From the book
The PretendersLe Havre, France, 1744
Bread," I muttered feebly, keeping my eyes tightly closed. There was no response from the large, warm object next to me, other than the faint sigh of his breathing.
"Bread!" I said, a little louder. There was a sudden startled heave of the bedclothes, and I grasped the edge of the mattress and tightened all my muscles, hoping to stabilize the pitch and yaw of my internal organs.
Fumbling noises came from the far side of the bed, followed by the sliding of a drawer, a muffled exclamation in Gaelic, the soft thud of a bare foot stamping planks, and then the sinking of the mattress under the weight of a heavy body.
"Here, Sassenach," said an anxious voice, and I felt the touch of a dry bread crust against my lower lip. Groping blindly without opening my eyes, I grasped it and began to chew gingerly, forcing each choking bite down a parched throat. I knew better than to ask for water.
The dessicated wads of bread crumbs gradually made their way down my throat and took up residence in my stomach, where they lay like small heaps of ballast. The nauseating roll of my inner waves slowly calmed, and at last my innards lay at anchor. I opened my eyes, to see the anxious face of Jamie Fraser hovering a few inches above me.
"Ak!" I said, startled.
"All right, then?" he asked. When I nodded and feebly began to sit up, he put an arm around my back to help me.
Sitting down beside me on the rough inn bed, he pulled me gently against him and stroked my sleep-tousled hair.
"Poor love," he said. "Would a bit of wine help? There's a flask of hock in my saddlebag."
"No. No, thank you." I shuddered briefly at the thought of drinking hock--I seemed to smell the dark, fruity fumes, just at the mention of it--and pushed myself upright.
"I'll be fine in a moment," I said, with forced cheerfulness. "Don't worry, it's quite normal for pregnant women to feel sick in the morning."
With a dubious look at me, Jamie rose and went to retrieve his clothes from the stool near the window. France in February is cold as hell frozen over, and the bubbled-glass panes of the window were coated thick with frost.
He was naked, and a ripple of gooseflesh brushed his shoulders and raised the red-gold hairs on his arms and legs. Accustomed to cold, though, he neither shivered nor hurried as he pulled on stockings and shirt. Pausing in his
dressing, he came back to the bed and hugged me briefly.
"Go back to bed," he suggested. "I'll send up the chambermaid to light the fire. Perhaps ye can rest a bit, now you've eaten. You won't be sick now?" I wasn't entirely sure, but nodded reassuringly.
"I don't think so." I cast an eye back at the bed; the quilts, like most coverings supplied by public inns, were none too clean. Still, the silver in Jamie's purse had procured us the best room in the inn, and the narrow bed was stuffed with goose feathers rather than with chaff or wool.
"Um, perhaps I will just lie down a moment," I murmured, pulling my feet off the freezing floor and thrusting them under the quilts, in search of the last remnants of warmth. My stomach seemed to have settled sufficiently to risk a sip of water, and I poured a cupful from the cracked bedroom ewer.
"What were you stamping on?" I asked, sipping carefully. "There aren't spiders up here, are there?"
Fastening his kilt about his waist, Jamie shook his head.
"Och, no," he said. Hands busy, he tilted his head toward the table. "Just a rat. After the bread, I expect."
Glancing down, I saw the limp gray form on the floor, a small pearl of blood glistening on the snout. I made it out...