“Ye dinna want me, then?”
Grey got to his feet, dusting the seat of his breeches. “I shall probably want you to the day I die,” he said matter-of-factly. “But tempted as I am—” He shook his head, brushing wet grass from his hands.
“Do you really think that I would demand—or accept—any payment for such a service?” he asked. “Really, I should feel my honor most grossly insulted by that offer, save that I know the depth of feeling which prompted it.”
“Aye, well,” Jamie muttered. “I didna mean to insult ye.”
Grey was not sure at this point whether to laugh or cry. Instead, he reached a hand up and gently touched Jamie’s cheek, fading now to its normal pale bronze. More quietly, he said, “Besides, you cannot give me what you do not have.”
Grey felt, rather than saw, the slight relaxation of tension in the tall body facing him.
“You shall have my friendship,” Jamie said softly, “if that has any value to ye.”
“A very great value indeed.” The two men stood silent together for a moment, then Grey sighed and turned to look up at the sun. “It’s getting late. I suppose you will have a great many things to do today?”
Jamie cleared his throat. “Aye, I have. I suppose I should be about my business.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Grey tugged down the points of his waistcoat, ready to go. But Jamie lingered awkwardly a moment, and then, as though suddenly making up his mind to it, stepped forward and bending down, cupped Grey’s face between his hands.
Grey felt the big hands warm on the skin of his face, light and strong as the brush of an eagle’s feather, and then Jamie Fraser’s soft wide mouth touched his own. There was a fleeting impression of tenderness and strength held in check, the faint taste of ale and fresh-baked bread. Then it was gone, and John Grey stood blinking in the brilliant sun.
“Oh,” he said.
Jamie gave him a shy, crooked smile.
“Aye, well,” he said. “I suppose I’m maybe not poisoned.” He turned then, and disappeared into the screen of willows, leaving Lord John Grey alone by the mere.
The Governor was quiet for a moment. Then he looked up with a bleak smile.
“That was the first time that he ever touched me willingly,” he said quietly. “And the last—until this evening, when I gave him the other copy of that miniature.”
I sat completely motionless, the brandy glass unregarded in my hands. I wasn’t sure what I felt; shock, fury, horror, jealousy, and pity all washed through me in successive waves, mingling in eddies of confused emotion.
A woman had been violently done to death nearby, within the last few hours. And yet the scene in the retiring room seemed unreal by comparison with that miniature; a small and unimportant picture, painted in tones of red. For the moment, neither Lord John nor I was concerned with crime or justice—or with anything beyond what lay between us.
The Governor was examining my face, with considerable absorption.
“I suppose I should have recognized you on the ship,” he said. “But of course, at the time, I had thought you long dead.”
“Well, it was dark,” I said, rather stupidly. I shoved a hand through my curls, feeling dizzy from brandy and sleeplessness. Then I realized what he had said.
“Recognized me? But you’d never met me!”
He hesitated, then nodded.
“Do you recall a dark wood, near Carryarrick in the Scottish Highlands, twenty years ago? And a young boy with a broken arm? You set it for me.” He lifted one arm in demonstration.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” I picked up the brandy and took a swallow that made me cough and gasp. I blinked at him, eyes watering. Knowing now who he was, I could make out the fine, light bones and see the slighter, softer outline of the boy he had been.
“Yours were the first woman’s br**sts I had ever seen,” he said wryly. “It was a considerable shock.”
“From which you appear to have recovered,” I said, rather coldly. “You seem to have forgiven Jamie for breaking your arm and threatening to shoot you, at least.”
He flushed slightly, and set down his beaker.
“I—well—yes,” he said, abruptly.
We sat there for quite some time, neither of us having any idea what to say. He took a breath once or twice, as though about to say something, but then abandoned it. At last, he closed his eyes as though commending his soul to God, opened them and looked at me.
“Do you know—” he began, then stopped. He looked down at his clenched hands, then, not at me. A blue stone winked on one knuckle, bright as a teardrop.
“Do you know,” he said again, softly, addressing his hands, “what it is to love someone, and never—never!—be able to give them peace, or joy, or happiness?”
He looked up then, eyes filled with pain. “To know that you cannot give them happiness, not through any fault of yours or theirs, but only because you were not born the right person for them?”
I sat quiet, seeing not his, but another handsome face; dark, not fair. Not feeling the warm breath of the tropical night, but the icy hand of a Boston winter. Seeing the pulse of light like heart’s blood, spilling across the cold snow of hospital linens.
…only because you were not born the right person for them.
“I know,” I whispered, hands clenched in my lap. I had told Frank—Leave me. But he could not, no more than I could love him rightly, having found my match elsewhere.
Oh, Frank, I said, silently. Forgive me.
“I suppose I am asking whether you believe in fate,” Lord John went on. The ghost of a smile wavered on his face. “You, of all people, would seem best suited to say.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” I said bleakly. “But I don’t know, any more than you.”
He shook his head, then reached out and picked up the miniature.
“I have been more fortunate than most, I suppose,” he said quietly. “There was the one thing he would take from me.” His expression softened as he looked down into the face of the boy in the palm of his hand. “And he has given me something most precious in return.”
Without thinking, my hand spread out across my belly. Jamie had given me that same precious gift—and at the same great cost to himself.
The sound of footsteps came down the hall, muffled by the carpet. There was a sharp rap at the door, and a militiaman stuck his head into the office.
“Is the lady recovered yet?” he asked. “Captain Jacobs has finished his questions, and Monsieur Alexandre’s carriage has returned.”
I got hastily to my feet.
“Yes, I’m fine.” I turned to the Governor, not knowing what to say to him. “I—thank you for—that is—”
He bowed formally to me, coming around the desk to see me out.
“I regret extremely that you should have been subjected to such a shocking experience, ma’am,” he said, with no trace of anything but diplomatic regret in his voice. He had resumed his official manner, smooth and polished as his parquet floors.
I followed the militiaman, but at the door I turned impulsively.
“When we met, that night aboard the Porpoise—I’m glad you didn’t know who I was. I…liked you. Then.”
He stood for a second, polite, remote. Then the mask dropped away.
“I liked you, too,” he said quietly. “Then.”
I felt as though I were riding next to a stranger. The light was beginning to gray toward dawn, and even in the dimness of the coach, I could see Jamie sitting opposite me, his face drawn with weariness. He had taken off the ridiculous wig as soon as we drove away from Government House, discarding the facade of the polished Frenchman to let the disheveled Scot beneath show through. His unbound hair lay in waves over his shoulders, dark in that predawn light that robs everything of color.
“Do you think he did it?” I asked at last, only for something to say.
His eyes were closed. At this, they opened and he shrugged slightly.
“I don’t know,” he said. He sounded exhausted. “I have asked myself that a thousand times tonight—and been asked it even more.” He rubbed his knuckles hard over his forehead.
“I canna imagine a man I know to do such a thing. And yet…well, ye ken he’ll do anything when he’s drink taken. And he’s killed before, drunk—you’ll mind the Customs man at the brothel?” I nodded, and he leaned forward, elbows on his knees, sinking his head into his hands.
“This is different, though,” he said. “I canna think—but maybe so. Ye ken what he said about women on the ship. And if this Mrs. Alcott was to have toyed wi’ him—”
“She did,” I said. “I saw her.”
He nodded without looking up. “So did any number of other people. But if she led him to think she meant more than she maybe did, and then perhaps she put him off, maybe laughed at him…and him fu’ as a puggie wi’ drink, and knives to hand on every wall of the place…” He sighed and sat up.
“God knows,” he said bleakly. “I don’t.” He ran a hand backward through his hair, smoothing it.
“There’s something else about it. I had to tell them that I scarcely knew Willoughby—that we’d met him on the packet boat from Martinique, and thought it kindly to introduce him about, but didna ken a thing of where he came from, or the sort of fellow he truly was.”
“Did they believe it?”
He glanced at me wryly.
“So far. But the packet boat comes in again in six days—at which point, they’ll question the captain and discover that he’s never laid eyes on Monsieur Etienne Alexandre and his wife, let alone a wee yellow murdering fiend.”
“That might be a trifle awkward,” I observed, thinking of Fergus and the militiaman. “We’re already rather unpopular on Mr. Willoughby’s account.”
“Nothing to what we will be, if six days pass and they havena found him,” he assured me. “Six days is also maybe as long as it will take for gossip to spread from Blue Mountain House to Kingston about the MacIvers’ visitors—for ye ken the servants there all know who we are.”
He smiled briefly at that, and my heart turned over to see it.
“You’ve a nice way wi’ words, Sassenach. Aye, well, all it means is that we must find Ian within six days. I shall go to Rose Hall at once, but I think I must just have a wee rest before setting out.” He yawned widely behind his hand and shook his head, blinking.
We didn’t speak again until after we had arrived at Blue Mountain House and made our way on tiptoe through the slumbering house to our room.
I changed in the dressing room, dropping the heavy stays on the floor with relief, and taking out the pins to let my hair fall free. Wearing only a silk chemise, I came into the bedroom, to see Jamie standing by the French door in his shirt, looking out over the lagoon.
He turned when he heard me, and beckoned, putting a finger to his lips.