Home > Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander #8)(6)

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander #8)(6)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

The eyes stayed narrow. Grey stared back at them. Then he closed his own eyes briefly and rubbed both hands hard over his face, like a man waking from a nightmare. He dropped his hands and opened his eyes again.

“You are not misled,” he said, through clenched teeth. “And you are wrong.”

Fraser’s ruddy eyebrows shot up—in genuine astonishment, Grey thought.

“Ye went to her because—from desire?” His voice rose, too. “And she let ye? I dinna believe it.”

The color was creeping up Fraser’s tanned neck, vivid as a climbing rose. Grey had seen that happen before and decided recklessly that the best—the only—defense was to lose his own temper first. It was a relief.

“We thought you were dead, you bloody arsehole!” he said, furious. “Both of us! Dead! And we—we—took too much to drink one night—very much too much . . . We spoke of you . . . and . . . Damn you, neither one of us was making love to the other—we were both f**king you!”

Fraser’s face went abruptly blank and his jaw dropped. Grey enjoyed one split second of satisfaction at the sight, before a massive fist came up hard beneath his ribs and he hurtled backward, staggered a few steps farther, and fell. He lay in the leaves, completely winded, mouth opening and closing like an automaton’s.

All right, then, he thought dimly. Bare hands it is.

The hands wrapped themselves in his shirt and jerked him to his feet. He managed to stand, and a wisp of air seeped into his lungs. Fraser’s face was an inch from his. Fraser was in fact so close that Grey couldn’t see the man’s expression—only a close-up view of two bloodshot blue eyes, both of them berserk. That was enough. He felt quite calm now. It wouldn’t take long.

“You tell me exactly what happened, ye filthy wee pervert,” Fraser whispered, his breath hot on Grey’s face and smelling of ale. He shook Grey slightly. “Every word. Every motion. Everything.”

Grey got just enough breath to answer.

“No,” he said defiantly. “Go ahead and kill me.”

FRASER SHOOK HIM violently, so that his teeth clacked painfully together and he bit his tongue. He made a strangled noise at this, and a blow he hadn’t seen coming struck him in the left eye. He fell down again, his head exploding with fractured color and black dots, the smell of leaf mold pungent in his nose. Fraser yanked him up and set him on his feet once more, but then paused, presumably deciding how best to continue the process of vivisection.

What with the blood pounding in his ears and the rasp of Fraser’s breath, Grey hadn’t heard anything, but when he cautiously opened his good eye to see where the next blow was coming from, he saw the man. A rough-looking dirty thug, in a fringed hunting shirt, gawping stupidly from under a tree.

“Jethro!” the man bellowed, taking a tighter hold on the gun he carried.

A number of men came out of the bushes. One or two had the rudiments of a uniform, but most of them were dressed in homespun, though with the addition of the bizarre “liberty” caps, tight-knitted woolen affairs that fitted over the head and ears, which through John’s watering eye gave the men the bluntly menacing aspect of animated bombshells.

The wives who had presumably made these garments had knitted such mottoes as LIBERTY or FREEDOM into the bands, though one bloodthirsty abigail had knitted the adjuration KILL! into her husband’s hat. The husband in question was, Grey noted, a small and weedy specimen wearing spectacles with one shattered lens.

Fraser had stopped at the sound of the men’s approach and now rounded on them like a bear brought to bay by hounds. The hounds stopped abruptly, at a safe distance.

Grey pressed a hand over his liver, which he thought had likely been ruptured, and panted. He was going to need what breath he could get.

“Who’re you?” one of the men demanded, jabbing pugnaciously at Jamie with the end of a long stick.

“Colonel James Fraser, Morgan’s Rifles,” Fraser replied coldly, ignoring the stick. “And you?”

The man appeared somewhat disconcerted but covered it with bluster.

“Corporal Jethro Woodbine, Dunning’s Rangers,” he said, very gruff. He jerked his head at his companions, who at once spread out in a businesslike way, surrounding the clearing.

“Who’s your prisoner, then?”

Grey felt his stomach tighten, which, given the condition of his liver, hurt. He replied through clenched teeth, not waiting for Jamie.

“I am Lord John Grey. If it’s any business of yours.” His mind was hopping like a flea, trying to calculate whether his chances of survival were better with Jamie Fraser or with this gang of yahoos. A few moments before, he had been resigned to the idea of death at Jamie’s hands, but, like many ideas, that one was more appealing in concept than in execution.

The revelation of his identity seemed to confuse the men, who squinted and murmured, glancing at him dubiously.

“He ain’t got a uniform on,” one observed to another, sotto voce. “Be he a soldier at all? We got no business with him if he ain’t, do we?”

“Yes, we do,” Woodbine declared, regaining some of his self-confidence. “And if Colonel Fraser’s taken him prisoner, I reckon he has reason?” His voice went up, reluctantly questioning. Jamie made no reply, his eyes fixed on Grey.

“He’s a soldier.” Heads swung round to see who had spoken. It was the small man with the shattered spectacles, who had adjusted these with one hand, the better to peer at Grey through his remaining lens. A watery blue eye inspected Grey, then the man nodded, more certain.

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