Outlander, p.25
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       Outlander, p.25
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         Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

  that attached the bodice.

  “Ha!” he said in triumph as the last one came loose, and we laughed together.

  “Now let me do you,” I said, deciding that there was no point in further delay. I reached up and unfastened his shirt, sliding my hands inside and across his shoulders. I brought my palms slowly down across his chest, feeling the springy hair and the soft indentations around his nipples. He stood still, hardly breathing, as I knelt down to unbuckle the studded belt around his hips.

  If it must be sometime, it may as well be now, I thought, and deliberately ran my hands up the length of his thighs, hard and lean under his kilt. Though by this time I knew perfectly well what most Scotsmen wore beneath their kilts—nothing—it was still something of a shock to find only Jamie.

  He lifted me to my feet then, and bent his head to kiss me. It went on a long while, and his hands roamed downward, finding the fastening of my petticoat. It fell to the floor in a billow of starched flounces, leaving me in my chemise.

  “Where did you learn to kiss like that?” I said, a little breathless. He grinned and pulled me close again.

  “I said I was a virgin, not a monk,” he said, kissing me again. “If I find I need guidance, I’ll ask.”

  He pressed me firmly to him, and I could feel that he was more than ready to get on with the business at hand. With some surprise, I realized that I was ready too. In fact, whether it was the result of the late hour, the wine, his own attractiveness, or simple deprivation, I wanted him quite badly.

  I pulled his shirt loose at the waist and ran my hands up over his chest, circling his nipples with my thumbs. They grew hard in a second, and he crushed me suddenly against his chest.

  “Oof!” I said, struggling for breath. He let go, apologizing.

  “No, don’t worry; kiss me again.” He did, this time slipping the straps of the chemise down over my shoulders. He drew back slightly, cupping my breasts and rubbing my nipples as I had done his. I fumbled with the buckle that held his kilt; his fingers guided mine and the clasp sprang free.

  Suddenly he lifted me in his arms and sat down on the bed, holding me on his lap. He spoke a little hoarsely.

  “Tell me if I’m too rough, or tell me to stop altogether, if ye wish. Anytime until we are joined; I dinna think I can stop after that.”

  In answer, I put my hands behind his neck and pulled him down on top of me. I guided him to the slippery cleft between my legs.

  “Holy God,” said James Fraser, who never took the name of his Lord in vain.

  “Don’t stop now,” I said.

  * * *

  Lying together afterward, it seemed natural for him to cradle my head on his chest. We fitted well together, and most of our original constraint was gone, lost in shared excitement and the novelty of exploring each other. “Was it like you thought it would be?” I asked curiously. He chuckled, making a deep rumble under my ear.

  “Almost; I had thought—nay, never mind.”

  “No, tell me. What did you think?”

  “I’m no goin’ to tell ye; ye’ll laugh at me.”

  “I promise not to laugh. Tell me.” He caressed my hair, smoothing the curls back from my ear.

  “Oh, all right. I didna realize that ye did it face to face. I thought ye must do it the back way, like; like horses, ye know.”

  It was a struggle to keep my promise, but I didn’t laugh.

  “I know that sounds silly,” he said defensively. “It’s just…well, ye know how you get ideas in your head when you’re young, and then somehow they just stick there?”

  “You’ve never seen people make love?” I was surprised at this, having seen the crofters’ cottages, where the whole family shared a single room. Granted that Jamie’s family were not crofters, still it must be the rare Scottish child who had never waked to find his elders coupling nearby.

  “Of course I have, but generally under the bedclothes, ye know. I couldna tell anything except the man was on top. That much I knew.”

  “Mm. I noticed.”

  “Did I squash you?” he asked, a little anxiously.

  “Not much. Really, though, is that what you thought?” I didn’t laugh, but couldn’t help grinning broadly. He turned slightly pink around the ears.

  “Aye. I saw a man take a woman plain, once, out in the open. But that…well, it was a rape, was what it was, and he took her from the back. It made some impression on me, and as I say, it’s just the idea stuck.”

  He continued to hold me, using his horse-gentling techniques again. These gradually changed, though, to a more determined exploration.

  “I want to ask ye something,” he said, running a hand down the length of my back.

  “What’s that?”

  “Did ye like it?” he said, a little shyly.

  “Yes, I did,” I said, quite honestly.

  “Oh. I thought ye did, though Murtagh told me that women generally do not care for it, so I should finish as soon as I could.”

  “What would Murtagh know about it?” I said indignantly. “The slower the better, as far as most women are concerned.” Jamie chuckled again.

  “Well, you’d know better than Murtagh. I had considerable good advice offered me on the subject last night, from Murtagh and Rupert and Ned. A good bit of it sounded verra unlikely to me, though, so I thought I’d best use my own judgment.”

  “It hasn’t led you wrong yet,” I said, curling one of his chest hairs around my finger. “What other sage bits of advice did they give you?” His skin was a ruddy gold in the candlelight; to my amusement, it grew still redder in embarrassment.

  “I could no repeat most of it. As I said, I think it’s likely wrong, anyway. I’ve seen a good many kinds of animals mate with each other, and most seem to manage it without any advice at all. I would suppose people could do the same.”

  I was privately entertained by the notion of someone picking up pointers on sexual technique from barnyard and forest, rather than locker rooms and dirty magazines.

  “What kinds of animals have you seen mating?”

  “Oh, all kinds. Our farm was near the forest, ye see, and I spent a good deal of time there, hunting, or seeking cows as had got out and suchlike. I’ve seen horses and cows, of course, pigs, chickens, doves, dogs, cats, red deer, squirrels, rabbits, wild boar, oh, and once even a pair of snakes.”

  “Snakes!?”

  “Aye. Did ye know that snakes have two cocks?—male snakes, I mean.”

  “No, I didn’t. Are you sure about that?”

  “Aye, and both of ’em forked, like this.” He spread his second and third fingers apart in illustration.

  “That sounds terribly uncomfortable for the female snake,” I said, giggling.

  “Well, she appeared to be enjoying herself,” said Jamie. “Near as I could tell; snakes havena got much expression on their faces.”

  I buried my face in his chest, snorting with mirth. His pleasant musky smell mingled with the harsh scent of linen.

  “Take off your shirt,” I said, sitting up and pulling at the hem of the garment.

  “Why?” he asked, but sat up and obliged. I knelt in front of him, admiring his naked body.

  “Because I want to look at you,” I said. He was beautifully made, with long graceful bones and flat muscles that flowed smoothly from the curves of chest and shoulder to the slight concavities of belly and thigh. He raised his eyebrows.

  “Well then, fair’s fair. Take off yours, then.” He reached out and helped me squirm out of the wrinkled chemise, pushing it down over my hips. Once it was off, he held me by the waist, studying me with intense interest. I grew almost embarrassed as he looked me over.

  “Haven’t you ever seen a naked woman before?” I asked.

  “Aye, but not one so close.” His face broke into a broad grin. “And not one that’s mine.” He stroked my hips with both hands. “You have good wide hips; ye’d be a good breeder, I expect.”

  “What!?” I drew away indignantly, but he pulled
me back and collapsed on the bed with me on top of him. He held me until I stopped struggling, then raised me enough to meet his lips again.

  “I know once is enough to make it legal, but…” He paused shyly.

  “You want to do it again?”

  “Would ye mind verra much?”

  I didn’t laugh this time either, but I felt my ribs creak under the strain.

  “No,” I said gravely. “I wouldn’t mind.”

  * * *

  “Are you hungry?” I asked softly, sometime later.

  “Famished.” He bent his head to bite my breast softly, then looked up with a grin. “But I need food too.” He rolled to the edge of the bed. “There’s cold beef and bread in the kitchen, I expect, and likely wine as well. I’ll go and bring us some supper.”

  “No, don’t you get up. I’ll fetch it.” I jumped off the bed and headed for the door, pulling a shawl over my shift against the chill of the corridor.

  “Wait, Claire!” Jamie called. “Ye’d better let me—” but I had already opened the door.

  My appearance at the door was greeted by a raucous cheer from some fifteen men, lounging around the fireplace of the main room below, drinking, eating and tossing dice. I stood nonplussed on the balcony for a moment, fifteen leering faces flickering out of the firelit shadows at me.

  “Hey, lass!” shouted Rupert, one of the loungers. “Ye’re still able t’ walk! Isn’t Jamie doin’ his duty by ye, then?”

  This sally was greeted with gales of laughter and a number of even cruder remarks regarding Jamie’s prowess.

  “If ye’ve worn Jamie out a’ready, I’ll be happy t’ take ’is place!” offered a short dark-haired youth.

  “Nay, nay, ’e’s no good, lass, take me!” shouted another.

  “She’ll ha’ none o’ ye, lads!” yelled Murtagh, uproariously drunk. “After Jamie, she’ll need somethin’ like this to satisfy ’er!” He waved a huge mutton bone overhead, causing the room to rock with laughter.

  I whirled back into the room, slammed the door and stood with my back to it, glaring at Jamie, who lay naked on the bed, shaking with laughter.

  “I tried to warn ye,” he said, gasping. “You should see your face!”

  “Just what,” I hissed, “are all those men doing out there?”

  Jamie slid gracefully off our wedding couch and began rummaging on his knees through the pile of discarded clothing on the floor. “Witnesses,” he said briefly. “Dougal is no takin’ any chances of this marriage bein’ annulled.” He straightened with his kilt in his hands, grinning at me as he wrapped it around his loins. “I’m afraid your reputation’s compromised beyond repair, Sassenach.”

  He started shirtless for the door. “Don’t go out there!” I said, in sudden panic. He turned to smile reassuringly, hand on the latch. “Dinna worry, lass. If they’re witnesses, they may as well have somethin’ to see. Besides, I’m no intendin’ to starve for the next three days for fear of a wee bit o’ chaff.”

  He stepped out of the room to a chorus of bawdy applause, leaving the door slightly ajar. I could hear his progress toward the kitchen, marked by shouted congratulations and ribald questions and advice.

  “How was yer first time, Jamie? Did ye bleed?” shouted Rupert’s easily recognized gravel-pit voice.

  “Nay, but ye will, ye auld bugger, if ye dinna clapper yer face,” came Jamie’s spiked tones in broad Scots reply. Howls of delight greeted this sally, and the raillery continued, following Jamie down the hall to the kitchen and back up the stairs.

  I pushed open the door a crack to admit Jamie, face red as the fire below and hands piled high with food and drink. He sidled in, followed by a final burst of hilarity from below. I choked it off with a decisive slam of the door, and shot the bolt to.

  “I brought enough we’ll no need to go out again for a bit,” Jamie said, laying out dishes on the table, carefully not looking at me. “Will ye have a bite?”

  I reached past him for the bottle of wine. “Not just yet. What I need is a drink.”

  * * *

  There was a powerful urgency in him that roused me to response despite his awkwardness. Not wanting to lecture nor yet to highlight my own experience, I let him do what he would, only offering an occasional suggestion, such as that he might carry his weight on his elbows and not my chest.

  As yet too hungry and too clumsy for tenderness, still he made love with a sort of unflagging joy that made me think that male virginity might be a highly underrated commodity. He exhibited a concern for my safety, though, that I found at once endearing and irritating.

  Sometime in our third encounter, I arched tightly against him and cried out. He drew back at once, startled and apologetic.

  “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didna mean to hurt ye.”

  “You didn’t.” I stretched languorously, feeling dreamily wonderful.

  “Are you sure?” he said, inspecting me for damage. Suddenly it dawned on me that a few of the finer points had likely been left out of his hasty education at the hands of Murtagh and Rupert.

  “Does it happen every time?” he asked, fascinated, once I had enlightened him. I felt rather like the Wife of Bath, or a Japanese geisha. I had never envisioned myself as an instructress in the arts of love, but I had to admit to myself that the role held certain attractions.

  “No, not every time,” I said, amused. “Only if the man is a good lover.”

  “Oh.” His ears turned faintly pink. I was slightly alarmed to see the look of frank interest being replaced with one of growing determination.

  “Will you tell me what I should do next time?” he asked.

  “You don’t need to do anything special,” I assured him. “Just go slowly and pay attention. Why wait, though? You’re still ready.”

  He was surprised. “You don’t need to wait? I canna do it again right away after—”

  “Well, women are different.”

  “Aye, I noticed,” he muttered.

  He circled my wrist with thumb and index finger. “It’s just…you’re so small; I’m afraid I’m going to hurt you.”

  “You are not going to hurt me,” I said impatiently. “And if you did, I wouldn’t mind.” Seeing puzzled incomprehension on his face, I decided to show him what I meant.

  “What are you doing?” he asked, shocked.

  “Just what it looks like. Hold still.” After a few moments, I began to use my teeth, pressing progressively harder until he drew in his breath with a sharp hiss. I stopped.

  “Did I hurt you?” I asked.

  “Yes. A little.” He sounded half-strangled.

  “Do you want me to stop?”

  “No!”

  I went on, being deliberately rough, until he suddenly convulsed, with a groan that sounded as though I had torn his heart out by the roots. He lay back, quivering and breathing heavily. He muttered something in Gaelic, eyes closed.

  “What did you say?”

  “I said,” he answered, opening his eyes, “I thought my heart was going to burst.”

  I grinned, pleased with myself. “Oh, Murtagh and company didn’t tell you about that, either?”

  “Aye, they did. That was one of the things I didn’t believe.”

  I laughed. “In that case, maybe you’d better not tell me what else they told you. Do you see what I meant, though, about not minding if you’re rough?”

  “Aye.” He drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “If I did that to you, would it feel the same?”

  “Well, you know,” I said, slowly, “I don’t really know.” I had been doing my best to keep my thoughts of Frank at bay, feeling that there should really be no more than two people in a marriage bed, regardless of how they got there. Jamie was very different from Frank, both in body and mind, but there are in fact only a limited number of ways in which two bodies can meet, and we had not yet established that territory of intimacy in which the act of love takes on infinite variety. The echoes of the flesh were unavoidable, but there were a few
territories still unexplored.

  Jamie’s brows were tilted in an expression of mocking threat. “Oh, so there’s something you don’t know? Well, we’ll find out then, won’t we? As soon as I’ve the strength for it.” He closed his eyes again. “Next week, sometime.”

  * * *

  I woke in the hours before dawn, shivering and rigid with terror. I could not recall the dream that woke me, but the abrupt plunge into reality was equally frightening. It had been possible to forget my situation for a time the night before, lost in the pleasures of newfound intimacy. Now I was alone, next to a sleeping stranger with whom my life was inextricably linked, adrift in a place filled with unseen threat.

  I must have made some sound of distress, for there was a sudden upheaval of bedclothes as the stranger in my bed vaulted to the floor with the heartstopping suddenness of a pheasant rising underfoot. He came to rest in a crouch near the door of the chamber, barely visible in the pre-dawn light.

  Pausing to listen carefully at the door, he made a rapid inspection of the room, gliding soundlessly from door to window to bed. The angle of his arm told me that he held a weapon of some sort, though I could not see what it was in the darkness. Sitting down next to me, satisfied that all was secure, he slid the knife or whatever it was back into its hiding place above the headboard.

  “Are you all right?” he whispered. His fingers brushed my wet cheek.

  “Yes. I’m sorry to wake you. I had a nightmare. What on earth—” I started to ask what it was that had made him spring so abruptly to the alert.

  A large warm hand ran down my bare arm, interrupting my question. “No wonder; you’re frozen.” The hand urged me under the pile of quilts and into the warm space recently vacated. “My fault,” he murmured. “I’ve taken all the quilts. I’m afraid I’m no accustomed yet to share a bed.” He wrapped the quilts comfortably around us and lay back beside me. A moment later, he reached again to touch my face.

  “Is it me?” he asked quietly. “Can ye not bear me?”

  I gave a short hiccupping laugh, not quite a sob. “No, it isn’t you.” I reached out in the dark, groping for a hand to press reassuringly. My fingers met a tangle of quilts and warm flesh, but at last I found the hand I had been seeking. We lay side by side, looking up at the low beamed ceiling.

  “What if I said I couldn’t bear you?” I asked suddenly. “What on earth could you do?” The bed creaked as he shrugged.

  “Tell Dougal you wanted an annulment on grounds of nonconsummation, I suppose.”

  This time I laughed outright. “Nonconsummation! With all those witnesses?”

  The room was growing light enough to see the smile on the face turned toward me. “Aye well, witnesses or no, it’s only you and me that can say for sure, isn’t it? And I’d rather be embarrassed than wed to someone that hated me.”

  I turned toward him. “I don’t hate you.”

  “I don’t hate you, either. And there’s many good marriages have started wi’ less than that.” Gently, he turned me away from him and fitted himself to my back so we lay nested together. His hand cupped my breast, not in invitation or demand, but because it seemed to belong there.

  “Don’t be afraid,” he whispered into my hair. “There’s the two of us now.” I felt warm, soothed, and safe for the first time in many days. It was only as I drifted into sleep under the first rays of daylight that I remembered the knife above my head, and wondered again, what threat would make a man sleep armed and watchful in his bridal chamber?

 
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