We stood still then, awkwardly hesitating. We were intensely aware of each other—how could we not be? It was quite a small room, and the available atmosphere was completely filled with a charge like static electricity, almost strong enough to be visible. I had a feeling of empty-bellied terror, like the sort you get at the top of a roller coaster.
“Are you as scared as I am?” I finally said, sounding hoarse to my own ears.
He looked me over carefully, and raised one eyebrow.
“I dinna think I can be,” he said. “You’re covered wi’ gooseflesh. Are ye scairt, Sassenach, or only cold?”
“Both,” I said, and he laughed.
“Get in, then,” he said. He released my hand and bent to turn back the quilt.
I didn’t stop shaking when he slid under the quilt beside me, though the heat of his body was a physical shock.
“God, you’re not cold!” I blurted. I turned toward him, and the warmth of him shimmered against my skin from head to toes. Instinctively drawn, I pressed close against him, shivering. I could feel my ni**les tight and hard against his chest, and the sudden shock of his naked skin against my own.
He laughed a little uncertainly. “No, I’m not. I suppose I must be afraid, aye?” His arms came around me, gently, and I touched his chest, feeling hundreds of tiny goose bumps spring up under my fingertips, among the ruddy curling hairs.
“When we were afraid of each other before,” I whispered, “on our wedding night—you held my hands. You said it would be easier if we touched.”
He made a small sound as my fingertip found his nipple.
“Aye, I did,” he said, sounding breathless. “Lord, touch me like that again.” His hands tightened suddenly, holding me against him.
“Touch me,” he said again softly, “and let me touch you, my Sassenach.” His hand cupped me, stroking, touching, and my breast lay taut and heavy in his palm. I went on trembling, but now he was doing it, too.
“When we wed,” he whispered, his breath warm against my cheek, “and I saw ye there, so bonny in your white dress—I couldna think of anything but when we’d be alone, and I could undo your laces and have ye naked, next to me in the bed.”
“Do you want me now?” I whispered, and kissed the sunburned flesh in the hollow above his collarbone. His skin was faintly salty to the taste, and his hair smelled of woodsmoke and pungent maleness.
He didn’t answer, but moved abruptly, so I felt the hardness of him, stiff against my belly.
It was terror as much as desire that pressed me close against him. I wanted him, all right; my br**sts ached and my belly was tight with it, the unaccustomed rush of arousal slippery between my legs, opening me for him. But as strong as lust, was the desire simply to be taken, to have him master me, quell my doubts in a moment of rough usage, take me hard and swiftly enough to make me forget myself.
I could feel the urge to do it tremble in the hands that cupped my bu**ocks, in the involuntary jerk of his hips, brought up short as he stopped himself.
Do it, I thought, in an agony of apprehension. For God’s sake, do it now and don’t be gentle!
I couldn’t say it. I saw the need of it on his face, but he couldn’t say it, either; it was both too soon and too late for such words between us.
But we had shared another language, and my body still recalled it. I pressed my hips against him sharply, grasping his, the curves of his bu**ocks clenched hard under my hands. I turned my face upward, urgent to be kissed, at the same moment that he bent abruptly to kiss me.
My nose hit his forehead with a sickening crunch. My eyes watered profusely as I rolled away from him, clutching my face.
“Christ, have I hurt ye, Claire?” Blinking away the tears, I could see his face, hovering anxiously over me.
“No,” I said stupidly. “My nose is broken, though, I think.”
“No, it isn’t,” he said, gently feeling the bridge of my nose. “When ye break your nose, it makes a nasty crunching sound, and ye bleed like a pig. It’s all right.”
I felt gingerly beneath my nostrils, but he was right; I wasn’t bleeding. The pain had receded quickly, too. As I realized that, I also realized that he was lying on me, my legs sprawled wide beneath him, his c**k just touching me, no more than a hairsbreadth from the moment of decision.
I saw the realization dawn in his eyes as well. Neither of us moved, barely breathing. Then his chest swelled as he took a deep breath, reached and took both my wrists in one hand. He pulled them up, over my head, and held me there, my body arched taut and helpless under him.
“Give me your mouth, Sassenach,” he said softly, and bent to me. His head blotted out the candlelight, and I saw nothing but a dim glow and the darkness of his flesh as his mouth touched mine. Gently, brushing, then pressing, warm, and I opened to him with a little gasp, his tongue seeking mine.
I bit his lip, and he drew back a little, startled.
“Jamie,” I said against his lips, my own breath warm between us. “Jamie!” That was all I could say, but my hips jerked against him, and jerked again, urging violence. I turned my head and fastened my teeth in the flesh of his shoulder.
He made a small sound deep in his throat and came into me hard. I was tight as any virgin and cried out, arching under him.
“Don’t stop!” I said. “For God’s sake, don’t stop!”
His body heard me and answered in the same language, his grasp of my wrists tightening as he plunged hard into me, the force of it reaching my womb with each stroke.
Then he let go of my wrists and half-fell on me, the weight of him pinning me to the bed as he reached under, holding my hips hard, keeping me immobile.
I whimpered and writhed against him, and he bit my neck.
“Be still,” he said in my ear. I was still, only because I couldn’t move. We lay pressed tight together, shuddering. I could feel the pounding against my ribs, but didn’t know whether it was my heart, or his.
Then he moved in me, very slightly, a question of the flesh. It was enough; I convulsed in answer, held helpless under him, and felt the spasms of my release stroke him, stroke him, seize and release him, urging him to join me.
He reared up on both hands, back arched and head thrown back, eyes closed and breathing hard. Then very slowly, he bent his head forward and opened his eyes. He looked down at me with unutterable tenderness, and the candlelight gleamed briefly on the wetness on his cheek, maybe sweat or maybe tears.
“Oh, Claire,” he whispered. “Oh, God, Claire.”
And his release began, deep inside me, without his moving, shivering through his body so that his arms trembled, the ruddy hairs quivering in the dim light, and he dropped his head with a sound like a sob, his hair hiding his face as he spilled himself, each jerk and pulse of his flesh between my legs rousing an echo in my own.
When it was over, he held himself over me, still as stone for a long moment. Then, very gently, he lowered himself, pressed his head against mine, and lay as if dead.
I stirred at last from a deep, contented stupor, lifting my hand to lay it over the spot where his pulse beat slow and strong, just at the base of his breastbone.
“It’s like bicycle riding, I expect,” I said. My head rested peacefully in the curve of his shoulder, my hand idly playing with the red-gold curls that sprang up in thickets across his chest. “Did you know you’ve got lots more hairs on your chest than you used to?”
“No,” he said drowsily, “I dinna usually count them. Have bye-sickles got lots of hair, then?”
It caught me by surprise, and I laughed.
“No,” I said. “I just meant that we seemed to recall what to do all right.”
Jamie opened one eye and looked down at me consideringly. “It would take a real daftie to forget that, Sassenach,” he said. “I may be lacking practice, but I havena lost all my faculties yet.”
We were still for a long time, aware of each other’s breathing, sensitive to each small twitch and shifting of position. We fitted well together, my head curled into the hollow of his shoulder, the territory of his body warm under my hand, both strange and familiar, awaiting rediscovery.
The building was a solid one, and the sound of the storm outside drowned most noises from within, but now and then the sounds of feet or voices were dimly audible below us; a low, masculine laugh, or the higher voice of a woman, raised in professional flirtation.
Hearing it, Jamie stirred a little uncomfortably.
“I should maybe have taken ye to a tavern,” he said. “It’s only—”
“It’s all right,” I assured him. “Though I must say, of all the places I’d imagined being with you again, I somehow never thought of a brothel.” I hesitated, not wanting to pry, but curiosity got the best of me. “You…er…don’t own this place, do you, Jamie?”
He pulled back a little, staring down at me.
“Me? God in heaven, Sassenach, what d’ye think I am?”
“Well, I don’t know, do I?” I pointed out, with some asperity. “The first thing you do when I find you is faint, and as soon as I’ve got you back on your feet, you get me assaulted in a pub and chased through Edinburgh in company with a deviant Chinese, ending up in a brothel—whose madam seems to be on awfully familiar terms with you, I might add.” The tips of his ears had gone pink, and he seemed to be struggling between laughter and indignation.
“You then take off your clothes, announce that you’re a terrible person with a depraved past, and take me to bed. What did you expect me to think?”
Laughter won out.
“Well, I’m no a saint, Sassenach,” he said. “But I’m no a pimp, either.”
“Glad to hear it,” I said. There was a momentary pause, and then I said, “Do you mean to tell me what you are, or shall I go on running down the disreputable possibilities until I come close?”
“Oh, aye?” he said, entertained by this suggestion. “What’s your best guess?”
I looked him over carefully. He lay at ease amid the tumbled sheets, one arm behind his head, grinning at me.
“Well, I’d bet my shift you’re not a printer,” I said.
The grin widened.
I poked him rudely in the ribs. “You’re much too fit. Most men in their forties have begun to go soft round the middle, and you haven’t a spare ounce on you.”
“That’s mostly because I havena got anyone to cook for me,” he said ruefully. “If you ate in taverns all the time, ye wouldna be fat, either. Luckily, it looks as though ye eat regularly.” He patted my bottom familiarly, and then ducked, laughing, as I slapped at his hand.
“Don’t try to distract me,” I said, resuming my dignity. “At any rate, you didn’t get muscles like that slaving over a printing press.”
“Ever tried to work one, Sassenach?” He raised a derisive eyebrow.
“No.” I furrowed my brow in thought. “I don’t suppose you’ve taken up highway robbery?”