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"But you told Frances—you promised her that no one would take advantage of her. And I could have sworn she believed you!"
"Aye," Jamie said quietly. He picked up the piece of rock maple and his knife, and began mechanically cutting slivers. "Aye, I thought so, too—hoped so, at least."
I sat still, watching him.
"I suppose it was foolish," I said at last. "To think that reassurances and promises would be enough. I imagine we don’t know the half of what she saw, being raised in a brothel like a—a prize calf."
"And one knowing it was bound for slaughter?" he put in quietly. "Aye."
We lapsed into a strained silence, both thinking of Fanny. After a few moments, Jamie’s hands resumed their work, slowly, and a few moments later, he glanced at me.
"How many times did ye tell me Jack Randall was dead, Sassenach? How many times did I tell myself that?" The wood shavings fell in small, fragrant curls around his feet. "Some ghosts dinna leave ye easily—and ye ken fine that it’s her sister who’s haunting wee Frances."
"I suppose you’re right," I said unhappily. It wasn’t quite a shiver that I felt at mention of Jane—but a cold sadness that seemed to sink through my skin. "But surely there’s something we can do to help?"
"I expect there is." He set the cleaned stick of wood aside, and bent to sweep the shavings onto a sheet of paper. "Were we in reach of a priest, I should have a Mass said for the repose of her sister’s soul, to start with. If I can find one in Wilmington, we’ll do that. But otherwise… I’ll speak to Roger Mac about it." His mouth twisted wryly.
"I daresay Presbyterians dinna believe in exorcism, or prayers for the dead, either. But he’s a canny man, and he kens the heart; he may call it something else, but he’ll know what I mean—and he can speak wi’ Frances, and pray for her, I’m sure."
He shook the wood shavings into the fire, where they caught at once, curling into brightness and sending up a clean, sweet smoke. I came to stand behind him, watching them burn, and put my hands on his shoulders, warm and solid under my fingers. He leaned his head back against me and sighed, closing his eyes as he relaxed in the warmth. I bent my head and kissed the whorl of the cowlick on his crown.
"Mmphm," he said, and reached up a hand to take mine. "Ken, it works the other way, too."
"The stubbornness of a mind that willna let go." He squeezed my hand and looked up at me. "While we were parted, how many times did ye tell yourself I was dead, Sassenach?" he asked softly. "How often did ye try to forget me?"
I stood motionless, hand curled round his, until I thought I could speak.
"Every day," I whispered. "And never."
Go to my Book Nine webpage for more excerpts (Daily Lines)!
Originally posted on my Facebook page on February 8, 2016.