Archives for the Date October 7th, 2020

Brave Enough to Love You, Chapter 4




Claire gasped as she startled awake, the remnants of a nightmare just out of her memories grasp. Sweat beaded across her brow, but her eyes began to focus on the canvas walls around her and the figure beside her.

“Are you all right?” James whispered as he shifted up on an elbow. Someone has spread out several blankets and tartan for her bed, and James laid on the opposite end, an arms-reach away.

“Just a dream,” she whispered back. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Dinna fash. I was awake.”

His brogue seemed to get thicker with his tiredness. The low campfire cast a small amount of light into the tent, enough for her to see he still wore his clothes from their ride. Inspecting herself, she noted her belt was loosened and…

“It’s still in your boot.” He muttered.

Claire tensed but found her boots at the foot of the tent. “You don’t mind?”

“That you can protect yourself? Nah. I’m glad about it. Long as you don’t use it on me.”

She snorted, as her eyes fell on him again and watched as he fought off a yawn.

“Have you slept at all?”

“A bit.”

She shifted forward and caught his eye. “Only a bit?”

James shrugged his shoulders as his eyes fell to the small space between them. “You’ve been crying out in your sleep. Touching ye seemed to help, so I wanted to stay near ye.”

“Oh…I,” She could feel the fire in her cheeks. “I didn’t…I’m…”

“I can stay by the fire if ye’d like,” James offered.

She swallowed, fighting the embarrassment she felt and shook her head. “No. Please, stay.” She wiped a hand across her cheek. “Besides, most new husbands would not be so…accommodating on their wedding night…”

James sighed, then said softly, “Most new husbands don’t execute their father-in-law on their wedding day.” He paused. “I am sorry for it, Claire, but leaving him to face Dougal’s sentencing…I wouldn’t wish that on him.”

Claire winced but nodded. “Thank you for intervening on his behalf. For…ending his suffering.”

“Do you hate me for it?” James whispered.

Claire wrung her hands. “It’s difficult to hate you when even Alistair didn’t. He spent most the night telling me about you, and how he admired you so…how I shouldn’t give credence to tales and rumors, and to forgive you for doing what you must.” She paused and sighed. “In truth, his praise of you was maddening.”

James chuckled, and to her surprise, Claire felt a smile creep onto her face.

“Such blunt speech for a lady,” James teased. “An admirable quality to be sure.”

“Hardly,” Claire chuckled but fell silent as she felt her necklace bounce against her skin. Her hand pressed to her chest, and she felt his gaze follow.

“My old wedding band,” she whispered.

“Ah.” James rolled onto his side, closing the distance between them a bit. “I met Jacob a few times when my father took me to Edinburgh. He was two years younger than me but had an envied mind for tactics.”

“Did he play you at Chess?” Claire asked.

“I don’t call a game ‘played’ when I’m defeated in three turns,” James replied and smiled as Claire’s face lit with laughter. “He was humble, though. More excited to play and discuss strategy, then gloat.”

“Sounds very much like him,” Claire answered with a smile. She felt James’ hand slip into her own, and let out a breath as his thumb rubbed her palm.

“Will you tell me about him?” James asked.

“A-Are you sure?” She whispered.

With his nod, Claire hesitated, but before long, stories tumbled forth with ease. She told him of teaching Jacob to ride that he snuck her pastries when she was ill, and the havoc they’d cause in the manor’s library. She found her heart eager to talk about Jacob, and the joy of her memories surpassed the pain of his passing.

“Shortly after his nineteenth birthday, his heart began to give him trouble.” She wiped at her eyes. “He was 22 when we married, and he passed a week later.”

His hand squeezed hers. “Jacob was fortunate to have ye. Watching you tend the sick at Foulis,” James shook his head. “You’re verra brave, Claire. Ruthless, in the face of death and violence.”

She rewarded him with a soft smile. “I’m more stubborn than strong, I think.” She let out a mouth gaping yawn then, and James chuckled softly. “We’ll have to discuss this later, lass. I think sleep calls for ye.”

Claire shook her head. “Will you tell me about Brian’s mother?”

He raised her hand his lips, but Claire felt the tension in his body shift. “Aye, I will, but another night. Ye need yer sleep, and I’d like to warm ye if ye dinna mind.”

Taking care to cause as little noise as possible, James helped Claire turn her back into his chest as she extricated herself from yards of tartan. He enveloped her in his warmth and the scent of grass and horses.

“Now, what do ye know about kelpies, lass?”

Claire woke from a heavy sleep, feeling cold and only moderately sore from the previous day’s ride. The tartans beside her were cold, and the men were anxious to leave, given the sound of rustling outside the tent. She quickly righted herself and wrestled her hair back into her pins before she emerged. Several heads tipped her way, and one soldier, Paul, he called himself, pushed a bowl of porridge into her hands. She sat by the smoldering ashes of their fire and ate contently, not realizing until that moment how hungry she’d been. Finishing the bowl in five bites, Claire soon saw James reappear wearing considerably less road dust.

“I’ll wash before we go,” she said as she passed him. He caught her wrist as she passed. “I’ll go with ye.”

Claire stopped dead in her tracks. “No, you won’t.”

James met her eye and quickly looked about at his soldiers. They continued to break down camp, none meeting his eye, silently ignoring the feud about to ignite. “Aye, I will,” James said steadily. “We’re still on Grant lands, and I’ll not have you wandering about.”

”The river is within a stone throw. It’s hardly wandering about.”

“Claire,” James’ voice lowered to a deep rumble. “You’ll wash with me beside ye, or not at all.”

Claire huffed and yanked her wrist from him. So much for any treaties forged in the night. “Is that really necessary?”

“Aye. Tis.”

Claire pressed her lips into a thin line and scowled when his lip rose into a humored smirk.

“Which is it, lass?”

Claire felt defeated as the men showed signs of concluded packing, and her time to debate quickly expired. “Fine. I’ll freshen up.” He nodded his head once, but she turned and shot him a forced grin smiled sweetly, “Besides, you’re the one who has to suffer my smell.”

James chuckled as he followed her to the river, keeping a few paces behind her as she scrubbed her face and arms.

“Mount up!” James called, and within two minutes, the group was riding once more.

By midday, the horses needed water, and Claire needed some space from James. Her mood turned from sour to bewildered when he decided to tease her, pushing his nose into her hair and audibly sniffing her. The first time, she shot him a glare but brushed it off as accidental. The second time earned him a well-placed jab to the gut. He pulled his horse out of line and slowed to walk, his laughter and her blows nearly dropping him from the horse.

“I yield, wife,” James called out, though he could not hide his mirth. He grasped her wrists to his chest, and their laughs quieted as their eyes met. Claire’s vindication quickly fled as her heartbeat quickened, and his hands held her close. His mouth was near, and Claire needed only to stretch her neck to taste the bead of sweat collecting on his upper lip. Her cheeks burned at the thought, but her eyes watched as his tongue peeked out to wet his lips before they drew closer to her…

Until the sound of approaching horses made him pull back.

“All’s well, my laird?” Paul called.

“Aye, sorry lads. Let’s start again.”

Three hours later, Claire felt desperate from the feel of his thigh pressed tight against her own, and his hand clamped low on her belly. She tore off into the brush the moment she dismounted and settled along a tree trunk. Her entire body buzzed from his closeness, but worse, she couldn’t help feeling both aroused and guilty at the same time.

You’re in mourning, for Christ’s sake. Get a grip on yourself.

But Claire couldn’t keep her eyes from him as he walked the camp, checking on soldiers and horses alike. There was a gentleness to him that caught her off guard and contradicted what she’d told herself to expect. She knew most men could be charming when convincing a woman to share their bed, but his concern last night, and playfulness this morning…could he care for her already?

Claire noticed then the silence that fell on the camp. The soldiers stood still, listening, with their eyes on James, but the only sound she could hear was the occasional whiny from the horses at the stream. James caught her eye, and a small motion of his hand indicated for her to stay where she was. She curled her knees into her chest and pressed close between the tree and neighboring bush when a war cry sounded and raised the hair on the back of her neck.

A group of 15 soldiers appeared through the trees, ambushing them from the river’s edge, and all Claire could make out was the green of their tartan, marking them as Grants.

The air exploded with the sound of steel and bodies colliding in melee. She pressed herself as close to the ground as possible, watching as the Fraser men downed man after man, quickly dwindling their enemy’s numbers.

Then a hand grabbed the back of her dress and pulled her forcefully to her feet. Her face collided with the tree trunk as a body pressed hard against her back, choking her with the smell of sour breath and body. She grimaced as the tree’s bark scraped her face, but gritted her teeth until her stretching hand found what she sought: her boot dagger. She stabbed her captor in the thigh, broke free of his grip, and ran into the woods. She twisted and weaved through branches and tree roots, desperate to put distance between her and the Grant soldier cursing at her existence.

She was about to cross the narrow part of the river when a body collided with hers and knocked her to the ground.

“Yer a lot of trouble for a woman,” the man grunted as his hands tore the length of her skirts and pinned her hips to the forest ground. Claire slashed at his cheek, but this time the man didn’t let her go, howling instead as he grabbed her hand and twisted. Claire screamed as he forced her to drop the dagger, grabbed the neck of her dress, and tore it and her shift open. She raked her nails over his face as he tried to spread her thrashing thighs…

Then he was gone, lifted from her so suddenly that she froze in confusion. She heard the sickening crack of bone and watched as his body crumpled into a heap by the riverbed. James stood over the motionless body and sucked in a breath as his chest heaved.

Their eyes met as a sob escaped Claire’s lips. He held an arm out to her, and after a moment’s hesitation, she ran to him and wept.

James threaded his fingers into her hair as he held her close, his hands rubbing soothing patterns into her back and neck.

“I-I tried to outrun him…” She sputtered as James pressed his nose into her curls. “He ran so fast…even after I stabbed his leg…”

“There were two,” James replied softly. “Yer a bonny wee fighter.”

He felt her hiccup as her fingers unwound themselves from his shirt and tartan. He let go for a moment to kneel and recover her dagger. Wiping it clean, he pressed a kiss to the hilt before returning it to her boot.

“This,” James said, “stays with you always.”

Claire nodded but reached for him as he stood. She was steadier, but he could tell by her expression she had more to say.

“Did he hurt ye?” He wondered aloud, his hand gently reaching for her torn corset to inspect her further.

“No, I-I’m all right,” She whispered, drawing away from his hand briefly before halting herself and taking a step closer to him. She pressed her eyes shut and blew out a breath. “I’m all right, thanks to you.” She leaned up and pressed a soft kiss to his lips.

James watched her as her eyes closed and made no movement as her lips fell away until he saw the uncertainty in her eyes. He pulled her back to him and pressed his forehead to hers.

“Your servant, my lady,” he murmured, before returning her kiss.

Edited with Love

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