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Journey of a Thousand Kisses

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The earth rolled beneath me like waves at sea. It wasn’t cold water where I rested, but warm, solid ground that rose and fell to a slow, steady rhythm. My lungs synchronized to each change of direction—as my body rose up in the waves’ ascent, my mouth pulled in crisp, forest-scented air, and with each drop down it cleared away hot breath now transformed into something useful for the surrounding trees.

The movement was soothing in the extreme...a comfort to the deepest parts of being. Safety. An idyll of existence I never wanted to end.

But a faint pulsing rhythm played like a drum, a reminder this paradise couldn’t last.

Somehow, I knew if I moved, pain would come. If I opened my eyes, this dreamlike sensation would be gone forever; it would be turned into a memory tainted by all the experiences that came after. So, my eyes remained closed and my lungs kept pace with the earth’s breath. My arms wrapped around the warm world that served as a bed beneath me.

The ground gave a shuddering breath at my touch, and I knew this sojourn in paradise was over. I forced my eyelids apart to let in the dull light of a cloud-covered sun.

Immediately, I realized it was not the earth I lay on, but a man. A very large, very firm man. For some reason, this thought didn’t scare me. I was comforted, even in the presence of a generally disconcerting scent—one I knew all too well—at once metallic and organic...blood.

He lay flat on the ground on his back, my body lengthwise over him. I lifted my head and was struck with a throbbing pain in my temple. I flinched and laid back down on my comforting pillow.

“Careful now, lass. Ye took no small hit to the heid,” said a deep voice with a thick Scottish accent. Long, rough fingers stroked the source of the pain, tangling in my hair with each caress. “’Tis alright now. Ye’ll no be harmed again.”

Prepared for the pain this time, I tried again slower. I lifted my head off the man's chest and looked up. We were surrounded by a forest of dense trees and brush. The only sounds I could hear beyond our breath was the trickle of a small creek somewhere in the distance and the song of a dozen birds overhead.

“Ye alright, then, lass?”

I searched for memories of what happened before I lost consciousness to make sense of the world I was currently in. I remembered visiting Craigh Na Dun...the buzzing at the standing stones...the pain of touching that giant rock...my car missing…seeing Frank alive...but it wasn’t Frank...a man looking just like him in a red coat...attacking me…A red-haired man in a kilt coming to my aid with a great long sword...everything going black…

“I...I’m not sure,” I said. I sat up, my hand on his chest for balance.

The sword attached to the man’s side seemed something from ages past. The rifles and pistols the men were using on that hill looked hundreds of years old. The Englishmen wore red coats, for Christ’s sake.

It was as if I’d fallen through Time.

The man made no effort to get up beside me. He lay unmoving, flat on his back.

“How about you?” I asked. “Are you alright?” I looked him over. My breath caught in my lungs at the sight before me. His hair was the first thing I noticed—a thousand shades of red, mahogany, auburn, and ginger shined even in absence of sun. Blue, cat-like eyes with far too much depth for a man so young watched me with concern.

He was nothing short of beautiful.

I wondered if my thoughts showed plain on my face, because a twitch of his lips made me think he might smile. I was grateful he restrained himself for the sake of my pride.

I felt a strange intimacy with this man I hardly knew. One who came to my aid and carted me off to relative safety. A man who worried for me still, even as he lay bleeding on the ground.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, you’re bleeding!”

“Aye,” he grunted, clearly in pain. “Randall pierced me wi’ his sword. My shoulder isna well, either.”

I helped him struggle out of his coat. He was bleeding from a stab wound through the deltoid, but I could see the injury causing him the most pain was a dislocated shoulder on the same arm. “Oh, dear. We’ll have to put it back into place.”

“Ye ken how to do that?”

“I do. I’m a nurse.”

His ears flushed red and his eyes dipped to my breasts.

“Not a wet nurse. A healer of sorts.”

“Aye,” he flushed further still.

Setting the arm was difficult as he was so large and his useless arm so heavy. But he was a stoic patient and hardly made more than a grunt when the shoulder popped into place. And more stoic yet when I cleaned his wound with a small flask of whiskey he carried on his belt. He watched intently as I did my best to bandage him up with strips of fabric torn from my slip.

“I thank ye...truly,” he said when I finished. He spoke with utter sincerity. In marginally less pain—for the time being—he was finally able to sit himself up.

“You’ve lost a lot of blood,” I said. “You need rest and nourishment. Try not to move around too much.”

“Aye.” He pushed himself back with his good arm until he was resting against the trunk of a tree. I covered him up with his coat even though it wasn’t very cold. It was an old habit from the hospital, I suppose.

“We’ll camp here for the night,” he said. “We’re hidden well enough away, but we’ll avoid a fire, just in case.” Even injured and running from the law, the man had a pleasant disposition.

“What happened at Craigh Na Dun?” I said.

“I was coming home from Paris when I met up wi’ my uncle and his men. They’d been caught raiding cattle by the English. That’s the stramash ye encountered. I’d meant to take off on my own to return home when I saw ye wi’ Randall. Weel, I couldna leave ye to him. I ken what that man’s like.”

Jonathan Wolverton Randall...Black Jack Randall. I remember Frank talking about him...a 200 year old ancestor!

“Thank you for saving me. It must have caused you some good deal of trouble, fighting the redcoats like that.”

“Och, ’twas nothing.”

I couldn’t help my smile. “I just set your arm and bandaged a stab wound. It was hardly nothing.”

He shrugged. “Like I said, I couldna let him have his way wi’ ye.”

“Will he come after you now? Is that why we’re hiding?”

“Uh, no. He won’t be harming anyone ever again. I slit the man’s throat...and three others besides. When I was fighting Randall, some of his men came to assist him...that’s how ye got that bump on your heid. I dispatched the lot of them. I dinna think there were any witnesses.”

“And how did we end up here?”

“I pulled ye up on my horse and rode off wi’ ye. I couldna leave ye to be found wi’ the bodies. We made it some distance before I fell off my horse wi’ ye on top of me.”

I looked around and found no sign of his horse.

“I was a wee bit faint thanks to the scratch on my arm.”

I laughed. That “scratch” was a 2 inch wide hole through solid muscle. “Is that how your shoulder was dislocated? Falling off the horse with my dead weight on top of you?”

He laughed, “I wouldna use a wee lassie to break my own fall.”

The sight of his large, heavy body made me very grateful for that, indeed.

“Should I go look for your horse?”

“Nah. I’m sure he’s no far. I dinna want ye lost in a strange place.”

I looked at the forest around me. It was exactly that, a strange and beautiful place. I had no idea where I was, nor had I any clue how to get back home. “Do you know where we are?”

“Aye. Some ways east of the faerie hill where I found ye.”

I couldn’t even tell which way was east given the absence of the sun.

“Ye canna go back, Sassenach,” he said. “Not yet, anyway. I’m certain the redcoats are after my uncle and his men, and that’s the only reason they’re not searching this direction. But if a stray sassenach lassie like yourself shows up at the hill wi’ Randall’s blood still fresh on the ground and my blood on your shift, ye’ll be taken in for questioning...if not imprisoned entirely.”

My stomach turned in knots. I couldn’t go back? What the bloody hell was I going to do?

“I see ye have a ring, lass. Are ye marrit? D’ye have a husband looking for ye?”

Black Jack Randall’s face appeared in my head. It took effort to find the subtle differences of Frank’s face in my memory again. “Um...no. My husband died some years ago in combat.”

“I’m sorry.” And he did look sorry. I wondered if he interpreted the turmoil in my expression as acute grief. “D’ye mind me asking, Sassenach, what it was ye were doing on that hill?”

I knew the question was coming, but I’d yet to find a suitable answer. I was wearing a perfectly modest dress for 1945, but to a man like this, it must seem like undergarments. I had no method of transportation, no acquaintances, no food or money. How could I account for such a thing? And the thought of lying to this man that risked so much for me made me ill.

“’Tis alright, lass. I’d rather ye keep your secrets than speak untrue. If ye have nowhere to go, ye can come home wi’ me, and I’ll take ye where ye like once this all dies down.”

“Why would you do such a thing for me? I’m a stranger to you.”

“What kind of bastard would leave a wee thing like ye helpless and alone in the Highlands?”

That he was so scandalized at the thought of leaving me to fend for myself was endlessly endearing.

My stomach gave an audible protest of neglect, and I realized I’d overlooked an essential part of healing my patient. “Can I fetch you some water? I may not be much of a hunter, but I’m sure I can forage some edible plants somewhere.”

“No need. Donas will be nearby wi’ food in his saddlebags, and I have salted meat and a bannock in my sporran to hold us over ’til I find him. Come, Sassenach. I canna have ye starving, or I’ll have no one to mend whatever future ails my clumsiness brings.”

“You forget, soldier, I watched you defend me from Captain Randall. If you are clumsy, then I am a bull in a china shop.”

He laughed, “I’ve never seen someone sae sure of their hands the way ye mended my arm.”

“And I’ve never seen someone so sure of his body...” I bit my lip as heat flushed over my face. That didn’t come out the way I’d meant it...or perhaps it did.

The way he was trying not to smile did the loveliest thing to his cheeks. They were bunched and quivering with reluctant laughter. I nearly forgot my embarrassment over my slip of the tongue.

“Here,” he said, saving me from having to explain myself. He reached into his sporran and pulled out food. He tore his bannock in half and gave me a piece along with salted meat.

“Thank you.” I’d never been more grateful for such awful tasting food in my life.

We ate in awkward silence, much like that of a first date. Somehow, the intimacy of sleeping on him had made me forget we were complete strangers. But strangers we were.

In truth, there was a comfort about the man I couldn’t explain. Perhaps it had something to do with his warmth and generous spirit, but I’d met a lot of warm and generous people in my life, and they didn’t have the same effect. Perhaps it was our current state of codependence. If I was being honest with myself, perhaps it was his attractiveness.

He was a beautiful, young man. He looked like a Viking in a kilt with his broad cheekbones and sharp lines. Even injured, he moved his one arm with grace.

He ate his rations quickly. The meager amount couldn’t be anything close to what he’d need to sustain that body on a normal day, much less one where his injuries demanded additional nourishment.

I ate half of what he gave me and handed the rest back.

“Go on, lass. Ye’ll need your strength.”

“I’m feeling a little queasy from the concussion,” I lied and rubbed my head to try to sell it. “I don’t want to vomit if I eat too much. But your body needs to heal.”

“Ye’re sure?”

“I’m the healer, remember?”

“Aye,” he smiled. “As soon as ye’re feeling hungry again, I’ll find Donas and feed ye proper.”

“You shouldn’t move for at least a day. You don’t want to reopen that wound and risk infection. My stomach can hold just fine.”

“Ye’re a hardy wee thing, aren’t ye?” he smiled.

“I’ve lived through war and seen my share of combat. A bump on the head and rationing food is par for the course.”

“What for the course?”

“Oh...never mind.” Apparently, golf terminology was yet to be popularized. I needed to find out what year it was so I didn’t make more mistakes like that.

“What year were you born?” I asked as nonchalant as I could muster.

He narrowed his eyes at my strange question. I wondered if it was intrusive for the culture for a stranger to ask something so personal and direct. His lip quirked in a smile, so he didn’t seem too bothered. “I was born the first day of May in 1721.”

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! One hundred and ninety-seven years before my birth! I squinted my eyes pretending to do the math. “So that would make you…?”

“I just turned three and twenty, mistress.”

So young!

“And you?” he asked, grinning.

“Twenty-seven.” For the first time in my life I felt unaccountably self-conscious about my age. He had the kindness not to make any comments on my geriatric state, but he was staring at me with an unreadable expression on his face.

“Tell me,” I said to move the attention away from me, “what were you doing in Paris? Business? Pleasure?”

He smiled, but it was the first one he’d given me that didn’t reach his eyes. “War...mostly. I was a mercenary for a bit. I went to university before that. Worked wi’ my cousin.”

“And now the prodigal son returns home?”

“Something like that. Except I’ve no parents to return home to. I’m Laird now. I’ll be going back to take care of my land and tenants.”

“Oh. I’m sorry...about your parents.”

He shrugged, then grunted when it pained his shoulder.

“How about a wife? Girlfriend?”

“Och, no,” he flushed. “I’m no promised to anyone.”

His words pleased me more than they had any right to. I pushed the thought away. “It’s easy to picture you taking care of land and tenants. You have a caretaking quality about you...it makes sense.”

“That’s fine to hear. I thank ye.”

He leaned his head back against the tree and gave a great sigh. His eyelids grew heavy.

“You must be tired. Your body needs rest. Sleep, soldier. I’ll wake you if something comes up.”

“I think I might, at that.” He looked around cautiously before resting his head back again. He closed his eyes and warned, “Dinna wander off, Sassenach. ’Tis dangerous for ye here, mind.”

I nodded my acquiescence, though he couldn’t see me with his eyes closed. Before I could reassure him, his body went limp and his breath grew deep and slow. The poor thing was exhausted. His body demanded time to heal.

I took the opportunity to look at him more thoroughly. His relaxed, sleeping features looked more their age at rest. But even relaxed, his jaw was strong and his shoulders broad.

A shiver ran through my body that had nothing to do with the cold. My heart fluttered and my stomach dropped like there was a sudden shift in gravity.

I wondered if I was developing a bit of a crush. I hadn’t had one for some time...not since Frank. Perhaps it was grief or guilt that kept anything more than fleeting attraction at bay for all the years since Frank died, but the life and death intimacy I shared with this highlander seemed to obliterate any sense of wrongness about such affection for a man.

I didn’t even know his name.

A restless energy overtook me, urging me to my feet. I wished there was something helpful I could do. I paced around frustrated at my own uselessness. I needed something to keep my hands busy and my mind from racing. Wandering around within eyesight of my kilted rescuer, I decided to forage for something edible. I had no idea how long we’d be out here or how long it would take to get where we were going, so it was better to be prepared.

After some time searching, I found dandelions and wood sorrel in effort to add to our meager meal of protein and carbohydrate. It felt good to get my hands in the dirt. It somehow helped me confirm that this wasn’t a dream. It was as real as the soil on my fingertips. Whatever plants I found, I brought back to my sleeping soldier and left them in organized piles. Then, I headed out for more. It was actually quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

I nearly squealed when I found wild berries growing by the creek. They were delicious and sweet. I tore off another piece of my slip to use as a satchel and filled it with the little bites of heaven.

A distinct animal noise behind me had me frozen in fear. Whatever the beast was, it was certainly large. It was sniffing and rooting around...a boar perhaps? I knew they could be terribly dangerous. It didn’t sound angry or agitated, so I was reluctant to move and trigger hostility.

But what if it saw my sleeping rescuer and attacked him?

I turned quickly, purposefully drawing attention to myself. I came face to face with a large black beast, and jumped back with shock. The ground gave beneath my feet, and I fell back into the freezing creek.

My shriek made the beast neigh loudly and rear back on his hind legs.

I looked up from the water and saw a magnificent horse, black from nose to tail. He was the largest horse I’d ever seen.

“Donas, I take it? A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I said, getting to my feet. No wonder my soldier dislocated his arm falling off that immense beast.

“Ifrinn!” My soldier was on his feet and calming his horse in soothing Gaelic.

I shuffled out of the creek and stood frozen and shivering. An overcast spring day in Scotland was a little on the cool side for the light dress I was wearing, but plunged into a creek of freezing water, it was unbearable.

My friend tied his horse to a tree and turned his attention to me.

“God, ye’ll freeze!”

He grabbed his coat and wrapped it around me. It was thick and enormous and oh so warm. Along with his soothing words and the way his arms wrapped around me, rubbing my back and arms, I was taken back to that blissful idyll I’d inhabited when I woke up a few hours ago lying on his chest. My quivering now hadn’t only to do with the icy water.

My face rested in the hollow of his chest between his pectorals. I knew he was large when I laid with him, but seeing him stretched out to his full height showed how much I’d underestimated his size. He wrapped himself around me, soothing me with his immense strength and heat. The effect was jarring, buckling my knees. He felt me waver and held me against him, keeping me upright.

“Ye alright, lass?”

“I-I’m...fi-fine,” I stuttered. Perhaps I was colder than I thought.

He tucked me under his uninjured arm and led me back to our tree.

“Y-you should be resting,” I said. “I’m s-sorry.”

“Och, never mind that. Ye’re no the first person Donas has knocked into a creek.” He sat me down in the place he’d been occupying before.

“You shouldn’t be moving your arm. I’ll have to fix those bandages,” I scolded.

“It’ll bide for a bit. Ye willna be able to mend my shoulder if ye freeze to death. I’ll go get wood for a fire.”

“No! You said we couldn’t risk a fire. I’ll dry soon enough.”

“Hmphm.” He seemed to be at war with himself over what was the greater risk to me. I watched him reach a hand behind his back and rub what seemed like an old injury through his thin, white shirt. It seemed to help him make up his mind.

He bent down and scooped me up, then took my place leaning against the tree. He fitted me on his lap and pulled me hard against his chest. I was glad he couldn’t see my face. I was blushing with the heat of a thousand suns.

“Grab my tartan, lass. I canna reach it wi’ one arm.”

I pulled the long, hanging part of his tartan up over his shoulders and around my body, cocooning us in another layer of warmth. His deep, soothing mutterings in Gaelic were hypnotic. I was like a snake to its charmer, defenseless and happy to be so. His hand stroked my wet hair back away from my face.

I chanced a glance at him, wanting another glimpse of his deep, blue eyes. He was watching me, face unmoving save for the twinkle that seemed to reside permanently in his eye and the quirk of his mouth always threatening to smile.

Eye contact is a powerful thing in the most benign and ordinary of circumstances, and this wasn’t anything close to ordinary. Eye contact with this man...at this proximity...alone in the wilderness...was almost unbearable. But I couldn’t look away.

“Is this alright, then?” he asked.

I couldn’t help my laugh. If he only knew how alright this was. “Yes. It’s quite warm. You’re not bothered that I’m getting you wet?”

“Bothered?” he chuckled. “No. ’Tis no bother.”

My eyes were drawn to his open collar that showed hints of large muscles and auburn hair beneath. There was a small, triangular scar at the base of his throat. I had an urge to trace its edges with my fingertip, as though I could go back in time to when it happened and heal it properly. Touching him was an urge I quickly stifled by gripping tight to the lapels of his coat I was wearing.

He made a low grunting noise that rumbled in his throat. I looked up at him again and noticed he was staring down at my chest. I followed his gaze and realized my wet, white dress and undergarments were hiding very little of what was underneath. His coat and tartan were covering most of me, but the slope of my breast was on display from the angle he was looking.

I knew I should cover myself, but that was the opposite of what my body wanted to do. It wanted to take off the plaid, throw open the jacket, and let him get a real look at me.

Instead, I did nothing.

I felt my muscles contract deep within and a rush of need flow down to the long neglected pieces of myself. I hadn’t been with anyone since Frank died, and this was the first time I’d even considered the possibility. I was doing much more than considering...I started fantasizing what it might be like to pull my dress over my hips and straddle him right there.

Dear God, it must’ve been the adrenaline from all the events of the day. I was prone to amorous impulses when my blood was boiling. It made the war a very confusing time for a young woman far from her husband.

My soldier must’ve been having similar thoughts...it was becoming increasingly obvious being that I was sitting on his lap. I worked up the courage to look at him again. He was flushing a deep red, but his blue eyes stared back with dark intensity. When his tongue licked out to wet his lips, I knew he wanted to kiss me.

And I very much wanted him to…

His eyes closed with abruptness and his body tensed around me. He took a deep, shuddering breath, letting it out long and slow through pursed lips. When his eyes opened again, he said with forced nonchalance, “What’s yer name, Sassenach?”

I tried not to be disappointed in his restraint. It was the 1700’s, after all. Chivalry was, apparently, still alive.

“Claire,” I said. “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.” I don’t know why I felt compelled to give my middle name. I left off the Randall, seeing as how my deceased husband's ancestor (with the same name) was just killed by the man.

“A pleasure to meet ye, Claire. My name is James. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Ye can call me Jamie...if ye like.”

He smiled sweetly and turned away. The moment wasn’t quite broken, but he made it clear his intent was not to follow through on whatever impulses were driving us only moments before.

“Jamie,” I said, trying to aid him in cooling down the moment, but failing at the sound of his name on my lips. “Where are we going? How long will it take us to get there?”

“We’re going to my family home. Broch Tuarach, or Lallybroch, as we call it. It would normally be only a few days' ride, but…,” he looked at his shoulder, then at me, “but it might take us a few more, depending on our pace.”

“And how long do you think it will take for the redcoats to move on from the hill?”

“I dinna ken. A few weeks or a month...at least.”

I sucked in a breath. A month?! My job! People will think I just ran off. Or perhaps that something terrible happened to me!

I looked around. I guess some would consider the situation I was in “terrible.” For some reason, I had a hard time thinking of it as such in the arms of James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser of Broch Tuarach.

A month. I had a month with this man before I went home...if I even COULD get home. What if I never made it back?

The thought made me sick to my stomach.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach. You need not be scairt so long as ye’re wi’ me.”

His eyes drew me back in. “Thank you, Jamie,” I said, pouring all the sincerity I could into the words.

Sunlight chose that moment to pierce through the clouds and trees and shine on Jamie’s beautiful face. The vibrant light glittered on his flaming hair, making him look like a torch or beacon calling me home.

“Come let’s walk, lass. Ye’ll want the sun to dry ye before it goes down. Spring nights in the highlands carry a bite wi’out a fire.”

He helped me to my feet, and I helped him to his.

“Let me fix your bandages, first.” I pulled open the top of his shirt to check the wound. It was looking as well as it could be for something so fresh. It had stopped bleeding anyway. I quickly sanitized the wound and fixed the bandages. He was ever the compliant patient. He just stood there and let me have my way with him with little in the way of complaint. He stared down at me with a look of sweet indulgence.

I was quite certain I wasn’t the only one with a crush.

“There, all set,” I said. “Let’s get you some water and a bit more to eat.”

“Aye,” he said softly. His hand dropped to my lower back as he led me to the creek.

I pulled off his coat and set it on a bush to dry in the sun. The berries I’d picked earlier had long since washed away. I ripped off another piece of my slip to carry them in.

I could hear Jamie chuckling at me from where he knelt by the creek. “Preserve what’s left of your wee shift, or I’ll be presenting ye to my family covered in naught but bracken. Ye can use my sporran to carry berries and the like.”

Since I’d already ripped the piece off, I just shrugged and filled it again.

“There’s a clearing not far from here. Ye’ll have good sunlight there.”

“Lead the way, soldier.”

Jamie put out his good arm in courtly invitation. I locked my arm through his, and we set off for a walk. He did his best to avoid looking down at my wet dress in the sunlight. The ground was wild and uneven, and my shoes weren’t built for the terrain. I leaned heavily on Jamie who walked as though he was strolling down a flat, cement sidewalk.

“Here.” I handed him a berry. The little fruit looked so tiny in his large hands. He popped it in his mouth with amusement. I handed him a few more. “You know this land well, don’t you?”

He laughed, “Oh, aye. By nine years old, my Da ensured I could find my way home from anywhere in the highlands.”

“What happened to your father?...If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Apoplexy...a few years back.”

“Oh, Jamie...” It was still fresh then. I could hear the pain permeate deep in his voice.

“He’s wi’ my Ma and my brother, now.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself there was some benefit to the loss of his father. “My brother died of the pox when we were weans, and my Ma in childbirth.”

I squeezed his arm at the thought of the pain he must’ve gone through with so much loss early in his young life. He smiled sweetly down at me to let me know he was alright.

“My parents died in an accident when I was young. I was raised by an uncle who died during the war.”

“I’m sorry to hear, Claire. Have ye any family left?”

“No. Just my friends and my work.” I tried to smile back at him to let him know I was alright, too, but I don’t think I was quite as successful. “How about you? You said you still had family at home?”

“Oh, aye. A sister still living at Lallybroch. And Uncles, Aunts, and cousins scattered all over the highlands and France. Both my parents came from large families.”

That was a nice thought...having family all over. “Tell me about your sister…”

“Ahh, Jenny...a fearsome wee thing…stubborn as a mule. There was this one time she was preparing for Hogmanay, and my friend Ian and I had found the indigo...”

He was a natural storyteller, and he enjoyed the subject of his family. With questions and encouragement from me, he regaled me with tales of his parents' elopement, cattle raids with his uncle, and trouble he got into with his friends. His amusement at his own stories was infectious, and I was giggling along with him as we sat for hours into the fading sunlight.

Wildflowers, ferns, and all manner of plants grew in this small clearing. I could see that sunlight was a rare commodity in this place, so I laid my head back and absorbed what I could.

“Ye’re dry now, lass?”

“Yes, I’m quite comfortable.” I’d been dry for a while and had forgotten why we’d gone for our walk in the first place. “It’s so beautiful here, Jamie. You don’t see so much untouched nature anymore where I come from.”

“Ye live in a city?”

I nodded, but thought it best not to share more. I felt guilty with how free he’d just been about his own life. I wished I could reciprocate. Instead, I changed the subject. “What kind of flowers are these? Forget-me-nots?”

“Aye.”

“They’re beautiful.” I sighed as Shakespeare’s 18 sonnet sprung to mind...I must have been feeling quite romantic. “‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’”

“Hmphm.” He made a Scottish sound in his throat that was somehow the epitome of contentment. He picked a stem of a small bunch of blooms and looked at it from every angle. Then, he brought it to his nose and inhaled softly. A subtle smile played across his lips as he held it out to me. The look in his eyes was the most tender I’d ever seen. I accepted the flower with a shaky hand.

“I once thought they were beautiful, but...” he hesitated. His voice seemed to reverberate in my very bones when he picked back up and recited:

“The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dy'd.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair;
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both,
And to his robbery had annexed thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see,
But sweet, or colour it had stol'n from thee.”

“Oh my” I said, quite overcome. His tone, his rhythm, the meaning behind it...“I hadn’t realized Shakespeare wrote his sonnets to be spoken with a brogue, but I think I’ll no longer appreciate them any other way.”

I lifted the little cluster of flowers to my nose and inhaled. “They’re most fragrant in the evenings, you know.”

“Aye, some things shine their brightest beauty in the moonlight.”

Our eyes met just then, blue to gold, unable to look away. I tried to understand how I could be held so captivated by this man, yet so aware of what was happening in my own body at the same time. Heat flushed over me, warming all the parts of me I’d long since forgotten were cold. A vibrating energy coursed through my veins, waking every tissue and fiber along the way. My lungs struggled for breath, shuddering with every pull. My heart thundered so loud, I was sure he could hear it, too.

He was the first to move. He unfolded his large body and stood before me. “We should get back under cover before full dark.”

He offered me a hand and pulled me up to stand. I didn’t take my hand away, and he didn’t release it. His palms were large and calloused, but so intentionally tender as only a rough man could be.

His eyes dropped to my lips again. I wanted him to kiss me…

“Jamie…” I whispered.

“Claire…” he was as breathless as me. He stepped in close, his movement full of hesitation. Frozen he stood, unable to decide. I feared restraint would once again take over.

Just as I was about to reach up and pull his face down to mine, he stepped back and looked the other way.

“I’m sorry, lass. I dinna mean to take advantage of ye out here alone.”

“Take advantage?” I scoffed. Did he think kissing a willing woman was “taking advantage?”

“I’ll behave myself. I swear it.”

I raised an eyebrow at him...I would be making no such pledge.

He held out an arm once again, and I took it as a lady should (even if I was a half-naked lady in his eyes). We walked slowly back; I could see he was tired from his injury, even though we spent the afternoon at rest. When we made it back to our camp, he sat back against his tree.

In Donas’s saddlebags I found Jamie’s bannocks and salted meat. I went down to the creek, rinsed the greens, and gathered more berries.

“Sassenach?” he said amused as I laid out the meal before him.

“Hmm?”

“We’ve plenty to eat and are nowhere near starving. I can catch us some fish or hunt down some rabbits before resorting to weeds.”

That made me laugh, “The greens have nourishment. They ward off things like scurvy and help you keep your teeth in old age. Whether you like the taste of them or not, they’re more important to your diet than meat.”

Skepticism showed plainly on his face, but he seemed fond of me enough not to argue. Even if he did, I was fond enough of him to push my nutritious agenda.

I held one up to him. “They’re better sauteed or mixed with a dressing, but this will have to do. Here, try one. They’re not bad, even if a little bitter eaten raw.”

He hesitantly took my offering, but stared at the weed suspiciously.

I laughed, “It’s not poison. It won’t harm you.”

“That’s what I thought the last time I ate grass...I ended up cramping and vomiting what meager strength I had left.”

I took a bite of one of the greens to show him it would be fine. “You’ve actually eaten grass?”

“Mmhm.” He took a cautious bite himself.

“How do you like it?”

His face scrunched as he said, “’Tis not so bad going in...it’s the going out that makes me worrit.”

“Here, the sweetness of the berry will balance the flavor.”

I brought the berry to his lips. He smiled sweetly before opening his mouth. I was all too aware of the feel of his lip on my fingertip. By the way he licked his lips, I could tell he was, too.

“Ye’re right,” he said. “That was verra sweet.”

I flushed deep and averted my eyes. I wondered how this man could make me as shy as a school girl one moment and indecently brazen the next.

“So…” I dusted off my bloody and battered dress in a futile attempt at nonchalance. “How’s your shoulder feeling?”

“Verra well. Thank ye.”

I looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. He shrugged and amended, “A bit tender, as ye ken.”

“Are all highlanders tough guys, or is this a Fraser trait?”

Jamie just shrugged and smirked before picking up a piece of meat.

“Will we ride tomorrow?”

“Aye. We’ll go slow...take as much time as we need, but we should get moving. I’d like to put some good distance between us and that hill.”

“I’m no great rider,” I confessed. “I’ve ridden before, but not much.”

“Dinna fash, Sassenach. It will be fine.”

“Are you always this calm and reassuring?”

He laughed, “Uh no. No, my sister wouldna describe me as such. She’d say I was a hard-heided lout.”

“Well, that I can’t wait to see.”

“Which is it ye’re looking forward to witnessing? My unruly behavior? Or my sister’s abuse of me?”

“Oh, a little of both would be quite entertaining, I’d expect.”

He chuckled, “Be careful what ye wish for, Sassenach.”

I hadn’t seen even a remote glimpse of a man anything other than gentlemanly...except the soldier safeguarding my body and honor at Craigh Na Dun. I was vastly curious what Jamie Fraser would be like in a temper...or if he even had one.

He kept up his impeccable manners and agreeable countenance throughout dinner. He even indulged me when I hunted down sprigs and showed him the proper way to clean his teeth before bed.

“The best kind of healing,” I told him, “is prevention. Don’t wait for a wheel to squeak to give it grease.” Thankfully, he seemed more amused with me than annoyed, as most of my patients would’ve been in the 1940’s.

The clouds had returned when darkness fell, and little could be seen without the moon shining above. Jamie had laid down bracken as a bed and his saddlebag as a pillow. Our spot was hidden away in the brush, though I didn’t know if it was to conceal us from patrols, animals, or the cold wind that bit painfully at my bare skin.

“If ye dinna mind, we’ll sleep close together. Wi’out a fire, we’ll be too cold to sleep well on our own.”

I was more than grateful. It wasn’t just his warmth I was after, but his protection. The thought of sleeping in the wilderness by myself was terrifying.

We lay together, my back to his front. My head rested on his uninjured arm, while his other arm held the plaid around us. We covered our legs with his coat. The man’s temperature was uncommonly warm...just short of a fever. I was warm to my very bones and his plaid shielded us from that sharp, cold breeze.

Neither of us slept for some time. I could feel in his body he wasn’t fully relaxed, and his breath wasn’t the slow easy pace of someone unconscious. We listened to the wind whistling and the creek passing by. Our surroundings seemed so much louder at night than in the bustle of the day.

In the darkness, my body was hyperalert to the sensations around me. I felt every move of Jamie’s body against mine, every breath, every twitch. My bare legs rubbed gently against his where the hems of my dress and his kilt ended.

He was such a large man, I felt completely engulfed by him. Surrounded. Protected. I’d never felt more safe in my life.

“Ye’re finding it hard to sleep, Sassenach?”

“A little. You?”

“Hmphm.” It was an ambiguous sound, neither confirming or denying. My guess was that he was accustomed to such conditions, and he was just being a gentleman and waiting for me to fall asleep first.

Finding it strange to look the other direction while talking to him, I turned around in his arms. It was quite dark, but the traces and outlines of what I could see of the man affected me no less in absence of light. The twinkle in his eye was ever present even without the sun; it must’ve been lit from within.

I wasn’t certain what to do with my hands, so I held them tight between my breasts.

“I take it this isn’t your first time sleeping out in the wilderness,” I said.

“No. Is it yours, then?”

“No. But I usually was in a tent and had a sleeping bag. It was always a planned trip with my uncle.”

“This is strange for ye, is it? Are ye afraid, lass?”

“No,” I put my hands on his chest. “No, I’m not afraid...not with you.”

My words seemed to soothe something inside him. His body relaxed ever so slightly. “I’ll protect ye, Claire. Ye ken that? No matter from who.”

“I know you will, Jamie.”

I reached up and touched his face. He gave the quietest whimper at the contact. He leaned into my touch, the scruff of several days beard scratching against my palm. The sensation shot straight up my arm and to my heart, making it thunder in my chest.

My thumb passed over his bottom lip. It was softer and fuller than I expected. I couldn’t feel his breath. His lungs had stopped moving.

My hands moved back, fingers tangling in his soft, curly hair. His arms around me squeezed, making my breasts rub against his chest. My leg curled up around him.

“Claire,” he whispered. I could hear fear in his voice. “Ye dinna need to do this. Ye ken that, right?”

I nodded, but I didn’t know if he could see. So, I lifted up and pressed my lips to his. This time, I was the one who whimpered. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, his lips felt nice. When his shock wore off at the contact, he moved them gently, kissing me back.

My tongue slid out and licked into his mouth. His strong arm flexed, and our bodies rubbed with stimulating friction. I could feel his cock pressing firm against my hip. His mouth opened, and his lips sealed over mine. His tongue licked slick and hot into my mouth, still tasting of berries and willow sprigs from before.

My arms cradled his head as I pulled him closer to deepen the kiss. His mouth fit so well over mine. He kissed me with an unrestrained enthusiasm...a youthful eagerness I’d never felt before, but God, I never wanted him to stop.

I hooked my leg around his waist and rubbed my pelvis against him. The rhythm of my kisses fell into time with the thrust of my hips.

Jamie’s injured arm seemed immune to pain. He’d reached down and grabbed a handful of my arse, squeezing it as I rolled my hips. His own were moving now, following the pace of mine. My clitoris found his cock, and I rubbed them together.

“Oh, dear God,” he said against my lips.

“Jamie, I want you inside me.”

He shook his head, but our bodies kept moving. “I canna do it...not now...no like this.”

My feelings might’ve been hurt if his cock wasn’t rubbing against my clitoris. His hand on my arse gripped tight and sped the pace of our bodies.

“God, I want ye, Claire...more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.”

“Take me, Jamie. Have me. I’m yours.”

His mouth covered mine again and he drove his cock harder and faster. My muscles in my core clenched up as he powered over the right place repeatedly. Moans and whimpers grew louder and louder the closer I came to orgasm. I threw my head back and called his name as climax erupted inside me.

He froze in place as he watched me. My eyes blurred and lost sight of him, but I continued rubbing through the waves of pleasure. “Bloody hell, don’t stop,” I groaned. “More, Jamie, more!”

His hips started up again quickly, and his mouth moved down to my neck. He licked and sucked my tender skin, grunting with every panting breath. I rocked with him, wishing he was inside me.

He came with a shuddering growl muffled in my wild hair. Hot semen shot thick and viscous on my belly. I stroked his hair as he groaned into my neck. His normally hard body was beyond tense and solid as granite. I molded myself around him, curved to fit his unyielding shape.

“Claire. Oh God, Claire,” his voice sounded almost pained. He pulled back enough to look in my eyes. The intensity of his gaze was jarring. If I would’ve been upright, my legs would have given way. His grip on me was so firm and possessive...I’d never been held like that in my life.

Something in his eyes finally softened, though his hold on me never did. He kissed me again, this time sweetly. He rained them soft and slow on my lips, his eyes never leaving mine.

The flood of affection I felt for Jamie was beyond a crush, and it had only been a day. It had turned to a devastating, all-consuming infatuation in moments. How in bloody hell was I supposed to spend a month with this man and keep my heart intact?

“Are ye alright, mo nighean donn?” he asked quietly.

I nodded, “As far as first kisses go, I’d say that one was memorable.” Then I gave him another.

He whispered between more kisses still, “Then let amorous kisses dwell...On our lips, begin and tell...A Thousand, and a Hundred, score...A Hundred, and a Thousand more…”