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Every Rose Has Its Thorn

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               Henry Beauchamp looked at his daughters sitting in front of him at the long dining table. He could not believe Julia had left them so early, and now he was alone to take care of Bianca and Claire, both of whom were still so young and had been giving him headaches since the day his wife left. Also, they had taken the beauty out of their mother, even though she claimed that the two had a bit of each other. Bianca was 16 years old and was practically a woman, with her straight black hair and white skin attracted curious looks from several men in the castle. This already worried Henry, and what worried him most was the way she treated the attention she received, always with smiles. He knew that his youngest daughter was a little spoiled, always liked to receive all the attention and stewardship that her parents offered, now at that age she demonstrated it with the opposite sex and it did not please him.

               Claire did not have much to worry about, not that she did not attract men's attention, that also happened, but she was the opposite of her sister, at the prime of her 19 years old she did not care to get a suitor, in fact, it was quite the opposite. She spent most of her time in the castle garden growing herbs and plants, just as her mother had taught her, and whoever interrupted her would face the wrath of the young heiress and it was not pleasant at all. Claire was beautiful like her sister, she also had dark hair, but not as dark as her sister's and they were curly like her mother's. Her white skin and expressive eyes were the trademark of the Beauchamp sisters.

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              The routine at the castle was very hectic, several employees running around to meet the requests of his Laird and his daughters. Henry Beauchamp was a man of few words, but when he spoke no one dared to question him or rebut his decisions. All but his eldest daughter. Claire had strong opinions and even though she respected her father very much, she could not remain silent in certain situations, such as the condition he imposed on his youngest daughter, Bianca. The one who was crazy to tie ties with some gentleman in the area, could only marry when her older sister did so. The day this decision was made, the whole castle became aware of the situation, for Claire made it clear to the four corners that she would not marry so soon, and even if her sister begged, she would not commit herself just to satisfy the wishes of the spoiled Bianca, who for her was still too young to marry.

               - Can you not, for once, be like all the other women in the castle and find a suitor? Daddy receives several offers from various gentlemen who are interested in marrying you! - Bianca spoke angrily and hopefully to her sister, who as always was in the castle garden.

               -You know that I am not like all other women, I do not need a man to be happy, I am very well like this! And daddy only receives offers from interesters in search of my dowry, I assure you they don't even know my name! - Claire answered with not much interest.

               - Claire, are you going to live alone for the rest of your life? And by the way, you're going to drag me along in this sad life! Don't you care a bit about my feelings? - she looked at her sister in a sad way.

               - Don't be dramatic! Of course I care about you! And I've told you several times that you're still too young to get married, you don't have to rush! You know our mother would never allow you to fool around with men at that age.

               - But she's not here now! - Bianca said it angry. - Impossible to talk to you! I'll have to try to convince daddy to change that meaningless rule, because if I depend on my dear sister I'll die single and depressed!

               - He won't change his mind, you know him very well! - Claire answered in the same tone as her sister.

               - But I always get what I want! - and walked away without hearing her sister's answer.

               - Good luck then! - Claire spoke in anger.

               She tried to go back to her garden activity, but that conversation with Bianca had taken her concentration away. She decided to take a walk around the castle. Whenever she was nervous, she would look for the lake that was next to the garden, it was the place that brought back memories of her mother and that calmed her down. She sat by the water and started to throw some pebbles, it was her favorite game when she was younger, her mother taught her how to play in a way that the pebble jumped over the water forming an effect that admired her until today.

               - Mother, I miss you so much! Why did you have to leave so early? - Claire kept her voice down.

               Everyone always thought of her as a courageous and angry girl, but they did not know that she had her loving and fragile side too, since the early death of her mother, she took on the role as her sister's protector, and every day she became more irritated at the failure of her task. Bianca was all that she repudiated most in a young girl, she was spoiled, inconsequential and, to everyone's joy, friendly. Claire knew her sister was like that because of her father's overprotection, after all Bianca was only six years old when her mother passed away. What everyone could not see was that Claire was also just a child and missed her mother as much as her sister.

               A while had passed and Claire decided to go back to the castle, because of the position of the sun she knew that lunch time was near and she didn't want to listen to her father's old speech because she was late again to sit down at the table. She hated all these formalities that existed in the castle, she just wanted to have a quiet lunch, without having to smile and please the several guests who were there just for some interest in her father's land. But who was she kidding? Everyone knew that she didn't make the slightest effort to please people, anyone who would like her, should like that way. She wouldn't be someone else just to satisfy her family.

               When she entered the castle, she saw that the banquet was already being served. She took her place beside her sister, who was already chatting animatedly with her best friend, Laoghaire, daughter of one of Henry's many faithful servants. Without raising her head to avoid any discussion, Claire soon finished her lunch and asked permisson to leave, she wanted to return to her duties in the garden.

               The day went by quickly and she had not even noticed the movement in the castle. She was going to her room when she passed the library and heard laughter, recognized one as her sister's, but the other was male and was sure it was not her father. More than quickly she tightened her stride and entered the library without warning. She ran into Bianca and a man she had never seen before:

               - May I ask what you're doing here alone?

               - Claire, this is my new tutor, Mr. Randall. - Bianca answered with an angry smile.

               - And since when is Master Gowan no longer your tutor?

               - Since he got sick and bedridden! Claire, he's over 70 now! It's about time he got some rest!

               - This is a way of speaking? He was a great tutor for me, I see no need for another, I can teach you everything you need! - Claire said angry looking at that Mr. Randall guy.

               - Our father saw the need and I totally agree! - Bianca answered with a smile for the new master.

               As the two sisters argued, Frank Randall, the new tutor, remained silent. She knew of Claire's reputation, her fierceness and protection of her sister, as well as Bianca's beauty and friendliness, so he preferred not to express an opinion in their discussion:

               - May I ask what's going on here? - shouted Henry. He had heard his daughters arguing as he walked down the hall.

               - Your youngest daughter was alone here in the library with this new tutor and they were laughing! I didn't know Latin could be so funny! - Claire answered cynically.

               - Daddy, he was just teaching me about some wonderful philosophers...

               - Were any of them in your cleavage by any chance? - Claire provoked it.

               - You respect me, sister! How dare you insinuate such a thing about me?

               - Claire Elisabeth! Go to your room now! - shouted Henry.

               - I think I'm a little old to be grounded.

               - How dare you disobey your father in front of the others? Retreat now! You will stop following my orders only when you are married, so you will obey your husband! Go! Before I regret not punishing you any further!

               Claire looked furiously at her father, she was more nervous to see her sister's satisfied smile. She knew there was no point in arguing anymore and she went to her room with hard footsteps:

               - Don't think you'll get away with punishment too, Bianca! I have already told you that classes with your tutor are held in the main hall of the castle, where I can see and hear what you are learning! Go to your room too. I need to have a talk with Mr. Randall.

               - But daddy...

               - But nothing! Business closed! Go to your room, class is dismissed for the day!

               Just like Claire, Bianca went to her room angry and made sure her father knew by slamming the door. Colum just took a deep breath and looked at Frank Randall who remained silent, staring at one of the bookcases in the big library:

               - I may seem old-fashioned and sometimes even a little aloof to what happens to my daughters in the castle, but I know very well what a young tutor like you want with my youngest daughter. And I also know that Bianca can be very nice when she wants something, but Mr. Randall, I think you may have heard about it in the village, everyone knows about my decision and I will just reinforce it! My youngest daughter can't get married until Claire does. Then I think it's good that you obey my rules and that whatever you teach Bianca is within reach of my eyes and ears.

               Frank only nodded his head.

               - I am glad you understand, because I think you also know that I do not like to be contradicted! - and with a light slap on Mr. Randall's back, Henry left the room.

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               Frank Randall left Leoch Castle with only one thing in mind, he would marry Bianca! The conversation with Henry Beauchamp had only made him more determined, how could he judge him that way? He had to admit that when he agreed to tutor his youngest daughter, he knew the fame of her beauty and friendliness, but he wasn't looking for a wife, let alone a girl of only 16. But now his thoughts had changed, he didn't like to be judged as a profiteer and would show Henry that he was far from that.

               But was he really? Everyone in the village knew the value of the dowries of the Laird's daughters in Leoch Castle and being a tutor was not the most profitable profession to have a comfortable life, it would not be bad to live in the comfort of a majestic castle like that. And as he had seen, Bianca was an attractive girl, a little spoiled, but nothing he could not fix with marriage. The big problem was that controlling father rule! Claire was known to be a difficult woman, not only difficult, but angry and not nice to anyone who crossed her path. Frank had only seen a glimpse of that temperament and knew it wouldn't be easy for any man to get close.

               While stuck in his thoughts, Randall did not notice the great uproar forming in the small town of Curlross. He only noticed the movement when some children bumped into his arm, knocking over his book bag:

               - But what is it? - he wondered angryly as he picked up his bag from the ground.

               - An outsider! They say he's from Inverness! - one of the children spoke excitedly.

               - And what's all the excitement about? We've had visitors from Inverness before! - Frank spoke with little interest.

               - But they say he's a fearless Highlander! Everyone who's crossed his path hasn't had a happy ending! - the other child spoke running towards the commotion.

               - "A Highlander"? Fearless? All who crossed his path..." - Frank abruptly stopped both his steps and his thoughts, who else would be perfect for an angry woman than a brave Highlander?

               Before he could get to the crowd, he saw the outsider approaching on his shiny black horse. The first thing he noticed was that he was a big man, even though he was far away and still on the horse, you could see his sturdy appearance. And Frank could soon notice the young girls in the village sighing at the Highlander, yes, he looked attractive, his long red hair caught the eye. It was him, it had to be him to conquer the untamed Claire! But how was he to convince the unknown man of that?       

               The stranger soon stopped near the inn and got off his horse. He was smiling at everyone and Randall didn't find him as intimidating as they said he was, but it was still early to form a consistent opinion about him. He sneaked past everyone who surrounded the place and entered the inn before the Highlander. He stayed on the corner until the man came in. And that didn't take long, soon the Scottish giant entered the small establishment, yes, he was a giant in Frank's eyes. Much taller than most of the men there, he made the place look tiny. He went over to the counter, dropped a few coins and asked for a room to rest. Frank paid attention to everything that was said, he had to talk to that man alone:

               - And may I ask to whom do I owe the honor of such a generous payment? - the woman who took care of the inn asked in amazement.

               - James Fraser, Laird of Broch Tuarach. - the Highlander spoke loud and clear.

               Frank was matutating, where was this land he had never heard of? He knew it wasn't near Inverness, where that James lad had come from? But now he was having second thoughts about whether his plan would work, a Laird from some distant land was probably there on business, and if he owned land, he was probably already married. He'd have to take a chance, but how would he approach him? He couldn't be so direct, he'd have to find out first if Laird of Broch Tuarach would be interested in his proposal.

               He decided to follow him to his room, of course he tried to be discreet, but he wasn't a bit cunning or agile like a Highlander and soon he was stopped by a dagger near his throat:

               - Why are you following me? Do I know you from somewhere? - James asked.

               - No, I'm not following you. - Frank tried to answer, but he stuttered.

               - And what were you planning? To go to my room for company? Know that I have no interest, I think it's good to look for another! - He spoke with his teeth clenched and bringing his dagger even closer to Frank's throat that he could feel the cold of the metal.

               - No! You're wrong! I'm Frank Randall, a tutor here in the village...

               - I'm not looking for teaching, I'm already well educated! If that's the reason for your approach, you can withdraw! - James was still looking at Frank with suspicion, but he'd already loosened his fist in the dagger.

               - Again, that's not what I wanted to talk to the Laird, I have a business proposition.

               James kept staring at Frank, but he lowered his dagger. Without taking his eyes off Randall, he asked:

               - And what kind of business would a small town tutor have to offer me?

               - I'd rather talk about it in a private place. - he answered by looking down the empty hallway. - I don't think my proposal would be of interest to anyone other than you.

               - So let's take a walk, I don't think taking you to my room would be the right thing to do, but know that if you're setting a trap, I'm a warrior by nature and I'd have you finished in seconds. - Fraser was serious, but mocking at the same time looking at Randall.

               - I have no doubt of that! Let's go that way! - Frank spoke indicating the back door of the inn.

               The two of them walked a bit down the road in silence, but when they were already a considerable distance from the establishment, James was out of patience:

               - Do we have to walk all the way to Inverness to hear your proposal? I have not slept for a day and if I no longer have patience when I am rested, it will not be now that I will have all the time in the world to hear what the maiden wants to propose to me!

               Frank only cleared his throat in response. James Fraser really was the perfect match for Claire!

               - I don't know if you're familiar with the area and the residents of Leoch Castle.

               - Henry Beauchamp? Yes, I know him! Not personally, but I know who he is. - he responded with little interest.

               - As I was saying, Henry Beauchamp has two daughters, Bianca and Claire. After his wife passed away, he made a deal that would only marry his youngest daughter when the oldest did. Bianca is the youngest daughter I'm a tutor of...

               - And you want to marry the brat? And what have I got to do with it? - James spoke by rolling his eyes.

               - Don't call her that! The problem is her big sister, Claire, she's not married and she doesn't want to do it anytime soon! All the men in the area who've tried to get close have been frightened off in a not very nice way, it's just, let's say, she's not the sympathy in person.

               - I keep asking you, what's it have to do with me?

               - Well, I thought you might be interested in marrying her.

               - And have you stopped to think I might be married already?

               - If you are, I'm sorry for such boldness, I... - but before he could go on, Fraser started laughing.

               - It's so easy to make you nervous, I'm having fun with it! But back to your proposal, what would I gain from all of this? Besides a woman who doesn't look very pleasant, as you described!

               - I don't know if the Laird has ever heard of the dowries of Henry's daughters? Anyone who marries them will have a comfortable life for all eternity!

               - Aye, then, is that what you want? Sure, a tutor doesn't earn much, I guarantee it would be a great change of life for... what's your name again?

               - Frank Randall.

               - Aye, Frank, it would be great to live in a castle, surrounded by employees, doing everything for you, now I get it. And I thought you were in love with the girl, Brenda, huh?

               - Bianca! And how dare you question my feelings and interests?

               - The same way you're questioning mine! Why do you think I'm good for this plan of yours? Either you think me a brute who would marry an angry woman, or you think me a self-interested man who would marry for money! Or is it both? - Fraser said it by getting close to Frank, intimidating him with his size.

               - I don't think it would hurt if you allied yourself with another great Laird... - but again he was interrupted by James' laughter.

               - Did I mention how easy it is to intimidate you? I think I need to teach you a few things before you try to become a gold-digger!

               - I just want to marry Bianca!

               - Oh, yeah, the same way I just want an angry woman for the rest of my life! - and laughed again at Frank Randall's angry face.

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              James Fraser and Frank Randall took different paths after their conversation. Fraser went to rest from his trip and Randall went to his house, he needed to think about the next steps for his plan. He knew he had taken a big step, but his future candidate to be Claire's fiancé had not yet given an answer, in fact James Fraser was an enigmatic man, had neither said yes nor no and just laughed at the whole situation, promising to look for the tutor soon. Frank was not satisfied, but that was what he had in store for him at the time, he would have to endure all the intimidation of that Scottish giant to achieve his goal.

               Of course it was getting married to Bianca, but now he could admit to himself, he was not in love with the girl, as Fraser had told him, the comfortable life in the castle won him more than the damsel's smile. And he might not be strong or a Highlander warrior like James, but he was determined and stubborn, he would get what he wanted!

               James Fraser went back to his room at the inn still laughing at the tutor he'd met. He knew he had gone to Inverness and then to the small town of Curlross in search of some lucrative business to save his land, but he never imagined receiving such an offer. Of course, it seemed absurd to marry a woman he had never seen, and Randall's description was of no help, but then he had the dowry, he knew Henry Beauchamp and his possessions, and he certainly would not be cheap about his daughters. The amount would pay off his debt and he could go back to being Laird of Broch Tuarach with all the luxury he once possessed while his father was alive.

               He lay in bed and sighed at the thought of his father. He would probably give him a beating if he knew what he had done with his land, everything was abandoned and the money had been spent on fights and useless conflicts with other clans, all because he wanted more land. He should have kept only what his father left him, but the power of being Laird took over his mind and heart, making him a petty person hungry for more. But now he was trying to make things right, he was going to get it all back, even if he had to marry a shrew for that. He fell asleep with a satisfied smile on his face.

               While the two men were satisfied with what they had decided, at Leoch Castle, Claire decided to go and talk to her sister, she was bothered by the silence between them after the incident in the library. She walked to Bianca's room and knocked on the door. Nothing happened and she tried again, this time with a harder knock:

               - Claire, I know it's you, go away, we have nothing to talk about! - Bianca screamed from inside the room.

               - Let me in, I just want to talk to you, no fighting, I promise. - Claire spoke in a quiet voice, she didn't want to get angry with her sister again.

               She heard her sister's footsteps coming to the door. She waited and then this one was opened:

               - I want to see if you can keep your promise. - Bianca said as she let her sister into her room.

               While Claire sat on the bed, her younger sister sat on a bench in front of the mirror, brushing her long hair:

               - You know I only do what I do to protect you. - the older sister spoke.

               - I'm already 16, I don't need you to take care of me anymore and daddy's already doing a great job locking me up in this castle! What could I do that's so serious?

               - Marry the first one who proposes just to get out of here?

               - I may be wanting to get married, but I'm not a fool, I won't give myself up to the first one who shows up!

               - Oh, and you weren't doing this to that tutor? - Claire altered the tone of the voice a little, which until then was soft.

               - No, I was just being nice, something you don't know how! But if he's interested in me, I don't see any problem! He's smart and he looks good!

               - And he's twice your age! Don't you think he might be just interested in your dowry? After all, he doesn't make much out of his job and men are greedy!

               - Why do you always see evil in everything? Do you have to be so pessimistic? Can't he just be interested in me? In what I am?

               Claire took a deep breath, she had to remember that her sister was young, only 16 years old and still innocent towards men. But why did she have to be so stubborn? Couldn't she believe her intentions to protect? Trust her big sister? Before she could continue the discussion, she saw something around her sister's neck that caught her eye:

               - Where did you get that pearl necklace?

               Bianca looked at her and squeezed the necklace with her hands:

               - It was Mama's! Dad found it the other day in an old jewelry box and gave it to me, said it matched my eyes. - she smiled.

               - You have no right! - Claire shouted. - This is one of mommy's few memories and you can't go out wearing it like it was made for you! - and she stood up going towards her sister.

               - She's not here anymore and I like to think I carry her with me when I wear the necklace! - Bianca got up from the bench when she saw her angry sister coming towards her.

               - And I have to watch you carry a memory of our mother while you're having fun with all the men in the area! Give it to me here! It's going back to where it should never have gone out!

               Claire tried to grab the necklace from her sister's neck and the two of them started a fight that was only interrupted by her father's loud scream:

               - But what's wrong with you two? I can't leave you two alone for a minute that you're already fighting! And now you're fighting like two men? What a shame! When did I teach you that?!

               - Claire who started it, she who's a brute and can't see me happy that comes to bother me!

               - If you weren't so spoiled and airheaded, I wouldn't have to take care of what you do!

               - I don't need a babysitter! You're not my mother!

               - I'm glad I am not! I wouldn't want to be so disgusted!

               - Shut up! - Henry shouted at his daughters causing them to get scared. - I don't care and I don't want to hear my daughters exchange harsh words like that, you are my most precious asset and this discussion would embarrass your mother! Claire, I admire your concern for your sister, but let her live a little, a tumble here and there is good for our growth, and Bianca, respect your elder sister, she only wants your wellbeing and I am sure some advice will be valuable to you! Now I want you to be at peace, I don't like to see my treasures like this!

               Claire and Bianca looked at each other seriously and with effort from both, embraced each other in a gesture of peace. Taking advantage of the approach, Claire took off her sister's necklace and with a satisfied smile, put it in her pocket. Her sister gave her a fulminating glance, but soon opened a smile when her father approached:

               - Oh, I was forgetting! I stopped by to let you know that we have a visitor! Lord John Grey has just arrived and is looking forward to your company for the feast. Put on your best clothes and don't be late! - and without giving time for any answer, he left the room.

               - Who is this Lord John? - Bianca asked.

               - A fool! He came here a few times when I was your age, you probably don't remember because you were just a child.

               - I don't know why I mind asking you, for you all men are idiots!

               - But this one really is, he thinks he's the most beautiful and important man! Now that he's become Lord it must be even worse!

               And making little effort to continue the conversation with her sister, she left the room.


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               Frank was worried, he spoke to James Fraser two days ago and had not yet received an answer to his proposal. Wouldn't he accept it? He was also afraid he would inform someone in the castle of his intentions, he knew that if Henry found out, he would send someone after him for sure. He'd passed in front of the inn just to check if his horse was there, and it was. So he hadn't left, he was sure of that, but why the delay in an answer? He was sure that the Highlander was enjoying himself at his expense, but what could he do about it? He was his only hope of a life of wealth.

               When he decided he would wait no longer and go in search of an answer, he ran into the giant Scotsman at the door of his small house:

               - Where are you going in such a hurry? - James asked as he almost bumped into Frank.

               - I was going to the inn, to look for you!

               - Well, your search is over, I'm here and I've come for you, let's go to Leoch Castle! Put on your best clothes because today's gonna be the day you propose to that brat!

               - I told you not to call her that! - Fraser just looked at him seriously. - And I'm already dressed in my best clothes.

               - Really? Don't you have anything better than this? It's the same one you were wearing two days ago! You really need this wedding more than I do... - the Scotsman was still looking down on him.

               Frank just took a deep breath and looked at his "partner". He was dressed like a typical Highlander, with a kilt of the colors that probably belonged to his clan, a vest, a coat with gold buttonholes, and a pair of boots that had been shined recently. Yeah, he had to admit that Fraser was better looking than the day he met him, his red hair was hidden under a bonnet, but now he looked like a Laird and not an outsider who had spent days riding without sleep or bathing.

               - Since you're ready, get your horse and let's go!

               - But I don't have a horse! - Frank answered.

               - What do you mean you don't have a horse? And how do you get around the land? - James looked at him indignantly.

               - Walking or hitchhiking with some wagon going to the castle.

               - Really? I'm about to give you the money I have to get you some dignity! Then start walking soon because I want you to get to the castle before nightfall, you can't miss dinner, you'll starve to death!

               - Can't I go with you on your horse?

               Fraser just laughed:

               - You're not serious, are you? Have you ever seen two men riding together? If you were a charming maiden, I'd do it with great pleasure, but you're a long way from it! And how do you want me to get to Leoch to make a good impression with a tutor sniffing my neck on the horse? No! Make do, I'll meet you there, I promise to do you justice and say good things about you to my future father-in-law! - and still laughing, he mounted on his horse and left.

               Randall wanted to curse him, but he knew he couldn't and wouldn't change his situation either.  He decided to stop whining and run to find a way to get to the castle, he had to get there soon, before Fraser do anything, because he knew he wasn't a person who measured his words.     

               James arrived at Leoch Castle and liked what he saw, it was exactly as his father told him, a large and imposing castle and in the future, his too or at least a part of it. He left his horse near the stables, soon making his presence known. He just smiled at people and walked to the main entrance, but before he could enter, he saw something in the garden that caught his attention:

               - John Grey! What a small world this is! I'd never imagined seeing you around here! - Fraser spoke when he saw his friend, or was just an acquaintance from long ago walking in the company of a beautiful girl. Was she Claire? If she was, he was in trouble, he wouldn't want to have to fight John again.

               - James? - he said scared, what was that damned Scot doing in Leoch? Wasn't it enough for him to steal land up north?

               - What are you doing here? I mean, seeing your company, I can already imagine why! - and he looked with a mischievous smile.

               - John, won't you introduce me to your friend? - Bianca asked. She hadn't noticed the red that went up on John's face when he heard the word "friend".

               - Bianca, this is James Fraser, a long-time acquaintance of my family.

               - Ah! So that's the famous Bianca! I've heard a lot about you since I arrived! - He spoke by taking the girl's hand and kissing her. - James Fraser, Laird of Broch Tuarach.

               - Laird? Nice to meet you, Bianca Beauchamp.

               - Bianca, honey, go tell your father we have a visitor! He'll love meeting a Laird from a faraway land.

               The girl just smiled and went to do what was asked of her.

               - Do "we" have a visitor? Have you, by any chance, committed yourself to the lady? - James asked.

               - Let's get through this formality. What are you doing here, Fraser? Or is it Laird? I know very well that wherever you go, trouble and confusion follow you.

               - Wow! What a resentment for losing your horse and a bit of your dignity! That was a long time ago, now you're a lord! You don't have to care about insignificant people like me! - James answered with an ironic smile.

               Before John could say anything else, another guest arrived at the castle, running and tired:

               - Ah! At last! I didn't think you'd make it in time, let's go in Randall, Henry Beauchamp is waiting for us! - Fraser spoke patting Frank on the back. - And John, it was great to meet you again! But don't worry, we'll still have time to talk more!

               Grey couldn't talk anymore, but what was that damn Fraser up to? And who was that Randall guy? He followed them both, wanted to hear what they were going to talk about with Henry. Meanwhile, James was talking to Frank:

               - I think it's a good thing you've got some trick up your sleeve, the girl you want to marry is already very amused by Lord John Grey and let's be honest, you don't stand a chance against him, not only in money, but in other things. -he spoke gesturing and looking Randall up and down.

                Frank wanted to ask more questions about this Lord, but Henry interrupted them:

               - My daughter went to inform me of one visitor, but now I see there are two! Mr. Randall, I didn't remember booking a class for Bianca today.

               - No, Laird, we didn't. I just came to introduce my friend to you. This is James Fraser, Laird of Broch Tuarach.

               - It's a pleasure to welcome you to my land! I remember meeting a Laird of Broch Tuarach before, probably your father. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?

               - It's a pleasure to be here in Leoch. I've heard a lot about this castle while I was growing up. And about my visit, I'm here to propose marriage to your eldest daughter, Claire.

               At that moment, Bianca let out a little scream that was soon censured by her father's angry gaze. John Grey who was entering the castle smiled satisfied, so that was what Fraser was up to.

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               - Wedding? But you know my daughter Claire? - Henry asked with a little amazement.

               - I don't know her personally, but I've heard wonderful things about her! - Fraser spoke with a smile.

               - Are you sure you heard about my eldest daughter? Wasn't it Bianca they were talking about?

               - I'm sure I want to make my request official with your daughter Claire, and let's be honest, I'm almost old enough to be the father of your youngest daughter, I may seem a little desperate for marriage, but babysitting a little girl is not in my plans!

               Bianca was about to reply James' comment when John showed up at her side interrupting her:

               - Fraser, you surprise me every minute! I've never seen you desperate to get married, what made you change your mind so suddenly?

               - The same thing that made you come here in Leoch to court our dearest Laird Henry Beauchamp's youngest daughter! And I'm not getting any younger either, I need to put my adventures to rest for a while and nothing like having a woman at home to please me!

               John wanted to kill his "mate" for his observation, but before he could do anything, he was startled by Henry's laughter that took over the great main hall of the castle:

               - Come, Mr. Fraser, I'll introduce you to my daughter Claire, I'm sure you'll get along just fine! - he still spoke with tears in his eyes from so much laughter. - And John, will you tell Mrs. Fitz we have guests for dinner?

               And the two of them went towards the garden that Claire always spent her day in, the garden that her mother grew and which was at the back of the castle, where nobody had much access, leaving Claire always alone and what she liked the most, without people around her wanting to please her. She never liked being surrounded by employees who did everything for her, but she was aware that she didn't know how to do much on her own, she hadn't been raised for that, to be independent.

               When they arrived at the garden, Fraser saw Claire sitting on a small bench while separating some plants to do something he couldn't imagine what it was, he didn't understand anything about gardening but what he understood was a beautiful woman and that Claire was, a lot. Her hair was tied up, the curls caught the sunlight and reflected a shade of red in contrast to the rest of the brown. Her skin was very light and the traces of her face very delicate, and of course, he could not help but notice her curves and even in the dress she wore he could see that she had a slender body.

               - Claire, dear, we have a visitor! - Henry spoke slowly.

              Claire looked in her father's direction and saw a man standing beside him. She had never seen him before and the first thing she thought about was how tall he was, how much taller he was than her father, and it wasn't just the height that scared her, it was the size of him as a whole. She soon noticed that he was a typical Highlander, he was in kilt and all the other props:

               - Claire, as I was saying, this is James Fraser, Laird of Broch Tuarach.

               - It is a pleasure to meet you! - Fraser spoke taking Claire's hand to kiss. Claire just smiled shyly.

               - Claire Beauchamp. - she greeted him.

               - I thought it would be nice if you two met just before dinner. - Henry spoke already halfway back to the castle.

               - Is there a reason he's staying here with me in the garden? Can't we talk later? - Claire asked a little angry.

               - No mó ròs, we have to get to know each other a little now because at dinner your father will announce our engagement. - James spoke with a smile on his face.

               - WHAT? Dad! You come back here! Now! - she shouted extremely altered, but it was late, her father had already disappeared from view. - You! Who do you think you are to come here and say I'm going to be your bride? You don't even know me! And I'm not your rose!

               - That's why I'm here now, to get to know you, we have exactly one hour before they announce our engagement, I think that's enough time to get to know each other! And I see that your Gaelic is sharp!

               - There's something else that's sharp too! - she spoke angrily while holding a gardening tool.

               - Oh wow! I see we'll make a great couple, I'm great with weapons, but I can tell you still need a little training, you're holding it the wrong way and you could be disarmed in seconds! - Fraser spoke and at the same time took the tool out of Claire's hand exactly as he explained.

               - You are a brute and you can say what you want, I will not marry you and I am sure my father will not go against my will!

               - Are you sure? He seemed very happy with my proposal and even asked for a banquet to celebrate! I can tell you that your sister is very happy about it too, and so is John Grey, not that I care about them, what matters to me now is you, mó ròs! - and James tried to get close to Claire.

               She took a step back with an angry face:

               - I told you not to call me that! And no matter what you say, I'm going to my room now and you go back to Broch I don't know the rest of where you came from! I'm not marrying you!

               But the moment she tried to get past Fraser, he held her by the arm and brought her face closer to his:

               - I'll just walk out of here with you in my arms and I guarantee you by the end of the night you'll be begging for my presence by your side! - and kissed the corner of her mouth.

               Claire tried to let go, but the hand that was holding her was strong. She slapped him on the face then:

               - You're an overbearing fool! And a brute! If one day I beg you for something, check my sanity because I'll be crazy! Now let me go! I'm sure if I scream everyone will show up here in a matter of seconds!

               - I'm not so sure about that, they know we're getting to know each other and John knows me, he knows women are always screaming for me. - he smiled and shrugged. - Now let's go to our dinner party, future Madam Fraser. We can't make a bad impression on the night of our engagement.

                When Claire would answer James's comment, he began to push her towards the castle entrance:

                - Has anyone ever told you that you are an overbearing man? Just because you're tall and strong, do you think you can go around grabbing women and forcing them against their will to do what you want?

                - Thank you very much for the compliments, dear, for you who think I'm a fool, you've paid a lot of attention to my physique! And I never force women to anything, they always come to me by their own will, even if for that I need to show the way! - he said winking. He loosened his hand on her arm and put it around his.

                Everyone who crossed the path was amazed to see Claire walking with her arms around the man, but they smiled politely. James kept a satisfied smile on his face as he listened to Claire's outrages, she could not keep quiet all the way to the main hall where dinner would be served.             

                By the time they arrived at the table, everyone was in their proper places. Once again they caused amazement by walking together, but Claire barely gave anyone time to say anything and let go of Fraser:

                - Why did they change my place? I always sit next to Bianca! - she asked angry.

                - Honey, tonight will be special, so you must sit next to Mr. Fraser. - Henry said.

                - I don't want to sit next to him, and there's nothing special about the evening, unless it's for the inconvenient visitors. - she spoke seriously and received a look of disapproval from John and Bianca.

                - Claire, dear sister, let's not spoil the night I got good news, sit down because we want to have dinner.

                - You can wipe that smile off your face, I'm not getting married, if that's what you think is the good news.

                - Mó ròs, let's not get into this discussion again! Everyone is hungry, including me! Just sit down! Ah Randall, I didn't see you were still here! You need to learn to talk more, for a tutor you speak very little, you need to make yourself noticed! - and Fraser sat at the table.

                Claire sat down too, but she was totally not hungry. Not only did she have to put up with that cocky Highlander sticking beside her, but she had to put up with her sister's annoying smile and her father's satisfaction. And what was that tutor doing there? And how did James Fraser know him? Now that she could think of everything that happened in the last few minutes, she remembered Fraser saying that John knew him:

                - Lord John, I am curious how you know my, I mean, Laird Broch Tuarach, he commented that you know each other. - she asked right away noticing the irritation on John's face.

               She looked at James and he still had that cheeky smile on his face:

               - Well, we knew each other a long time ago, when we were still very young, but we were never friends...

               - I didn't mention the word friends, I was just curious how a Lord like you could meet a barbarian like Laird Broch Tuarach. - Claire provoked.

               - I'm always amazed at your compliments on me, darling! - Fraser spoke by placing his hand on Claire's, who immediately removed it.

               - As I was saying, we met a long time ago, when we were young and a little inconsequential. I regret what I did at that time, it was a difficult phase, I had lost my mother and rebelled against my father...

                But he was interrupted by Fraser's laughter:

               - You didn't seem sorry earlier today when you saw me enter the castle! You still blame me for picking up your horse and your clothes after you lost them on the dice for me! I told you I was good at dice, but you always thought you were better at everything!

               Henry couldn't hide a small smile while listening to James' little story. It just made Lord John Grey even more angry that he made a point of telling his side:

               - I only played to teach you a lesson, but you cheated on the dice, as you always did and probably still do!

               - Oh, I'm glad to hear you were trying to teach me something, I really was a bit of a reckless young man, but at least I always came home dressed!

               And at that moment no one who was sitting at the table could hold a laugh. Even Claire, who had remained serious until that moment, opened a small and modest smile. But before anyone could see it, she returned to her serious features and continued her interrogation:

               - Mr. Randall, do you know Mr. Fraser? You seem very close to each other!

               - Honey, you can call me James, and don't talk that way, I'm not close to Randall, I just came to him to find out more about the lovely Claire I'd heard so much about.

                Claire rolled her eyes and kept looking at Frank Randall, waiting for an answer to her question:

               - It was exactly as he said, Mr. Fraser knew I was teaching here at the castle and came to me so I could introduce him to your father. - He smiled timidly, hoping to convince her with it, he hadn't had time to think about the rest of his plan, and Lord John Grey's presence got him off track.

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After a tumultuous dinner with all sorts of emotions, like Claire's anger and disgust at hearing and looking at her possible future fiancé, Bianca and Henry's happiness at knowing there would be a wedding soon, Frank and John's distrust and of course, James' satisfaction at seeing all this turmoil caused only by his presence, oh, he was also pleased with the abundance of food, he hadn't eaten like that night for a while, they all went away to their respective places.

James left with the promise to come back the next day to settle all the details with Henry. Frank managed to convince Bianca that it would be good for her to have more classes during the week and also return to the castle. John was still troubled by Fraser's presence nearby, he could not accept the idea of marriage out of pure desire for a wife at home, but he was even more concerned about the news he had received at the end of the night, a letter from his family begging for his return, serious problems were happening on his land and he would have to solve them. But he didn't want to part with Bianca, not now that he was winning her affection.

Everyone went to sleep with several thoughts in their minds. Claire struggled in bed without sleep, she could not believe what her father had done! Of so many suitors who had already appeared in the castle, why did he have to accept the most brutish and overbearing? Is that what that Laird of Broch Tuarach was, how he had dared to hold her like that? And even kissing close to her mouth? Oh, but he was so pushy! If he thought it would be easy to walk her down the aisle, he was completely wrong, she would make James Fraser's life hell!

The next day, as promised, James Fraser was at the castle in the early hours of the morning. Unceremoniously and already feeling at home, he entered the castle without communicating his presence. He soon found the one he was looking for, his future father-in-law, Henry Beauchamp:

- As promised, I'm here to settle everything about my engagement to your daughter Claire. When will the ceremony take place? I must return to my land soon and I intend to return with my wife by my side! - Fraser spoke with a smile on his face while examining some artifacts from Henry's room.

- Let's take it easy, Mr. Fraser! I know you're looking forward to this union, as are all of us here at the castle, but I need to hear it from my daughter, I want her to tell me she wants to marry you. As much as you talked about it last night, I'm still not convinced of her will.

James sighed, it would take more work than he imagined. But he knew he could convince Claire, he had to convince her to marry him, even if he had to use up all his charm to do it.

- You're right! But I am sure that by the end of the day your daughter will come personally to make that commitment! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to look for my sweet Claire, I look forward to seeing her!

Henry smiled still surprised at James' words. He only agreed with his head and saw his possible son-in-law walk out of his room with great strides. When he could imagine he would find such a match for his daughter? Over the past few years, several men came to the castle in search of a union with Claire, but they all gave up after meeting her personally. Now this Laird appeared on their land determined to get married and even after the harsh treatment received from his daughter, he had not given up on the engagement. He had to admire the lad's courage, as well as his good humor! He had had fun with his stories the night before. Yeah, he'd be good for Claire.

Meanwhile, in the gardens of the castle, John and Bianca were devastated by the Lord's early departure, who would have to return to his lands to solve some family problems:

- I can't believe you have to leave today! I was so glad of your presence in the castle, a companion for my tedious days! - Bianca spoke sadly.

- I was also happy to keep you company, you are someone I never tire of talking to! But don't worry, I'll be back as soon as I can! In the meantime, you can spend some time with your sister, I assure you that you two will have plenty to talk about. - he talked by taking her hand.

She just smiled with that gesture. The two of them stopped walking and sat down on one of the benches in the large garden:

- I don't want to talk about my sister now, I just want you to promise me you'll come back and you won't forget me once you get to your land. - she spoke as she squeezed Grey's hand.

- I will not forget, as soon as I arrive, I will write to you to let you know that everything is all right. You know that I am a man of my word, I make no promises that I cannot keep.

Bianca was delighted with the Lord's words. She was still saddened by his departure, but now she was calmer, she knew he would return soon. The two of them were trapped in that tender moment, their faces were very close and they heard nothing more that was happening around them. When John came close to kiss her, he heard a familiar voice:

- And my friend wastes no time!

- I'm not your friend, Fraser! - John spoke in anger as Bianca looked down, still shy from being caught.

- But after this beautiful scene I witnessed, it seems that we will not only be friends, we will be brothers-in-law! Will the father of the pretty girl be pleased with this news?

- Fraser, don't you have anything to do besides meddle in matters that are not of your interest?

- Oh yes, of course I do, I came here to ask your maiden if she knows where her sweet sister is, I'm looking for her and I can't find her anywhere.

- Maybe she ran away after she knew she'd have to marry you! - John said mocking James.

- You know they never run away from me, John! But I appreciate you trying to be funny, it's good to see you relax a little!

- If she's not in her garden, she's probably in the library, those are the places she spends most time in. - Bianca spoke timidly interrupting the discussion of the two of them.

- Thank you so much, Lady Bianca! - Fraser thanked her by kissing her hand just to annoy John.

He left laughing after seeing his friend's face. He entered the castle again in search of the library. He still didn't know how to walk the many corridors very well, but he was very good at orienting himself and soon found what he wanted. Bianca was right, Claire was sitting in one of the large armchairs in the library, concentrating on her knitting that she didn't notice James coming in and sitting next to her:

- I see you are a woman of many talents. - he spoke scaring her.

- God almighty! Do you have to scare me like that? How are you getting into places without being announced?

- I didn't mean to scare you, but I don't need to be announced in the place that will be my future home!

- That's what you think! I told you I won't marry, let alone with you sir!

- I said, you can call me James, if you like, you can even call me Jamie! From you, I'll take any treatment! - He said it with a smile and approaching her.

- How about this treatment? - she said trying to hurt him with the knitting needle, but it was in vain, he took it out of her hand before it hit him.

- I told you I need to teach you how to handle weapons, right? If you announce an attack, you'll easily be disarmed! But getting back to the subject of our marriage, I spoke to your father this morning and he expects you to come to him by the end of the day to confirm your desire to go down the aisle with me.

- He will be waiting then, how many times will I have to repeat that I will not marry you?

- I'm sure I'll change your mind!

- I doubt it! - she spoke seriously and crossed her arms, giving up her knitting.

- What if we make a bet?

- I'm not a gambling person!

- What if I say if I lose, I'll leave today and never look for you again?

She still had her arms crossed, but she seemed to be interested in Fraser's words:

- What would that bet be?

- Actually, it would be more of a game, whoever knits a little scarf faster, wins! If I win, you will look for your father and confirm our commitment, if you win, I will leave and you will never see my beautiful face in front of you again. What do you think?

She laughed, actually she laughed loudly. Was he stupid enough to make such a bet? Claire knew how to knit since she was a little girl, wouldn't he stand a chance, after all how a brute like that could handle a needle? She had never seen any man from the castle knit.

- I accept! - she spoke with a certainty in her voice as she stretched her hand towards Jamie.

- Then it's done! Hand me a ball of wool and a needle! - he said it while shaking Claire's hand on a deal.

- With great pleasure! - she answered with a smile on her face.

Little did she know that most Highlanders were taught from an early age to knit their own socks and scarves. Half an hour later she was in her father's office accepting Laird Broch Tuarach's marriage proposal while he smiled from ear to ear with a beautiful scarf on his neck.    

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               Claire couldn’t accept, how could she be so naive in James' bet? He could only be fooling her, he wouldn't risk it so easily. Dumb! She was talking to herself as she went to her room after her forced conversation with her father. Now she couldn't get away, she would get married and nothing would change her father's mind after she said she was "happier than she ever was to accept this proposal from this wonderful man". She was still wondering how she could talk about it without vomiting.

               Her father had agreed with the groom that the wedding would take place a week later, long enough to get the castle ready for the ceremony. Would she be able to escape in the meantime? Who was she kidding? She wouldn't survive a day away from home. And she also had to think of her sister, with her wedding arranged she knew Bianca would accept the first offer she would receive! John Grey was far away, so one less person to worry about, but she knew her sister wouldn't settle down, she had to keep an eye on her.

               Claire was definitely right about her sister, but the problems weren't coming from her but from the people around her. Frank was determined to marry Bianca and would take every second by her side to carry out his plan. He was lucky that Lord John Grey was away, he knew that Fraser was right when he said he couldn't compete with that John, but with him away, Bianca could see him with other eyes.

               In the days before the wedding, James was always in the castle, following Claire in every corner, irritating her more and more:

               - Do you really have to accompany me in everything I do? - she spoke in anger as she saw him entering the garden she was always working on.

               - Yes, I want you to get used to my presence in your life. And also because I have nothing more interesting to do in this castle! The activities are very limited here! - he answered with a cynical smile on his face.

               - Then why don't you go away to your castle? You can come back next week, or rather, don't come back! No one will miss you!

               - Always so loving in your words! - he spoke sitting next to her.

               She just took a deep breath and continued her work with her beloved plants. But she could not concentrate with his presence so close, she felt his breath on her neck:

               - You're getting in my way! Do you have to stay so close? - she spoke trying to get away, but he stopped her with one hand on her arm.

               - Since I'm here, you could teach me a little bit about what you do in this garden! - he whispered the words close to her ear.

               - I don't think it's in your interest to learn about plants... - she spoke stuttering a little. Why did he bother her so much?

               - You don't know anything about my interests, but if you want, I can show you! - He spoke closer to her face.

               Claire tried to get up and get away from that man who wouldn't leave her alone, but the little move she made just made her face turn to his and that's all Fraser needed to steal a kiss from her. She was surprised, but not in a bad way. James just smiled between the kiss, which caused Claire to regain her senses and move away from him abruptly:

               - I'm gonna check on my sister's class! - she spoke almost screaming. - And you, don't come any closer to me like that! - and walked away in firm steps, but still clumsy.

               - You know we're engaged, right? I'll get a lot closer to you than that! - he laughed when he saw her so shy, Claire really was an attractive and very challenging woman, but he loved challenges.

               Claire was walking so fast; she didn't realize it when she got to the main hall. She looked around and couldn't see her sister, or even one person in that castle. Where had everyone gone? She stopped to catch her breath that she hadn't noticed she was holding. She put her hands on her lips, and they were still a little numb from the feeling of the kiss and the unshaven beard of James. What had that kiss been? She had never done that before and always discredited the stories she heard about how good it was to kiss the love of your life. But what was she thinking? James Fraser was not the love of her life and that kiss was not going to happen again!

               She decided to go find her sister, after all that's what she said she would do when she ran out of the garden. She could only be in the library, but wasn't her father forbidden to take classes with his tutor there anymore? But she couldn't believe anything else, everything had turned upside down since the arrival of that damned Laird of Broch Tuarach! She rushed the steps and soon heard the laughter of her sister coming from inside the library, which not to her surprise, was with the door closed. Oh, she wouldn't let that happen again and rushed to open the door, but was stopped with a tug on her arm that made her scream:

               - Are you crazy? - she was still screaming as she saw the face of the person who had pulled her.

               - No, but you're looking like one, shouting down the halls while people are trying to study! - Fraser spoke calmly.

               - Nobody's studying in there, I don't know if you pay attention to anything but yourself, my sister's locked in the library with that good friend of yours, doing who knows what!

               - At least someone's having fun around here! And he's not my good friend, I'm too old to have this kind of relationship with anyone! - He said it while he was standing in front of the door Claire was trying to open.

               - Get out of my way! I can't let my sister fool around with the first man that comes along!

               - Let your sister have some fun, I guarantee she won't get married tomorrow! What's wrong with that? You're getting married and you were having fun with me in the garden too. - He spoke with a smile on his face.

               - Has it been said that you're an overbearing idiot?

               - Yes! Especially from you! But I already know that all that comes from your mouth is compliments to my ears! Now let's go back to your plants, I was even starting to get interested in the subject! - and he took her by the arm, curling up in his.

               - I don't want to go to my garden now, much less with you! - she spoke trying to get out of James' bond.

               - So let's take a walk around the castle, it's a beautiful day today and you know how rare it is in Scotland, let's enjoy it! - and without giving her a chance to answer, he was pulling her out of the castle.

Chapter Text

               And the day Claire was avoiding so much has arrived. The day James woke up in a good mood, for he would save his land. The day Bianca could finally go after her suitor, even if he was not yet in sight. The day Henry would fulfill his beloved wife's great wish. The day Frank saw his plan nearest to working. The day John Grey finally returned to Leoch in search of a chance with the sweet maiden.

               Not in the mood to get ready, Claire was hanging around in her room. She faced the dress they had made for the big day, she could not deny that it was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen, but the circumstances of its use discouraged her. How could she get excited about spending the rest of her life with that brute man? And farther away from her whole family! Since she was born, Claire had never set foot outside her father's land, had never walked more than the village near the castle, and now besides going to an unknown place, she would have to take care of a house and sleep next to a stranger! No, that was not part of her plans.

               But before she continued to think about her uncertain future, her sister entered the room with an excitement that made her feel even worse:

               - Claire, my dear sister! Let's get ready! We can't keep your groom waiting! - she spoke almost singing from happiness.

               - I don't give a damn about my groom! And may I know the reason for all this excitement?

               - How could I not be excited? It's my sister's big day!

               - Oh, yeah! Because you have no other interest in this day than my happiness!

               - How can you be so bitter at your own wedding? I'd be in the clouds! Today is the day you will be the center of attention; everyone will have eyes only for you! And besides, the day has dawned beautifully, bringing John Grey with it!

               - Ha! I knew it had something beyond my wedding to make you so happy! But sister, I don't understand you, until the other day you were laughing with that Frank Randall, now you're jumping around like a fool because of John Grey, after all, who do you care about?

               - Let's not talk about me today, though I'd love to discuss my life with my dear sister! - she smiled ironically at Claire. - Let's start getting ready, I insist on helping you!

               And without giving Claire a chance to say anything, she put her sitting on the bench in front of the mirror of the little dresser that was in the room and began the preparations. An hour later, under many protests and complaints, the bride was finally ready:

               - I can say that I performed a miracle with what I had in hand! - Bianca smiled with satisfaction. - Claire, you look stunning, my sister.

               Claire looked at herself in the mirror for the first time on the day and had to agree with her sister, she had never seen her like that and liked her reflection, but before she could continue with the smile, she soon remembered why she was dressed like that and shut herself up again:

               - I have something for you to wear and I'm sure it will look great on you! - Bianca spoke by removing the pearl necklace from Claire's jewelry box.

               - I can't wear this today!

               - Sure you can, that's one way mommy's gonna be there on this important day of your life!

               - Hasn't anyone understood yet that this day is being anything but happy and important to me? - Claire spoke angrily.

               - Stop this anger! It's impossible that you're not even a little happy to be marrying James! And don't fool me, I know you very well and I've seen some exchanges glances between you two!

  - Only if they were hateful glances! But let's stop this conversation, since I don't have another way out, let's go to the ceremony, as you said, I can't leave my groom waiting!

               Bianca just laughed at her sister's reaction. She knew her too well to know that James had messed with her head, even though she wouldn't admit it. Without further words, the two of them walked to the main hall of the castle. Henry was already waiting for them, he would take Claire to the groom, who was already standing in the castle garden, where the ceremony would take place:

               - You look beautiful, my child. - said Henry smiling when he saw Claire. - Your mother would be happy to know that you are wearing the dress she always dreamed of for you!

               - What do you mean, she's always dreamed of? - Claire asked without understanding her father's statement.

               - You remember how your mother always liked to draw, besides spending hours in the garden, yes? One day she told me she had dreamed of your wedding and more than quickly picked up a piece of paper and designed this dress, saying she didn't want to forget the perfect dress for you to wear!

               If Claire was strong so far, what her father told her tore her apart. She needed air, she couldn't breathe with that dress squeezing her, but she couldn't go outside the castle, everyone was waiting for her in a triumphal entry. With no other option, she just took a deep breath as she struggled to hold back the tears that had formed in her eyes. Her father, noticing her despair, hugged her and calmed her down:

               - Take a deep breath, Claire, you look stunning and I don't want to see you sad, I'm sure your mother wouldn't want to see you that way either! Come on, your groom is waiting for you and I can't wait to see his reaction!

               Claire separated from her father with a smile on her face. She might be sad that she was getting married for the wrong reasons, but it would make her mother proud. Arm in arm with Henry, they walked slowly into the garden, while music played on the harp accompanied their steps. Soon they both showed up at the main exit, making the groom see them. James didn't expect to see what he saw when he spotted Claire. He knew she was beautiful, but she looked gorgeous in that dress and for a moment he forgot everyone around him, keeping his mouth open watching her walk through the garden. At the same moment it seemed as if the sun was shining even brighter, if that were possible in Scotland, leaving her like an angel walking towards him.

               The bride could not help noticing the groom either. If she was a dazzling bride, he was splendid. Claire had already noticed James' beauty, no matter how annoying he was, she could not deny that he was handsome, but now he had left her with her mouth hanging open. So, the two met at the altar, one noticing the other's beauty in a way they had never done before.

               The ceremony seemed to last an eternity for Claire, she was nervous, did not know what to say, what to do with her hands, much less what to do with her groom, who kept staring at her with a smile on his face and she had to admit that his smile was charming. She barely remembered the words she repeated in her vows, she was only worried about what would come next and then the moment she feared the most arrived, the kiss between the bride and groom, the kiss that made them official as husband and wife. James smiled and came closer, she stepped back, she didn't know why she was doing it, she actually knew, she was shy and she hated being like that in front of her whole family. But the groom didn't intimidate himself and held her by the arms, not in a rough way, but he held her and kissed her.

               Everyone applauded. When they separated, James took her by the hand and smiled. Claire just looked at him without expressing a reaction, she still seemed anesthetized by everything that had happened, and damn this redhead, why did she get this strange feeling in her body when he kissed her? Was that normal? Before she could question herself any more, he pulled her close to him, passing his arm around her waist:

               - Come on, my dear wife, let's go home now!

               - Now? James... I... - but he interrupted her.

               - Aye, now! I can't wait for my dear Lady of Broch Tuarach to meet her new home! And I told you, you can call me Jamie, we have no more formalities, aye?

               - Jamie, can't I at least change my dress?

               He just smiled, intertwined their hands together and they went on their way to their new life in a wedding dress and everything.

Chapter Text

                As Jamie had told Claire, he wanted to get to his home right away and they barely stayed for the big party that Henry offered to celebrate the union of the two. Lallybroch, as the land of James Fraser was known, was two days' ride from Leoch and this worried Claire who had never spent more than two hours on a horse. Jamie had offered a "ride" on his horse, but she had insisted on having her own, just imagining spending hours with her now husband, stuck to her back caused different reactions, husband, how strange she felt about this classification, but she still couldn't admit that she wanted to keep her distance not by disgust, but by something totally opposite. And she was afraid, very afraid to surrender to her emotions.

               They left the castle in the early afternoon, they couldn't go far, because the sun would soon set, but Jamie didn't mind, he was more than used to camping in the woods surrounding the Beauchamp lands. At first he made an effort to talk to his wife, but after he saw a lack of interest on her part, he preferred to remain silent, he wouldn't go to any trouble for someone who wasn't willing. Soon the day came to an end and the moon took over the path ahead of them:

               - I think we'd better stop here to sleep, you have no experience riding and I don't want my wife to get hurt, it would take a lot of work to carry two horses! - he laughed.

               Claire just snorted in response. How could she live next to him every day for the rest of her life? She didn't like to think about it, she couldn't think about it at that moment, she didn't want to show any emotion to him.

               - Where am I gonna sleep? Are you going to set up a tent? - she asked curiously as she saw him starting a fire.

               - No, we're going to sleep under the stars, romantic, aye?

               - Not at all! And how will I protect myself from the cold and the insects?

               - Let's sleep together! - he smiled. - Didn't you know that the best heater is our bodies?

               - I did, but that's totally out of the question, I'm not sleeping with you! - she spoke outragedly.

               - You know we're married, aye? - he smiled as he approached her. - You'll have to get used to my presence, and I know you like it! - and hugged her.

               - We're married against my will! Let go of me! - she said coming out of his embrace. - And as long as I can avoid your presence, I will!

               - If you insist! You can lie down alone, but then don't complain when it's cold!  

               And so they ate in silence, each in a corner. Well, silence on Claire's part, Jamie seemed to entertain himself, no problem at all with his wife's lack of participation in the conversation he had with himself. When they finished everything, they went to sleep and as he had promised, Jamie lay down on one side and Claire on the other. In the beginning of the night the bonfire was still there warming them up, but as the dawn started to come in, the temperature dropped and Claire started to feel cold, very cold. She was chattering her teeth and couldn't fall asleep.

               She looked at Jamie and he seemed to be sleeping comfortably, how could he? Claire thought. And as much as she knew he was right, she didn't want him to know, no, she wouldn't give him that pleasure. But how would she warm herself up? She looked at Jamie lying down again and saw that he was using his tartan to cover himself. Could she pull it without him noticing? She kept groping the ground until she reached the end of the long fabric. She pulled slowly, but what she didn't know was that Jamie being a Highlander was always alert, his sleep was light, and on noticing something strange, he woke up and took his dagger that remained in his hand, even when he was asleep, and with a quick motion he pulled Claire, who stayed under the threat of his weapon:

               - Ahhh are you crazy??? - she screamed. - Do you want to kill me?

               - I thought you were the one trying to do that! - he answered by letting her go.

               - I was just... - and she was a little shy to have to admit what she was doing.

               - You were cold, weren't you? I won't say I told you so, but...

               Before Jamie could finish his sentence, Claire screamed again and clung to him hard:

               - What's that noise? - she said quietly, with her arms around Jamie.

               - Ah, it must just be a wolf, nothing much... - he spoke with disdain.

               - What do you mean, nothing much? It could attack us!

               - Only if it feels threatened, if we keep quiet, it won't be a problem!

               - Are you sure? - she was still talking in fear and still holding Jamie tight.

               - Yeah. Mó ròs?

               - Huh?

               - Didn't I say we'd sleep together? - he laughed.

               Claire got loose from him quickly, but before she could get away from Jamie, he pulled her out again:

               - Stop being stubborn, I know you're cold, let's go to sleep, tomorrow's gonna be a long day! - and he lay her down, pulling her along with him and covering them with his tartan.

               Claire stood still, as she noticed Jamie relaxing, she was barely breathing, she had never slept with anyone else, at least not someone else other than her sister and yet she was never that close. She could feel his breath on her neck, the closeness bothered her, but at the same time it warmed her. How was that possible? Gradually she relaxed her body and stretched herself to sleep. When she was almost asleep, she heard Jamie speak softly in her ear:

               - I knew you enjoyed my presence. - she just closed her eyes and fell asleep.

               She had slept well, but something was bothering her, she felt something heavy on her body. She opened her eyes slowly and soon discovered what was bothering her, it was Jamie's arm, he was hugging her and sleeping. How would she get out of that embrace? She didn't want to wake him up, she wanted a few minutes of peace, she thought, but did she want to get out of there? She was so warm and safe. With a lot of effort, she raised Jamie's arm, very slowly so as not to wake him up and that really didn't happen, he just moved, turning on his stomach and putting his arms over his chest.

               Claire couldn't resist and watched him sleep. She couldn't deny that he was attractive. His face looked like it had been sculpted, his eyes drawn like a cat's, with long reddish blond lashes. His nose was long, but totally proportional to his face, his lips always seemed to curl up into a smile, and what a smile! She hated when he smiled, she always loses her line of thought and most of all, her control and that was something she wouldn't admit. His long, red hair was messed up, going in all directions. Was it soft? When she was about to touch it, Jamie opened his eyes and scared her:

               - I didn't know I was that interesting... - he spoke in a voice still hoarse with sleep.

               - And it's not! - Claire answered quickly, still with her heart racing because she was almost caught, but why was she feeling that way?

               - Then why did you spend the last ten minutes watching me?

               - To make sure you wouldn't attack me again like last night!

               Jamie just laughed:

               - Of course, I forgot how dangerous I am.

               Without giving any more chances for that conversation to continue, Claire got up and started putting her things together. Fraser just followed her, still laughing alone, to soon continue on the path to his beloved home. Shortly they were on their horses, as the day before, Claire remained silent most of the way, but Jamie knew that while riding in front, a pair of whisky-coloured eyes watched him closely, which made him smile involuntarily.

               When the sun was almost down again, Claire spotted a castle a few miles ahead. It was an imposing building, which could be seen from afar. Every time Jamie talked about Lallybroch, she didn't pay much attention, but she could hear in his tone of voice that he really liked his home, even when John Grey mocked Fraser's carelessness with his property.

               - Mó ròs, we're home! We have arrived at Lallybroch, Lady of Broch Tuarach. - Jamie spoke with a smile on his face.

               "Home... Lady of Broch Tuarach..." Claire thought as she followed her husband.

Chapter Text

                When they entered Lallybroch, Claire was frightened, all the magnificence of the property that had seen in the distance, no longer existed, seemed like an abandoned house, a place that nobody lived for years:

               - How long have you been away from home? - she asked, seeing the dusty furniture.

               - Only a month. - Jamie answered in a normal way that amazed her.

               - The servants must take advantage of your absence not to work then, because this house seems abandoned!

               - Actually, I don't have many servants, but now that won't be a problem, you're here and I'm sure our house will look beautiful! - he spoke with a smile on his face.

               - Do you think I'm your housekeeper? And anyway, this house is huge, I couldn't clean it all by myself! - Claire spoke outragedly, how dare he treat her like that?

               - Don't worry, we have all the time in the world! And as I said before, I have a few servants and they would be honored to help you, wouldn't you, Angus? Rupert? - Jamie spoke shouting those names and then two men showed up in the room.

               They looked as bad as the house, with dirty, torn clothes, but soon they opened a smile when they saw Jamie:

               - I want you to meet Claire, our Lady of Broch Tuarach! My wife! - and with that pulled her by the waist, bringing her closer to his body.

               Claire just snorted in response. Rupert and Angus greeted her with a reverence, as if she were so important, she thought, being Lady of Broch Tuarach seemed more a burden than an honor:

               - Has Mrs. Crook already prepared dinner? We're hungry and I don't want to keep my dear wife waiting!

               Jamie said looking at his two servants, they just looked at each other confused and ran out into the kitchen as soon as they received a look of disapproval from Jamie. The truth was they didn't have much food in stock at the time and the cook had left Lallybroch for another place that paid more, Jamie had spent all the money he inherited from his father. He was very young when he was in charge of the land and thought he could live a king's life, but soon saw that Lallybroch couldn't function on its own and got into debt.

               That was the reason why he had gone all over the country in search of money to save his beloved house, which he had unfortunately only valued when he was losing. But Claire was the solution, with the money he received from Henry he would be able to pay the debts and with a lot of hard work, he would rebuild Lallybroch. He had just not told his current wife all this, in fact the only people who knew about the whole situation were Rupert and Angus, his faithful servants and friends. He didn't think it was necessary nor did he like to open up to people, he kept that humorous and ironic mask so that no one would know about his kind and faithful nature with whom he cared.

               Dinner was served shortly after Jamie's request. Claire was not impressed with the dishes, they were not much to her liking, but she was so hungry after spending two days riding that she ate it all in a matter of seconds, without at least complaining or making any remarks to her husband. Jamie breathed a little relieved when his friends and servants showed up with something reminiscent of dinner, he knew they didn't have much in stock and worse, he knew that neither Rupert nor Angus were skilled in the kitchen, but Claire didn't seem to mind.

               When they finished dinner, Claire felt a slight nervousness, she knew what was coming, they would have to go to the bedroom, they needed to sleep, at least she needed to! She was sore from the long hours on a horse and the previous night had not been very pleasant, at least not for the first few hours, before Jamie warmed her up. Next thing she knew, she was smiling from the memory:

               - I guess dinner pleased you, aye? At least you have a smile on your face.

               Noting Jamie's remark, Claire blushed and then tried to pull herself together with the same expression she always showed her husband:

               - My smile on my face was for finally being silent by your side, at least when you had food in your mouth you didn't talk so much! - Claire spoke feeling relieved to see Angus and Rupert laughing at her observation.

               What was wrong with her? Smiling as she remembered Jamie's body so close to hers! She tried to ignore those thoughts, what she really needed was a good night's sleep, and alone! But that didn't seem to be what her husband had in mind:

               - Since we're done with dinner, it's time to go to bed! Rupert, Angus! You can make yourselves at home and enjoy the rest of our feast! - Jamie spoke with an ironic smile on his face.

               The two friends just laughed in response. Jamie more than quickly took Claire by the arm and guided her to the top floor of the house. He was amazed she didn't run away from his touch, but he didn't dare tease her about it, he had to admit he was enjoying Claire's new attitude. However, when they arrived in the room:

               - Where will you sleep? - Claire asked dryly.

               - As far as I know, this is my bedroom, so this is where I will sleep, as I do every night.

               - So do you have another spare room for me? - she asked now a little apprehensive.

               - You remember that two days ago you accepted me as your husband, right? And you know that husband and wife sleep in the same bedroom?

               - Of course I remember! I'll never forget that day - she noticed him smiling. - And not for the reason you're thinking! Okay, so if we're going to sleep in the same room, I'll take the bed and I can lend you a blanket to sleep on the floor, or you can use your tartan!

               - I'm not sleeping on the floor! - Jamie meant it, but still with a smile on the corner of his mouth. - Claire, you slept next to me last night and nothing happened! And it's cold, I guarantee you it'll be much better to have me by your side!

               - Just light the fireplace! Problem solved! - She said approaching the fireplace on the corner of the room, but soon noticed it hadn't been used for some time.

               - We're out of wood! And nothing will convince me to go after that now! Come on, lie down here, the bed is very spacious! - He said it taking off his kilt, which made Claire close her eyes quickly.

               Was he crazy? Taking his clothes off like that? In front of her? He just laughed when he saw her reaction. He was still wearing his shirt and unceremoniously lay in bed. Claire didn't know what to do, would she lie there with him? There would be no other place and surely the floor was not at all inviting! Besides being cold, it was dirty. Didn't they have any servants in this house? Everything seemed dirty and poorly cared for, which didn't match the appearance of its owner at all. Jamie was always well dressed and presentable, although brute and funny, he seemed to have been very well educated. What was wrong with Lallybroch, anyway? Before Claire could think of anything else, she heard Jamie's voice again:

               - Do you intend to spend the night standing by the fireplace? - he said smiling at her. Jamie was already under the covers.

               She just smiled shyly in response. Would she sleep in her dress? But it was dirty from the ride and besides it was squeezing her, it would be extremely uncomfortable to sleep in it. Seeming to read her thoughts, Jamie spoke:

               - Sleep with your combination on, I promise not to look if it makes you uncomfortable. - and he turned, staring at the emptiness of the wall beside his bed.

               Claire breathed in relief and began to undress. She was surprised at Jamie's attitude, she was sure he'd take the first chance to try something with her, but apparently, she was wrong. Without thinking about anything else, she quickly finished taking off her dress and ran to warm up in the couple's big bed. Jamie, noticing her presence at his side, turned to face her:

               - You know I'd never take advantage of you, right, Claire? - he spoke in a husky voice and with a serious look.

               Claire felt a chill go through her whole body. She had never heard him talk like that before, so sweet, so true and without an ounce of irony in his voice. For a moment she lost herself in his blue eyes, how could she never have noticed how beautiful they were? She got scared when she felt Jamie's hand on her face:

               - I may look like an insensitive brute, but I'll never force you into anything you don't want. Well, at least nothing but marry me. - he laughed.

               Claire couldn't resist and she laughed too. Jamie then turned to the other side and kept his voice down:

               - Good night mó ròs. Sleep well!

               - Good night, Jamie. - Claire answered with a smile on her face. Who was James Fraser, after all?

Chapter Text

               Jamie woke up with a smile on his face, he had a great night's sleep! How nice it was to be home, but better yet, to be home without worrying if he could survive another month with the money he had. And it was all because of her, Claire. He looked quickly to the side and she was not there and for a brief moment panicked, she had run away?

               He got out of bed and put on his kilt quickly. When he left the room he calmed down when he heard Claire's voice echoing through the house. Without realizing it, he opened a smile when he heard her giving orders to Rupert and Angus:

               - I see that somebody woke up cheerful! - Jamie spoke making Claire look at him.

               - Someone has to take care of this house! And as you said, I'm Lady of Broch Tuarach. - She spoke so confidently that it brought an even bigger smile on Jamie's face.

               The living room of the house already looked the same as it did years ago when Jamie's parents were alive. Claire had cleaned up, that is, Rupert and Angus had cleaned up. The curtains were open, making everything clear and bright. To Jamie's amazement, the dining room table was set with breakfast:

               - I worked a miracle with what was in the kitchen, I hope you can eat it - Claire spoke proudly - Rupert and Angus liked it!

               Jamie looked at his friends who just looked away, away from Claire's eyes. He laughed and sat at the table. Actually, Claire had made a miracle with the ingredients, everything seemed very good, but unfortunately it was only in appearance, the taste was not pleasant at all. Jamie made an effort to finish the oatmeal without showing anything on his face:

               - You know you're a terrible liar? - Claire spoke facing her husband. - Go on, make some joke about my lack of cooking skills!

               - Why do you think so little of me, mó ròs? - Jamie spoke with a smile. - Your breakfast is fine! But you won't have to worry about that anymore, I'm sure Mrs. Crook will be back tomorrow!

               When Claire would answer Jamie, a short, bearded man came crashing into the room:

               - Where are all the people in this house?

               - Murtagh! How long, my dear godfather! - Jamie said, getting up from his chair and going towards the man.

               - You know very well why I haven't seen you in so long! But I got your letter and came as fast as I could! Where's the mo... - but he was interrupted by Jamie.

               - Let's finish this conversation in my office, I don't want to get in the way of my dear wife with boring business talk! - Jamie said it by pushing his godfather into the office.

               Murtagh just looked at him and nodded his head. Claire didn't even try to understand what was going on, they were probably going to talk about things that didn't interest her, and besides, she was very busy with the organization of the house, she wanted to make it at least habitable for her and Jamie, that is, for her, Jamie didn't seem to care about it and neither did she for him, yes, she didn't care.

               - Why do we have to talk here? You never used your father's office!

               - Because Claire doesn't need to know that I'm giving you money to pay debts! - Jamie was serious.

               - She didn't see the condition of this house? Anyone would realize that Lallybroch is abandoned!

               - Well, if she did, she didn't say anything and I'd rather leave it at that. Anyway, soon this house will be back to the way it was! - Jamie said it with his eyes glowing.

               - Is it just me or has this Claire got to you? I've never seen that gleam in your eyes, except when you worked alongside your father with the horses.

               - I married her, didn't I?

               - But I thought you married only for the money, and everybody knows what Henry's eldest daughter is like...

               - The money was very important - Jamie said cutting it - but Claire is very pretty and... - now Murtagh interrupted him.

               - I knew my godson was different! He's in love! - He said it laughing hitting Jamie's arm.

               - The money's here! - Jamie changed the subject, even with the smiling eyes of his godfather - Pay all I owe and go after Mrs. Crook, I need a cook urgently!

               Murtagh didn't say another word, took the money and left. But just when he saw Claire tidying up the rooms in the house, he understood why his godson was like that, and from the young woman's look, she felt the same way about Jamie.

Chapter Text

               After a hectic day of cleaning and tidying up, Claire was bored. Little by little new people arrived, at least for her, to help in the house. Jamie was never around, he was always busy giving orders or even working. She couldn't help but admire him, she used to think he was an authoritarian and lazy person, but since they arrived at Lallybroch, he had changed. He was excited, always with a smile on his face even after spending hours working on the plantations.

               Claire was always used to having everything in her hands, never had to help in the kitchen or in the field, and never saw the Laird working either. Her father was very good with all the servants, but never left the castle to work with them as Jamie did. She had to bite her tongue, everyone had warned her that leaving Leoch would do her good, her mother always said that, seeing the world with other eyes, but when she would imagine that for this to happen she would have to marry a man she barely knew, a Highlander warrior, a brute.

               But she couldn't see Jamie like that anymore, he was still a joker and sometimes a bit serious, but a brute or an overbearing? Not really, on the contrary, she saw a kind and sympathetic Jamie. What's happening to you Claire? She thought as she watched Jamie enter the room where she was sitting reading a book.

               - Ah! There you are! Come on, I want to show you something! - he said excitedly pulling her out of the chair.

               - Where are you taking me? And why can't I see? - Claire asked.

               Jamie had covered her eyes with his hands. She knew they were outside the house, she felt a cold air on her face and could hear the noise of the animals:

               - Wait a little longer and you'll know! - he answered with a smile in his voice, she couldn't see, but she knew he was smiling.

               They walked for a few more minutes and finally he took his hands off her face. Claire blinked a few times to adjust her vision to the light.

               - I know I still need to cut some of that bush and tidy up a few things... but it's the perfect place, the morning sun is the weakest, and when it rains there's no water coming from the house because we're uphill... - while he was animatedly describing the space, Claire was trying to understand what it all meant - So mó ròs, did you like it? - Jamie asked looking hopefully.

               - Jamie, I still don't understand what this place is that you brought me... - she spoke confused and ashamed of not knowing what Jamie was so sure of.

               - Your garden Claire! I know it's not the same as what you had in Leoch, but... - Claire wouldn't let him finish the sentence, on an impulse she hugged him, catching him off guard causing the two of them to fall to the ground.

               Claire was suddenly shy. She was lying on Jamie, the two of them on the ground wrapped in grass and he was just smiling:

               - Does that mean you liked it? - Jamie asked.

               - Jamie, I don't even know... I, you don't know... I think I'd better get up... - she stuttered her words, but Jamie held her down, keeping her from getting up.

               - I've said you don't have to be afraid of me, and I can tell you I really liked your reaction - he spoke close to her face.

               Claire couldn't speak any more. It was a mixture of emotions that she couldn't understand, she was thrilled that Jamie was worried about making a garden for her, the garden that made her feel close to her mother, how did he know? And why did he care so much? And now they were lying on the ground, bodies glued together, and she couldn't help but stare at Jamie, even though she wanted to get out of there, her body didn't obey.

               Jamie didn't think, he just did something he wanted to do since the wedding, he kissed her, now they were just the two of them, no audience, no disguise, just Jamie and Claire, husband and wife. The kiss was delicate, slow and little by little he noticed Claire relaxing in his arms and corresponding to everything he was demonstrating. The two remained there, stuck to that kiss and to the moment until Claire moved away. Jamie expected everything except what he heard:

               - Thank you, Jamie. - she spoke with a real smile on her face.

Chapter Text

               After the "incident" in Claire's future garden, the couple did not exchange kisses again, but on every occasion they could, they touched each other, even if it was a bump while doing some work in the house or when they went to sleep and the next morning they were cuddled. Claire was no longer afraid of this closeness, in fact she was enjoying it and a lot, but she knew that Jamie wanted more, after all they had not yet consummated the marriage. But no matter how much Jamie wanted her, he would keep his promise, he wouldn't force her into anything, everything would have its time and Jamie knew it, he was getting signs each new day.

               One more morning in Lallybroch, Claire woke up and saw that she was alone, but it wasn't surprising, Jamie always woke up early to work. Without any hurry, she put on her clothes and went downstairs for breakfast, but when she was coming down the stairs, she heard Jamie's voice and got scared, she had never heard him use that tone. She wondered if she should wait for him to finish the discussion with whoever or if she should come down and run to the kitchen. She chose the first option and even though she didn't want to, she started paying attention to the conversation:

               - But Murtagh has given you enough money, I don't owe you anything else McNab! - Jamie spoke out of patience with the man.

               - And do you think that amount was enough? That didn't cover half the expenses I had to take your poor grain to sell in Inverness!

               - I know damn well the expenses you had in Inverness and it has nothing to do with what I have asked you for! - By now Jamie was face to face with McNab, a man with a grumpy face and many inches shorter than Fraser.

               - I don't know what you mean but I see I can't have a civilized conversation with you Fraser, I'll come back another day to get what you owe me!

               And without giving Jamie a chance to react, the little man headed for Lallybroch's front door. Claire heard everything quietly, at least that's what she thought:

               - Claire, you can come down, he's gone and I hope he doesn't come back so soon! - Jamie spoke a little calmer.

               Claire came down the stairs slowly and saw that her husband was sitting on the small sofa in the living room. He had his head down, looking thoughtful and not happy at all. She was uncertain, but still sat down next to Jamie:

               - Jamie, is everything all right? What was this McNab talking about? Do we really owe him? - Claire asked in a low tone.

               Jamie couldn't help but smile when he heard her say "we", she really considered them one.

               - You don't have to worry about McNab, he's just a grumpy man who can't resist a dram of whisky! Unfortunately I had to request his services, but nothing Murtagh can't handle. - he answered calmly.

               Claire just nodded her head. Both were silent, but without leaving the place. She didn't know what to talk about, they didn't used to talk much after all they barely had time to stay together. When the silence was getting unbearable, Claire looked at the wall in front of her and a painting caught her attention, it was the first time she noticed the paintings in that room:

               - Is that your mother? - Claire asked as she stared at a picture of a beautiful redheaded woman with a little boy on her lap.

               Jamie raised his head and looked at the portrait.

               - Aye, it's my mother with me on her lap. - Jamie answered with a smile on his face - it was the last portrait she ever painted.

               - She was an artist, it's perfect! - Claire spoke while examining the portrait.

               - She loved spending the day here in the living room painting, it drove my dad crazy because it messed everything up! - He spoke laughing as he remembered his parents' countless arguments over his mother's works of art - If I had known she would never paint again, I wouldn't have been so stubborn to pose for this portrait... - and the smile on Jamie's face disappeared, making room for teary eyes.

               Claire knew what he meant, she'd been through it herself with her mother. As an automatic motion, she took Jamie's hand that was resting on his knee and squeezed it, making sure she was there for him and that she understood what he was feeling, even if she didn't speak the words directly. Jamie looked at her and smiled, squeezing her hand back:

               - What about your mother? From what I heard, you were very close...

               - Yes, we were! While Bianca was always attached to my father, I spent almost all my time glued to my mother's skirt, followed her everywhere, that's how I learned to take care of the garden. - Claire was a little emotional. - But I was always very stubborn and we fought a lot, I think that even being attached to her, I always had the same personality as my father and it only got worse when I grew up... - she smiled a little when she saw Jamie laughing.

               She never talked about her mother to anyone, but with Jamie it seemed so easy, she felt so comfortable talking about things that she always kept inside:

               - Ever since our mother left, I try to take care of Bianca, I try to be a good example, but it seems like everything I do is wrong and she doesn't care about anything I talk about! - Claire spoke in frustration.

               Jamie squeezed her hand again, but this time he made Claire look directly at him before he started talking:

               - Claire, I'm sure that you're a great example to your sister, but you know how young siblings are, how stubborn they are and how they think they already know everything. From the little I've known Bianca, she's exactly like that, but I could see the look of admiration for you, she just can't admit that her older sister is right about the suitors she gets... - Jamie was already laughing at the end of his little speech, he was like that, he liked to make people laugh, have fun by his side and Claire did exactly that.

               - I told you, you're a terrible liar, huh? - she laughed - I know my sister too well to know that she blames me every day for our mother's absence... - Claire was amazed when those words came out of her mouth, she had never verbalized such a thought before.

               - Why would she do that? I'm sure you had nothing to do with your mother's death, these things happen, unfortunately... - Jamie spoke trying to assure Claire that her thought was absurd.

               - She got sick after spending a whole day in the rain to decorate the garden for my birthday, all because I wanted a princess party... - Claire spoke in disgust. - It was because of my silly whim that she died, it was because of me!

               Now tears were running down Claire's cheeks, it had been years since she had thought about that day, that birthday. She didn't know why she was telling all this to Jamie, she hadn't told anyone before, but the words came out of her mouth so fast that she couldn't even think.

               Jamie didn't think twice and hugged his wife, he knew that Claire was a difficult person to express feelings and he didn't want to discourage her, nor abandon her. He held her so tightly that for a minute he thought he would break her, but she put her face on Jamie's shoulders, trying to hide her face from everything around her:

               - Mó ròs, don't say that, your mother would do anything for you, being a whim or not and she got sick because unfortunately we can't control these things, I know how you feel because I also blamed myself when my mother left, I thought if I'd been less stubborn, less feisty and more loving, she wouldn't have got sick and left us... but my father made me see that she loved me exactly as I was and that even if I did everything differently, she'd still be gone.

               Claire pulled away from Jamie and looked him in the eye and felt for the first time something she had never felt before, her heart was racing and at the same time she felt safe, as if nothing could harm her. Jamie opened that smile that she loved so much and brought her face closer to his. And once again they kissed, a kiss salted by Claire's tears, but a kiss that brought understanding and intimacy they hadn't had before:

               - Thank you Jamie... again! - she said with a smile.

               - No need to thank me, I just want to keep seeing this smile!

               She smiled even more, is that how people felt when they were in love?