“No,” he said, the grin widening. “Guess again.”
“Well, likely not kidnapping for ransom,” I said, and began to tick other possibilities off on my fingers. “Petty thievery? No. Piracy? No, you couldn’t possibly, unless you’ve got over being seasick. Usury? Hardly.” I dropped my hand and stared at him.
“You were a traitor when I last knew you, but that scarcely seems a good way of making a living.”
“Oh, I’m still a traitor,” he assured me. “I just havena been convicted lately.”
“I spent several years in prison for treason, Sassenach,” he said, rather grimly. “For the Rising. But that was some time back.”
“Yes, I knew that.”
His eyes widened. “Ye knew that?”
“That and a bit more,” I said. “I’ll tell you later. But putting that all aside for the present and returning to the point at issue—what do you do for a living these days?”
“I’m a printer,” he said, grinning widely.
“And a traitor?”
“And a traitor,” he confirmed, nodding. “I’ve been arrested for sedition six times in the last two years, and had my premises seized twice, but the court wasna able to prove anything.”
“And what happens to you if they do prove it, one of these times?”
“Oh,” he said airily, waving his free hand in the air, “the pillory. Earnailing. Flogging. Imprisonment. Transportation. That sort of thing. Likely not hanging.”
“What a relief,” I said dryly. I felt a trifle hollow. I hadn’t even tried to imagine what his life might be like, if I found him. Now that I had, I was a little taken aback.
“I did warn ye,” he said. The teasing was gone now, and the dark blue eyes were serious and watchful.
“You did,” I said, and took a deep breath.
“Do ye want to leave now?” He spoke casually enough, but I saw his fingers clench and tighten on a fold of the quilt, so that the knuckles stood out white against the sunbronzed skin.
“No,” I said. I smiled at him, as best I could manage. “I didn’t come back just to make love with you once. I came to be with you—if you’ll have me,” I ended, a little hesitantly.
“If I’ll have you!” He let out the breath he had been holding, and sat up to face me, cross-legged on the bed. He reached out and took my hands, engulfing them between his own.
“I—canna even say what I felt when I touched you today, Sassenach, and knew ye to be real,” he said. His eyes traveled over me, and I felt the heat of him, yearning, and my own heat, melting toward him. “To find you again—and then to lose ye…” He stopped, throat working as he swallowed.
I touched his face, tracing the fine, clean line of cheekbone and jaw.
“You won’t lose me,” I said. “Not ever again.” I smiled, smoothing back the thick ruff of ruddy hair behind his ear. “Not even if I find out you’ve been committing bigamy and public drunkenness.”
He jerked sharply at that, and I dropped my hand, startled.
“What is it?”
“Well—” he said, and stopped. He pursed his lips and glanced at me quickly. “It’s just—”
“Just what? Is there something else you haven’t told me?”
“Well, printing seditious pamphlets isna all that profitable,” he said, in explanation.
“I don’t suppose so,” I said, my heart starting to speed up again at the prospect of further revelations. “What else have you been doing?”
“Well, it’s just that I do a wee bit of smuggling,” he said apologetically. “On the side, like.”
“A smuggler?” I stared. “Smuggling what?”
“Well, whisky mostly, but rum now and then, and a fair bit of French wine and cambric.”
“So that’s it!” I said. The pieces of the puzzle all settled into place—Mr. Willoughby, the Edinburgh docks, and the riddle of our present surroundings. “That’s what your connection is with this place—what you meant by saying Madame Jeanne is a customer?”
“That’s it.” He nodded. “It works verra well; we store the liquor in one of the cellars below when it comes in from France. Some of it we sell directly to Jeanne; some she keeps for us until we can ship it on.”
“Um. And as part of the arrangements…” I said delicately, “you, er…”
The blue eyes narrowed at me.
“The answer to what you’re thinking, Sassenach, is no,” he said very firmly.
“Oh, is it?” I said, feeling extremely pleased. “Mind reader, are you? And what am I thinking?”
“You were wondering do I take out my price in trade sometimes, aye?” He lifted one brow at me.
“Well, I was,” I admitted. “Not that it’s any of my business.”
“Oh, isn’t it, then?” He raised both ruddy brows and took me by both shoulders, leaning toward me.
“Is it?” he said, a moment later. He sounded a little breathless.
“Yes,” I said, sounding equally breathless. “And you don’t—”
“I don’t. Come here.”
He wrapped his arms around me, and pulled me close. The body’s memory is different from the mind’s. When I thought, and wondered, and worried, I was clumsy and awkward, fumbling my way. Without the interference of conscious thought, my body knew him, and answered him at once in tune, as though his touch had left me moments before, and not years.
“I was more afraid this time than on our wedding night,” I murmured, my eyes fixed on the slow, strong pulsebeat in the hollow of his throat.
“Were ye, then?” His arm shifted and tightened round me. “Do I frighten ye, Sassenach?”
“No.” I put my fingers on the tiny pulse, breathing the deep musk of his effort. “It’s only…the first time…I didn’t think it would be forever. I meant to go, then.”
He snorted faintly, the sweat gleaming lightly in the small hollow in the center of his chest.
“And ye did go, and came again,” he said. “You’re here; there’s no more that matters, than that.”
I raised myself slightly to look at him. His eyes were closed, slanted and catlike, his lashes that striking color I remembered so well because I had seen it so often; deep auburn at the tips, fading to a red so pale as nearly to be blond at the roots.
“What did you think, the first time we lay together?” I asked. The dark blue eyes opened slowly, and rested on me.
“It has always been forever, for me, Sassenach,” he said simply.
Sometime later, we fell asleep entwined, with the sound of the rain falling soft against the shutters, mingling with the muffled sounds of commerce below.
It was a restless night. Too tired to stay awake a moment longer, I was too happy to fall soundly asleep. Perhaps I was afraid he would vanish if I slept. Perhaps he felt the same. We lay close together, not awake, but too aware of each other to sleep deeply. I felt every small twitch of his muscles, every movement of his breathing, and knew he was likewise aware of me.
Half-dozing, we turned and moved together, always touching, in a sleepy, slow-motion ballet, learning again in silence the language of our bodies. Somewhere in the deep, quiet hours of the night, he turned to me without a word, and I to him, and we made love to each other in a slow, unspeaking tenderness that left us lying still at last, in possession of each other’s secrets.
Soft as a moth flying in the dark, my hand skimmed his leg, and found the thin deep runnel of the scar. My fingers traced its invisible length and paused, with the barest of touches at its end, wordlessly asking, “How?”
His breathing changed with a sigh, and his hand lay over mine.
“Culloden,” he said, the whispered word an evocation of tragedy. Death. Futility. And the terrible parting that had taken me from him.
“I’ll never leave you,” I whispered. “Not again.”
His head turned on the pillow, his features lost in darkness, and his lips brushed mine, light as the touch of an insect’s wing. He turned onto his back, shifting me next to him, his hand resting heavy on the curve of my thigh, keeping me close.
Sometime later, I felt him shift again, and turn the bedclothes back a little way. A cool draft played across my forearm; the tiny hairs prickled upright, and then flattened beneath the warmth of his touch. I opened my eyes, to find him turned on his side, absorbed in the sight of my hand. It lay still on the quilt, a carved white thing, all the bones and tendons chalked in gray as the room began its imperceptible shift from night to day.
“Draw her for me,” he whispered, head bent as he gently traced the shapes of my fingers, long and ghostly beneath the darkness of his own touch.
“What has she of you, of me? Can ye tell me? Are her hands like yours, Claire, or mine? Draw her for me, let me see her.” He laid his own hand down beside my own. It was his good hand, the fingers straight and flat-jointed, the nails clipped short, square and clean.
“Like mine,” I said. My voice was low and hoarse with waking, barely loud enough to register above the drumming of the rain outside. The house beneath was silent. I raised the fingers of my immobile hand an inch in illustration.
“She has long, slim hands like mine—but bigger than mine, broad across the backs, and a deep curve at the outside, near the wrist—like that. Like yours; she has a pulse just there, where you do.” I touched the spot where a vein crossed the curve of his radius, just where the wrist joins the hand. He was so still I could feel his heartbeat under my fingertip.
“Her nails are like yours; square, not oval like mine. But she has the crooked little finger on her right hand that I have,” I said, lifting it. “My mother had it, too; Uncle Lambert told me.” My own mother had died when I was five. I had no clear memory of her, but thought of her whenever I saw my own hand unexpectedly, caught in a moment of grace like this one. I laid the hand with the crooked finger on his, then lifted it to his face.
“She has this line,” I said softly, tracing the bold sweep from temple to cheek. “Your eyes, exactly, and those lashes and brows. A Fraser nose. Her mouth is more like mine, with a full bottom lip, but it’s wide, like yours. A pointed chin, like mine, but stronger. She’s a big girl—nearly six feet tall.” I felt his start of astonishment, and nudged him gently, knee to knee. “She has long legs, like yours, but very feminine.”
“And has she that small blue vein just there?” His hand touched my own face, thumb tender in the hollow of my temple. “And ears like tiny wings, Sassenach?”
“She always complained about her ears—said they stuck out,” I said, feeling the tears sting my eyes as Brianna came suddenly to life between us.
“They’re pierced. You don’t mind, do you?” I said, talking fast to keep the tears at bay. “Frank did; he said it looked cheap, and she shouldn’t, but she wanted to do it, and I let her, when she was sixteen. Mine were; it didn’t seem right to say she couldn’t when I did, and her friends all did, and I didn’t—didn’t want—”