So was I. I pulled my mouth away and slapped him hard across the face, fingers curved to rake his flesh.
He jerked back, cheek scraped raw, then twisted his fingers tight in my hair, bent and took my mouth again, deliberate and savage, ignoring the kicks and blows I rained on him.
He bit my lower lip, hard, and when I opened my lips, gasping, thrust his tongue into my mouth, stealing breath and words together.
He threw me bodily onto the bed where we had lain laughing an hour before, and pinned me there at once with the weight of his body.
He was most mightily roused.
So was I.
Mine, he said, without uttering a word. Mine!
I fought him with boundless fury and no little skill, and Yours, my body echoed back. Yours, and may you be damned for it!
I didn’t feel him rip my gown, but I felt the heat of his body on my bare br**sts, through the thin linen of his shirt, the long, hard muscle of his thigh straining against my own. He took his hand off my arm to tear at his breeches, and I clawed him from ear to breast, striping his skin with pale red.
We were doing our level best to kill each other, fueled by the rage of years apart—mine for his sending me away, his for my going, mine for Laoghaire, his for Frank.
“Bitch!” he panted. “Whore!”
“Damn you!” I got a hand in his own long hair, and yanked, pulling his face down to me again. We rolled off the bed and landed on the floor in a tangled heap, rolling to and fro in a welter of half-uttered curses and broken words.
I didn’t hear the door open. I didn’t hear anything, though she must have called out, more than once. Blind and deaf, I knew nothing but Jamie until the shower of cold water struck us, sudden as an electric shock. Jamie froze. All the color left his face, leaving the bones jutting stark beneath the skin.
I lay dazed, drops of water dripping from the ends of his hair onto my br**sts. Just behind him, I could see Jenny, her face as white as his, holding an empty pan in her hands.
“Stop it!” she said. Her eyes were slanted with a horrified anger. “How could ye, Jamie? Rutting like a wild beast, and not carin’ if all the house hears ye!”
He moved off me, slowly, clumsy as a bear. Jenny snatched a quilt from the bed and flung it over my body.
On all fours, he shook his head like a dog, sending droplets of water flying. Then, very slowly, he got to his feet, and pulled his ripped breeches back into place.
“Are ye no ashamed?” she cried, scandalized.
Jamie stood looking down at her as though he had never seen any creature quite like her, and was making up his mind what she might be. The wet ends of his hair dripped over his bare chest.
“Yes,” he said at last, quite mildly. “I am.”
He seemed dazed. He closed his eyes and a brief, deep shudder went over him. Without a word, he turned and went out.
FLIGHT FROM EDEN
Jenny helped me to the bed, making small clucking noises; whether of shock or concern, I couldn’t tell. I was vaguely conscious of hovering figures in the doorway—servants, I supposed—but wasn’t disposed to pay much attention.
“I’ll find ye something to put on,” she murmured, fluffing a pillow and pushing me back onto it. “And perhaps a bit of a drink. You’re all right?”
She glanced at me quickly, sympathy mixed with a gleam of curiosity.
“Dinna be afraid; I’ll no let him at ye again.” She spoke firmly, then pressed her lips tight together, frowning as she tucked the quilt around me. “How he could do such a thing!”
“It wasn’t his fault—not this.” I ran a hand through my tangled hair, indicating my general dishevelment. “I mean—I did it, as much as he did. It was both of us. He—I—” I let my hand fall, helpless to explain. I was bruised and shaken, and my lips were swollen.
“I see,” was all Jenny said, but she gave me a long, assessing look, and I thought it quite possible that she did see.
I didn’t want to talk about the recent happenings, and she seemed to sense this, for she kept quiet for a bit, giving a soft-voiced order to someone in the hall, then moving about the room, straightening furniture and tidying things. I saw her pause for a moment as she saw the holes in the armoire, then she stooped to pick up the larger pieces of the shattered ewer.
As she dumped them into the basin, there was a faint thud from the house below; the slam of the big main door. She stepped to the window and pushed the curtain aside.
“It’s Jamie,” she said. She glanced at me, and let the curtain fall. “He’ll be going up to the hill; he goes there, if he’s troubled. That, or he gets drunk wi’ Ian. The hill’s better.”
I gave a small snort.
“Yes, I expect he’s troubled, all right.”
There was a light step in the hallway, and the younger Janet appeared, carefully balancing a tray of biscuits, whisky, and water. She looked pale and scared.
“Are ye…well, Aunt?” she asked tentatively, setting down the tray.
“I’m fine,” I assured her, pushing myself upright and reaching for the whisky decanter.
A sharp glance having assured Jenny of the same, she patted her daughter’s arm and turned toward the door.
“Stay wi’ your auntie,” she ordered. “I’ll go and find a dress.” Janet nodded obediently, and sat down by the bed on a stool, watching me as I ate and drank.
I began to feel physically much stronger with a little food inside me. Internally, I felt quite numb; the recent events seemed at once dreamlike and yet completely clear in my mind. I could recall the smallest details; the blue calico bows on the dress of Laoghaire’s daughter, the tiny broken veins in Laoghaire’s cheeks, a rough-torn fingernail on Jamie’s fourth finger.
“Do you know where Laoghaire is?” I asked Janet. The girl had her head down, apparently studying her own hands. At my question, she jerked upright, blinking.
“Oh!” she said. “Oh. Aye, she and Marsali and Joan went back to Balriggan, where they live. Uncle Jamie made them go.”
“Did he,” I said flatly.
Janet bit her lip, twisting her hands in her apron. Suddenly she looked up at me.
“Aunt—I’m so awfully sorry!” Her eyes were a warm brown, like her father’s, but swimming now with tears.
“It’s all right,” I said, having no idea what she meant, but trying to be soothing.
“But it was me!” she burst out. She looked thoroughly miserable, but determined to confess. “I—I told Laoghaire ye were here. That’s why she came.”
“Oh.” Well, that explained that, I supposed. I finished the whisky and set the glass carefully back on the tray.
“I didna think—I mean, I didna have it in mind to cause a kebbie-lebbie, truly not. I didna ken that you—that she—”
“It’s all right,” I said again. “One of us would have found out sooner or later.” It made no difference, but I glanced at her with some curiosity. “Why did you tell her, though?”
The girl glanced cautiously over her shoulder, hearing steps start up from below. She leaned close to me.
“Mother told me to,” she whispered. And with that, she rose and hastily left the room, brushing past her mother in the doorway.
I didn’t ask. Jenny had found a dress for me—one of the elder girls’—and there was no conversation beyond the necessary as she helped me into it.
When I was dressed and shod, my hair combed and put up, I turned to her.
“I want to go,” I said. “Now.”
She didn’t argue, but only looked me over, to see that I was strong enough. She nodded then, dark lashes covering the slanted blue eyes so like her brother’s.
“I think that’s best,” she said quietly.
It was late morning when I left Lallybroch for what I knew would be the last time. I had a dagger at my waist, for protection, though it was unlikely I would need it. My horse’s saddlebags held food and several bottles of ale; enough to see me back to the stone circle. I had thought of taking back the pictures of Brianna from Jamie’s coat, but after a moment’s hesitation, had left them. She belonged to him forever, even if I didn’t.
It was a cold autumn day, the morning’s gray promise fulfilled with a mourning drizzle. No one was in sight near the house, as Jenny led the horse out of the stable, and held the bridle for me to mount.
I pulled the hood of my cloak farther forward, and nodded to her. Last time, we had parted with tears and embraces, as sisters. She let go the reins, and stood back, as I turned the horse’s head toward the road.
“Godspeed!” I heard her call behind me. I didn’t answer, nor did I look back.
I rode most of the day, without really noticing where I was going; taking heed only for the general direction, and letting the gelding pick his own way through the mountain passes.
I stopped when the light began to go; hobbled the horse to graze, lay down wrapped in my cloak, and dropped straight asleep, unwilling to stay awake for fear I might think, and remember. Numbness was my only refuge. I knew it would go, but I clung to its gray comfort so long as I might.
It was hunger that brought me unwillingly back to life the next day. I had not paused to eat through all the day before, nor when rising in the morning, but by noon my stomach had begun to register loud protests, and I stopped in a small glen beside a sparkling burn, and unwrapped the food that Jenny had slipped into my saddlebag.
There were oatcakes and ale, and several small loaves of fresh-baked bread, slit down the middle, stuffed with sheepmilk cheese and homemade pickle. Highland sandwiches, the hearty fare of shepherds and warriors, as characteristic of Lallybroch as peanut butter had been of Boston. Very suitable, that my quest should end with one of these.
I ate a sandwich, drank one of the stone bottles of ale, and swung back into the saddle, turning the horse’s head to the northeast once more. Unfortunately, while the food had brought fresh strength to my body, it had given fresh life to my feelings as well. As we climbed higher and higher into the clouds, my spirits fell lower—and they hadn’t been high to begin with.
The horse was willing enough, but I wasn’t. Near midafternoon, I felt that I simply couldn’t go on. Leading the horse far enough into a small thicket that it wouldn’t be noticeable from the road, I hobbled it loosely, and walked farther under the trees myself, ’til I came to the trunk of a fallen aspen, smooth-skinned, stained green with moss.
I sat slumped over, elbows on my knees and head on my hands. I ached in every joint. Not really from the encounter of the day before, or from the rigors of riding; from grief.
Constraint and judgment had been a great deal of my life. I had learned at some pains the art of healing; to give and to care, but always stopping short of that danger point where too much was given to make me effective. I had learned detachment and disengagement, to my cost.
With Frank, too, I had learned the balancing act of civility; kindness and respect that did not pass those unseen boundaries into passion. And Brianna? Love for a child cannot be free; from the first signs of movement in the womb, a devotion springs up as powerful as it is mindless, irresistible as the process of birth itself. But powerful as it is, it is a love always of control; one is in charge, the protector, the watcher, the guardian—there is great passion in it, to be sure, but never abandon.