many loved ones in the early stages of her life had tried to rule her heart again. He rocked her as if she were a babe herself, letting their connection speak for them.
At last, Jamie patted her rear to indicate he was going to lift her, then stepped lightly across the apartment to lower her onto the edge of the bed. Before she could lie down and roll over, he clutched the tie to her dressing gown. “May I?” he whispered, adoration gazing into her eyes.
Claire nodded, touched. She held and kissed the top of his head as he untied the knot, then raised her arms one by one as he freed her of the lightweight robe, leaving her clad in a summery vest top and shorts. She scooted backward on the mattress as he shed his boots and outerwear, then crawled toward her. Eyes locked on hers, he rolled her shirt up and tenderly palmed her flat belly.
They whispered to each other for what felt like hours before Jamie reached for the Burns collection that had taken up permanent residence on the nightstand since he had begun to stay over regularly. Claire drifted off as his reading voice grew lower and slower, the lamplight glowing outside her eyelids.
Claire stirred by the dawn’s light to a shift in her surroundings. Before running the back of her hand over his pillow as she was accustomed, she gazed down to find the light quilt drawn down around her knees, and Jamie crouched by her bare belly.
As Claire awakened fully, she recognized the low cadence of Jamie’s voice, rumbling in Gaelic phrases. Some she’d heard in her own ear, others she didn’t recognize. Once he had finished speaking and was reaching for the quilt to cover them again, she planted her hand on his head, fingers raking through his wavy locks.
Jamie looked up at her slowly, cheeks tinted pink. “I didna realize...”
“It was so special to hear it,” she admitted. “Unless you would rather I didn’t.”
A grin lit up his face. “I dinna mind. No secrets, remember?”
Claire nodded, all other thoughts fleeing from her mind as he grabbed onto her knees and placed a kiss on the inside of each before continuing higher.
A jolt returned her to the present, leaving only the ache in her chest. No, Jamie would never believe it. But Frank would doubtlessly be in danger if he so much as suggested such a notion in the presence of the former.
The wee fool had positioned his under-renovation yacht far out on the Thames. It was perhaps inconspicuous, unless one knew what to look for.
Jamie leapt from the secured speedboat to the deck of the yacht just as Murtagh disarmed the guard in front of the main cabin.
Murtagh advanced on the cockpit, leaving the first man in Jamie’s vengeful hands. He delivered a few harsh blows, enough to put the man under for a while, and handcuffed his bulky wrist to the railing.
He watched his godfather do the same to the man at the wheel, before shifting gears and taking a sharp turn back to shore.
Jamie pressed his ear against the door of the cabin, ready to enter but afraid of what he might find. He had no doubt that Claire had been brought here, and against her will at that.
He raised his boot to the doorjamb, kicking with the power of the adrenaline that his fear had amassed for the past two hours.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, they narrowed in on the sight before him. Frank Randall was sitting on a bench on the other side of the cabin, tossing back a cocktail with one hand and pressing Claire to his side with the other. At first glance, Jamie was relieved to see her conscious and upright. But as he looked closer, she appeared dizzy and anxious, barely keeping her eyes open. He wondered if she would be able to sit up if she was under her own power.
“Agent Malcolm!” crowed Randall. “You know, I don’t recall extending an invitation to you.”
“Dinna make this difficult, Secretary,” Jamie responded cautiously. Though it killed him, he couldn’t make a sudden movement with Randall closer to Claire than he was. He didn’t know what weapons the man might produce. “Unhand the minister and no one will be hurt.”
Randall sniffed, setting his drink to the side. “Well you see, there’s no harm here,” He shrugged. “Just celebrating my impending fatherhood. His gestured to Claire with a tilt of his chin.
Claire’s eyes floated toward Jamie, wide with relief at his appearance, all the while begging him to remember the truth.
“You heard me correctly, Malcolm,” Randall snickered, drawing his filthy hand lower on Claire’s hip. “Sorry to dash your little fantasy of romance.”
Jamie barely registered the man’s words as he watched Claire struggle in the man’s hold. “I ken that to be false,” he growled. “And if I find out otherwise, I’ll kill ye for the way she cowers from you now.”
Taking his chance, Jamie lurched across the room and dragged Randall up, heart clenching as Claire slipped to the floor in the process. “Frank Randall, you are under arrest for the abduction of—”
“Mr. Fraser,” a voice boomed. “Isn’t it considered rude to not speak to everyone when entering a room?”
Jamie froze with Randall’s collar bunched in his fist. In the periphery, he noticed Claire’s eyes shift to the unidentified voice, as well. No one in London knew his true name unless he had entrusted them with it. He had entered Protection Command as Alexander Malcolm, and that was the only way anyone needed to know him.
A figure emerged from the shadows cast by the scarce natural light. Jamie squinted as he took the man in. At first glance he seemed to be a grotesque caricature of Frank Randall, with scars marking his countenance and dark circles highlighting his glaring eyes.
“Perhaps I should introduce myself.” He nodded slowly, apparently taking in the situation before him. “Jonathan Wolverton, at your service.” Reaching out to shake Jamie's hand and realizing that it was otherwise engaged, he shrugged.
Jamie tensed. “Wolverton… Ye’re the man who—”
“Denied James Fraser acceptance to the London Metropolitan Police Force.” Wolverton nodded. “Yes, yes. Clever of you to reapply under a different name. Thought you’d given me the slip, didn’t you? Gave me cause to consider you more strongly.”
“But why?” Jamie asked. Why did this matter now?
“Well, we couldn’t have a family connected to a military scandal sully the name of the force, could we?” He smirked. “Brian Fraser caused quite a stir when he abandoned his post in Kosovo.”
“W-what?” Randall spluttered, forcing his head out of Jamie’s headlock. “This is James Fraser?”
Jamie tried to hold on to his patience. He didn’t have time for this debate when he could see that Claire was slipping away from him, her breath drawing shallower.
“My father was declared killed in action after being missing for years, Mr. Wolverton. I dinna care to discuss it further.”
Before Jamie could react, Wolverton was standing over Claire. He yanked her up, half by her hair and half by her underarm as she yelped.
“The thing is, Fraser, I know something you don’t.” The man smirked before a prolonged pause. “Brian Fraser was spotted in Canada, around three months ago.”
Jamie shifted. He knew better than to listen to this farce, but was sorely tempted to believe that this man might bear some truth. That his father might be out there somewhere.
“I knew I could get your attention.” Wolverton stepped closer, shoving Claire along. With his free hand, he rummaged in his breast pocket and produced a small blade, holding it delicately to her cheek. “And so I’ve a proposition for you. You help me lure good ole Da back to London, and I won’t harm the prime minister… very much.”
“Johnny, we said we weren’t going to hurt her!” Randall growled the words out as he struggled in Jamie’s tightening hold.
Without a second thought, Jamie hurled Randall across the room toward Wolverton, who dropped Claire in his effort to dodge his cousin. Claire landed hard on her bottom, but recovered enough to swing her bound feet around and trip both men, who had staggered, trying to stay upright.
They hit the ground hard, neither successful in their efforts to stand against the yacht’s rocking motion.
“You used me!” Randall bellowed, clawing at his cousin.
Jamie closed in on the mix in time to be struck in the face by the butt of Wolverton’s drawn pistol. He grunted and staggered for a moment, but managed to get a hold of Randall’s lapels, promptly pulling him out of the struggle and bashing his head into the marble countertop.
Jamie spotted Wolverton crawling toward a quickly drooping Claire. He caught the bastard by the seat of his trousers, turning him around and clutching at his jugular.
He could kill them.
He could kill them both.
He could break their necks with his bare hands for threatening to harm his family. But something in the knowing gleam in Wolverton’s eye stopped him. It offered him the promise of reunion, or at least of closure. Jamie struck several sedating blows to the man’s face, then watched him sloppily fold to the floor.
Jamie huffed hot air from his nose and mouth before falling to Claire’s side. She was quickly responsive to his touch, whimpering and leaning into him in her compromised state.
“Shh, shh. I ken. Mo ghraidh, mo calman geal. Dinna fash.”
He sliced the rope that bound her wrists, then freed her ankles, wincing to see the blisters burned into her swollen skin. He tried to lift her into his lap just as she raised herself to her knees to stand. He tsked between his teeth, but gripped her elbows as she rose.
Claire reached for him, hands trembling as she swept her thumb across the cut under his eye.
He hissed at the contact against the open wound, but couldn’t find the energy to truly mind. He basked in her touch, preserved for him after all.
“Oh, Baby,” her voice wavered.
Before Jamie could answer, Claire went limp in his arms, dead weight held up only by her oxters draped over his elbows.
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 4: Part IV
Thanks to @isitgintimeyet and @whiskynottea for beta-ing!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
Thanks for reading!