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Off The Cuff

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Claire Beauchamp had never really enjoyed Paris, nor did she understand the appeal.

She had read about it in poems, heard songs about the City of Love, and saw what Paris looked like through Brassai’s lenses — which were all at fault for her disappointment with the real thing the first time she had stepped foot into the city.

She came to Paris four to six times a year, at the very least. Every time, it was for fashion week, might it be ready-to-wear or couture. Sometimes, she would come for a photoshoot or some urgent meetings, which meant she was here a lot.

From the moment she was an assistant, to now being the editor in chief of one of the most prestigious fashion magazines, she walked through the streets of Paris without much attention to things around her. She never noticed how beautiful the sunlight reflecting onto the buildings was. She never focused on the people sitting at the cafés, enjoying time passing by.

She was always in a rush, phone in hand or against her ear as she worked on one thing or another while making her way through the city, heading towards another presentation or a meeting. She was usually followed closely by an assistant, one she never bothered to remember the name of since she went through them like tissues.

It never helped her mood that Paris Fashion Week was the last one in the fashion month calendar. After New York, London, and Milan, it was the week where all the big names had runway shows, parties, and lunches; which meant there were not even five minutes for her to stop and take a breath.

She was photographed and interviewed every ten minutes. Eyes were glued on her to carefully study her reactions to whatever clothing she was seeing going down a runway. The only respite was when she’d shut the door to her suite and collapse on the bed.

Alone in her room, she could let her guard down, let the mask fade away. She would order room service — tonight it had been a pizza, a glass of red wine, and strawberries and cream for dessert. Then, she’d get into a bath with a book and turn down her phone, letting her assistant deal with whatever call or email was trying to reach her.

In some ways, Claire was looking forward to heading back home to London, to return to the office and start working on the magazine. The time after fashion week was always the most productive, with ideas for various editorials and stories. She loved to see her team come together to make a beautiful product. Yet, going back to London meant going back to the mess that was her personal life.

A fresh divorce, with two teenagers to take care of.

If anything, for once in her life, Claire would have been rather glad to stay in Paris for a bit longer than usual.

She had just come out of the bath when the telephone rang. Putting on her robe, she returned into the bedroom, curly hair messily tied up on her head, to pick up. The only reason she didn’t turn off this one was because she knew the girls would reach her this way.

“Allo?” she said, sitting on the bed.

“Hi, Mummy!” Came from two voices that were starting to sound like her own, posh English accent and all.

“My darlings,” she smiled instantly, hearing her daughters on the other end of the receiver. “How are you?”

“Good,” answered Sarah. She was the oldest of the two, by three minutes and twenty-eight seconds, but she liked to mention it whenever she could.

“How are you, mum?” asked Lily over her sister’s voice.

“I’m doing well, a bit tired but only two more days and I’ll be home. I might even bring back some pastries for my babies.”

“Mum, we’re thirteen now!” They both chuckled, most likely looking at one another in a mortified manner. “Not really babies anymore.”

“Well, the thing is,” Claire said, grabbing her glass of wine to finish it. “You’ll be my babies forever, I don’t care if you’re thirteen or sixty-two.”

“Oh Lord,” Sarah groaned.

“Anyways,” she grinned. “What have you been doing today? Was school all right?”

“Yeah, school was all right.” Lily was the one answering. Out of the two of them, she was the twin who looked most like Claire: dark hair, brown eyes, and stubbornness for days.

“Then, we went to Daunt Books with Daddy to get a couple of things and now we’re about to be off to eat.”

“Sounds like fun.” Claire leaned back, glad that the twins and their father got along so well.

The divorce was hard on everyone, but the girls seemed to be the ones handling it better than their parents.

“Do you want to talk to Daddy?” Sarah asked, a faint hint of hope in her voice.

“I’m afraid I have to get ready for a dinner, darling,” Claire lied, taking the last sip of her drink. “Say hello to him for me, all right?”

“Okay, we will, Mum.”

The disappointment in her daughter’s voice broke her heart, but talking to Thomas was the last thing she wanted right now. They had agreed to be cordial, to keep bringing up the girls as a team, but the wound was too raw to pretend everything was the way it used to be. They were co-parents, not friends.

“I can’t wait to see you, darlings. Paris isn’t fun when you aren’t here with me.”

“We’ll come next time when it’s the holidays!” Sarah exclaimed happily, remembering the memories of the times Claire took her daughters to work with her when they didn’t have school.

“You sure will,” she smiled, “Have fun at dinner, okay? I love you.”

“We love you, Mum!” They said in unison before hanging up.

Putting the phone aside, she looked at the clock and realised it was barely 8 p.m.

She had dined, bathed, and drowned a glass of wine. She was exhausted, the packed agenda for tomorrow running through her mind; and yet, she decided she didn’t want to stay alone at the hotel tonight.

Tonight, she was going out.

The walk-in closet was bigger than her first apartment in London. It looked like a store, really — packed with clothes she had bought, clothes that designers had specifically designed for her, and clothes that were waiting for her when she arrived a few days ago. It was a rather simple rule in the fashion industry: if Claire Beauchamp wore it, it was good.

She had made a name for herself as a fashion critic for The Herald Tribune then, moving on up to become a fashion editor at Vogue, and then the Editor in Chief and Direction of Operations of Condé Nast, overseeing all art direction for their multiple publications. She had been offered a post in New York but never accepted because London had her heart and it was the city where the twins were born. She was career-driven, but not enough so to displace her family in the States; plus, The Big Apple gave her a headache.

At forty, her curls were still flying all over the place, but their brown colour had slowly started to leave space for grey ten years ago; making her hair a lovely mixture of salt and pepper, something that became her signature look in the industry. She barely wore makeup, something she picked up when she interned for some French editor in her early years as an assistant; and since she didn’t like to waste time in the morning, she relied on a couple of staple pieces and brands that she knew were perfect for her.

However, tonight, her eyes gravitated to a vintage Gucci suit from the Tom Ford era. Sharply cut, made of black suede that might look emerald green given the light. She decided on this, with a pair of classic loafers, giving the whole look a tomboy vibe she particularly appreciated. To be sure, she wore the jacket as a shirt and put on a black lace bra.

Her cellphone stayed off on the bedside table, she wouldn’t need it tonight.

*******

The bar was not very crowded, but she didn’t mind. She enjoyed sipping her drink — a gin and tonic — observing the few people around her, listening to the music. She couldn’t remember the last time she had done this; the last time she wasn’t thinking about work nor about her failed marriage.

Most of the time, the latter topic was an easy thing to ignore. It had been six months now since she and Thomas had separated, starting the proper procedure to divorce. She had kept the house, while he relocated somewhere in the neighbourhood, which was easier for the girls.

The press had had a blast of the news, plastering pictures of them on tabloids, blaming her schedule and her career for the failure of their marriage. She didn’t usually care for things concerning her; but when it touched her children, it was another story.

Things had calmed down now, and normality was starting to return again. But she couldn’t help feeling like a divorcee — like a failure after wasting the past twenty years with a man she thought would be her husband for the rest of her life. Of course, she could never regret any of that time because she had the twins. And to Claire, the twins were the best thing that ever happened to her.

When she thought she wouldn’t be able to have children, when she spent countless nights on the bathroom floor crying at yet another negative test…one morning, she woke up with an upset stomach — she was in Milan.

When she got home to London, she still didn’t feel better and decided to visit her doctor, who happily announced she was expecting. That alone was a shock, but it was nothing compared to the one when she was informed she was carrying twins.

Claire was so busy reminiscing about her children that she didn’t notice someone coming over to the bar. She turned around and came into direct contact with a giant — and his drink that now covered most of her jacket and was dripping inside her bosom.

“For fuck’s sake!” she winced, taking a step back. Her back hit the bar and she cursed silently, her annoyance already shot up.

“Christ,” his eyes widened, “I’m so sorry!”

“Please let me.” He grabbed a napkin and tried to damp her jacket.

“No, don’t.” She raised her eyebrows, pushing his hand away. She grabbed a napkin herself and started to clean up.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated, running his hand through his hair.

Sighing, Claire finally looked up at him, taken aback. He was beautiful, with copper hair and the bluest eyes she had ever seen. He had a straight nose and perfectly defined lips that looked…quite appealing, if she was honest with herself.

Then, she realised he was wearing a red tartan shirt that clashed rather heavily with his green tweed trousers and some beige Clarks shoes. The poor man probably wouldn’t know he had just ruined a precious Gucci suit.

She didn’t know why, but she couldn’t help herself and smiled, “It’s…it’s fine. It’ll dry.”

“Thank Christ it will.” He smiled in turn, relaxing now. “I insist on taking care of the cleaner’s bill.”

“You’re Scottish.” The observation escaped her lips before anything else, and his smile only grew at that.

“Aye, I’m afraid Frenchmen are more delicate than I am.”

“Since I’ve never had a Frenchman ruin my clothes with his drink, I’ll have to say yes,” she grinned.

“I canna blame ye,” he chuckled, leaning against the bar. “Since ye dinna want me to take care of the cleaner’s, may I at least offer ye a drink?”

“It depends. Do you plan on pouring it all over me again?” Her eyebrow raised in question and she quite enjoyed the way his cheeks turned crimson.

“I promise I’ll do my best not to.”

“Then yes, I’d like a drink,” she smiled, sitting upon the stool. “Whatever you may think would suit me best.”

“I’m always up for a challenge,” he winked, or she presumed he did, since both of his eyes closed at the same time, making him look like he had just sneezed internally. It was rather charming.

Claire watched as he ordered the drinks in a perfect French dialect, her eyes studying his body and the way he was carrying himself. He was rather sexy, she had to admit. A bit rugged around the edge and all. His sleeves were rolled up at the wrists, showing up his toned arms. Arms she’d like to be wrapped into.

When was the last time she thought about a stranger in such a way? She didn’t know.

“You know,” she cleared her throat, emptying her head of lusty thoughts. “I’ve had this suit for more than half my life.”

“Oh really?” He turned to look at her, smirking. “When did ye buy it, then? When ye were twelve?”

“That was a smooth one,” she grinned, taking the drink he was presenting her.

“Aye, thank ye,” he chuckled, blushing again.

“I do wish I still was twenty-four, but alas, it is a bit more than that.”

“Ye dinna look a day older than that.” He held up his glass to cheers with her.

“A lady never reveals her age,” she clinked her glass to his, winking. “But thank you.”

“Can ye at least reveal yer name? I dinna want to see ye go into the night wi’out knowing that information,” he smiled, leaning against the bar.

“It’s Claire…Claire Beauchamp.”

Usually, her name made people shiver with fear or admiration (or both) of her reputation, but not him. He was blissfully unaware of who he was talking to, and she was grateful.

“Jamie Fraser.” He held out his hand to her. “James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, if we want to be precise.”

“That sounds rather important,” she smirked, taking a sip of her drink. Whisky.

“I’m afraid my family has been farmers for generations, no royal titles or anythin’ like that.”

“Are you a farmer?” She watched him, enchanted by his eyes.

“I used to help around when I was a lad, but no’, I’m a sculptor actually.”

“Oh,” she smiled again; what the hell was happening to her that she smiled so much? “Now that is very interesting. What kind of art do you do?”

“I work wi’ marble mostly,” he shrugged, taking a sip of his drink. “What do ye do?”

“Me? Oh, I work in fashion.”

“I should have guessed that, seein’ how well dressed ye are,” he grinned, rubbing the back of his neck. “Twas the first thing I noticed about ye from behind.”

“Was it, uh?” Her tone became flirty, as if she was back to being a twenty-year-old in a pub.

“Well, maybe no’ the first thing, but a close second,” he admitted, biting his lower lip not to reveal any more.

“The first thing I noticed about you was this horrendous shirt.” She let her finger run over the material of said garment, her lip flicking up in a grin.

“I’m sure ye’d steal it if ye could.” Jamie put his drink away and took her hand.

“I don’t see how I would find myself in a situation where I had the chance to steal that shirt, unless I take it off your back one way or another…”

“Are ye flirting wi’ me?”

Was she? She hadn’t flirted with anyone in a very long time, she barely could remember what it was like.

“Yes, I guess I am.” She finished her drink. “Do you mind?”

“Nay, I dinna mind,” he smiled, leaning closer to her. “I’m verra flattered, actually.”

“Do you live in Paris, Jamie Fraser?”

The Scot shook his head; they were so close, she was almost practically sitting on his lap.

“I’m here for a few days for work.” He looked down at her, his breath tickling her cheek.

“So am I. I’m going home in two days.” She toyed with one of the buttons of his shirt, suddenly feeling very bold.

“Do ye wanna go on a walk wi’ me?” He stroked a grey curl away from her face, smiling gently.

“Does that walk bring us to your hotel?” she asked, smirking.

“I’m a gentleman, I will only bring ye to my hotel if ye want me to.” He brought her hand to his lips.

“Well,” she said softly, tiptoeing to kiss his cheek. “I’d like that very much.”

Smiling, Jamie paid for the drinks before looking at her again. “After ye then, Sassenach.”

Claire was the first one out of the bar, closely followed by the Scot. It wasn’t what she had in mind when she left her hotel earlier — rather, it was quite the contrary.

She thought her evening would be boring, and it promised to be anything but that.

Chapter Text

When she woke up, Claire immediately realised she wasn’t alone in bed.

Firstly, two strong arms were protectively wrapped around her waist. Then, warmth clung to her like she had fallen asleep against a furnace. And, lastly, there was a faint snoring sound directly in her ear. The last one wasn’t the most pleasant thing, but the other two compensated for it; and so, she decided not to move for a few more minutes.

She didn’t know what time it was, nor where exactly she was — though, fairly certain it wasn’t The Ritz — but she didn’t care. For the first time in a long time, she had not been woken up by the sound of her cell phone ringing.

Her head pounded a little bit from the small dose of alcohol she had consumed last night, but she recalled every last bit of her evening perfectly well — the memories bringing a faint smile to her sleepy face. Her limbs ached pleasantly, in that delightful after-sex bliss she had almost forgotten about. And if she could have stayed like this forever, she gladly would have.

The Scot had taken her for a walk along the Seine, where conversation topics varied from horrendous tartan shirts to what the best bookshop in Paris was — both agreeing that it was, in fact, Shakespeare and Company. Then, the evening had prolonged at his hotel’s bar before it finished in his room. Clothes abandoned on the floor, and carnal discoveries had been made in between wrinkled cotton sheets.

Claire couldn’t think back to the last time she had flirted so openly with a man, nor ended up in a stranger’s bed. It never happened, really. She had met Thomas at eighteen, and two years later they were married. Up until six months ago, she was determined to spend her life with him.

Now here she was, in the arms of a giant red-haired Scot who had ruined her favourite suit and who had been more than happy to indulge her last night. She was only half-complaining, because she did indeed really love that suit.

It took another few minutes for her to finally open her eyes, letting them grow accustomed to the morning light coming through the window. For the first time, she took notice of the room she was in.

It wasn’t as luxurious as her suite, but it was rather well furnished and designed. It was less…stuffy. The furniture had a hint of art deco, but everything was well thought out, modern, and practical. From what she remembered, it was in Le Marais; the perfect place for an artist like him.

Turning around carefully so as not to wake him, she finally looked at his face up close. Of course, she had seen what his face looked like when he laughed or when he talked seriously. She had seen it amidst lustful oblivion and right after it. But at the minute, it was completely relaxed, peaceful as he slept. His lip was flicked up into a tender smile, and she wondered what he was dreaming about.

He looked like a cherub, with his Cupid’s bow carved, jawline sharp, and curls falling onto his forehead. Claire had to admit she was taken aback by how beautiful he was, so much so that she could only smile, observing him for a little bit longer.

Biting her lower lip, she decided to gently extract herself from his arms before she’d get caught staring.

She got up and grabbed a bathrobe laying around and put it on. Slightly too big and smelling musky, she didn’t mind. She sat on the bed and grabbed the hotel phone, studying the room service menu attentively before quickly making her choice and calling.

She had to admit she didn’t know the etiquette for one-night stands, but she was too hungry to run away without a word before he woke up— and she didn’t want to. Keeping her voice low so as not to wake him up, she ordered some breakfast. Some toasts, a pot of coffee, and croissants.

After a minute, she hung up and felt lips stamp the middle of her back.

“I should have known ye speak perfect French,” the Scot said, his voice raspy.

Turning around, she looked at him and grinned. He laid gloriously naked, resting his head against his palm, watching her.

“Hello there.”

Jamie cupped her cheek and pulled her down to seal their lips, making her melt like an ice cube under the sun.

“Hello,” she said again, whispering against his mouth. Claire Beauchamp never grew shy; and yet, here she was.

“Mornin’, Sassenach,” he smiled, stroking a curl away from her face.

“What does that mean?” she frowned, recalling him calling her that a couple of times.

“It only means outlander,” he pulled her on top of him, smiling. "Or Englishwoman." 

“Do you speak a lot of Gaelic?” She stroked his cheek.

“A bit, aye. My parents always made sure we had the language, but I dinna practise it as much as I should.”

“Tell me about yourself,” she smiled. “After all, I don’t know that much. Other than you have a fairly great looking butt.”

Jamie burst into a laugh, “Well, thank ye for the compliment. Now that ye ken how blessed I am in that department, let me tell ye about my childhood in the Highlands, eh?”

“Yes, please.” She kissed him before she had the time to restrain herself. 

He smiled, both taken aback and pleased by the intimate gesture. It wasn’t unfamiliar to them, but neither knew how to navigate this. She didn’t know how glad he was that she had kissed him first. He didn’t know how mortified she was, not knowing how he felt.

As if he sensed her worry, he kissed her in return and she smiled, relaxing again.

“I grew up at a farm, named Lallybroch. ‘Tis no’ verra far from Edinburgh,” he started, his face lighting up. “The farm still belongs to my family, but my sister and her husband are taking’ care of it. Along with all my nieces and nephews.”

“Do you have a lot of them?” She stroked his scruffy cheek.

“Oh aye,” he grinned. “A wee rugby team almost.”

“And do you have children of your own?”

Jamie shook his head, smiling sadly. “I haven’t been that lucky yet. Do ye?”

“I’ve got twins. Girls,” she smiled. “They’re thirteen.”

For a second, Claire observed the tender expression growing on his face at the mention of her daughters. But instead on dwelling on it, she panicked and spoke again. 

“You know, I’m not…I mean, I never do this,” she added, shifting the topic.

“Do what?” He frowned. “Accost strangers in bars and follow them to their hotels?”

“Exactly that,” she blushed, clearing her throat.

“Do ye think I do that often?” he grinned, cupping her cheek.

“Well, you’re a very good looking man. I’m sure you wouldn’t have any trouble doing that regularly.”

“I dinna do it,” he said sincerely, smiling wider now. “Actually, it hasn’t happened since my early twenties. I have rules, ye see.”

“So you made an exception for me?” She couldn’t help but smile, being terribly flattered. She couldn’t explain exactly why the previous revelation eased her nerves.

“I dinna think I would have been able to resist ye, so I didn’t even try.”

“Are you flirting with me?” She grinned, hitting his arm playfully.

“I am, unabashedly,” he answered, rolling them over.

Burying his face in the crook of her neck, his breath was warm against her skin. His lips started to trail a path of kisses down to her collarbones.

Then, he looked up at her, his hand reaching for the belt of the bathrobe. He sought permission and she gave it with a smile and a little nod.

The robe opened at the pull of the belt and Jamie ran his index finger in between her still-covered breasts before pushing the material aside slowly with the tip of his fingers, as if he was opening a delicate present.

She couldn’t help but notice the sheer lust floating in his eyes as he looked into hers, while his hand continued his exploration. Circling one breast, cupping it gently before his index stroked the path down to her navel, foraging a trail of goosebumps at the same time.

“Ye look like ye’ve been carved in white marble, Sassenach,” he whispered against her skin before kissing in between her breasts.

“By some Renaissance master,” he added, the tip of his tongue coming out briefly to taste her there.

Looking down at him, her breathing slowed. She felt feverish and drunk by the hunger she had for this man. It was a new feeling burgeoning in her chest, like a flower after the rain. She was a powerful woman, always taking what she wanted and when she wanted it; but in his arms, she simply wanted to let go. To forget herself and to be at his mercy, like she had done and been last night.

She rolled them over so that she was on top again, her eyes locked with his the entire time. She had not been with many men before Thomas, nor had she been too good at intimacy those last few years of their marriage, but something about Jamie was different. It was purely carnal.

His hands travelled under the robe, now fallen around her waist and took a firm hold of her bottom. He let out a pleased noise and she smirked at that.

Leaning down, she kissed him. First briefly, almost chastely, before it took a turn. She felt his grip on her tighten and she couldn’t help the groan that escaped her lips into his mouth.

Neither of them was foolish enough to think they’d have much more time to be like this before breakfast arrived, and she would have to get ready to leave — but they didn’t mention any of that.

Instead, Claire reached for a condom on the bedside table and unwrapped it. Reluctantly, she parted her mouth from his and reached between their bodies to take a hold of him. Stroking him gently a few times, she slid the protection and lifted her hips.

His eyes on her, he whispered things in Gaelic she didn’t understand, but those things had turned her on even more if that was possible. Slowly, Claire slid down on him and held one of his hands in her own.

She stayed like this for a moment, enjoying the feeling of being so full of him, the feeling of his eyes on her like this.

Then, gentle as a feather, she started to move her hips in a circle. Her hands rested on his toned chest, going up and down with steady breathing.

“Christ,” he whispered, his fingers digging into the generous flesh of her hips.

“It’s just Claire,” she smirked, leaning down to kiss him as she moved.

Jamie half chuckled and half groaned in between the kisses, holding her close to him. “Sorcha.”

“What?” She frowned, but smiled and started to quicken her pace a little bit.

He kissed her hungrily before he answered, “'Tis yer name in Gaelic. It means light.”

“Oh,” she groaned, feeling a tingle in her legs. She realised she was familiar with the term, as if she had heard it a million times before, but she was too preoccupied to linger on that detail just now.

Her hips quickened and she pulled him up with her, their mouths forming one, just like their bodies. It became a frantic mixture of moans, kisses, and caresses; neither wanting to reach a release but desperately needing to.

Their bodies knew one another, how to function, what made them click. It seemed that she knew him better than she had even known her ex-husband, in some way. Intimacy was carved between them like it had always been there, the fire just waiting to be relit.

He came first, holding her tightly against him, his face buried in the crook of her neck. A haven. His breath was thick on her neck, slowing with each beat of his heart. And she quickly joined into the oblivion, collapsing on top of him.

Breathless, she was about to say something when a knock at the door came.

Petit déjeuner!” The voice announced cheerfully, making them both laugh.

“Right on time,” Claire mumbled and kissed him before she got up and put the bathrobe back on. “I’ll get it.”

Nodding, Jamie smiled and got up in turn to go to the bathroom. She waited a second for him to be out of sight to open the door and grab the breakfast.

******

Claire was awfully late; though as a rule, whoever arrived at an event or a fashion show before her was simply early. Her phone was back at her hotel, still turned off, and there was no way her assistant could reach her.

But quite frankly, for once, she didn’t care. She was rather busy having breakfast and relishing the sight of a Scot enjoying a croissant.

“What?” He broke into a smile. “Do I have somethin’ on my face?”

“No, I’m just watching you,” she grinned, taking a sip of coffee. “Can’t I?”

“There’s no’ much to watch, Sassenach.” He took her hand and brought it to his lips.

“Mmh,” was all she said in response before silence fell between them again.

She was freshly showered, still in his bathrobe and curls pinned up messily on her head. She figured she wouldn’t wash her hair, or she’d be even later for work and that would only raise more questions. Her schedule ran through her mind, erasing a breakfast meeting and the beginning of the Miu Miu show she had already missed.

“I’ll have to get ready and go in a little while. I’m afraid I can’t take a full day off.”

“Aye, I figured as much,” he smiled softly, holding her hand. “Thank ye for no’ running out this mornin’ before I woke up.”

“Oh, that’s how it works usually?” she smirked, finishing her croissant.

“I dinna ken,” he chuckled.

Claire got up and leaned down to kiss him gently, cupping his cheeks. “I’m glad I didn’t run out,” she whispered. “I would have missed the croissants.”

Jamie smiled against her lips, stroking her sides. “Aye, ye would have and that would have been a shame.”

She reluctantly pulled away to go and gather her clothes scattered all over the room. Her jacket smelled of his drink and the material was slightly ruined, but she didn’t seem to mind. She retrieved her underwear from the couch and put it back on, along with her trousers.

“Should I call ye a taxi while ye get ready?” he asked, watching her attentively.

“No, don’t worry,” she smiled, looking at him. “But I can’t wear my jacket, it's ruined…I’ll need your shirt.”

A frown appeared between his thick brows, “My shirt? Ye mean…”

“Yes.” She pointed to the tartan garment on the chair. “Your horrendous shirt.”

Smirking, Jamie got up and grabbed the piece of clothing in question before walking over to her. “‘Tis yers now.”

Claire put it on and let his dexterous fingers close the buttons for her as he seemed only too happy to oblige. Looking up, she smiled.

“Thank you.”

“It looks better on ye,” he grinned and kissed her tenderly. “Much better.”

She nodded, wrapping her arms around his neck to kiss him back. For a moment, he erased all the words from her lips and all she wanted to do was to melt into him. A certain softness about her that she thought long gone, found again.

“I…” she rasped, letting her sentence die because she didn’t want to say it.

“Aye,” he nodded, “Ye have to go.”

“Thank you for last night,” she smiled shyly, “And for the shirt.”

“Sorry about the suit,” he apologised again, kissing her cheek.

“It’s all right.” She booped his nose and grabbed her purse on her way to the door.

The Scot grabbed her hand, making her stop in her tracks, and brought it to his lips. “Until we meet again, Sassenach.”

“I’ll hold you to it.” She kissed him one last time and left the little room in Le Marais. 

Chapter Text

Staying at The Ritz or not, there was no better feeling to Claire than waking up in her own bed at home, even more so since buying a glorious new mattress after getting rid of the one she had shared with Thomas.

She had arrived home late last night after the Eurostar from Paris was delayed by a couple of hours. But she had the weekend off and couldn’t wait to spend it with the twins.

Stretching like a graceful cat, she groaned at her joints popping. The linen sheets were soft against her skin and she smiled, memories of her last night and day in Paris flooding her mind once more. She found herself thinking about the red-haired Scot far too much. She was wondering where he lived, what he did with his day, if he had left Paris yet…

She suddenly felt sixteen again and she was amused by her own silliness, a feeling she hadn’t experienced in a very long time.

Her home in Primrose Hill was starting to smell like freshly brewed coffee and baked goods, which only made her smile more — prompting her to get up, too.

After a trip to the bathroom for a long shower, she dressed in some cashmere loungewear and made her way down the stairs. She could hear the familiar humming in the kitchen, along with the radio turned on to the BBC morning show.

“Look who’s back!”

“Good morning, Maggie,” Claire smirked, squeezing the older woman’s arm. Margaret had been working for her since the twins were born, acting as their nanny and the real boss of this house.

“You look well,” she remarked, smiling as she removed freshly baked scones from the oven.

“Why do you think I pay so much for my face creams, uh?” Claire smirked, opening the fridge to take out a juice.

“You’re not even using anything expensive! I know fair well what your bathroom cabinet looks like. You just like people to think you make an effort when you’ve just been blessed with good genes.”

“How are you even bossier than you were five days ago?” Claire chuckled, leaning against the counter.

Winking, Maggie took a glass out of the cupboard and handed it to her. “That’s what a wee holiday does to me.”

“You know your days off don’t include you cleaning the house and going to Broadway Market to pick up fresh flowers for when I get back, Maggie. It’s lovely of you, but you should enjoy that time for yourself.”

“Nonsense! You know I love taking care of the place and the girls, you included,” she smiled, setting up the table. “I’m glad you’re back and I can’t wait for the twins to arrive.”

“I can’t either,” Claire smiled, drinking some juice out of the bottle. “I missed my crumpets so much.”

“And they missed you! Now, I want to know all about Paris. How was it?” Maggie poured herself a cup of coffee, adding some milk but no sugar.

“The usual, I barely saw anything of Paris again,” she chuckled. “However, I did have fun.”

“You’re very giggly this morning,” the older woman looked at her suspiciously. “And rather glowy, even more so than usual. Did you do something to your hair?”

“My hair?” Claire frowned, touching the damp mass of curls pinned up in a bun. “No, I just washed them in the shower.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything, but I know that look,” she winked once more. “I’m glad you had a little bit of fun. You deserve it!”

Before Claire had the chance to badly deny those allegations, the front door opened and two teenagers came inside the house. “Mummy!”

“Saved by the bell,” she mumbled, smirking at Maggie before going into the hall.

“There they are!” She opened her arms and the twins ran to hug her tightly. “My darlings.”

“Hi mum,” they mumbled in unison, holding her. “We’ve missed you.”

Claire kissed both of their heads, holding them for a moment. Nothing made her happier than this. “I’ve missed you, too.”

Looking up, the sight of her ex-husband standing at the door greeted her. He was smiling softly, watching them.

She returned a polite smile before pulling back and looking at the girls, “Did you two grow again while I was gone?”

“It’s bound to happen, mum,” Sarah grinned, sounding exactly like her mother.

“Indeed,” she chuckled, stroking her hair back. “Maggie has made fresh scones in the kitchen, I’ll come and join you in a second and we’ll catch up.”

Nodding, the twins turned around and smiled, “Bye Daddy! See you on Friday!”

“See you, dolls,” Thomas winked, blowing them a kiss.

Once the girls were away in the kitchen, Claire turned around again. “Hi.”

“Hello,” he smiled, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck.

“How was Paris?” Thomas took a step forward, coming into the house they used to share.

“Good, the usual,” she nodded, watching him. In front of her stood the man she had shared the last twenty years with…who now felt like a complete stranger. Love was an odd thing.

“How have they been?” She tried to find a topic of conversation. “Not too much trouble?”

“They’re never trouble.” His smile grew; the love they shared for their daughters was one of the last things they had in common, and it was enough to maintain cordiality.

“Though, you are their mother so they’re always bound to be a little bit.”

“Well yes,” she had to admit, smiling at the thought of her younger self. “I’m sure they’ll tell me all about it now, thank you for bringing them back.”

“Of course,” he nodded, an awkward silence seeping in between them again.

“You look well, Claire.”

She knew that tone; she knew that look, too. “Thanks,” she answered in a glacial tone. “I’ll bring the girls over on Friday.”

“Right,” he answered, turning around. “See you then.”

Claire closed the front door and let out a sigh. She composed herself and went back to the kitchen to find the twins and Maggie at the table, already buttering scones.

Maggie shot her a quick look, silently asking if everything was all right, and she gave her a little nod and a smile before sitting down.

“Here, mum,” Lily handed her the plate of scones.

“Thanks, love,” she smiled, taking one before cutting it. “So, what did I miss while I was gone?”

“Lily has a boyfriend,” Sarah grinned, taking a sip of juice.

“At least I have one,” Lily rolled her eyes but smiled in response.

“Excuse me?” Claire grinned, buttering her scone. “I will need some details. Is he cute?”

“Mum!” Lily blushed, leaning away. “Please don’t.”

“Fine, fine.” She started to eat. “What else is new?”

“Nothing,” Sarah chuckled. “Tell us about Paris, Mum! How was Miu Miu?”

Claire almost choked at the question, recalling what she was doing while that particular show was going on— and it didn’t involve any clothes.

“Lovely, as usual,” she croaked once she had taken a sip of coffee.

“Do you have any pictures?” one of them asked eagerly.

“No, I forgot to take any because it was that good. But my assistant must have some.” Claire grabbed her phone and quickly sent a text, requesting the pictures. In less than a minute, an answer came back.

“There you go.” She handed them the phone and continued eating. She tried to ignore Maggie’s inquisitive glance as best as possible.

“Ohh yes,” they nodded, looking at the pictures. “The bags!”

Smiling, Claire realised she had barely paid attention to any coverage of that show once she had left Jamie’s hotel. She had quickly looked through her emails before jumping on to a few meetings and heading back to the hotel to pack and leave Paris. She would probably agree with their taste, anyway, and made a mental note to keep one of those bags as an idea for their Christmas presents.

“Look,” Lily showed Maggie, smiling.

“Oh yes, very cute!”

“Ladies, what should we do today? I have the weekend off,” Claire finished her food, smiling.

“Mum, can we just stay home and watch movies and stuff?” Sarah took her hand. “It’s been a while.”

“Of course, there’s plenty of ice cream in the freezer too.” She kissed her daughter’s hand. “We can even order pizza for dinner tonight.”

“Great!” Her daughter hugged her tightly before getting up, “Come on Lilz, let’s go get changed.”

The twins disappeared upstairs quickly and Maggie got up to clean up the table. Claire stopped her, smiling, “It’s all right, I’ll do it. You go home and enjoy your weekend.”

“Are you sure, dear?” Maggie smiled. “You know I don’t mind.”

“I’m sure,” she got up. “We’ll be home anyway, and it’s been a while since it’s been only the three of us doing nothing. Thank you for coming in to make breakfast.”

“All right.” The older woman patted Claire’s arm, “I’ll see you ladies Monday morning, then.”

“See you Monday, Maggie,” Claire smiled and kissed her cheek.

******

On Monday morning, Claire left her cashmere loungewear behind and resumed her boss lady persona. She wore a pencil leather skirt, a cotton vest, and a trusted pair of high heels. She usually arrived at the office by 9:30 but, sometimes, to throw the entire office off, she’d text her assistant that she would arrive by 9.

Then, she knew they’d start to panic up until she arrived.

She used to wonder why people were afraid of her, but she quickly came to realise the assumptions they had about her were rather helpful. Things were done quickly and well, no one wasting their time nor hers. Things ran smoothly and nobody dared to bother her once she went home to the girls.

The elevator doors opened, a ding notifying the receptionist Claire had arrived. Handbag and files in hand, she walked out and removed her sunglasses, making her way towards her office.

It took a second for her assistant to join her on the path.

“Good morning, Claire!”

The young woman, whose name was either Louise or Louisa, handed her the day’s schedule in a flash. As per usual, she spoke quickly, “Phyllis wants you to call her back in New York, something about the shoot’s location being cancelled. Penelope agreed to shoot the Highlands story, and the program of the trip is already waiting on your desk.”

“There’s also the guest lists for the charity dinner in a few weeks, along with all the messages you got while you were in Paris.”

Claire nodded, walking while reading the schedule. “Cancel the dinner with Susie and her team tonight, I have to go to my daughter’s parent-teacher meeting. I’ll expect a car to wait for me at five.”

“Yes,” she scribbled down into a notebook quickly, “Five sharp.”

“Oh, and the editors will wait for you in the meeting room at eleven for the fashion month debrief.”

“Perfect.” Claire stopped inside her office, removing her coat. “I’ll ring you when I need something.”

“All right.” Louise — it was definitely Louise— nodded once more, standing there just in case Claire changed her mind.

“Oh,” Claire turned around and looked at her, “Louise?”

“Yes?” She stood straighter, ready to write anything down.

“You will have to tell me where you found those vintage Chanel boots you’re wearing,” Claire smiled and winked.

She wasn’t sure, but she could swear she heard a tiny squee on the other side of the door once it was closed. It didn’t hurt to be nice from time to time; especially to the terrified assistants. Plus, Louise had been a true angel in Paris.

Claire had been sitting down for two minutes when the door burst opened to reveal the only person in the office who could make such an entrance without getting fired.

“Lady Jane,” Joe smirked, leaning against the doorframe.

“Abernathy, the door please.” She pointed to it.

“Boss lady is back,” his smirk grew as he closed the door and walked towards her desk. “Did you have a relaxing weekend?”

“Very much so, thank you,” she watched him, taking a sip of the warm coffee Louise had left on her desk for her. “I, of course, slept most of yesterday.”

“Of course,” he sat down and crossed his arms. “So, haven’t you forgotten to tell me something?”

Claire pondered for a second and shook her head, “Not that I can think of.”

“If I recall, you promised you’d tell me why you missed a breakfast meeting and the Miu Miu show.”

“Oh, that! That’s quite simple, I overslept,” she said nonchalantly, leaning back in her chair.

“Should I be insulted that you think I’m going to believe that?” he grinned, his eyebrow raising. “I called your room when I couldn’t get you on your cell phone, and they told me it was empty.”

Claire couldn’t help but chuckle at her oldest friend, “Who are you? My Uncle Lambert?”

“I wish, the man dresses splendidly!”

“That’s accurate,” she nodded, taking another sip of coffee and buying herself some time.

“You don’t have to tell me anything, but I hope it was a good shag,” he said simply, and she almost spat half of her drink.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Joe laughed. “Look at you, Miss Beauchamp!”

“Keep your voice down.” She rolled her eyes but smiled. “And why do you care so much about what I do in my private time?”

“When do I not?” He looked at her offended. “I care all the time! And it wasn’t really your private time, actually. You were expected to show up at some places.”

“I had not planned on missing the show nor the meeting, but it was harder to extract myself from my commitment than I had expected,” she responded, trying not to blush.

“I’m sure it was very hard, indeed,” Joe got up, smirking.

“No matter what, I’m glad you got to have some fun, you deserve it,” he smiled then and winked. “You work too much.”

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for the debrief, Joseph?” she asked, grinning.

“Fine, LJ, I’m going!” He rolled his eyes, shaking his head.

“I hope you got his number though,” he added before closing the door behind him.

Well.

“I’m afraid not,” she mumbled to herself, putting on her glasses.

Did she even want Jamie’s number? Or his contact details? She wasn’t sure. She had his name and he was an artist, she could find him easily if she wanted to. But did she?

She had been separated from Thomas for only six months, juggling work, her ex, and the girls. She wasn’t too sure she was ready to jump back into a relationship right now; nor ever. He had given her no indication it would be anything more than what it had been, and she was rather fine with it. Yes, she had to admit she thought about him more often than she had believed she would. She’d had fun and she’d do it again if he asked. But lust was one thing, commitment was quite another.

She rolled her eyes, still talking to herself. “Calm down, Beauchamp. No one’s talking about commitment.”

Trying to focus on things other than the muscular giant who had made love to her better than her husband had for the past few years, she opened the charity dinner file to look through the last details. The event was a yearly extravagance, bringing rich people together for a good cause. It was like her third child.

Her whisky eyes ran through the lists of names; guests ranging from fashion people to celebrities, politicians to artists. Who had agreed to come, who couldn’t make it, and who had not yet responded.

A name caught her attention and something in her stomach twisted.

“James Fraser: attending.”

Chapter Text

The next few weeks at work had been too busy for Claire to even think about the charity dinner. Unless Louise had come by with some option or another for the actual event, she pushed the thought of it — and of James Fraser — completely out of her mind. 

The red dress had been hanging in the middle of the walk-in closet for the past week, which meant that each morning, the sight of it would grace her with a silent reminder of the upcoming party and the impending retrouvailles with her Scottish one-night stand. 

The mixture of excitement and fear at seeing him again was rather paralyzing, and Claire wasn’t someone to be so easily unsettled; though as of late, she couldn’t help it much. She had always made a point to keep her private life private and not mix pleasure with work, so the prospect of Jamie walking around the dinner, his ocean blue eyes on her, was tantalizing. 

To be fair, she would have to greet so many people, she didn’t think she would have time to converse with him for more than a minute or two — at least not until the party ended. But even then, what made her think he would want to spend time with her again? 

“Claire?” The voice of her lawyer fractured her line of thought and she looked up again. 

“Yes?” she blinked, managing a smile. “Can you repeat that again?” 

“So, like I said, here are the papers for the house.” She handed her a file. “The payment has been approved and received, so it’s now all yours again.” 

“The division of assets is now complete,” Thomas’s lawyer interjected, his client nodding next to him. 

“The final papers will be ready in a couple of weeks. We’ll need both of your signatures, and then the divorce will be final,” he added, removing his reading glasses. 

“So we still have a couple of weeks to change our minds,” Thomas joked, smirking. 

“Thank you, Mr. Gowan.” Claire and her lawyer got up, both women shaking his hand in turn and ignoring Thomas’s remark. 

Both men got up as well. She could feel her ex-husband’s eyes on her; a gesture she had become accustomed to after so many years with the man. She turned to him, “Maggie will bring the girls on Friday after their movie date. I have a work event, but I’m sure they’ve told you about it  already.”

“They indeed have,” he smiled gently, in the same way that made her weak at the knees during their first date. It felt like a lifetime ago. 

“All right, then.” She grabbed her coat and well-loved Birkin bag. 

“Goodbye, Miss Beauchamp,” Ned smiled politely, before looking at her lawyer, “Sally.” 

“Goodbye, gentlemen,” they answered together and left the room quickly. 

Once in the elevator, Sally turned to her, “How are you feeling?” 

“Fine,” she answered, looking in her handbag for her pack of cigarettes. Taking one, she put it in her mouth and looked for her lighter, “I’m getting used to these meetings. One more and it’ll be over.”

“I thought you said you were quitting,” her lawyer eyed her, smirking. 

“And I thought I’d be married to the same man forever,” Claire mumbled, walking out of the building with her. “Plans change.”

Sally shook her head but smiled. They had known one another longer than Thomas and Claire had. The two of them had been roommates in their first apartment in London. One was going to law school while the other scrapped for internships with the prestigious magazine she now ran. 

“Do you have time for lunch or do you need to go back to the office immediately?” she asked, lighting Claire’s cigarette for her. 

“Let’s go for lunch, they can manage without me for one more hour,” Claire grinned before blowing out some smoke. 

“Listen to you,” Sally teased, grabbing her arm as both of them started walking towards Chiltern Firearm. “Are you loosening up a little bit, or am I dreaming?” 

“I don’t know what I’m doing, Sal. I just know that me taking a lunch break won’t sink the magazine, so I might as well enjoy your company while you’re free,” she nudged her, smiling. 

Sally chuckled, “You’re busier than I am! Do you know how long it takes to schedule a dinner with you?”

“Yes, because when I’m free, you’re not, or vice versa,” Claire smirked, finishing her cigarette. “But I’m tired of only seeing you at divorce meetings.” 

“So am I.” Sally opened the door for her, “Lunch is on me.” 

******* 

“Am I mistaken, or was Thomas looking at you like a stray dog in search of a new owner?” Sally asked, leaning back in her chair. 

“I don’t know, I try not to look at him too much when we’re in the same room,” Claire took a bite of pasta. “Did he always have a terrible sense of humour and I never noticed, or has it just become awful?” 

“No, it was always quite terrible,” her friend grinned. “But you were in love, so I never said anything. However, I doubt his little remark before we left was a joke.” 

Claire rolled her eyes, not even bothering to form an answer. 

“Don’t you think?” Sally’s eyebrow raised in question. 

“Do I have to remind you he asked for the divorce?” She took a sip of wine. “I don’t see why he would want to turn back now.” 

“Because he’s realizing the mistake he’s about to make?” Her friend leaned her head against her palm. 

“You don’t throw away twenty years with someone on a whim before thinking you might change your mind again. That’s unfair and not how divorce works,” Claire sighed, feeling a headache coming. She knew the look that Sally was talking about, but she didn’t want to think about it. 

“I’ve seen my fair share of crazy things happen in divorces. You’d be surprised.” Sally poured them both some more water. 

“It’s already difficult enough on the girls. I don’t want them to think there’s the slightest chance we’d get back together when it’s not the case.” 

“You wouldn’t get back with him?” 

“Who’s asking? My lawyer or my friend?” Claire asked, making the other woman giggle. 

“Both would support your decision,” she smiled, squeezing her hand in reassurance. “No matter what it is.” 

Claire took a sip of water but didn’t answer the question, simply because she didn’t quite know the answer to it herself. 

“Can we talk about something else? I’d like not to think about my divorce or Thomas for a minute or two.” 

“Right,” Sally smiled and called the waiter to order some dessert. Ice cream for her, and something they tried to pass as tiramisu for Claire. 

“How are the girls? Wait, no, that will bring Thomas into it again.” She waved her hand in the air. “How is work?”

“Hectic,” Claire answered, leaning back into the comfortable velvet chair. “But again, it always is and that’s why I enjoy it so much.”

“Right,” Sally grinned. “You also enjoy bossing everyone around.  I can’t blame you for it, that’s why I opened my own firm.”

“We are one and the same,” Claire chuckled, taking a sip of rosé. 

“So,” she leaned closer, “What about your dating life, uh?” 

“My dating life? Like you believe it’s something that exists right now?” 

“One look at you tells me everything I need to know,” Sally grinned. “Quite frankly, I don’t know how everyone’s terrified of you when you have such a glass face!”

“Do shut up,” Claire laughed, shaking her head of curls. 

Their conversation was briefly put to a halt as the waiter came back with the dessert, but Claire knew her friend too well to believe it was going to end there. 

“So? Spill the beans, Beauchamp,” Sally started to eat her ice cream. 

“I had a one-night stand with a man I picked up at a bar when I was in Paris last month,” she said simply, taking a bite of her tiramisu. 

Sally looked at her and chuckled, “Fine, I got it! I’ll shut up now.”

“I’m not kidding, Sal,” she responded seriously, observing the myriad of feelings going through her friend’s expression when she realised that, indeed, Claire wasn’t joking. 

“Wait.” Sally let go of her spoon. “Let me repeat that. You, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, had a one-night stand with a stranger in Paris?” 

Claire couldn’t help but laugh slightly, “Yeah, surprise.” 

“I’m insulted that you didn’t think to call me as soon as it happened,” Sally rolled her eyes, still incredulous. “Claire!” 

“You don’t need to be so loud, you know?”

“And if you weren't so wild, I wouldn't have anything to be loud about, Beauchamp,” she winked. 

“All right, details. Now,” Sally demanded. 

“I’m not telling you any details. It was very good, end of the story,” Claire brushed it off, finishing her dessert. 

“Tell me details or I’m going to pester you until you crack. And you know I’m very good at that.” 

“At least tell me what he looked like,” Sally pouted.

“He was very tall, with blue eyes and the most wonderful head of red hair I’ve ever seen. Oh, and he was Scottish.” She couldn’t help but grin at that, knowing how much Sally loved an accent. 

“Are you going to see him again?!”

“Well...I thought I wouldn’t, but he’s attending the party on Friday.” 

“Now I regret being out of town for that,” she sighed dramatically. “Anyways, so you’ll see him again! That’s good.” 

“Is it?” Claire wondered. “I had fun in Paris, but I didn’t think I’d see him again, and I don’t really know how to feel about it. What if he doesn’t want to see me again? I’ve thought about that—”

“Of course you have,” Sally rolled her eyes. “But if he saw you naked, I’m pretty sure he’d want to do it again.”

“Well, anyway, I don’t know how to feel about that,” Claire mumbled, rubbing her temple. “A little fun is one thing, but starting to date is quite another.”

“Maybe it can be a little more fun for both of you. After all, you don’t know how he feels about it, right?”

“No,” she agreed. “You’re right, I don’t know.” 

“You think too much, Claire. You think ahead, backwards, sideways, and it drives you mad. Relax, let it go, and don’t ask yourself too many questions.” 

Claire couldn’t help but smile at that. “You’re right, I do think too much. I’m not even sure he’ll show up at the party anyway. So many people RSVP and then don’t come.” 

“Well, given what you’re going to wear, if he does show up, he’ll have a blast,” Sally smirked mischievously and called the waiter to ask for the bill. 

******* 

Claire stood in her walk-in closet, still in her bathrobe. Her curls were tamed but let loose; and her makeup was natural, as usual for these things, with the slightest hint of wing liner to frame her golden eyes. 

She picked up the dress, custom-made for her by Valentino, and put it on. It was red silk, with thin spaghetti straps and a rather opened back. It was classic, elegant but sexy enough to turn heads; not that she’d need to, since everyone would be looking at her anyway. 

Once ready, she grabbed her pair of black heels and walked downstairs to where the girls and Maggie were waiting for her. 

“Oh damn,” Margaret grinned, standing at the end of the stairs. “I didn’t think you could beat last year’s outfit, and here you are!”

Claire chuckled, “Well, thank you.”  

“Mum, you look so beautiful!” Lily smiled, hugging her mother tightly before Sarah joined them. 

“Oh, thank you,” she hugged her daughters, kissing both their curly heads.

“When can we come with you to the party?” Sarah pouted, looking up at her. 

“A few more years,” Claire grinned, patting her back. 

“It’s not fair,” they both sighed, sitting down on the stairs. 

“It’s not that fun, you know,” Claire said truthfully, sitting down on a velvet chair to put on her shoes. “You’ll have more fun at the movies with Maggie.” 

“Yes, you will,” Maggie smiled, watching them. 

Claire got up and looked at herself in the oval mirror by the door. “I’ll be off next weekend, and you two will be stuck with me.” 

“Can’t wait,” the Lily grinned broadly. “Can we go shopping then?”

She looked at them through the mirror and smiled, “Of course, babies.” 

Lily and Sarah got up and went over to her, hugging her again, “Have fun tonight, mum. We love you.” 

“And I love you,” she smiled tenderly, looking at them. She remembered clearly the first time the nurse had handed them to her, both so tiny, with eyes already wide open and looking at her in amazement. It felt like yesterday; and yet, now they were becoming teenagers. 

“Very much,” she whispered, kissing their foreheads.

“Now, let your mother go,” Maggie smiled, grabbing their coats. “Her car is waiting and we need to be off if we don’t want to miss the movie.” 

“You ladies have fun,” Claire said, grabbing her purse and coat. 

The girls waved her off happily and she quickly got into the private car, greeting the driver. 

The Tate Britain was twenty minutes away from the house and traffic was rather light this evening, which meant she arrived right on time. 

The photographers were buzzing at her arrival, given she was always the one to open the red carpet. Screaming her name, over and over again. She posed for their lenses, perfectly showing off the back of the dress, before walking inside.

Louise was waiting, dressed and ready to assist her all evening long. The poor girl had learned, by heart, the names of all the guests just in case Claire needed a reminder. 

“Good evening, Louise,” Claire walked over to her, handing her the coat. 

“Good evening, Claire,” the assistant smiled warmly but nervously, taking care of the coat and the purse. 

“Everything’s running smoothly, guests are already lining up to be photographed, and catering is ready to go once everyone is seated.”

“Perfect,” Claire looked around, pleased with the look of the place. “It looks lovely,” she nodded in agreement. “Well done, Louise.”

“Now please, try to enjoy the evening a little,” Claire smiled softly, walking inside the reception room. 

Inspecting every little detail of the surroundings kept her busy enough to avoid thinking about Jamie Fraser, but she couldn’t stop herself from glancing at the entrance from time to time. Even while busy greeting people, her eyes would linger a tad too long over their shoulders to see who was coming in. 

The room had started to fill up, familiar faces arriving to celebrate the most important party of the year. Yet, the only face she wanted to see hadn’t appeared. As time went on, she started to accept the fact that he wasn’t going to show up. 

Joe was trusted with the task of bringing a drink while she spoke to one of the French editors of the magazine, a pompous woman whose disdain for Claire was much too apparent to disappear under the fake pretence of politeness. However, Claire soon wasn’t paying much attention to what she was saying – something about some abandoned editorial shoot in Rome. 

There and then, her eyes caught on something. 

Jamie Fraser had stepped inside, a young and pretty little model strapped to his arm. 

Chapter Text

Claire blinked a few times as if doing so would make the image in front of her miraculously disappear. 

It didn’t. 

Instead, she noticed Jamie and his companion moving closer into the circle of the party. They were talking together, sharing a laugh about something, before the young woman leaned up to plant a gentle kiss on his cheek. Then, they parted ways for a moment. 

Joe appeared out of the blue, pulling her out of her haze, “A gin and tonic for you, LJ.” 

“Oh.” She looked at him and took the glass he was presenting to her. “Thank you.” 

“Are you okay?” he frowned. “It looks like you’ve seen a ghost.” 

Before she had time to answer, he followed her wandering glance towards the Scot who now stood alone in the crowd. He was studying the surroundings, hands in his pockets. He wore a tartan suit with a pale pink shirt. He stuck out like a sore thumb. 

“Who is that?” A grin broke all over his face. “That suit is too much, even for me, but I admire the effort.” 

“I don’t know who that is —” 

“Jamie Fraser, a sculptor,” Louise interjected before she could finish her lie, doing her job perfectly. 

Claire turned to her and gave her a forced smile, “Thank you. Why don’t you go and get yourself a drink now? I think you deserve it, Louise.” 

Taken aback by this, her assistant composed herself and nodded, “I will! I’ll be back in a minute, Claire.” 

“Take your time,” she mumbled, taking a sip of her drink. 

“So?” Joe’s eyebrows rose up. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on? Or am I going to pester you all evening for information.” 

“Joseph,” she gave him the look. 

“Lady Jane?” he grinned, nudging her. “What’s up with you, uh? And does it have anything to do with the very handsome but terribly dressed man over there?” 

Her eyes shot up again, observing Jamie. He probably couldn’t see her from where he stood, but he was perfectly visible to her. He stood by the bar, waiting for his turn, his companion had not returned yet. 

Given the colour coordination of his clothes, she could swear he was colour-blind. But there was a tenderness about him, reminiscent of a little boy had chosen his clothes without the help of his mother, ending up looking like a box of assorted crayons. She felt the little smile form on her lips but quickly repressed it. After all, Joe was still very much looking at her. 

“We’ve met in Paris, that’s all,” she said simply, feeling the knot in her stomach tightening. 

“Is that a metaphor to say you two got it on in your private suite at The Ritz?” Joe smirked, wiggling his eyebrows. 

“Why do you care?” It was her turn to ask questions. “You were never very interested in my sex life when I was married.”

“Because you told me yourself that it was boring,” he answered simply. He had a point. 

“It wasn’t that boring...at first,” she rolled her eyes, sipping her drink. “That’s just what marriage does to you.” 

“It wasn’t that boring,” he quoted, smirking in his glass. “I don’t think marriage had anything to do with it, darling. I think you just met a man that was terribly wrong for you.” 

“Well, he’s still the father of my children, so let’s not go there right now, please.” 

“I’m sorry,” he smiled softly, touching her arm. “You’re right, let’s get back to the ginger biscuit over there.” 

“I’m not going to tell you anything about him, Joe.” 

“Fine,” he grinned, “I’ll call Sally. I’m sure she knows a thing or two about this man, and she’ll happily share details with me.” 

“Sally is on a weekend getaway with her latest boy toy of the moment, so good luck getting hold of her.” It was her turn to grin, knowing that Sally’s phone would be turned off until Monday morning at the very earliest. 

“Now I’m just envious,” he sighed. “You get a one-night stand in Paris, and she gets a sex getaway.” 

“Just take some days off and go travel,” she suggested, turning slightly so Jamie wouldn’t see her. 

“I would, but my boss doesn’t want me to go away,” he winked, making her chuckle. 

“You were in Paris with me, you could have gone out and found yourself a lovely Frenchman — ”

“Or a couple of them,” he whispered, raising his glass with a wink. 

“I don’t need to know your kinky stuff, darling.” 

“See, that’s where you’re mistaken. It’s quite entertaining.” 

Claire finished her drink and ignored his confession. She needed to get ready for her speech, and although she was no stranger to the exercise, it was always a bit nerve-wracking. Especially when she now knew she’d have to speak in front of a crowd that included Jamie Fraser.

Her eyes caught another familiar face walking through the door, widening at the sight of Thomas. 

“What the bloody…”

“Claire,” Louise appeared at her side, leaning close.

“What is he doing here?” She shot her a glance that would freeze Antarctica. 

“I’m so sorry,” her assistant said quickly, fumbling over the words. “I completely forgot to remove his name out of the guest lists when we were sending the invites, I don’t know how —”

Joe stepped in, looking at Louise and handing her Claire’s empty glass, “You go get her another one of these, yes?” 

“Yes,” she nodded and disappeared quickly towards the bar. 

“I am not going to lose my temper right now,” she said softly, absently fixing her hair. “I have to get ready for my speech.”

“Exactly. There are enough people here and the room is big enough for you to avoid him tonight, darling. Or at least not do more than the polite acknowledgement. I knew he was tactless, but showing up here is...well, I have no words,” he concluded, throwing his hands in the air. 

“White men.” Joe rolled his eyes in disgust. 

Claire looked at him. She couldn’t help but chuckle, relaxing a bit, “I thought you always found him attractive?”

“Of course he is attractive! You don’t get to be married to Claire Beauchamp for twenty years if you’re not attractive and intelligent. It doesn’t mean he’s not tacky right about now.” 

“Fair point,” she nodded, continuing to absently fix her hair as if she suddenly felt someone observing her. 

She was right. 

At that moment, two men were watching her. Both standing at opposite sides of the room. One Scottish, one English. They had nothing in common except their attraction to her. A thing to which she was rather oblivious, apparently. 

******* 

Her speech was a success, as well as the prestigious dinner that followed it. 

The evening overall was working in her favour. She had brilliantly avoided Thomas — who had only greeted her from afar, knowing how busy she was; and Jamie — who seemed like a lost wandering soul in a sea of people that knew one another. 

She wanted to speak to him privately, but she didn’t know how to get him to a remote corner; nor was she able to find the courage to approach him, at least not after seeing him arrive with someone who could be his daughter, at his arm. 

Claire managed to extract herself sometime before Rihanna’s little showcase to disappear out onto a truly hidden terrace. 

The evening was warm, with a brisk wind slipping across her bare skin like the red silk of her dress. It was a welcome breath of fresh air while she leaned against the balcony to look at the city before her. 

Her life was so different from the one she had twenty years ago when she had first moved here from a little town in Oxfordshire. How different was her life from even a year ago? Her rocky marriage was starting to fall to pieces, and she did the best she could to keep it together while running a business and taking care of two children. The separation was inevitable in the end, she could admit as much. Though, it did hurt to think of the moment Thomas had asked for a divorce, citing her career and schedule as the primary issue of the demise of their union. 

Sighing, she shook those thoughts out of her mind and grabbed a cigarette and a lighter from her purse. Everyone was too busy to wonder where she was, and she was notorious for leaving parties early, anyway. No one would come looking for her, at least not for a little while. 

Or so she thought. 

“I’ve been lookin’ for ye all evening.” 

The voice sent goosebumps down her spine. Warm and smooth, like a fine aged whisky. It sounded exactly like she remembered it from Paris, and it had the same effect on her.  

Slowly, she turned around and blew out some smoke, “Have you, now?” 

Her tone was more accusatory than she had intended it to be, but it made him smile cheekily. 

“Aye, actually, quite a bit.” 

Jamie took a step forward, and she leaned against the balcony. Curls blowing in the wind, she watched as he made his way to her slowly, like she was his prey. 

“I saw you coming in, but you seemed busy, so I thought I’d better leave you off with your date.” She took another drag of the cigarette. 

“My date?” A frown grew between his brows. “I didn’t come here wi’ a date, Sassenach.” 

“Mmh,” was all she answered before turning around. 

He leaned against the balcony next to her and looked at her. His smile was amused, “Truly, I came here alone.” 

“You walked in with a girl,” she pointed out, looking at him. “Not that it’s any of my business, by the way.” 

“Ye sound like ye want it to be yer business,” he smirked, tilting his head. 

“You wish,” Claire retorted, enjoying this little back and forth with the Scot. 

Jamie didn’t answer, instead simply smiling wider before taking the cigarette out from in between her fingers. 

“That’s no’ a good habit to have,” he said, taking a drag of it himself. 

“I’ll quit when you quit,” she watched him, enjoying the way his face was lit up by the moon and the candles on the terrace. Up here, they couldn’t hear any noise from the street, and they could barely make out what was going on inside the party. 

He blew out some smoke, chuckling, “Touché.” 

“Are you enjoying the evening?” she asked, leaning her head against her palm. 

“I don’t really like parties like this,” he admitted, passing her the cigarette again. “But it’s gotten much better now.”

“Was your little date too boring to keep up the conversation?” she inquired, making him chuckle again. 

“Sassenach, I met that lass outside. Her heels were too high, and she wondered if she could hold on to me for the stairs. I had to keep up wi’ her talking about ye for ten minutes before we got inside.”

“About me?” Her eyebrow rose, as she tried to keep her embarrassment from the misunderstanding at bay. 

“Aye, the Claire Beauchamp, the woman she was dying to impress with her dress,” he smirked. “I canna remember who made that outfit, by the way, though she told me three times.”

“Dior,” she recalled from earlier, making a face. She finished the cigarette and crushed it against the marble. “I’m afraid to say she failed if that was her primary goal.”

 “If I may say so...ye look breathtaking,” he said simply, looking at her. 

Claire tried her best not to smile, so as not to give herself away so quickly. She managed to hide the blushing of her cheeks, by the same occasion. “Well, thank you.”

“You look…” she stopped herself, looking at him slowly from head to toe. 

“Colourful.” 

He laughed, this time the sound sending a warm feeling through her bones. “I take that as a compliment. But I dinna think ye can fully appreciate my sense of style, Sassenach.”

“I didn’t know you had one,” she grinned, teasing him. 

“If I recall,” he stepped closer to her, “ye are now the owner of one of my shirts, one of my favourites I might add, which means my sense of style is no’ that obscene.” 

Looking up at him, she bit her lower lip, “You do have a point there.” 

“Do ye sleep in it?” he asked, stroking a curl away from her face. 

“You of all people should know what I sleep in,” she remarked. Apparently, flirting with this man was all she could do when he was around. 

“I dinna recall any tartan shirt,” he said faintly, his heat radiating against her body. “I dinna recall any piece of clothing involved, actually.”

“Thought so,” she answered, her voice growing fainter. 

Jamie looked down at her, their eyes locking once more. He licked his lips in anticipation of what was about to happen as she leaned closer. 

It seemed that he was like a magnet for her. She couldn’t explain it, but she wasn’t too sure she cared to even try. All she knew was that kissing him was like an itch that was impossible to scratch for relief. 

Claire would be lying if she hadn’t pictured kissing this man again. Since Paris, that was all she had imagined when thinking about him — among other things, of course. And now that he was there, she almost thought she was conjuring the whole thing. Perhaps she had consumed much more alcohol than she thought? 

In heels, she was the perfect height for this. Their lips approaching, she rested her hands on his forearms and she felt his hand at the base of her back, pulling her closer to him. 

The air between them had become thick, like those hot summer days in the city. Her vision blurred, his face approaching and his breath tickling her cheek. 

“I’ve been thinkin’ about ye, Sassenach,” he said softly, his palm cupping her cheek. 

“Have you?” she asked, pleased with that revelation. Of course, she had thought about him too, but she wasn’t about to reveal that. 

“Aye,” came out as a whisper a second before their lips met. 

The kiss was gentle. Comforting, like a warm hug in winter. 

It had an undercurrent of so many unsaid things, yet a familiarity wove between the two of them like a golden thread as if they had parted only moments ago.

It grew slowly, lips overlapping, mouths opening while their hunger for each other deepened. 

Quite frankly, Claire couldn’t think of anything else but this, right here and now. Their bodies pressed together, just like their lips. She was growing breathless. So was he. But neither pulled back, too desperate to make this last forever. 

The brittle serenity of the moment was shattered when the clearing of a throat resonated through the terrace, separating them both at once like a thunderbolt. 

Her ex-husband stood by the French windows, looking at them both. Impassible, there was no indication as to what he was feeling right now. 

“Thomas,” she said faintly, heat bursting against her cheekbones. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was up here,” he watched them. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

Claire bit the inside of her cheek, angry both at his remark and the interruption. 

“Thomas, this is Jamie Fraser. He’s an artist,” she turned to the Scot, who stood next to her slightly confused. 

“Jamie, this is Thomas Smithfield —”

“Her husband.” 

Ex-husband,” Claire clarified quickly. 

“Nice to meet ye,” Jamie said, smiling politely. It seemed that it wasn’t lost on him how green the other man had turned. 

The pleasant thick atmosphere from a minute earlier had disappeared, opening up to a rather awkward silence. Thomas didn’t seem to want to go anywhere, hands in his pockets and eyes glued on them like they were two teenagers caught doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. 

After what seemed like long seconds, Louise appeared on the balcony. She was a bit breathless and alarmed, “Oh, there you are!”

“What is it?” Claire frowned, sensing something wrong immediately. 

“Margaret just called me, they’re at the emergency room because Lily slipped and injured herself —”

“Injured?” Thomas asked, worry plastered all over his face. 

“She didn’t say what exactly, but she asked that you go to the hospital.” 

“Of course,” Claire nodded, quickly grabbing her purse. She looked at Jamie, “I’m sorry, I have to go, I’m —”

“Aye, Sassenach, ye go,” he smiled gently, squeezing her hand in reassurance.  

“I’m driving,” Thomas grabbed her other hand and pulled her towards the exit. “Come on.”

In the chaos of it all, Claire barely had time to register what was happening now that she was being dragged to the car, away from Jamie. She shot him an apologetic look before the sight of the Scot disappeared completely from her view and she found herself in Thomas’ car, on her way to the hospital. 

A kiss lingering on her lips, and unsure of when she would see the Scot again. 

 

Chapter Text

The car drive to the hospital was...tense, to put it lightly. 

“Can you go a little bit faster?” Claire asked, her glacial tone usually reserved for her employees. She was shaking her leg in that impatient manner of hers, the way she always did when she was on the brink of anger. 

“There’s traffic or I would,” Thomas answered, equally as annoyed. 

They were both nervous about Lily, though Maggie had assured them it was nothing serious save a broken arm. The nerves were a good pretext to avoid talking about the real reason as to why they were both on edge. 

Jamie Fraser. 

For Claire, the annoyance of having to cut her evening short with the Scot and the rude interruption on the balcony by her ex-husband. 

For Thomas, the sight of his soon-to-be ex-wife in the arms of another man. It seemed that demanding a divorce wasn’t a good enough reason to not be jealous when another man comes around. 

Neither of them brought up the topic, both fairly used to the other’s ways after so many years of marriage. But it was there. Thick as a fog, rooted in between them like an anchor in the sand. 

It seemed that all of the traffic lights in town had decided to turn red whenever the car approached, which only added to the general negative mood in the vehicle. 

Sighing, Claire leaned her head back and closed her eyes for a moment. Her head was throbbing, and all she wanted to do was to be near her daughter to comfort her right now. Instead, she was stuck in a car with Thomas, when she didn’t think she’d have to see him until their last meeting to finalise the divorce. 

“Are you mad about Lily’s injury or your secret meeting on the roof being cut short?” 

“Sod off, Tommy,” she mumbled, rubbing her temple. 

“Who’s the chap?” he pressed, trying not to sound as bothered by it as he actually was. 

“None of your actual business,” she bit off, opening her eyes as the car accelerated again. 

Silence descended once more, Thomas focused on the road ahead and tamed whatever he was feeling about the situation. He’d never been one to talk about feelings, instead letting them bottle up until the lid blew — something their couples’ counsellor had wanted him to work on more. He hadn’t, and here they were. 

Claire looked down at her phone to busy herself. She looked through some of Louise’s texts assuring her the evening was progressing just as expected and that no one suspected why she had suddenly disappeared. Only Joe was made aware since he had sent a text a minute earlier to be kept aware of how Lily was doing. 

She started to type a reply to Louise but deleted the first sentence, hesitating. Biting the inside of her cheek, she took the plunge. 

“Get me James Fraser’s number.” 

With that, she pressed send and locked her phone, dropping it back inside her purse, her heartbeat quickening a little bit. After all, she would have to apologise about leaving abruptly and she didn’t want to wait until they’d bump into one another again. Patience wasn’t one of her strong suits. 

Not that she’d send a message or call. She hadn’t made her mind up yet. She was too preoccupied to make a decision, anyway. She’d have his number; that would be the first step. Then, she would see. 

Absently, she nibbled her bottom lip. 

“You look beautiful in that dress, Claire.” The words came out of Thomas’ mouth naturally, as they would have a few years ago. 

A few years ago, they would have come back together from a party just like this. They’d get home, check on the sleeping twins, and disappear into their own room like two giggly teenagers to make love. 

How things could change so fast. 

“Why did you come anyway?” She looked at him. “You didn’t think to pass on the invitation this year?” 

“I thought about it, yes,” he admitted, and she noticed some new white hair at the back of his head. 

“But I’ve always enjoyed those parties, and I thought…” he let his sentence die off. “Well, I don’t know what I thought, okay? It’s not like we’re not on speaking terms, and you’re always busy. I didn’t think you’d notice me much.” 

He wasn’t entirely wrong, nor entirely right either. 

“Right,” was all she said, brushing off the thought of looking at her phone to see if Louise had already answered or not.

“Why do you look so worried? Lily’s going to be just fine.”

“I know, but I don’t like to think of either of the girls being at the hospital, thank you very much.”

“Are you still thinking about the ginger chap?” He looked at her briefly before looking back at the road. She didn’t move. 

“Exactly why do you care so much, Thomas?” She finally turned to pay attention to him, eyebrows raised. “Genuinely, I’d like to know this sudden interest?” 

“Well, I go out for some fresh air and there you are, kissing a random man,” he said bluntly. If he was bothered or jealous, his tone didn’t let it on. “How long has it been going on? Did you know him before the separation, or —”

She scoffed, rolling her eyes, “First, an absent mother; and now a cheater? Are you done making up labels for me?” 

His hands tightened on the steering wheel.“I never said you were a cheater. Again, I’m simply wondering. This is someone who’ll be around my daughters.”

“Our daughters,” she corrected him. “If I recall correctly, you didn’t make them alone and you weren’t the one carrying them for nine months.” 

“Why are you so defensive? It feels like we’re back to where we were six months ago. Wouldn’t you want to know if you’d found me with another woman on a rooftop?” 

“We’re not married anymore. Which you seem to forget these days. And in a few weeks, we’ll officially be divorced. Yes, I’d want to know about whoever you’re seeing if the girls would have to meet said lady, but that is not the case here.”

“And,” she added, “I wouldn’t be asking you all of this in an accusatory tone.” 

He sighed and Claire wondered how much longer it would be until they arrived at the hospital. 

“Stop pretending I don’t take the well-being of the girls seriously and that I would put a man or my own needs before them. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be in this car right now.”

“Actually,” she looked at him again. She felt the buzz of her phone against her leg but didn’t reach for it. “You like to pretend I’ve been a terrible mother because of my career and my work schedule. That our marriage failed because of this too; and yet, you’re as busy as I am, you always were—”

“It’s not the same.” 

“It actually is, Thomas. It’s exactly the same thing and you know it. I’m not saying I didn’t have a part in the failing of our marriage, but you’re not blameless either, so please stop pretending you are.”

“Do you really want to have this discussion right now?” he asked, the facade starting to crumble. 

“No,” she said simply. “Actually, I don’t.”

“I thought so,” he mumbled.

At last, the hospital came into view, and Thomas made a turn to enter the parking lot. Once he found a spot, he parked the car. 

“By the way, you don’t get to ask for a divorce and then act like this when another man shows interest.” She grabbed her purse and jacket before opening the door.

“He seemed to be doing a bit more than just showing interest, if you ask me.” He watched her, waiting for her reaction. 

“I didn’t ask you anything.” She got out and didn’t wait for him before heading inside. 

******** 

“Look!” Lily said proudly, holding up her arm as best as she could. “Sarah already left a note on my cast.” 

Claire smiled, kissing her head, “That’s lovely, but watch that arm, love. I don’t want you to hurt it even more.” 

Lily still had flushed cheeks and puffy eyes from the crying she had done after the fall, but her spirits were back in full swing. They would have to wait a bit longer for her to be discharged, but the doctor had assured them that they’d get to go home tonight. 

Sarah laid against Maggie on one of the chairs while Claire sat on the edge of the bed with Lily, Thomas standing closely by them. 

“Can you do one?” Lily looked at her father and handed him the Sharpie the nurse had brought in. 

“Of course, crumpet,” he smiled tenderly, sitting on her other side. Gently, he started to make a little drawing on the fresh cast. 

“Is that Mum?” Lily giggled, looking at her arm. 

Frowning, Claire looked down at the little doodle of herself before looking at Thomas with a half-amused, half-offended face, “That doesn’t look anything like me.”

Sarah quickly got up to come and investigate, “It actually does, Mum.” 

“Yeah,” Lily agreed, grinning. 

Thomas handed her the Sharpie, “Your turn, Claire.”

“What do you want?” she looked at Lily with a warm smile. “Wait, no. I know!”

Grinning wider, Claire started her little drawing. In no time, Lilly found herself with a new drawing — a nod to one of her favourite book series. 

“The Deathly Hallows symbol!” she exclaimed happily, grinning at Sarah who was a fellow Harry Potter aficionado. “Now, that is cool.” 

“You’re the coolest, Mum,” Lily gave her a tight hug, burying her face into the crook of her neck. 

“It’s the only thing I can draw,” Claire replied, kissing her cheek. “But you’re very welcome.”

“Don’t go around breaking parts just to have casts to draw on though,” Thomas smiled, stroking her back. “All right, crumpet?”

“Yes, Daddy,” Lily looked at him with a smile. “It wasn’t my fault, I slipped on a drink someone had spilt on the floor.”

“At least it was after the movie ended,” Sarah smirked. “It didn’t completely ruin the evening.” 

“I’m never letting you both choose a movie again,” Margaret interjected, an amused expression on her face. “You promised it wouldn’t be scary, and it was.”

“It wasn’t!” The twins said together, laughing at their response. 

“I told you not to trust them,” Claire chuckled, holding Lily close as if she was still her baby. 

She often felt guilty for missing moments with the girls because of her job; but whenever she could, she would spend time with them, work from home, or take them with her to events. And they enjoyed it. Yet, the mom guilt was a real thing — a feeling she had to deal with every day since the time they were born and she had received a promotion all within the very same month. She insisted on taking maternity leave and once she was back, she was running the magazine. More often than not, back then, she was pretending to know what she was doing. Before they could attend school, she would take them with her from New York to Paris for fashion week or on shoots, breastfeeding one or the other while directing the editorial. 

The twins never complained; they actually enjoyed being part of the process. Asking questions about what was going on, looking at the clothes, and talking to everyone at the office. As they grew up, the more they loved it. Nonetheless, there was this tiny little voice inside her head constantly telling her she wasn’t the best mother she could be. 

“When can we go home?” Sarah asked, rubbing her eyes. “I’m hungry.” 

“I’m hungry too,” Lily said, looking at Claire. 

“I’ll go and ask the doctor,” Thomas got up and smiled. “And we’ll order some pizzas when we get home.” 

Claire didn’t contradict him, the prospect of a pizza too good to toss away. It was rather late, and all she had eaten at the party was a couple of tiny hors-d'oeuvres that filled her belly just as much as a drop of water would fill a vase. 

“How was the event?” Margaret asked once Thomas had left the room. Her glance was inquisitive, not because of the party itself but regarding why they had shown up here together. However, she knew Claire wasn’t going to confide this in front of the twins. 

“It went well,” she smiled. It really did, minus the misstep on the terrace when Thomas showed up; before that, it had been heavenly. 

“Good,” Maggie smiled and squeezed her hand. 

“Mum?” Sarah suddenly looked worried. “Can we still go to Oxford to visit Uncle Lamb, even though Lily is injured?” 

“I only broke my arm,” Lily rolled her eyes. “That isn’t going to prevent me from hopping on a train.”

“She’s right,” Claire agreed, stroking her curls back. “And Uncle Lambert can’t wait to see you. Plus, he’ll have to sign your cast, Lilz.” 

“Oh yeah!” She grinned proudly. 

Claire looked at Margaret, “Are you still okay about going with them? I can cancel my trip if you’d rather not.”

“Oh dear, no! I agreed to go with them when you asked, and I’m delighted to see your uncle again.” Her smile broadened at the mention of Lambert. Had she blushed, or was Claire imagining it? And since when was Maggie delighted to see Lamb? 

“All right, thank you,” Claire smiled in return, ignoring her apparent delight. 

“Ladies, we can be off.” Thomas had returned to the room, holding a few sheets of paper. “The doctor will see you again in a couple of weeks to take the cast off, sweetheart.”

“I just got this cast, I don’t want to think about parting with it just yet, Daddy,” Lily teased, getting up. 

Smiling, Claire grabbed her daughter’s coat and waited for everyone to be out of the room to follow them. Sarah grabbed her hand on the way out, leaning against her. 

“You didn’t have to dress up so much to come get us at the hospital, Mum.” 

“Well, you know me,” she grinned, kissing the tip of her nose. “I always have to be a little bit extra.”

Lily turned her head to look at the others and giggled, “It’s true.” 

The drive home was thankfully less tense, thanks to the twins and Maggie recalling their nice evening at the movies before it took a turn. They first drove the older woman back to her house in Hackney before making their way to Primrose Hill — the four of them looking like the family they used to be. 

Claire removed her heels as soon as she stepped through the door while the twins ran upstairs to change into their pyjamas. They had ordered the pizzas on their phones on their way home, and the food would be arriving soon. The twins also had invited their father to stay over to eat, and Claire didn’t have it in her to interfere again, knowing how much they loved him. After all, this was what co-parenting was all about. 

“I’ll go change too,” Claire said quickly and walked up the stairs before he had time to say anything. In the bathroom, she removed her makeup and put on a cashmere v-neck with the matching loungewear trousers. 

When she made her way downstairs again, the twins and Thomas were sitting all cuddled together on the large sofa, watching some reruns of Miss Marple. She couldn’t help but smile at the sight. The coffee table was set up for the food, and he even had prepared a glass of wine for her. 

If she didn’t know better, she would have thought it looked like one of their movie nights in a past life. 

Then and there, she wondered if they should have fought harder for their marriage. For their family. The worst part of the divorce wasn’t so much losing the one person she had loved the most. It was tearing apart a family, leaving the twins wandering between their parents. Being heartbroken at the dissolution of a marriage they had thought to be perfect. It did hurt to feel like a failure, but it hurt, even more, to think she had disappointed her children. 

Swallowing the lump forming in her throat, she went back into the hall to grab her purse. With everything that had happened since her and Thomas’s drive, she had forgotten to check her phone for a potential reply from Louise. 

Her eyes scanned the screen and it was there, at the top, along with another one from Joe she made a mental note to answer later. Her finger pressed to open Louise’s message and her lip flicked up into a smile as she read each digit of Jamie Fraser’s number. She would eventually send him a text. 

Eventually. 

“She deserves a raise,” she mumbled to herself before opening Joe’s message to answer that, yes, the twins were fine and they were now home. She left out the mention of Thomas being with them because she didn’t want to deal with him on the phone tonight. She’d explain the situation on Monday, if he asked, though she knew he would.

The doorbell rang and a far-off happy squee resonated in the living room as one of the twins yelled, “Yay! Food is here!” 

“I’ll go,” Claire said loudly enough so they would hear, and went to the front door to get the food. 

Boxes in hand, she returned to the living room to find the twins and Thomas looking rather excited for the pizzas. The girls did look a lot like her, but some of their expressions were exactly like their father’s. 

“Mum, we asked Daddy if he wants to stay the night since it’s so late and he said yes,” Lily said simply, unaware of the bomb she had just dropped on her mother.

“Oh,” she blinked, looking at Thomas. 

“If you don’t mind, of course,” he smiled, grabbing the boxes from her. 

She minded, he knew it. But he also knew she wasn’t going to admit that in front of the twins. 

“No, they’re right,” she forced a smile and sat down, “It’s late, and the guest room is all yours.”

“Can we all sleep together in your bed?” Sarah asked, looking at her mother with so much hope in her eyes.

“Sarah, I don’t think…”

“Please!” She grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “It’s not like you guys are going to be doing couple stuff, we know you’re not married anymore,” she made a face. “Just one last time, like the old days when we were small and we’d crawl into your bed in the morning.” 

Claire took a piece of her pizza and avoided her daughter’s glance, while regretting buying a bigger bed since Thomas moved out. 

“Fine, but just this once, because your sister is injured.” 

“Thank you!” She hugged her tightly, Lily joining in. 

Thomas looked apologetically at her, but something told Claire he had been the brain behind this idea. She was always the last one to fall asleep, anyway, so she’d extract herself at the last minute and head to the guest room if she had to. 

It was only when she found herself in bed, the twins squished together in the middle and Thomas on the other side, the familiarity of his snoring not lost on her, that she let out a breath of relief, that evening. She couldn’t get up without waking Sarah, whose arm was tightly wrapped around her; and so, she couldn’t move or even try to escape. The idea of the guest room faded further away from her as the minutes passed. Her lids were heavy, her legs ached from the heels.

Her phone laid on the bedside table, and her fingers twitched to text Jamie, but she’d have to wait. It was too late now, he wouldn’t be answering anyway. 

But after a minute had passed, she reached for the phone and unlocked it. She copied his number and typed a new message. She had absolutely nothing to lose, and he’d see this in the morning anyway. 

“I’m sorry about disappearing like that earlier. I hope you enjoyed the rest of the party. You’ll have to tell me about it sometime.” 

She pressed send too quickly and cursed herself silently. Quickly, she sent another one. 

“It’s Sassenach, by the way xx"

Chapter Text

Opening her eyes the next morning, Claire realised immediately that Thomas wasn’t in bed anymore. She couldn’t hear the breathing through his nose, nor the slight snore coming out of his mouth. She was only getting used to the silence of sleeping alone, and now he had spent an evening back in her bed. 

The twins were also nowhere in sight. She decided to lay there for a moment, gathering herself as if this was any other morning. In a sense, it was — except her ex-husband was probably roaming the house somewhere after imposing himself on her for the night with the help of the girls. 

This was supposed to be Lily and Sarah’s weekend with Thomas. Perhaps they have already left? The house was too big to hear anything going on downstairs from this bedroom. She’d have to get up and investigate, eventually. 

Claire could see her phone from the corner of her eyes, feeling foolish about the anxiety brewing in the pit of her stomach at the thought of a text message. Quite frankly, she had regretted sending Jamie one last night. What was she thinking? Rather naughty things, if she was totally honest with herself, but still. 

She knew that if he had answered, she’d be more nervous; and if he hadn’t, she’d be devastated. Why did she feel this way about a complete stranger she’d seen naked only once? That was a question she didn’t have an answer to. 

In hindsight, Jamie Fraser was anything but her type. He looked too muscular, like a proper rugby player. He was the sort of man who’d rather live in a cottage in the countryside, with his dog and sheep, than in a busy city like London. He had no style or sense of fashion; though it could be argued that no one dressed like him and, hence, he was a misunderstood dandy. 

Smiling absently at the visual of his suit last night, she realized she’d pay a lot of money to see the inside of his closet. She would never admit it, but she had worn his tartan shirt once or twice, walking alone around the house. 

She’d do it again. 

“I’ve been thinkin’ about ye, Sassenach.” 

The words he spoke last night before their kiss resonated in her mind, over and over again. She could still see the expression of pure adoration on his face. His little smile, a mixture of shyness and affection. 

When she finally got up, she decided to leave her phone alone for a bit without checking for a response quite yet. She sprayed some rose water on her face, tied her curls up into a messy bun, and walked downstairs. 

From the hall, she could hear the twins and Thomas in the kitchen. Based on the other noises, it became clear that he was making them breakfast. The divorce had reinforced a few things about him, like the fact that he was a wonderful father. But new discoveries seeped in too — like the realization that he could be a rather sticky ex. 

“Good morning,” Claire said, smiling as she walked into the kitchen. It smelled of blueberry pancakes, her favourite. 

The bastard. 

“Hello, Mum.” The twins got up and hugged her tightly. “How did you sleep?”

“Rather soundly,” she kissed their heads, burying her nose in their hair. “Even with Sarah clinging to me, as if she were holding on for dear life.”

Sarah rolled her eyes and blushed like she always did when she was reminded of how much of a mommy’s girl she was. Sitting down at the table again, she grabbed the juice. “I was just cold, that’s all.”

Grinning, Claire leaned against the counter towards Lily. “How’s your arm, my love?” 

“It’s fine.” She kissed her mother’s cheek and went to join her sister at the table. 

Thomas looked at her, smiling and handed her a cup of coffee,  “Good morning, you.” 

She took it, feeling the warmth of the mug against her palms, “Thank you.” 

Before he had time to approach too closely to kiss her cheek, she went to the table and sat down with the girls. “So, what are your plans for the day?”

“Do you mind if they come to my place?” Thomas asked. 

“No,” she shook her head and took a sip of coffee. Perfectly warm, with a tad bit of milk and two sugars. Brown. He knew how to do it. 

“Why would I mind? It’s still your weekend after all.”

“Grand,” he smiled and served the pancakes before sitting down to join them. “We wanted to go to the Serpentine Gallery. Would you like to join us?” 

Claire blinked mid-sip, “Uhm, actually, I have some work to catch up on before my upcoming trip. Sorry darlings,” she smiled apologetically at the twins. 

“It’s alright,” one of them answered as they both smiled. It always amazed her how they looked exactly alike, and yet they were each so wildly different, both in mannerism and character. 

She continued sipping her coffee and purposely ignored the pancakes sitting in front of her and under Thomas’s prying eyes. 

“Are you not eating those?” Lily asked, eyeing more food. 

“You can have them,” Claire smiled and stroked her back. “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you!”

“What?” Sarah responded, the twins looking at her curiously. 

“Guess who we’re shooting with next month?” She couldn’t help but grin. She had kept this secret for a little while, but she could now tell them. “And guess who’s allowed to come to the shoot?”

“Are we allowed? And does that mean we love who it’s going to be?” Sarah’s eyes widened as she asked those questions. 

“Well,” Claire’s grin grew. Her job might keep her busier than she had wanted as a working mother, but it also provided some opportunities where her daughters experienced things that not many people could. “Yes, and yes.” 

“Lily James?!” They both said at the same time, voice high-pitched and full of excitement. Before she had time to answer, they were hugging her tightly. 

“It is, indeed,” she smiled, holding them both in a hug. “Lils, be careful with your arm please.” 

“I get to have Lily James sign my cast!” she exclaimed, ignoring her mother and making everyone around the table laugh at that. 

“Yes, you will, crumpet,” Thomas smiled, watching them all. 

“Oh, how exciting!” Sarah sighed happily, leaning back in her chair. Then, suddenly, panic crept across her face. She turned to her sister, eyes wide, “What are we going to wear?!”

Claire sipped her coffee, smirking into the mug. They were their mother’s daughters, after all. 

******** 

A couple of hours had passed since breakfast and Claire finally found herself alone in the house. 

She stood in the kitchen, another cup of coffee in hand, enjoying the complete silence of her surroundings. Her bare ring finger tapped against the porcelain of the mug, making absolutely no noise at all; only a few months ago, her gold ring would have made the familiar sound she had heard for the past twenty years. It had felt odd to not wear it, at first. She had never taken it off, except when her fingers became too swollen towards the end of her pregnancy. 

Often, she would find herself reviewing the years of her marriage and trying to figure out what went awry; or when it started. How they went from two fools in love to miserable married people. It didn’t happen in a flash, of course; it was a slow and progressive shift. 

Busy lives, packed work schedules...in retrospect, the happiest years had been at the beginning — Thomas going through medical school while she worked her way up to where she was now. No matter what, they had reserved weekends to be together, just the two of them. Then, the kids arrived, Claire was promoted, and everything spiralled downwards to a point where divorce was inevitable, both unable to keep pushing for the sake of the children. 

If he hadn’t asked for it, she knew she eventually would have. 

The house phone rang, shattering the silence and reminding her they actually had one at all. The girls had insisted on buying a retro-looking one that actually worked. She went to the living room and picked up. There was only one person who called this line. 

“Sally bird,” Claire grinned, sitting down on the edge of the couch. 

“Let me guess,” she continued before Sally could speak. “Either your date isn’t as interesting as you thought he would be, or Joe called you about the party.”

“The second one,” she answered, grinning on the other side of the phone. “My little getaway is going well, and Max kept me awake for most of the night, in case you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t, actually,” she chuckled. “But thank you for the information.” 

“However good the sex is, I would have paid a lot of money to be there last night. I can’t believe Thomas showed up! I thought he had the girls for the weekend.”

“Well,” Claire sighed, sliding down into a lying position. “The girls first went to the cinema with Maggie, and then they were supposed to go to his place for the weekend.” 

“I remember when you guys started to date, he was such a sweetheart! Who knew he’d grow up to become such a pain in the ass?”

“Do you want to know who else showed up at the event? Unless Joe told you already,” which Claire suspected. 

“He didn’t tell me anything else,” Sally sounded horrified. “Wait! Was it your Scottish lover?” 

“He’s not my lover—”

“Piss off.” Sally interrupted her. “You had sex with him multiple times. Fine, it was all in the space of a night, but that counts for something.” 

“Anyway.” Claire brushed it off, it wasn’t the right time to recall what had happened in Paris; not that she would have minded much. 

“Jamie showed up, I sort of knew he would, because I saw his name on the guest list. At some point during the evening, he finds me smoking on the terrace—”

“You still haven’t quit?!”

“That is not the topic,” Claire redirected. She’d quit, in due course. “So, he finds me there, we have a little talk...we flirt some more.”

Sally whistled over the phone and Claire blushed, glad her friend couldn't see her. 

“Then, we kiss, but —”

“But what?” 

“Thomas walks in on us. I can’t tell you how long he stood there before saying anything if I’m honest with you. Nonetheless, it was awkward.” 

“Let me guess,” Sally chuckled, “then Thomas got all alpha male and pissed a circle around you?”

“That visual is actually disturbing, Sal. But essentially, yes. Except he had not had much time to do so, because one of my daughters decided to break her arm and end up in the emergency room. Before I realised it, I’d left my Scotsman on the terrace and I was in Thomas’s car on our way to the hospital.”

“Your Scotsman, eh?” Sally asked, tone mischievous. 

“Lily is fine, thanks for asking,” Claire ignored the remark on her Freudian slip, “If I thought the evening had been awkward, that was nothing until we got home and the twins insisted that Thomas stay for the night, sleeping with us in my new king size bed.” 

“You didn’t agree to that, did you?” 

“Well...I couldn’t say no to them, you should have seen their faces.”

“Claire!” Sally said loudly, “Boundaries, for fuck’s sake. If you say yes once, you’ll say yes again and again. Before you know it, Thomas will move back in and the divorce will be cancelled.” 

“It won’t be,” she said firmly. She didn’t know how she felt about him anymore; he was a man she didn’t love romantically, but he was the father of her children and that put him in a place where she’d never be able to completely erase all the feelings she carried for him. However, Lambert had told her that it was impossible to fix something broken; it was worth a try, but it would always crumble to pieces again in the end. 

“It’s just complicated, and it’s so fresh...we’re all trying to adapt, and I don’t want the twins to think their parents hate each other, because it’s not the case. We’re simply trying to navigate this thing and the feelings we have towards one another. Years of unspoken words and remorse for making the other miserable, and all that.” 

“You’re right, and I’m sorry,” Sally’s tone grew gentle. “I keep forgetting it’s only been six months because of all the years I’ve spent watching you fade away before my eyes.” 

“I don’t want you to think it’ll be easier to go back to being a family for the sake of the girls. They’re growing up, at some point they will understand all of it and why it had to happen. I’m sure they already do, they’re not stupid and they were the ones witnessing your marriage going to shit, even when you did all you could to keep it from them. Children are smart, yours particularly because they take after their mother.”

Claire nodded, though she couldn’t see her, “That’s true, they know.” 

“Not only are you trying to deal with this as best as you can, but now you’ve also met a man who makes you go all gooey inside and you have no idea what to do about it.”  

“I know you’re blushing,” Sally added, smirking. 

“How are you so bloody perceptive? No wonder you’re so good at your job,” Claire closed her eyes, unable to help the smile. 

“I’ve known you for too many years, Claire bear. I notice the way your voice changes when you talk about things that make you happy. And whenever you talk about your Scotsman, you almost sound giddy.” 

“But something also tells me you’re terrified because you didn’t expect to meet anyone, let alone so soon. Am I right?”

“Yes,” she admitted out loud for the first time. “I don’t know how to deal with it. I’m attracted to him, and obviously he’s attracted to me. I’m not that stupid not to see that. But I…” 

Claire took a breath, “I don’t think I can open my heart up again so soon. What if I can’t do it all?” 

“I think you shouldn’t ask yourself too many questions about this. No one is saying you have to get married again, or even be in a serious relationship. Go out with him, have fun, and see what happens?”

“Well, I’m not even sure he wants to actually go out with me, I shouldn’t get worked up like this over nothing.” 

“Look, you have a whole weekend all to yourself. Relax, think about things that aren’t related to work, and decide what you want to do about this. Okay?”

“Okay,” Claire smiled. “I’ll let you return to your torrid getaway now.”

“Lunch on Tuesday?” Sally proposed. “I have a meeting in your area in the morning.”

“Perfect, just come to the office when you’re done and we’ll be off. Do you want me to book anything?”

“Please, as if Claire Beauchamp needs to book anything in advance,” Sally grinned, “See you soon, darling!”

“See you,” she smiled and hung up the phone. 

Thinking about phones, Claire realised she still hadn’t checked her iPhone since last night. She couldn’t avoid it indefinitely, given she had some work calls to make, and therefore decided it was better to rip off the bandage in one sharp go instead of puttering around it. 

She found herself walking up the stairs slower than she usually would, steps heavy as if she were carrying rocks in her shoes, even though she was barefoot. 

The phone laid on the bedside table where she had left it, face down. When she reached for it, her fingers were steady but a ball of nerves swirled in her stomach. No one would believe how insecure Claire Beauchamp actually was since her divorce, and yet… 

She grabbed the phone and tapped it to make it light up. Her eyes scanned the lock screen, ignoring the various app notifications, emails, and various Guardian articles. 

No texts. 

She was too proud to admit to herself just how much her heart sank at that moment. Perhaps he was still asleep? Or he had opened the text and forgotten to reply? No, actually, that was an even worse option to think about. 

Rolling her eyes, she threw her phone onto the bed and decided to go and take a bath. 

It was an hour later when the doorbell rang. 

Since Margaret wasn’t there, she had to excuse herself from a work call to go open it. She expected —actually, she didn’t know what she had expected — but it was anything but a man delivering flowers. 

It was a big bouquet of wildflowers, the various colours all merging together like paint on an artists palette. 

When she finally found a vase big enough for it, placing it on the table of the kitchen, she noticed the little note clipped to a leaf. 

She grabbed hold of it, used to receiving flowers from brands or designers working for the magazine. However, they would usually simply arrive at the office, not her house. That annoyed her slightly...at least until she read the note, and any hint of negativity vanished into thin air. 

“Your assistant was kind enough to let me know where to deliver flowers, I hope you don’t mind. I won’t be in London for the next few weeks due to work, but once I’m back, I’ll be more than happy to tell you all about my time at the party. What do you think? I’d like to get my shirt back, too...

Until we meet again, Sassenach xx."

Chapter Text

“All right, you both behave and be nice to Uncle Lambert, okay?” Claire hugged her twins tightly, kissing their heads. 

“And don’t drive Maggie crazy, or the Lily James shoot is off the table.” 

Margaret smirked, watching them, “Don’t worry, they’ll be good. They always are.” 

“That’s true,” Claire smiled proudly, giving each of them another kiss. 

“Call me when you arrive, yes?”

“We will!” Lily and Sarah grinned, kissing her cheeks. 

“Can we be off now?” Sarah asked. “We’re going to be late otherwise.”

“Okay, Bossypants, calm down,” Claire chuckled, following them outside with their bags. 

“Their mother’s daughters,” Maggie winked and took the bags from her. 

“I guess so, yes,” she smirked, “You behave around Lamb too, eh?” 

Margaret blushed furiously, fumbling on her words, “Goodbye Claire, see you next week!” 

“Have fun!” she winked, watching the trio get into the car. “I’ll miss you, girls!” 

“Love you, mum!” The twins waved, smiling broadly as the car drove away towards St. Pancras. 

Claire stood at the door for a moment, enjoying the crisp air of the sunny October morning. She’d be off with the twins if she didn’t have to travel for an important editorial shoot, but this was one trip she couldn’t miss, no matter what she desired. 

She promised Lamb she’d be off to visit him later this month, and she was looking forward to the trip. Looking forward to going home to Oxford, where she had spent most of her childhood and teenage years, unless she was on an archaeological site with her uncle. Each amount of time spent away from London felt like a breath of fresh air, a balm for the soul, before getting back to the hubbub of her busy life here. 

Smiling at the thought, she turned around to head back inside; but before she could close the front door, Sally’s voice reverberated through the quiet street. 

“Good morning!” She chanted happily, walking towards the house. 

“It’s not even past nine and you’re already up? What is happening?” Claire grinned, leaning against the doorframe as she watched her friend. 

“I thought I’d pay a visit to my favourite grump before she’s off for work,” Sally grinned in return and held up a paper bag. “Plus, I thought you’d enjoy some Albion breakfast delivered right to your door.”

“I should have married you twenty years ago and not Thomas,” Claire chuckled and walked back into the house, followed by her friend. 

“If only commitment didn’t scare me so much, it could have worked,” Sally made a disgusted face and closed the door behind her. “Why do you think I became a divorce lawyer? I knew I’d never be out of a job.”

“That’s a good point,” Claire agreed, putting the kettle on. “Though I don’t think murders will cease anytime soon either.” 

“True,” Sally nodded, unpacking the pastries. “But I don’t like gory details or crime documentaries, that was always more of your thing. It’s more fun helping a woman get all the money from her cheating husband.” 

“Are all divorces really that messy?” Claire asked, leaning against the counter. From some of the stories Sally had told her, it seemed her own was rather tame. 

“The more money there is, the messier it gets, yeah,” Sally sat down. “Your divorce is probably one of the more civil ones I’ve been part of. That might have something to do with the fact that Thomas didn’t think you’d go through with it when he asked for it.” 

Shrugging, Claire poured the boiling water into the mugs and added teabags— earl grey for her and peppermint for Sally. “Forget I even asked, I don’t want to talk about Thomas.” 

“Fine,” her friend watched her. “Is he behaving himself now? No more sleepovers and stuff?”

“He’s rather busy at the hospital, from what the girls have told me.” She brought the mugs to the table and sat down. “And I’m too busy to think about him, anyway.” 

“Busy thinking about your Scotsman, uh?” Sally grinned. It wasn’t a question at all. 

“I wish I had time in the day to think about him, actually,” Claire chuckled, grabbing a croissant. 

Two weeks had passed since he had sent her flowers, and it had been so busy at work that she barely had time to sit down and breathe. When she was home, all her time was spent with the girls or on various calls with the magazine’s investors. She often wondered how she went from a fashion aficionado assistant running around to fetch coffee, to a businesswoman who knew how to talk numbers; she had never been great at maths. 

“Enough about me,” she took a bite of food. “How are you? How’s your latest flame?”

“Remember our holiday in Italy before the twins were born?” Sally looked at her seriously. 

“The one when a medusa stung your leg and no one could get it off?” 

Her friend nodded, taking a bit of pain au chocolat. “That medusa must have been named Max, because he’s clinging to me just like that thing was.” 

Claire burst into a laugh, leaning back in her chair, “Oh come on, cut the lad some slack! And you never know, maybe he could be the one?” 

Sally rolled her eyes like she was sixteen again, talking to her mother. “I don’t have time for a relationship, and I do not want one.” 

“I have too much fun having fun, I’ve passed the age to have children. Not that I want any, anyway, and —” 

“And not every woman is made to be a wife and a mother,” Claire added, quoting what Sally had told her many times. 

“Exactly!” Sally smirked, taking a sip of tea. “I enjoy being the fun aunt who spoils the twins.” 

“So I have noticed.” Smiling, Claire took a sip of tea. 

Orphaned at a young age, she never really minded not having siblings — especially since Lamb had a big enough library to keep her occupied when she wasn’t at school. But when she moved to London and met Sally, there was a certain feeling of emptiness that completely disappeared, as if that something that had been missing all along finally fitted into place. 

Sometimes, when she looked at her own daughters, she could see the same unbreakable bond that she shared with her oldest friend. They were cut from the same cloth, completing one another. 

“Are you all packed up for the trip?” Sally changed the subject and finished her food. 

“Almost, yes. Some pieces have to arrive from the office with Louisa later.”

“It’s Louise.” Sally chuckled, shaking her head. “How are you so successful when you can barely remember people’s names?” 

“I usually never bother, because most of the assistants don’t last more than a week.”

“This one’s been there for a little while now,” she pointed out. “And it seems she’s not doing a terrible job. After all, she got you a certain redhead’s number,” she wiggled her eyebrows. 

“That is exactly why she is still around,” Claire grinned, not admitting that Louise was one of the best assistants she ever had. 

“When are you coming back?” 

“In five days.” Claire checked her phone that had just beeped. Louise was on her way. 

“I’m sorry that the divorce papers are delayed again, I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing with them, but I’m taking care of it.” 

“I don’t care when they arrive, as long as they arrive,” Claire reassured her and smiled, squeezing her hand. 

“Good,” Sally smiled back. “Now, can you show me what you’re going to wear?”

“Come on,” Claire got up and gestured for Sally to follow her upstairs.

********

The Fife Arms was one of Claire’s favourite places to stay. 

Perched in the middle of the Highlands, near Aberdeen, it was a picturesque sight for the eyes, dating back to the 19th century. A haven hidden behind trees, where the only noises around were the ones of nature. 

The interior was cosy and inviting, with rustic furniture and masterpieces clothing the walls. It was like a manor described in an Agatha Christie novel if it had paintings by Lucian Freud on the walls. 

It hadn’t taken much convincing when Virginia had suggested a fall editorial shot all around the estate. 

Claire and her team had arrived late last evening, everyone dispatching to their respective rooms and intending to meet in the morning at 10 am (sharp) to have breakfast and start on the shoot. The trip was only two days for all of them, except for her. She had booked three extra ones to relax and spend time alone with her thoughts. 

The clothes were reviewed, labelled, and stored in suitcases, awaiting steaming. The models were arriving at eight, and the rest of the team was on hand. Everything was ready to go. 

She woke up around seven, the sun barely up yet. It was tempting to stay in bed, with the blankets shielding her from the cold of the room. Rubbing her eyes, she yawned and looked out of the window towards the green scenery. It looked like a painting — it took her breath away. 

There was something about Scotland...she couldn’t explain it. 

She had come here a few times before and, each time, it had been right there. In her heart, like a lightness that one would carry whenever they arrive home. It was a magical place, rocked by folklore and mythical legends — but it wasn’t just that.

The first time she had been here, she had an overwhelming feeling of deja-vu. Had she been here in a previous life? It seemed that way. It was rather spooky, she could admit that much, but now she was used to it. 

She wondered if this had anything to do with her attraction to Jamie? His accent was what intrigued her immediately, but he had felt like a magnet. There was a familiarity around him, comforting her. 

“Stop being silly,” she mumbled to herself, sitting down. 

Looking down at herself, she couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the tartan shirt. She hadn’t worn it consistently since Paris, but she thought the setting was perfect for it — and no one was here to see her sleep in it, anyway. 

She checked her phone, already having received the schedule for the day from Louise. She texted her to go back to sleep for another hour and put her phone away. After calling room service to order some coffee, she began getting ready. 

Showered, dressed, and happy to have caffeine in her bloodstream, she decided to go for a morning walk. She had two more hours to spare, and it would be a shame to not enjoy the scenery. Plus, she could scout the best places to take pictures later today. 

The estate was empty, save for some of the staff running around who greeted her with their typical warm Scottish manners. 

The air around her was cold, sunlight shy behind the gloomy clouds, but it didn’t appear that it would rain anytime soon. It was the type of day she loved the best, where she could layer clothes and feel perfectly cosy. 

She wore a Margaret Howell wool jacket, in black, over a simple khaki shirt and tweed trousers, tucked in her green wellies. An Hermès scarf was wrapped around her head to shield her curls from humidity and, quite frankly, she looked like Elizabeth II at Balmoral — it was a deliberate and rather calculated move. 

Claire walked for a little while, the colours of Scotland dancing in front of her eyes like a ballet. It was there and then that she regretted being rubbish at art. She would gladly sit here and paint the landscapes for hours on hand. 

Receding further away from the hotel, she found herself in the woods and took a long, deep breath. The air smelled of damp earth and pines, quite the contrast to the repulsive scent of pollution back home. 

She sat by a tree for a while, preparing herself for the busy day ahead. She loved the hectic nature of her job and the pressure of creating stunning editorials to put in the magazine. She often missed that aspect since becoming the editor-in-chief and was sad that she could not attend shoots as often as she used to. 

When she was a child, she’d often run to the forest near their home, either to read or to dig up the earth to find things to bring back to Lamb to pretend she was helping him with his research. Then, her uncle would keep her finds on one of the shelves of his office like a shrine — some of them might even still be there, knowing what type of sentimental hoarder he was. 

She smiled at the memory and got up, brushing off some dirt from her coat. 

Too distracted, she didn’t hear footsteps approaching, nor did she see a giant running towards her. Or, at least, it was too late when she noticed it. 

Before she had time to register it, she was falling to the floor with two strong arms wrapping around her protectively and pulling her on top of him. Her eyes stayed close for a moment after the shock. her body pressed against something as warm as a furnace who had absorbed the fall for her. 

Finally, she opened her eyes and looked down. Claire couldn’t help but grin at the face staring back at her. 

Ocean eyes fixed on her, lips flicked up into a grin. He was breathless from the run, his red curls damp and his cheeks red. His expression was one of bewilderment before he seemed to realise she wasn’t a vision at all. But for precaution, just in case she’d disappear, his arms tightened around her waist. 

“Are you following me, Jamie Fraser?"

Chapter Text

“Are you following me, Jamie Fraser?” 

A smile broke out on her face, nothing she could do to prevent it. He was the last person she’d expected to see, and here he was; his body pressed against hers, his arms wrapped around her waist protectively, and his eyes… the colour of an Icelandic lagoon, staring at her in awe.

“I could ask ye the same thing, Sassenach.” His lip flicked up into a cocky smile. 

“I was minding my own business when I got attacked by a running giant, actually,” she grinned, looking down at him. Their faces were barely an inch from one another, her breath warm against his cheek. 

“I’m afraid I have to admit that I wasna lookin’ where I was goin’, ye see?” His smile grew. “A faerie was the last thing I expected to encounter while running in the woods.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh, shaking her head. “Oh, do shut up.” 

“Make me shut up,” he grinned, cupping her cheek. 

She leaned down slowly, her lips lingering just over his for a moment — not touching. She could feel the beat of his heart quickening against her chest. She could see his eyes darkening. She’d be lying if she hadn’t thought about what kissing him was like; how it felt, how his lips tasted…

Jamie didn’t budge, instead, waiting for her to make the first move. And she waited too, the anticipation growing as much in the pit of his stomach as in hers. 

She licked her lips, approaching his mouth like it was prey. But before she could seal their lips together, she grinned and pulled back, “No, it’s all right. You seem pretty quiet to me now.” 

Jamie laughed and kissed her cheek, “Ye’re wicked, Sassenach.”

“So I’ve heard,” she finally got up, feeling a slight pinch in her heart from the loss of contact. Smiling, she held out her hand to him. 

The Scot grabbed it and got up in turn, still smiling, “I hope ye didna hurt yerself, aye?”

“I’m fine, thank you for absorbing the fall.” She didn’t make any move to let go of his hand. 

“My very pleasure.” He did a little bow and winked — his peculiar wink of his that she found so adorable. 

“Did you hurt yourself?” she asked, reluctantly letting go of his hand to look for any potential wounds. He was in his running gear, which was not as extravagant as his usual attire, and she almost felt a bit sad at the fact. 

“Dinna fash, I’ve seen worse,” he assured her, brushing off some dirt from his tracksuit bottoms. “I’m fine.”

Claire reached up to remove a dead leaf from his copper curls and smiled, “Perfect.”

Suddenly, the Scot seemed to grow shy, rubbing the back of his neck, “Fancy meetin’ ye here, Sassenach. Of all places, I dinna think I’d see ye in the Highlands.” 

“I thought ye were some sort of vision,” he admitted, smiling again. “I haven’t had coffee yet, see? So I thought my eyes were deceiving me.” 

“Do I appear to you whenever you don’t drink coffee first thing in the morning?” she teased, nudging him. 

“Maybe ye do,” he grinned, kissing her cheek.

“Charmer,” she chuckled and started to walk again. It had only occurred to her there and then how often she’d been laughing in the few minutes since bumping into him. 

“Did ye like the flowers?” he asked, quickly picking up the pace and falling in step beside her. 

“Very much so,” she smiled, thinking of the bouquet and the note. “I’ve never met anyone who answers a text back by sending flowers.”

“I have a phone because I have to, I’d be much happier sending letters if I’m honest wi’ ye, Sassenach. And I thought ye’d prefer flowers over some text, anyway. My mam always told me that if I wanted to wow a lady, I had to put in the work, I never forgot that advice.” 

“Wow a lady?” She looked at him, smirking. “I’m afraid I’m no lady.”

“Oh come on,” he smirked back, “Queen Elizabeth herself doesn’t dress as well as ye do.”

“I’m glad you picked up my inspiration for this look.” She did a little proud twirl. 

“Ye look lovely,” his smile grew as he watched her. “The Highlands suit ye.” 

“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit when someone at work mentioned shooting an editorial here, you see.” She linked their arms as they walked, the brisk air cool against her face. 

“So ye’ve been here before?” he asked, warming her hand under his.

“A few times,” she smiled, looking around and enjoying his warmth against her. This man was a furnace — it was not the first time she’d noticed this. “I love it here.”

“Aye, it does that to ye.” His smile turned gentle. “I’ve been here for the past week workin’ on a commission for the hotel. They wanted some piece for the garden, and ‘tis take some time to install and such.”

“Well, I’m glad I bumped into you then. Or to be correct, you bumped into me.” She nudged him, smiling. “I’m sorry again for departing the party so abruptly —” 

“No need to apologize, Sassenach.” He squeezed her hand. “‘Twas an emergency, no’ ye running away from me…at least I hope not.” 

She smirked, “No, it was indeed an emergency.”

“How’s yer lass doin’?” 

“Lily is all good,” she reassured him, the slight expression of worry on his face making her melt. “A broken arm, which she’s rather glad about it seems.”

“The cast, eh?” He chuckled. “I remember how excited I was as a lad whenever I got one. I’d scribble on it all at the time.” 

“Exactly that! You two would get along rather well, it seems.” The words escaped her mouth before she had the time to realise what she had said, and she bit her lip to silence herself. 

“Aye,” he nodded, smiling in turn. “I’m sure we would.” 

A comfortable silence slipped between them as they walked through the woods together, back towards the hotel. Claire was due to be on set in a little bit, but she didn’t want to part from him. He was warm and cozy, holding her close to him by the arm. 

“I have to be at work soon, but I’ll be here for the next few days…” she looked at him, finally breaking the silence when they arrived at the hotel. 

“I should be done wi’ the commission at best today, at worst tomorrow, but I’m no’ goin’ back to London right away either,” he smiled, stroking a curl away from her face. 

“What do ye say about dinner tonight?” 

“I’d say yes if I could tell you a precise time as to when the shoot will end, but alas, I never know these things in advance,” she said rather sadly. Sometimes, shoots went briskly and quickly. At other times, they could drag on until the late hours. 

“Weel,” his smile grew, his hand cupping her cheeks. “I’ll sit under the Lucian Freud painting in the hall and wait for ye to be done. I dinna care about the hour, but if ye’re too tired to grant me yer company tonight, I’ll just send ye off to bed wi’ a goodnight kiss.”

Before she had time to answer, he leaned down and kissed the reddened tip of her nose. “Have a nice day, Sassenach.” 

“See you later, ginger biscuit.” Her smile grew and she winked, disappearing back into the hotel as she heard his earthy laugh. 

******* 

“Can you come here a second?” Claire asked, looking at one of the models who was staring at her. It seemed the young lady was terrified to approach. 

“Y-yes,” she said quickly, taking a tentative step towards her and away from the set. 

Claire adjusted the belt and the shirt quickly, though it wasn’t usual for her to do this since she was not an editor anymore.  She always enjoyed styling when she was on a shoot — it felt like the old days.  

“All right, now you can go back.” 

Nodding, the model went back to her spot and the shoot resumed. 

Leaning back against a table, Claire crossed her arms and observed the scene in front of her. The models were perfectly cast, the clothes were impeccable, and the light in the room was good enough to not have to use too many artificial lights — she despised those. 

It had been a couple of hours since her encounter in the woods with Jamie; and yet, she couldn’t stop wondering about him and what he was doing at any given moment. It had been so long since she was infatuated with anyone that the feeling itself almost felt brand new. 

She smiled to herself for a brief second, her face quickly going impassible again before anyone could see Claire Beauchamp smiling. After all, she had a reputation to preserve. 

“Claire?” The photographer called, smiling at her. It wasn’t the first time she worked with Phil — not that she particularly enjoyed it, but the editor insisted he was the right person for the job. 

“What do you think of these?” He pointed at the computer screen.

She made her way towards it and leaned down to take a closer look at the pictures, nodding, “Yes, quite nice.” 

“I like this one,” she pointed to a photo on the screen. “It would make a good cover.”

Phil smirked proudly, “Yeah, I agree with you.” 

Louise hurried over to Claire with the coffee she had requested. “Here you go.” 

“Thanks, Louise.” She took it and went back to sit and watch the shoot. 

Claire wondered how different the whole thing would look if she wasn’t here. She knew most of them were afraid of her, scared to make a misstep or to look ridiculous in front of her. She could tell as much by the way they were dressed already. No one turned up in casual and comfy clothes to be running around in all day. Instead, it was one step away from an evening gala. 

It was rather empowering to feel like this, she had to admit. She was respected and feared. Her opinion meant everything to the people that worked with her, and she had attained such a spot by working hard for all these years. She had started at the bottom of the ladder, slowly climbing up to the top; to go from the assistant whose name no one remembered, to the person people referred to by her first name because she needed no introduction anymore. 

It had come with a couple of sacrifices, she could admit that much, but she doubted she’d do anything differently if she had to go through it all again. 

Often, people had looked at her like a pariah for being a working mother. And, sometimes, the guilt had been so strong she almost thought about quitting to raise the girls and nothing else. Thomas was a doctor, his salary was more than enough to provide for the family while she took care of the household. God knew he had wanted her to do it. 

But whenever she looked at her daughters, there had been something pushing her not to do it. She could be a good mother and have a career. Those roles were not mutually exclusive, women had done it before her — and would keep doing it after her. 

It had been a major blow to her marriage, but she never regretted it. Nor was she about to start. 

The shoot halted for a moment as the models changed into other outfits. Claire sipped her coffee, absently looking through her mailbox on her phone. 

Louise rushed to her again, “Claire, some men are trying to come in here and claiming they need the room for some work.” 

Frowning, she looked at her, “What? We’ve rented the place for the day.”

Her assistant nodded, “That is what I told them, but they don’t believe me.” 

Claire took a long sip of coffee and put the mug on the table. Quickly, she made her way through the room and opened the door. 

Outside stood a couple of men, all in dirty work clothes. They apparently didn’t expect someone like her to be on the other side. 

“Yes, gentlemen?” She raised her eyebrows, looking at the lot. “What can I do for you?” 

“We need the room, ma’am,” answered one of them in a thick Scottish accent. 

“So I’ve heard,” she smiled gently. “But I’m afraid you can’t have it. At least not until tomorrow.”

“Aye, but we need it now. ‘Tis the only place available in the hotel, and we need to store —”

“I’m truly sorry,” she interrupted him firmly. “There is no way we can leave this room now. And even if we did, it would take at least an hour to remove all the photography materials.” 

It was only then that Claire noticed the huge sculpture behind them. It was wrapped in bubble wrap, but she could see the outline of it underneath. The entire thing took her breath away.

“What’s happenin’, lads?” 

A familiar voice took her out of her rêveries. Blinking, she looked at the Scot who had materialised in front of her. 

He had changed, now dressed in some electric blue boiler suit that had paint stains and holes in it. The sleeves were rolled up at the wrist, showing off his freckled arms. 

When his eyes landed on her, Jamie smirked, “Are these lads causin’ ye any issues, ma’am?” 

“No.” She leaned against the door frame. “No trouble at all. But I’m afraid they’re after this room, and we can’t leave for at least a few more hours.”

Jamie looked at his old watch, nodding, “Och, weel…’Tis fine, we’ll find another place to store this.”

“Are you sure?” She watched him, biting her lower lip. 

“Aye, dinna fash yerself,” he smirked. 

“Good! Do you mind if I go back to work now?” 

“Not at all.” He shook his head. “Apologies for having disturbed ye, ma’am.” 

Jamie took her hand and brought it up to his lips, gently stamping the back of it with a kiss. 

“I’ll make it up to ye later,” he said in a low voice, his eyes locked with hers. 

Claire felt the heat creep up in her cheeks, clearing her voice, “No worries, goodbye gentlemen.” 

The Scot let go of her hand, still smirking when she closed the door. 

It took a second to return to herself, to erase the nauseatingly pleased smile from her face, and join the others. 

She looked at an anxiously waiting Louise, “Don’t worry, it’s all fixed.” 

The shoot resumed and lasted for hours, well into the early evening. The light had gone by now, which only gave another layer of charm to the hotel’s interior. 

The minutes were long and dragging, but in the end, they had what they wanted and it seemed a second day of shooting would not be necessary. Apparently, people were more efficient when Claire was present on set. 

She walked through the long hall towards the main entrance where the cozy waiting room — and Freud’s painting — both were. 

It was a portrait, not very big, of a dark-haired woman — one of her favourite paintings. Hanging on an orange wall, over a lovely patterned couch. On it was sitting Jamie Fraser. 

He had changed once more from his work frock. This time, a yellowish shirt was paired with green tweed trousers and a pair of paint-stained converse. The wonderful thing about him was that she didn’t want to change a single thing. 

Jamie got up at once when he saw her, smiling tenderly. “Hello, Sassenach.”

“Have you been waiting for very long?” she asked, walking over to him with a smile.

“Hours,” he said gravely before smirking. “Nay, I only came down a few minutes ago. Dinna fash.” 

“Does your dinner offer still stand?” she asked, crossing her arms and tilting her head to the side. 

“Aye,” his smile grew, holding out his hand to her. “Only if ye’re no’ too tired, of course, ma’am.”

“I’m not tired,” she assured him and grabbed his hand. 

“Not tired at all,” she added, a twinkle in her eyes. 

Chapter Text

The hotel’s restaurant wasn’t very crowded. The lights were dim and the room smelled like woodfire, mixed with incense. It felt particularly autumnal, even though they were inside. 

They sat facing one another, both faces lit by the candles on the table. Claire leaned her head against her palm, her golden eyes reflecting the flames while Jamie watched her, a tender smile forming on his face. 

The waitress had brought drinks — a whisky for him, a glass of white wine for her; and left the table with their orders — a plate of oysters to share. 

“How did your shoot go?” Jamie asked, pouring them both a glass of tap water.

“Better than expected,” she smiled, studying the long lines of his arms. “We were supposed to shoot tomorrow too, but we finished earlier than planned.”

“Weel, ‘tis a good thing,” he smiled in turn. “I’m sorry again about the lads disturbing ye.” 

The hint in his voice told her he was anything but sorry about that.  

“Are you really?” Her smile turned into a grin. “I thought you did it on purpose just to get another look at me.” 

He chuckled then, a tender shyness growing, “Maybe I did, aye. But if we’re honest here, ye’re worth taking another look at, Sassenach.”

Claire tore a piece of bread and threw it at him, smirking, “Stop that.”

“What? Ye dinna like compliments?” he inquired, raising his eyebrows. “It’s been a while since I courted someone, ye can excuse my cheesiness.” 

“I do love cheese actually,” she admitted, reaching to take his hand across the table. 

“Which one is your favourite then?” He stroked her palm with his thumb. 

“I bet it’s some verra classy kind I never heard of,” he grinned and she chuckled. 

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Pecorino cheese.” 

“Oh aye,” Jamie nodded, taking a sip of water. “‘Tis the one to use when ye want to cook cacio e pepe, right?” 

“That’s the one,” she absently licked her lips, thinking about her favourite pasta recipe. 

“When I was studyin’, I spent a semester abroad in Florence,” he explained, playing with her fingers. “‘Tis a beautiful city, so full of art. I go back at least once a year.” 

“I’ve never been to Florence,” she admitted, though she had wanted to go. But her schedule had never cleared for a long enough amount of time for her to go; and whenever they had holidays, they always let the twins choose where to go. 

“We’ll have to rectify that one day.” He brought her hand to his lips, smiling. “I ken a wee restaurant, just behind the Uffizi Galleries. ‘Tis like heaven on earth.” 

“We have a deal then,” she replied with a smile, taking a bite of buttered bread. “Now, you have to tell me about your time at the party. After all, that’s the reason we agreed on a date in the first place, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” He smiled, squeezing her hand. “And this is a date?” 

“I know I work in fashion, but I don’t really like labels,” she said simply, making him smile some more. This was most likely a date — it was a date — but she wasn’t ready to admit it to herself. The last thing she imagined was that she’d find him here; instead, she believed that she'd have time to be alone with her thoughts and to figure out how she felt. 

“I dinna like labels either, I bet ye figured that out.” He looked down at his clothes and grinned proudly. 

“I like the way you dress, actually,” Claire confessed, twisting a curl around her finger. “It’s unique, and there’s no one else doing it. I’m all about individuality.” 

“I canna take much credit, I’m colour blind. I’m glad ye approve, though.” He grinned proudly, “ From what I understood at the party, ye’re a pretty big deal in the industry.” 

She was the biggest deal; and yet, she didn’t like to admit it. 

“What else did you hear about me at that party?” she asked, knowing full well Jamie’s disclosure wasn’t all he’d found out about her. 

Jamie lip flicked up into a smile, his eyes dropping for a moment, “Weel…”

“Spit it out.” She leaned back, crossing her arms and waiting with a grin. If anything, working in fashion had made her skin rather thick. 

“Actually, I saw a whole bunch of people who admire ye enormously,” he said sincerely. “Aye, most of them seem to be terrified of ye, but that’s only because they want to impress ye so much, Sassenach.” 

“Do you think so?” she frowned, looking at the situation from another angle. “I never thought of it like that.” 

“Ye’re no’ where ye are by accident. Ye’re the best at what ye’re doin’ and that is intimidating to people, aye. Granted, I dinna ken or understand anythin’ about fashion, I’m no’ even sure why I was invited in the first place,” he grinned. “But I understood that the most important person in that room, that night, was you, Sassenach.” 

“Aren’t you intimidated by that?” she asked naturally, brushing off the tingly feeling in her stomach. 

“I have no reason to be.” He took her hand again, and turned it over to stroke the inside of it. His blue eyes were locked with hers as he spoke the words with raw honesty. 

“For a start, I’m probably the worst dressed man ye’ve ever met, and yet ye’re spending time wi’ me. Seems like ye’re enjoyin’ it too.” He paused to smile, pleased with that little fact. 

“Ye were intimidating when I was lookin’ at ye at the bar in Paris, I’ll admit that much.” 

“Ah.” It was her time to grin, because it was easier for her to tease him than admit just how much of an impact his words had on her. 

“But my legendary clumsiness came to my rescue and I found a way to speak to ye. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have dared to approach ye.” 

“I am, however, still verra sorry about the suit,” he added, making her erupt into a laugh. 

“I hope you know that I’m never letting that go,” Claire tilted her head. She could very well tell him that the Gucci team had promptly sent another suit, but that revelation could wait a little while. 

“Oh, I am,” Jamie winked, bringing her hand to his lips. 

The waiter came back with a large plate of fresh oysters resting on ice and another smaller plate with slices of lemon on it. He placed both in front of them, along with their drinks, and smiled politely. 

“Have a nice meal. Do let me know if there’s anythin’ ye wish for.” 

“Thank you,” Claire smiled back and placed her napkin onto her lap. 

“Fresh from this mornin’,” Jamie assured her, taking a few oysters on his plate after the waiter had disappeared. 

“They look like it.” She took one and squeezed some lemon onto it. “Have a nice meal, ginger biscuit.”

Jamie chuckled, shaking his head, “That’s it, then? Yer nickname for me?”

“Unless you don’t like it,” she grinned, “I can find something else.”

“Nay, I do like it.” He took a sip of whisky, leaning back in his chair. “How’re the oysters?” 

“Delicious,” she answered before slurping one. She realised it was probably not the best food to eat in the company of a man one was trying to seduce; but then, she remembered their aphrodisiac properties. 

“Come here,” he motioned with his fingers. 

Licking her lips, she frowned but moved closer to him, “What? Do I have something on my face?”

“Just a wee bit.” He grabbed his napkin and wiped some garnish sauce off the corner of her lips. 

“Well, thank you very much.” Her eyes lingered on his lips for a moment. All of a sudden, she profoundly regretted teasing him this morning by not giving him a kiss. 

“I’d like to ken what ye’re thinkin’ about, Sassenach,” he said softly, reaching out and stroking her bottom lip. 

“Actually, I’d like to ken everythin’ about ye.” He leaned closer and she instinctively responded. 

Their faces moved closer until their lips sealed, both tasting salty from the food and a bit warm from the alcohol. 

It occurred to Claire that anyone from her team could walk into the restaurant at any second; or that, perhaps, they might be sitting here already. 

Too busy to care, she let her lips dwell on his for a moment, overlapping together. Claire would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the heat building inside the pit of her stomach. It was snowballing….. if snowballs were made of fire. 

“We could…” she started in a whisper, letting the rest of her sentence die. 

“Have dessert upstairs?” Jamie proposed, cupping her cheek. 

“Mind reader, are you?” She couldn’t help but smile before sealing their lips once more. 

*******

The walk up the stairs only took about two minutes but felt — and lasted — much longer. 

For one thing, neither of them were looking where they were going, giggling together as if they were much drunker than they actually were. 

Secondly, Jamie stopped every couple of seconds to pull her closer and kiss her — not that she minded, rather quite the contrary. 

He’d press her against the wallpapered wall, his hands running up and down her hips and sides while his lips explored her mouth with a disconcerting familiarity she had started to crave more than anything else. 

At last, they reached her door and reluctantly parted while Claire looked in her purse for the keycard. She swiped the card through the contraption a few times, each time prompting a red light to go off. 

“These things never work,” she rolled her eyes, looking up at the Scot leaning against the wall. 

“Never.” He kissed her cheek and took the card from her hand. “I dinna ken why they did not keep keys? At least those work.” 

“Technology is a pain in the arse, eh?” she said in a Scottish accent, grinning at him. 

“Aye, I can only agree to that, ” he laughed, finally opening the door for her. 

“After ye, Sassenach.” 

Claire stepped into the room first, immediately regretting leaving such a mess behind when she left this morning. She felt his lips stamp the back of her neck and she relaxed slightly. After all, it wasn’t the first time they had ended up in a hotel room together. 

Jamie closed the door once he was inside and looked around, a smile forming on his face, “Yer room is bigger than mine.”

“I’ve got more clothes than you to store,” she grinned, walking over to him. 

“Ye’re here for fewer days than I am!” 

“I don’t see how that is relevant.” She pulled him closer by the belt, biting her lower lip as she smiled. 

“‘Tis no’ really, I just like to tease ye.” He kissed her gently, his arms wrapping around her waist. 

“So I’ve noticed.” She started to undo the buttons of his shirt one by one, revealing his freckled skin under the fabric. 

“Nobody ever teases me,” she pouted, looking up at him. 

“Cause they’re too scared of ye,” he said simply, his smile growing as she nodded. 

“Intimidated,” he whispered against the skin of her neck before placing a kiss right behind her ear. 

Her shirt came off first, landing onto the carpet to reveal her lacy brassière. The trousers soon joined it. She stood before him in her underwear; there was something to be said about Claire Beauchamp and lingerie, and it was simply that she always chose rather fancy pieces, no matter the occasion. 

Jamie’s eyes studied her, darkening with a mixture of lust and amazement. 

“Are you going to stand there watching me forever?” she asked, a mischievous glint in her eyes. 

“I could.” A smile broke on his face as he watched her. 

“We could be here a while then.” She sat down onto the four-poster bed, leaning back onto her elbows. 

“‘Tis true, no’ that I would mind.” He took a step closer but she stopped him with her foot on his abdomen. 

“Take those clothes off, my ginger biscuit.” 

“Ye went from ginger biscuit to my ginger biscuit real fast, Sassenach.” Jamie removed his shirt, blindly tossing it away somewhere.  His eyes never left her, not even for a second. 

Claire only sneered at him, crossing her legs again. She watched as he removed the rest of his clothes, revealing his toned body underneath. 

Jamie dropped to his knees in front of her, delicately opening her legs before reaching for the waistband of her panties and pulling them down. 

A trail of goosebumps erupted on her skin as he did so, the tip of his fingers stroking along the path of her legs. 

As he kissed the inside of her thighs, she leaned back some more and bit her lips, the anticipation building strongly inside of her like embers that had just caught fire. 

She could feel his breath against her bare skin, and all she wanted was for him to be closer until she didn’t know where she started and where he ended. But it seemed Jamie had decided to take his time; to savour her body and soul, to make her fall apart over and over again so he could rebuild everything. 

Looking up at her, eyes dark and drinking her in, he smiled. 

“Are ye certain ye’re no’ working tomorrow?” 

She shook her head of curls, mouth dry and words almost lost, “I’m all yours.” 

“Aye,” he nodded in satisfaction, his smirk growing. 

Claire wasn’t sure but she thought she heard the word “Good” slip out of his lips right before she started to fall completely apart under his ministrations. 

Chapter Text

A knock at the door rudely extracted Claire from a deep slumber. At first, she rolled over, ignoring the sound. Her body was warm, half-covered by the wrinkled sheet. Muscles aching pleasantly, she had a smile plastered on her semi-conscious face and a rather naked Scot snuggling up to her.

The last thing she wanted to do was to get out of bed. 

When the second knock came, some seconds later, she simply groaned in annoyance, mumbling a “go away” into the pillow. 

She didn’t hear the third knock, nor the fourth. But then, she heard a familiar voice on the other side of the room, calling for her, “Claire? It’s Louise…”

“Sassenach,” Jamie said in a rogue voice, patting her arm. “There’s someone at the door for ye.” 

He was also still half-asleep, eyes closed and nose buried against her hair. If anything, he wanted to move just as much as she did. 

“I heard,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes like a little girl while reluctantly sitting up. What time was it? 

Jamie seemed to let out a little chuckle, turning on his other side to keep on sleeping. 

“I’m coming,” Claire answered her assistant, her voice slightly louder and fakely awake. She quickly looked around for her robe and located it on a chair. 

Getting up, she smacked Jamie’s exposed bottom and grinned at the wincing noise that came out of his mouth. Compared to him, she was anything but a furnace. She had cold hands and rather chilly feet; both of which he had already experienced during their two nights together. 

Once the robe was on, she went to the door and opened it slightly, careful to not reveal the state of the room. Her hair was particularly messy, her cheeks were pink, and she probably had a hickey somewhere — but it was too late to do anything about it now. 

Louise stood in the hall, smiling, “Good morning! I’m sorry to bother you since we’re done with the shoot, but I needed to let you know that everyone’s departing this afternoon. Is there anything I can do for you until then, or —”

“Nothing,” she answered, repressing a yawn. “I don’t expect you to stay here with me for my days off. You can forward anything I need to look at through emails when you’re back in London, and I’ll get back to you when I can. I’ll be back next Tuesday.” 

The assistant nodded, taking a few notes, “Next Tuesday, perfect.” 

“In case of emergency, just ask Joe. He’ll know what to do.” She started to close the door before stopping herself. 

“Oh, and Louise?” She looked at the young woman seriously. 

“Y- yes?” 

“When I get back to London, we’ll have to speak about your position,” Claire said simply, knowing exactly what type of effect this sentence had on people. She also knew that Louise wasn’t going to be sacked anytime soon — unless there was a position at one of the other magazines she coveted. It was well known in the industry that whoever was able to work an entire year for Claire would then be able to move on to bigger things with her recommendations. 

“All right, Claire,” she nodded again, giving her a half-nervous, half-thrilled smile. 

“See you Tuesday.” Claire closed the door and finally released that yawn. 

“Are ye goin’ to fire her?” Jamie asked. 

When she turned around to look, the Scot was sitting up in bed, leaning against the bedframe with his arms crossed and a sleepy smile forming on his face. 

“No, I’m going to promote her actually.” She leaned against the door, smirking. 

“Ye’re evil,” he chuckled softly.

“So I’ve heard.” Her smirk grew as she started walking towards the bed. 

“The poor lass probably thinks she has to look for another job.” 

“Don’t worry, she perfectly knows that she doesn’t need to.” She stood by the end of the bed, her robe coming loose. “Plus, I thought you were still asleep, so I thought I’d let the demon come out for a minute.” 

“Ye’re a rather angelic lookin’ demon then, Sassenach.” He held out his hand to her, smiling. 

Taking his hand, she kneeled onto the bed, “Are you trying to get into my pants again?” 

The Scot grinned, pulling her closer to him, “I dinna recall ye complainin’ about it? Unless I’m mistaken.”

He leaned down and stamped her neck with a couple of kisses, “It was rather hard to hear anythin’ over yer wee noises last night.” 

My wee noises?” Her eyebrow rose innocently, pulling back to look at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“I’m not complainin’,” he smiled tenderly, wrapping one arm under her robe and around her waist. She sat with her legs wrapped around him, leaning back on her hands. With his other hand, Jamie stroked a stray curl away from her face. 

He leaned down and sealed their lips without another word. He instinctively pulled her closer to him, giving her butt a gentle squeeze. 

“Will ye join me in the shower? To save water and all.” 

Smiling against his lips, she nodded, “Of course, then we can order some breakfast and stay in bed all day.”

“Perfect plan if ye ask me.” Jamie kissed her once more before getting out of bed with her in his arms, her legs still wrapped around him. “I’ll just have to phone downstairs to see how the installation is goin’ later if ye dinna mind?” 

“I don’t.” She held onto him, kissing his cheek. “I don’t need to be carried to the shower, either, you know?” 

“Too bad, because I want to be carryin’ ye,” he grinned, holding her close. “Stop pretendin’ yer cynic heart is not enjoyin’ the journey, Sassenach.” 

“Listen to you,” she whispered against his lips before capturing them for another kiss. 

Jamie put her down and smiled. He took her hand, bringing it to his lips to kiss it before going to turn the shower on. 

Leaning against the sink, she watched him attentively. The long lines of his naked body, toned but not too much by his work — and she had also found out that his belly was like a comfortable pillow to sleep on. His skin was freckled, but it wasn’t the usual pallor of redheads; he had a glow about it, like someone used to being outside in the sun. 

“Enjoyin’ the view?” he asked, looking at her with raised eyebrows. 

“Very much so.” She walked over to him, pulling off the belt of her robe to open it. 

His eyes followed her movements, lust taking over the blue-like ink in water. He bit his lower lip and held out his hand to her. 

Claire pushed the material of the robe off her shoulders, letting it fall down on the tiled floor, her lip flicking up into a seductive smile. He had a way of making her feel comfortable like this — unafraid to be bold, to be herself with a man she wanted. 

For years, she had receded away from herself to please her husband; fading away, as Sally had said. But with Jamie, it was different. She was starting to open up again, like a flower after the rain. 

******* 

“Are ye going to tell me anythin’ about yerself, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, buttering his scone. 

They were sitting together at the table, freshly showered. Claire was back in her robe, a towel wrapped on top of her head with a few damp curls escaping, her hands wrapped around a warm mug of coffee. 

“What do you want to know?” she smiled, watching him. Memories of his kisses lingered on her soft skin, reddened slightly at the neck from what they had been doing in the shower earlier. 

“Were ye born in London?” 

She shook her head, taking a sip of coffee, “Oxford, actually. I lived there until I was about five, then I went to live with my uncle Lambert because I lost my parents in a car accident.” 

Claire watched the way his expression changed, her own sadness appearing all over his face — as if his heart had broken right there and then, just for her. It had been so many years now. Her parents were a memory she held onto, and she forever would; but it was so difficult to remember how everything felt back then. All she could recall was the way her chest felt like ripping itself open when her uncle had told her the news. How it felt to grow up ten years in the space of a minute. 

He reached to touch her hand in a tender gesture. “I’m sorry, Claire.” 

“It’s been so long now,” she squeezed his hand. “I never really talk about it.” 

“Years ease the pain, but they dinna remove it.” He kissed her palm, keeping it close for a moment. 

“That’s true,” she nodded, smiling softly. “But I did have a lovely upbringing with my uncle. I’m very grateful for that. He was an archaeologist, and we travelled all over the world until I turned eighteen and finally moved to London.” 

“‘Sounds like a fabulous upbringing, aye,” his smile returned. “Ye never thought about becomin’ one too?” 

“I did, briefly,” she admitted. “I thought I could even teach if I didn’t fancy travelling anymore, but I’ve always been attracted to fashion. One of the few things I remember about my mother was that she was a seamstress. She always used to carry this notebook with her sketches inside, I was fascinated by it, and with the colours inside too,” she recalled fondly. She realized she had never told this to anybody, not even to Thomas. 

“But I’d also been fascinated by photography and arts, ever since I was a child, so to work at a magazine was a possibility for me to have all those things together in one place.” 

“It’s funny how people think of fashion as a frivolous thing...I guess in a way it is, but it brings in so many components, so many ideas, and all kinds of people together in a way not many things do.”

“Aye, no’ that I ken anything about it, but ye already noticed that.”

She chuckled and kissed his cheek, her tenderness for him growing by the minute. 

“Where did ye study?” He took a bite of scone, smiling. 

“I actually didn’t go to university at all,” she shrugged. “Thankfully, my uncle cared only about me doing what I was passionate about, and I didn’t think I required an education to work in fashion...at least not at the time.”

“I moved to London, and that same afternoon I called the offices of Vogue to beg for a job, any job. The following week, I was the assistant of an assistant. Two years later, I was hired by the Herald Tribune to be a fashion critic, and now here I am.” 

Jamie leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. “Ye are remarkable, Sassenach. I dinna think I’ve ever met anyone as fascinating as ye.” 

“Hard work pays off, that’s all.” She took a bite of toast. “And a lot of sacrifices, but I have no regrets — there’s no use in them.” 

“I agree wi’ ye.” 

“Can I ask you something in return?” she asked. 

“Ye can ask me anythin’ ye want.” He leaned forward on his elbows, smirking. 

“Have you been married before?” She wasn’t particularly wary about the answer to the question, but he had a life and a past she had absolutely no idea about, and she hoped she didn’t bring any topic he’d rather avoid. 

Jamie shook his head, “Never been married, no.”

“Ye’re goin’ to think this is silly, Sassenach, but when I was a lad, my mam told me I’d know the moment I met the right woman to marry. I’m afraid that has no’ happened yet.” 

“Well,” she smiled, taking another sip of coffee, “at least you’re waiting for when you’re sure. It’ll save you years and a lot of money for the lawyer’s fee.” 

He chuckled, grabbing her hand and kissing it. “Oh, is that so?” 

She nodded, finishing her toast. 

“How long have ye been divorced? If ye dinna mind me askin’.”

“We’ve been separated for a little bit more than six months now. But our marriage had been over way before that,” she admitted, an underlayer of sadness in her voice. Sadness for what she had lost, what it had been, and what it had become. 

“We got married very young,” she added. “And Thomas always thought I’d leave my job to take care of the house once we’d have children. It grew sour when he realised I never would and that it was too late.”

She looked at him, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this.”

“Dinna fash,” Jamie smiled tenderly and cupped her cheek.  “I’m glad ye are tellin’ me all of this, it means ye trust me.” 

“I do,” she said simply, closing her eyes for a moment to melt against his touch. 

“I want to ken everything about ye, mo ghraidh,” he admitted, “I’m no’ usually someone who wants to know about other people, but here we are.”

Smirking, she looked at him, “Oh, are you not? A wee grump, are we?” 

“Ye’re already exposin’ me?” He got up, holding out his hand to her. 

“I’m curious, that’s all.” She took his hand and got up in turn. 

“Weel,” he lifted her up to carry her to the bed, her hair towel falling off in the process to reveal her salt and pepper curls. Delicately, Jamie laid her onto the bed like she was the most precious thing in the world and laid next to her. 

“Well?” Claire smirked, turning on her side to look at him. 

He smiled shyly, stroking her cheek. “I’ve never really liked anyone, call me a hermit if ye like. I’m just happy alone, workin’ on my sculptures all day.” 

“Nothing wrong with that,” she replied, stroking his chin with her index finger.

“Or was,” he corrected, touching her bottom lip. “Now, I’m just thinkin’ about ye all the time, wonderin’ what ye’ll think of my outfits.” 

“All I think about your outfits is a way to take them off of you.” She pulled him close, kissing him. 

He smirked against her lips, leaning over her, “Oh, is that so?” 

She nodded, stroking his arm, “I don’t know what it is about you…it’s like I’ve known you all my life.” 

Jamie kissed the tip of her nose, “I feel like that too, Sassenach.” 

“And it’s odd,” she admitted, grinning. “Don’t you think?”

“Aye,” he smiled, “It kinda is given we’ve seen each other only three times so far.” 

“So what is it between us?” She watched him, stroking his curls. 

“‘Tis unusual, I’m sure of that.” He moved so she was laying partly on top of him. 

“As for the rest,” he stroked her cheek. “‘Tis up to ye, Claire. It can be anything or it can be everythin’.” 

“Do I have to answer you right now?” She laid her head on his chest, closing her eyes. 

“Nay,” he said softly, stroking her hair back. 

“When ye’re ready, lass,” he kissed her forehead, holding her close.

— Safe.  

“There’s no’ rush for ye to decide.” 

Chapter Text

“Sassenach?” Jamie called, his tone perplexed while he stared at an open drawer full of Claire’s luxurious undergarments. 

“What is it?” she asked from the bathroom, moisturising her face. They hadn’t left her room for the last two days, too busy with each other to wander around sightseeing. Today, however, they had decided to go out and explore the Highlands; Jamie was all too happy to play the tour guide for her.  

“Why do ye have so much underwear packed?” He raised his eyebrows, pulling out a garter belt and biting his lip. 

“Why on earth are you fidgeting in my drawers?” she asked amused, leaning against the doorframe.  

He turned around, “I was lookin’ for my — “ Letting the rest of his sentence die, he took her in the vision of her.

Claire looked down at herself wearing his tartan shirt, a few buttons left open and tucked into some vintage dark-washed Levi’s. 

His eyes grew wide, his lip flicking up, “Nevermind, I think I found it.” 

Looking back up, she walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, “Don’t you think it suits me?” 

“It suits ye better than it suits me, aye.” He held her close, kissing the tip of his nose. “‘Tis no’ fair.” 

“I actually loved it on you,” she admitted, stroking his cheek. “But I’m keeping it,” she added, kissing him before going to grab her phone that had started ringing. 

Chuckling, Jamie watched her and shook his head. He grabbed a towel and went to the bathroom, “I’ll get in the shower while ye take that.” 

“Do that,” she smiled, sitting on the bed. She watched as he winked at her — or tried to — and closed the door. 

Claire looked down at her phone, the screen flashing with a selfie of the girls. 

Before becoming a mother, she wasn’t sure she had had the proper instincts. She wasn’t even sure she actually wanted children while trying to pursue a career. But then, the idea started to form in her mind, and the need grew stronger and stronger. It took so long to get pregnant, she had been close to throwing away the idea more times than one; becoming frustrated by negative tests, heartbroken by a miscarriage... 

Now, looking at her daughters, she had absolutely no regrets — except maybe not having more children. 

“Claire Beauchamp speaking?” She answered the phone in her business voice, prompting giggles on the other side of the line.  

“Hello, Mum!” Lily said first. 

“Morning!” Sarah added over her sister’s shoulder. 

“Good morning, my darlings.” Her smile grew. Her daughters' voices always made her heart grow twice its size whenever she heard them. 

“How is everything? Are you back in London yet?”

“Not yet, we’re about to leave for the station in a minute,” Lily explained, always the one in charge. “We’ll be home before noon!” 

“Did you have a good time?” she asked, not that she didn’t already know the answer. 

Whenever they visited, Uncle Lambert made a point to take them to museums, out for book shopping, and to eat at their favourite place. It was like a vacation, where being spoiled was the primary activity. 

“We did! Uncle Lambert took us to the library at Oxford,” Sarah explained, buzzing. “We want to study there, Mum!”

“Keep up those good grades and you will, my love,” Claire smiled fondly, glad that her daughters didn’t seem to share her reluctance to a university education. 

“Don’t worry, we will!” She could hear the smirk in her daughters’ voices, and it only made her smile even more at their determination. 

“How are you, Mum? Are you having fun?” Sarah changed the subject, her curiosity rising in her tone.

“How was the shoot?”

“I’m having lots of fun,” Claire leaned back, her eyes on the bathroom’s door. “The shoot went well. I can’t wait to show you the pictures, darlings.”

“We can’t wait to see!” They exclaimed happily. The only people more obsessed with the inner workings of a photoshoot than Claire were her daughters. 

“I can’t wait to get home and see you two,” Claire added, feeling a tug at her heart thinking about how she’d soon have to leave the bubble she created with Jamie here. They had shared four perfect days, and she was starting to like him far more than she had expected, but it would soon be time to go back to reality. 

How would he fit into it? She didn’t know. 

— all she knew was that she wanted him to be a part of it. 

“You sound happy, Mum.”

Lily’s statement rolled so easily off her tongue, yet to Claire, it was like a gut punch. At that moment, Jamie walked out of the bathroom freshly showered and smiled at her tenderly. 

Claire had realised that something had switched in her over the past few days, but she had not been able to pinpoint exactly what it had been. As it turned out, it was simpler than she had expected. A newfound lightness was back, blossoming inside her chest. 

“I am, darling,” she smiled, looking at Jamie dressing. “The fresh air of the Highlands has been very good to me.” 

“That’s good, Mum.” Claire heard the smile in her daughter’s voice, picturing it on her sweet face. 

“How is Margaret doing? I hope Uncle Lambert is behaving himself,” Claire grinned, changing the subject. Jamie gave her an inquisitive look full of amused curiosity. It was well known in the family that Maggie and Quentin liked to pretend to not get along. 

Maggie didn’t approve of his frivolous ways, while he didn’t approve of her strict way of thinking. If any pair were polar opposites, it was them. 

“They seem to get along, they have actually barely argued while we’ve been here.” One of her daughters paused before continuing, “I know, odd but true.” 

“Well, I’m glad to hear. I can’t wait for you all to tell me all about your time in Oxford when I get home.” 

“All right, Mum,” Sarah interjected. “See you tomorrow, we love you!” 

“See you, my crumpets. I love you too,” Claire smiled, her heart squeezing again, a bittersweet happiness taking over — regarding both her upcoming reunion with her girls and her imminent departure from Scotland. 

Jamie was now dressed, having relocated some of his clothes to her room last night. He wore a green turtleneck, burgundy corduroy trousers and his (she now knew) favourite pair of converse. He leaned against the door, observing her with a tender smile that beamed all over his gorgeous face. He hadn’t shaved for days, and stroking the auburn scruff on his chin was quickly becoming a favourite occupation of hers. 

“Are we ready to go?” she asked, putting her phone aside and getting up. 

“Aye, I’m ready when ye are, Sassenach,” Jamie walked over to her, putting on his Barbour jacket — the one and only item of clothing their wardrobe had in common. 

Claire kissed his cheek and put her own jacket on, “I can’t wait to see what you have in store for me.”

“Hopefully ye like the itinerary.” He leaned down to kiss her softly, resting his hand on her lower back. “And motorcycle rides.”

Pulling back, her brown drew together in a frown, “Motorcycle rides, uh?” 

“Aye,” his smirk grew. “Hopefully yer curls will fit into the helmet.” 

“Don’t be so sure about that,” she laughed, pulling him out of the room. 

*******

Claire held onto his waist, resting her cheek against his back and enjoying the wind against the porcelain skin on her face. 

The sights around them took her breath away. The shades of green and yellow melting together — it felt like being in the middle of a painting. The day was exactly how she prefered; gloomy and grey, with mist hiding the tops of the mountains and the promise of rain falling at any second. The air smelled muggy, mixed with Jamie’s muskiness, and it felt like a memory she wanted to bottle. 

They had been riding for slightly over an hour when they finally arrived in a village. It was tiny, with a fountain, a pub, a general store, and a church decorating the square. The place seemed frozen in time — it could have been the 60s or the 1800s  (if the cars disappeared) and Claire wouldn’t have known any different. 

Once the engine was off, Jamie turned around and looked at her with a smile, “Welcome to Aberdeen, mo ghraidh.” 

“I hope ye are hungry,” he added, brushing his lips against hers. 

“I’m famished,” she whispered, deepening the kiss for a few seconds longer. 

Claire had forgotten what infatuation felt like. The giddy feeling, the weak knees, the giggles rooted in the back of her throat, ready to come out at any time. The constant need to have his lips in between her own. It had been so long since a reckless innocence had taken over her this way. 

“What do ye fancy?” he asked, removing the helmet off her head, the curls cascading over her shoulders; freed. 

“Fish and chips.” She kissed him again, getting off the motorcycle. “With a beer.” 

“Seems like we have more in common than we thought, Sassenach.” Grinning, Jamie brought her hand to his lips and led her towards the pub. 

Claire looked around the almost empty place, unable to prevent a smile. The interior had probably not changed since the seventies, the wallpaper tacky and brightly coloured, the mismatched furniture and a jukebox in a corner. 

“Did you decorate this place?” she teased, sitting down in a booth with him. 

“Nay, but I’m available to redo yer house if need be,” he chuckled, kissing her hand. 

“Do you come here often?” She looked around, holding his hand in hers. 

“Nay, I haven’t been here in a long time, but I can guarantee ye’ll never find better food than at this place.” 

“That is a very bold statement to make, my ginger biscuit.” She cupped his cheeks, pulling his face close to hers. 

“I’m verra bold, both in my statements and my clothing, and ye ken that.” He sealed their lips, his mischievous tone making her giggle. “Dinna move, Sassenach, I’ll go get us some drinks and order the food.” 

Claire leaned back and watched him for a moment, her eyes following him. Her attention was broken off by the sound of her phone ringing, alerting her that she had a new text. She had done a good job avoiding work and life for the past couple of days, but she couldn’t keep doing this forever. 

The text came from Sally — and like any text coming from her, it was short and straight to the point: 

“Your divorce papers are ready to be signed when you get back.” 

The relief must have dominated her face, because when Jamie came back with the drinks, he looked at her suspiciously. 

“Everythin’ okay, Sassenach?” he smiled, sitting down.  

Looking up, she put the phone away and returned the smile, “Yes, I just got a text from my lawyer, everything’s fine.”

Jamie handed her a beer, “Glad to hear it. I was afraid yer ex was causin’ ye trouble.” 

“Thomas?” She frowned, taking a sip of it. “Oh no, he’s been anything but cooperative with things. I mean, he did ask for the divorce, so it would be bizarre if he tried to go against it after all.” 

“Did he?” Jamie’s red eyebrows went up in surprise. “Oh…” 

“Fish and chips for the lovebirds!” An elderly woman announced happily, placing the plates in front of them. “Enjoy, dearies,” she winked and disappeared just as quickly as she had arrived. 

“Why do you look so surprised?” She took a fry and ate it.  

“Weel, he didn’t seem too pleased to see us on the balcony at the party.” His lip flicked up into a grin at the memory. “No’ pleased at all.” 

“Looked like he wanted to punch me,” his grin only grew. 

“You actually seem happy about that?” she chuckled, shaking her head. She did recall Thomas’s reaction and the conversation in the car...she couldn’t deny that it felt like he was jealous, but she wouldn’t go as far as to say that it felt like he wanted to backtrack on the divorce. 

Or did it? 

“Nay, but I can understand the lad,” he started to eat. “I wouldna be happy to see my ex-wife in the arms of a dashin’ Scotsman who dresses heavenly and who’s so charmin’.” 

“Too bad that this isn’t about what pleases him or not. I pleased him long enough, and it still didn’t work out,” she held up her beer and took a sip. 

“Can I ask ye somethin’?” 

The vulnerability in his eyes disarmed her. He seemed to be...afraid. Scared of whatever he was going to ask; or more so, the answer to his question. 

Nodding, she put the glass down and waited for it to come. “Go on.” 

“Would ye ever go back to him?” His voice was low, barely recognizable from the one she was getting accustomed to. 

“I don’t think my lawyer, who is also my best friend, would let me do that,” she joked, but quickly erased the teasing smile on her face at the look he was giving her. 

Claire reached for his hand and squeezed it, “Look, I thought about it at first...I even think about it sometimes when I see him with our daughters. But I don’t think it would be wise of us to get back together for the sake of how things were when they were good.” 

“I did love him very much. I still do in a way, because he’s the father of my children and someone I shared so many years with, but I don’t love him enough anymore to justify making each other miserable.” she continued. Jamie squeezed her hand as his eyes softened. 

“Twenty years is a long time to be with someone...to build a life and memories. We were so young when we got together, we barely knew who we were, and at the end of the day, it came back to bite us in a way neither of us would have imagined. Back then, we thought we were what the other was supposed to be looking for, and it was true for a while. However, things and people change, and it’s fine.” 

“Maybe Thomas believes he made a mistake asking for a divorce. Maybe he doesn’t like seeing me with another man or moving on. At the end of the day, I’m not his wife anymore and what I do with my life doesn’t concern him unless the girls are involved.” 

“So,” she moved closer to him, cupping his cheek. “No, I don’t think about going back to him.” 

“To be fair,” she kissed his lips tenderly, tasting the salt on them. “I quite enjoy spending my time with you. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.” 

“Ye dinna ken how happy I am to hear so, a nighean.” He stroked her cheek, smiling tenderly. The light in the pub was dim, so she wasn’t quite sure, but she almost swore his eyes were shimmering with emotion. 

“Does that mean we can have another date then?” Jamie kissed the tip of her nose. “Because I have an exhibition in Oxford in two weeks, and I’d be verra happy if you could attend...and we could spend the weekend there? Together. Unless ye have the girls —” 

“Actually, they’ll be at their father’s,” she smiled, leaning closer. 

“Or if ye’re busy wi’ work.” He pressed her closer, his hand resting on her back. 

“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” she whispered against his lips before stamping them with hers. 

Chapter Text

The return to London, to reality, was less rude than Claire had anticipated. Apart from a shaky flight home — which she didn’t particularly appreciate — the joy of seeing the girls and Margaret again and hearing all about their trip to Oxford made for an interesting first day back. 

“Maggie, you’re very quiet this morning,” Claire smirked, sipping her coffee. She sat with her legs up, resting her chin on her knee. 

“When am I not? You know I’m not a morning person,” she remarked, sitting down at the table. 

“That’s news,” she raised her eyebrows, the smirk only growing. “You talk more in the morning than the girls and I when we are reunited.” 

“Maybe I’m just tired?” Maggie finally smiled, something mischievous hiding behind it. 

“Maybe,” Claire concurred, taking a bite of croissant. “Did you do something to your hair? It looks different.” 

“Me?” The older woman touched her hair instinctively — for the past twenty years, it had been white and worn in a long braid. It didn’t look any different now, except that it seemed to have much more of a shine to it. 

“No, I just got a new conditioner. The expensive one you gave me,”  she took a sip of her tea, “It must be that.”

“Must be that,” Claire repeated, the smirk reappearing. 

“Stop that immediately,” Maggie hit her arm playfully and got up. 

“I’m just having my breakfast,” she answered innocently. The girls had told her all about how Uncle Lambert and Maggie seemed to get along during the trip — at least, when they thought the twins weren’t paying attention. And given the nanny’s look of contentment plastered on her face, Claire couldn’t let her get away with it without a little teasing. 

“Unless there is something I should know?” She finished her coffee and got up in turn. 

“Absolutely nothing,” Maggie took the empty mug out of her hand and put it into the dishwasher. “Now go get ready, or you’ll be late for your meeting.” 

Grinning, Claire kissed her cheek and disappeared out of the kitchen. 

Twenty minutes later, she was dressed casually, in a pair of washed off Levi’s, a white Ralph Lauren turtleneck jumper, and a pair of lavender Louboutins, ready to walk the twins to school. 

“Crumpets, I’ve been thinking,” she strolled with them, Lily on one side and Sarah on the other. Both in their school uniforms. 

“About?” One of them asked, walking slightly ahead to look at her. 

“Well, I thought it would be nice to buy a house in the country. A place to go on weekends and for the holidays,” she smiled, holding her Birkin under her arm. 

“What do you think about the idea? It could be near Oxford, so we can have Uncle Lamb over whenever we’re there.” 

“Yeah!” Sarah smiled widely. 

“Can we have some sheep and other animals?” Lily asked eagerly. 

“Honey, I said a house in the country, not a farm,” Claire chuckled, linking their arms. 

“Or, we could have a dog,” her daughter proposed, grinning. “What about a lab? Or a spaniel?” 

“And you’ll get up early to walk him on days where you have school too?” Claire raised her eyebrow, smiling. 

“Fine,” she mumbled, giggling. “No dog.” 

“Dad agreed to let us have a dog,” Sarah said, eyeing her mother’s reaction. 

“He has?” She managed not to roll her eyes. Of course, he bloody did. “I don’t want it at the house when you aren’t there. It’s not Maggie’s responsibility to take care of it when we’re all busy.” 

“But…” Sarah looked briefly at her sister before looking at her mother again. “We can’t just leave it with Daddy when we’re at your house?” 

“I’m sorry,” Claire said sincerely — those things were bound to happen now that they were divorced, though she knew what Thomas thought of dogs and that he was simply doing this to win points with the girls. 

“If he gets a dog, it’ll be his dog and you'll see it when you are at his house. It wouldn’t be fair to get one just to leave with Margaret because you are at school or out with friends or shopping.” 

“I’m seeing him later, I’ll talk to him about this,” she added before they had the chance to protest. 

“You are?” They both looked at her. 

“Yes,” she stopped, biting the inside of her cheek. “We’re signing the papers.” 

The twins grew very quiet for a moment, Sarah picking up the pace to stay ahead. 

Lily grabbed her hand and squeezed it gently. They weren’t thrilled about the situation; perhaps they had even believed their parents had the slightest chance to put a stop on the divorce and try again. However, they had been the first witnesses to the demise of their marriage. They had heard the arguments while they were tucked in bed; they had caught Claire on the verge of crying once or twice but never pointed it out, seeing how hard she tried to keep it together in front of them. 

“I’m sorry we couldn’t make it work, girls.” Claire finally let the words slip out of her mouth. Words she had kept since they told them about the separation. She indeed was sorry, but that didn’t mean she had regrets. 

Sarah stopped and turned around, “It’s fine, Mum.” Walking over to her, she wrapped her arms around her mother, “We know you tried.” 

Lily joined in, and Claire held them both tightly, a wave of relief washing over her. 

******* 

Claire sat in the meeting room that had become so familiar over the last few months, Sally by her side and Thomas, with his lawyer, facing them. 

On the table, between them, were two stacks of papers — a pile for her, a pile for him — outlining the details of their separation, custody of the children, and the various ways their assets had been divided. She was a signature away from officially going back to being Claire Beauchamp, and the prospect was as equally thrilling as it was terrifying. 

For so many years, she had been Thomas’s wife — the trait becoming a part of her personality, even when she had insisted on keeping her maiden name at work. She was his wife, and she had been happy to be only until recently, when the suffocation of that role had become unbearable. 

“All right,” Sally broke the silence, taking a pen out of her bag. “Review these papers one last time, and if there are any details we need to go over again, we will. If not, only a signature.”

“Once they’re signed, the court will review them and finalize the divorce in a couple of weeks,” Ned added, handing the second pile to Thomas. 

“Do you want us to leave you two alone for a minute?” He asked, looking at them both. 

“Do you?” Sally looked at Claire, ignoring the other men to make sure she felt okay with the situation. 

“I don’t need a minute, no,” Claire smiled at her, before turning to both men. 

“I actually have to be at the office in thirty minutes,” she lied, not thinking about the fact that this little detail would annoy Thomas. He used to become easily fed up with how busy she was with work — pretending she put everything else before him and their marriage, while putting his own career in priority. 

It wasn’t her problem anymore. 

“Well then,” Sally handed her the pen, mumbling quietly so no one else heard it, “Have a blast, darling.” 

Claire reviewed page after page carefully, going over every detail with the uttermost care. She knew the details by heart, but she wanted to make sure a last minute change hadn’t been made without her consent — mostly when it came to the custody of the girls. She felt Thomas’s eyes on her, begging her to look up, to look at him, but she didn’t. 

Instead, she lifted the pen and signed each page with an unflinching hand. A tiny piece of her heart did break — letting go of a past, of twenty years with a man she had loved, and of the person she had been back then. She couldn’t turn back time to do things differently; she wasn’t too sure she would do things differently, anyway. Dwelling on regrets was not who she was, and it was time to start the rest of her life. 

“Here you go.” She handed Sally the papers along with the pen and finally looked at her ex-husband — pen held up above the sheet, in one last moment of reflection. She didn’t know what it would mean if he didn’t sign, all she hoped was that he wouldn’t turn back now. 

Thomas looked up then, his eyes locking with hers, and a silent communication passed through. Regrets floated in them, along with a silent apology and something that seemed to say that no matter how it ended, he was glad they had been together through it all. 

He only broke contact to look down and sign the papers. 

“There,” Thomas said softly, handing his lawyer the pile. His voice held an underlayer of sadness that caught her off guard. 

Claire reached to touch his hand and squeezed it. His eyes travelled up to meet hers once more. He smiled gently, squeezing her hand back. “It’ll be fine.” 

“We’ll be fine,” she returned a reassuring smile and he nodded, bringing her hand to his lips. 

******

“How are you feeling?” Sally asked, looking over at her. 

“Good, actually,” Claire answered sincerely, rolling the warm mug in between her palms. 

They had been at Sally’s house for a while, given that neither of them wanted to be back at work right away. They sat on an emerald green velvet sofa, the fireplace crackling in front of them. 

“Really?” Her friend touched her arm, watching her. 

“I think you would know if it wasn’t true. ” 

Claire’s statement only made her smile and she nodded, “That’s actually true. You’re easier to read than an open book.” 

“I didn’t know how I would be feeling.” Claire took a sip of peppermint tea. “I was rather scared this morning, I have to admit. I don’t know why, either, it’s rather silly.” 

“It’s not,” Sally reassured her. “You’re divorcing someone you’ve spent half of your life with. You’re not simply walking out of a brief relationship with a man you barely knew.” 

“It’s odd because when he asked me for a divorce, I was hurt and rather insulted,” she recalled, leaning back. “Now, I’m...relieved he did.” 

“Of course, it came as a shock at first,” Sally agreed. “But deep down you know, and you knew then already, that it was inevitable. I think, unconsciously, you were aware it would come at some point. Both of you did. You of all people should know how bad it got at the end. I don’t recall a day you guys were not arguing.” 

Nodding, Claire didn’t say anything to contradict her. It was all true, she couldn’t deny it. 

“But it’s over now,” Sally smiled. “And from what I saw earlier, you are both willing to be on good terms for the girls, which is good. For a second, I thought he wasn’t going to sign.”

“Thankfully, he did, and we can move on now.” Claire finished the tea, putting the empty cup on the coffee table. 

“Shit, I forgot to ask him about the dog,” she rolled her eyes, leaning back. 

“What dog?” Sally frowned. “Since when do you have a dog?”

“I don’t, and I’m not planning on getting one anytime soon. Thomas apparently told the twins they were allowed to have one at his house.” 

“Well that’s not really your concern now, is it?”

“What will they do with the dog when they’re supposed to be at my house?” Claire tilted her head, grinning. 

“Fine, I shut up,” Sally chuckled, getting up. “What should we order for lunch?” 

“Something from Comptoir?” She grabbed her phone, “Or Dishoom?” 

Dishoom,” Claire licked her lips at the thought. “The usual.” 

Nodding, Sally looked through the Deliveroo app and placed their orders. She sat back down and looked at her friend, “So, how was Scotland? Are you recharged?” 

“Rather, yes,” Claire smiled, putting her legs on the table and crossing them at the ankles. 

“The shoot was great, and my days off couldn't have been better.” 

“Who did you have sex with this time?” Sally asked bluntly, making her chuckle. “Don’t deny it, it’s written all over your face!” 

“I saw Jamie again,” Claire admitted. “Turns out, he was working there too and our paths crossed.” 

“More than your paths, it seems,” Sally grinned, pushing her leg. 

“I’m not commenting on that,” Claire shook her head, feeling the heat creep up in her cheeks at the memory of her Scotland trip with Jamie. “Just know that I only came out of my room the last day I was there.” 

“Damn, Beauchamp! You’re making me look like an amateur.”

“I don’t plan on sleeping around, don’t worry,” she winked, crossing her arms. 

“So is it serious with this guy?” Her friend looked at her seriously. “Because if so, I have to meet him and decide if he’s worth your time.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s serious, we haven’t decided what it is yet…”

“But?” Sally’s eyebrows rose. 

“Well, I don’t know what it is, I just know that I enjoy spending time with him and that he makes me feel really good. We agreed to take things slow.”

“That’s good,” Sally squeezed her hand, smiling. “You’re beaming, I like him already.” 

“We’re spending the weekend in Oxford together in two weeks.” Claire felt a flutter in her stomach at the thought. “He has an exhibition there, so he invited me.” 

“Have you told the girls about him yet?” 

Claire shook her head, “Not yet, no. Not until we decide where this is going. I don’t know what’s the right protocol for these things, but I don’t want to introduce someone to them unless, you know, I’m sure it’s serious.” 

“Of course, and it doesn’t have to concern them unless you want this guy to meet them at some point.” 

“Right,” she smiled, closing her eyes for a moment. She had no doubt that Jamie would get along with the girls well, nor that they would love him. However, she didn’t know how they would react at first, knowing she had a new man in her life. Until she made a decision about what her relationship with him was, and what she wanted it to be, it was better for the twins not to suspect anything. 

“But I want to meet him at some point,” Sally repeated, grinning. 

“You will,” Claire nudged her, chuckling. 

“I have something to tell you too,” Sally sat up, clearing her throat. 

Claire opened her eyes again, looking at her. Her brows drew together in a frown at the expression Sally had on her face, “Is everything all right?” 

“Well, yeah, it is…”

“Sally?” She sat up at once, “What is it?” 

“I’m pregnant.” 

Claire’s eyes widened at the revelation. Sally liked to joke that the day she’d have a child would be the day of the apocalypse. 

“Are you messing with me?” 

Sally shook her head, a soft smile on her face, “I’m not. I couldn’t believe it either at first, actually. But my doctor called me this morning to confirm it.” 

“I didn’t know what to do when I found out the other day, so I immediately went to her. At first, I thought it was menopause starting, to be honest with you,” she chuckled slightly, getting emotional. 

Claire could count on one hand all the times she saw her getting emotional in the past twenty years. 

“It turns out it's not, just that I’m having a baby.” 

“Are you happy about it?” Claire asked with a smile, taking her hand. 

“I freaked out at first, because, well, you know me and what I think about maternity,” she shrugged, smiling. 

“But I remember, once, you told me it caught you off guard, and I always thought you were just saying that to take the piss out of me. In fact, you were right.”

“Aw, darling,” Claire wrapped her arms around her tightly, “Congratulations!” 

Sally held her close, burying her face in the crook of her neck, “I’m terrified, Claire. I don’t want to be with Max, he’s too young anyway and I don’t think he’ll want this kid. I don’t know if I could take care of it on my own.”

“Remember when you thought you’d never make it through law school? That you thought you should just quit because you’d make a terrible lawyer?” Claire stroked her back, feeling her friend nod. 

“Well, you were quite wrong about that,” she said simply, smiling. “You are one of, if not the best lawyer I know. You were also wrong about your own firm failing. Look at how successful it is!” 

“But you can’t study to be a mother,” she mumbled, sniffing. “I have no maternal instinct whatsoever!” 

“I had none either, before the twins were born. I thought I’d be a piss poor mother, I was afraid about my career going to bits because I was about to have two babies at the same time. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes, and you will make them too, But I make it work, and so will you.”

Sally looked up, wiping her tears with her sleeve, “Do you really think so?” 

“I do,” she smiled reassuringly, booping her nose. “And I, for one, am very excited to have a mini you running around.” 

Sally laughed, then, shaking her head, “God help me."

Chapter Text

The train ride to Oxford had a familiarity that Claire hadn’t found in many things. Like a Proust Madeleine, it plunged her straight back into childhood, when she had taken the train to London with her mother to buy books or to go to the museum. She would sit on Julia’s lap, her curly head resting against her chest and her golden eyes focused on the landscape streaming by in front of them, widening at the colours merging from the greenish countryside into the concrete jungle of the city. 

Claire often recalled the time spent on trains, along with her fascination as she watched the scenery changing, moving, morphing into a different one. It was her favourite way to travel, too. One time, Lambert surprised her with a trip on the Orient Express for her sixteenth birthday after she spent the previous summer making her way through Agatha Christie’s entire body of work, imagining herself as the heroine of a story where she unmasked a murderer while finding a rich suitor who would fall in love with her at first sight. The reality had been vastly different, but the trip had been enjoyable nonetheless. 

Over the years, she had entertained the thought of buying a house in the countryside or somewhere outside of London. The option of Oxford had come back to her over and over again, but Thomas had always dismissed the idea on the pretext that they were too busy to travel from London regularly. 

Another bonus to divorce: no more asking another person’s opinion when one wanted to do something.  

Train journeys were also great opportunities for one to be alone with their thoughts — an activity Claire particularly appreciated in her busy life. For a while, she could stop and think, or read, or listen to some music; whatever her heart desired. For just a moment, everything slowed down and she could take long, deep breaths to reinvigorate herself. 

In between caring for the twins, trying to find a new assistant after promoting Louise, and Sally’s pregnancy news and the subsequent freakout over it, Claire had spent the last two weeks barely able to sit down, leaving no time for herself. She had texted and called Jamie a few times before bed, even falling asleep on the phone once or twice; something he, apparently, found overwhelmingly cute, she quoted to herself. 

The prospect of this little trip away with him had kept her going through long days at work and a lone weekend at home while the girls were with Thomas. She would be lying if she said she hadn’t counted the minutes until she’d be standing on a platform at King’s Cross, waiting to catch her train. 

Eyes closed, head leaning back against the seat, she listened to the rain lightly tapping against the windows and the sound of the rails underneath her. It didn’t take much longer for a voice to announce their imminent arrival at Oxford Railway Sation. 

Claire gathered her Louis Vuitton weekender bag and made her way out of the train and onto the platform. She was wearing a classic Burberry trench that used to belong to her mother — an item Lamb had kept and given her a couple of years ago — a pair of jeans, and a navy pullover from The Row. 

It smelled like home, mixed with the scents of autumn and rain. The air was damp; she could already feel the frizziness of her curls forming and the crisp wind blowing against her face. The platform was smaller than the one she had left in London and, in comparison, almost empty. People had rushed out and disappeared from her sight, either to exit the station or get onto the next departing train. 

Claire was rather alone in her surroundings, save for one person: a ginger-haired giant dressed in blue corduroy dungarees with a bright green Breton top underneath. She noticed his red socks right away, and the pair of Birkenstocks covering them. He was looking at her, a broad grin plastered all over his face. 

“Well, hello.” She couldn’t prevent the way her smile widened at the sight of him there, nor the way something opened up in her chest. 

“I thought we agreed to meet at the hotel?” she added, walking over to him. 

“I’m verra happy to see ye too, Sassenach,” Jamie grinned, opening his arms to her. 

Letting her bags drop to the floor, she wrapped her arms around his neck and felt him pull her close by the waist. “I’m glad I can easily spot you in a crowd,” she smirked, pulling him down by the neck to seal her lips with his. 

He chuckled against her mouth, holding her, “Why do ye think I dress like that, eh? Plus, I ken ye love it so much.” 

“I actually do,” she admitted, smiling before kissing him again. 

“I’ve missed ye.” He cupped her cheeks, his voice warm and tender when he spoke. “I thought I’d surprise ye at the station, instead of having to wait another couple of hours to see ye at the hotel.” 

“I like the way you think,” she stroked his scruffy chin, “I missed you too, for the record.”

“I’d hoped as much.” He kissed the tip of her nose and grabbed her bags, “Come on, Sassenach, before it starts to pour.” 

Looking up to the gloomy sky, Claire couldn’t but smile, “I actually enjoy Oxford under the pouring rain.” 

“Do ye want yer expensive shoes to be ruined?” he asked, teasing her. 

“Listen to you,” she chuckled, kissing his cheek. “To be honest, my shoes cost less than whatever you have on your feet.” 

“Dinna disrespect Birkenstocks, mo ghraidh, I dinna think I can handle that,” he pouted as they started walking. 

“I’d wear those,” she said simply, wrapping her arm around his waist. “And with socks, too.”

“Ye’re full of surprises,” he kissed her head, smirking. 

“Indeed, I am,” she smacked his butt, walking.

Laughing, Jamie pressed her closer by the shoulder as they walked together towards his hotel. They hadn’t seen one another since Scotland, and the building anticipation had been simmering up to the surface for the past two weeks — time moving too slowly for both their tastes. 

The hotel was situated a few minutes away from the station, down a narrow quiet street and in a charming old gothic building that was typical in the city. 

Claire followed him inside, holding onto his index finger while her eyes took in the surroundings. It was a charming little place, exactly the type of environment she was expecting when she saw the outside. His room was on the first floor, behind a heavy wooden door he happily opened with a key. 

“After ye, ma’am,” he said gently, leaning down to kiss her lips. 

Claire deepened the kiss, pulling him inside the room as she walked inside backwards. Her lips had been burning for too long, craving his; it finally felt like a fire was being tamed, while simultaneously igniting all over again. She heard her bag fall onto the floor with a heavy thump, then the door close behind them. 

It didn't take much longer to fall into bed. 

*******

Claire laid naked on her side, her head resting in her palm, watching Jamie getting dressed again. She couldn’t help but bite her lower lip at how delicious he looked. 

“I dinna wish to leave ye, but I have to make sure everythin’ is ready before the opening tonight and I dinna want ye to see the exhibition until it is.” he said apologetically, putting on a white shirt. 

“It’s all right,” she smiled. “I’ll go and visit my uncle for a little while. I’ll meet you at the gallery at seven. Is that okay?”  

“Aye,” Jamie sat on the bed, his shirt still open and cupped her cheek. “Whenever ye want to come, ye come, Sassenach.”

“But not too early, or it won’t be ready,” she grinned, leaning up to kiss him. 

“Exactly,” he chuckled, kissing her back. 

“Are you nervous?” she asked, stroking his collarbone with the tip of her fingers. 

“Do I look nervous to ye?” He lifted her chin to make her look at him again. 

“Well, not particularly,” she smiled again. “I’m sure you’re used to these things.” 

“I guess I am.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “Though, the thought of having ye around tonight is making me nervous,” he admitted. 

“Me?” She looked at him, surprised. “Why? I’m afraid I don’t know anything about art, so you shouldn’t be afraid of my critiques.” 

“Ye dinna ken about art?” He tilted his head, eyebrows raising. “I’ve seen ye at the Fife Arms, ye ken yer stuff.” 

“Only the basics,” she kissed his cheek.

“Plus, ye’re the Claire Beauchamp.”

“I’m only plain Claire Beauchamp. And anyway, I’m coming to support you and your work. I’m actually very excited to see what else you do after seeing the sculpture you installed in Scotland.” 

Smiling, his demeanour relaxed gently, “I canna wait for everyone to see the real art.” He leaned down and kissed her once more, “Ye.” 

Claire laughed, patting his arm, “Sod off.” 

“Why? ‘Tis true.” He ran his index finger down the curve of her body. “Though, I’m no’ too sure anyone could have come up with the idea of ye by themselves.” 

“What are you trying to do? I thought you had to go to the gallery,” she said softly, “At this rate, I won’t let you get out of this room anytime soon.” 

Jamie leaned down and kissed the spot right behind her ear, “I’m goin’, but I hope ye’re no’ expecting to sleep much tonight.” 

She smirked, watching while he got up and finished buttoning his shirt. “I’m very much looking forward to it.” 

“I’m verra much lookin’ forward to what ye’re going to wear,” he grabbed his satchel, smirking. “And to figure out how quickly I’ll be able to get it off yer body.” 

Shaking her head of curls, Claire watched him repay her amusement with one of his questionable winks before disappearing into the hall. 

For a few minutes, she lingered in bed, stretching her delightfully aching body. She had a few hours before she’d have to be at the gallery, which gave her time to take a long and warm shower, do a facemask while going on a phone call with Sally, and attempt to get her hair to semi-behave somehow. 

An hour later, she was on her way to Lamb’s house. She was dressed in a newly recovered vintage Gucci suit, courtesy of their archives, and Loewe leather loafers. Her uncle was used to seeing her dressed up; and as someone who enjoyed putting care and attention into his own garments, he wouldn’t question where she was headed off by simply seeing her outfit. 

The path to the house was a familiar one, her feet knowing the way without her having to think about it. She had stopped at his favourite bakery to buy a couple of pastries she always brought around when she visited. She made sure not to let him know she was coming, preferring to surprise him instead. 

The bond she shared with her uncle was a special one. He had been a parent, a brother, and a friend altogether; helping her carry a load of grief that no one else could understand while making sure that she grew to be unstoppable. When she refused to go to boarding school, he took her along on archaeological trips. When she told him she wouldn’t attend Oxford University and instead moved to London, he insisted on paying for the train ticket himself. 

Claire never rang the doorbell, since she had her own key — the same one she’d had since she moved into this house with him all those years ago. She never snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to go party, since Lamb didn’t mind and wished her farewell himself whenever she wanted to go out. 

Opening the door, she made her way into the long hallway that seemingly hadn’t changed in all those years. It had a table for keys and the mail, and italso always seemed to have a pile of books on it as well. His coats were hanging on the wall, an array of shoes underneath them on a shelf, and his satchel was by the stairs. The house was rather quiet; perhaps her uncle was not even home. 

Then, she remembered he never went out on weekends. Maybe he was simply napping, one of his favourite activities to do. 

“Uncle Lamb?” she called softly, in case he was indeed sleeping. She removed her coat and hung it before making her way towards the kitchen. 

Before she could step inside, Lamb appeared, “Oh, dear me!”

“Uncle Lambert,” she grinned, looking at him. “Hello.” 

“Well, what a surprise!” He hugged her tightly, genuinely seeming shocked to see her. 

“I told you I’d come visit sometime, and I was in town so I thought I would pop by,” she hugged him back, smiling. 

“Of course, of course,” he smiled, stroking her hair back. “Well, you know I’m always pleased to see you, darling.” 

Claire pulled back and looked at him, finally registering how he was dressed. “Uncle Lamb…it’s four in the afternoon, and you’re still in your robe?” 

Quentin looked down at himself briefly, his cheeks turning crimson, “Oh, well, you see...I was —”

“Quentin, darling? What is taking you so —” The words cut off when Claire turned around. Her eyes landed on Margaret, standing in the middle of the staircase — not much dressed, but thankfully not naked either. 

“Claire?” her eyes widened, both with shock and confusion. 

Mouth agape, Claire looked at her uncle again before turning to Maggie once more, “Oh my fucking God.” 

“This isn’t what you think it is,” Maggie added quickly, pulling on her robe like modesty was a newfound friend. 

“This is exactly what I think it is,” Claire couldn’t help but laugh at their embarrassed expressions. “Well, if I had known, I would have called before showing up.” 

Uncle Lamb cleared his throat, “Darling, why don’t you go make some tea while Maggie and I...well, while we go make ourselves decent?” 

“Clothes aren’t going to bring back decency at this point,” she grinned, kissing his cheek. “But yes, I’ll go put the kettle on.” 

She watched as Lambert and Maggie made their way back upstairs rather quickly and chuckled, making her way to the kitchen. 

By the time her uncle and her daughters’ nanny reappeared, Claire had set the table, pouring the boiling water in the teapot and opening the bag of pastries she had bought. 

“Hello again,” she said, smirking. “Thank you for putting clothes on for my sake.” 

Lambert couldn’t prevent the slight smile forming on his lips. As for Maggie, she was getting redder by the second. “Don’t start, Claire.”

“Relax, I know how babies are made, you know?” She poured tea into the cups, enjoying teasing them far too much. 

“We’re too old to make babies,” Margaret mumbled, sitting down at the table. 

“Apparently not,” Claire suppressed a giggle and handed her a cup, pretending not to notice her deathly glare. 

“Well dear, what brings you here?” Lamb asked, looking at her. 

“Uh uh, we’ll talk about me once you two explain how you went from barely tolerating one another to…” she paused, raising her eyebrow. “To sharing a bed, among other things.” 

“That’s none of your business,” Maggie said simply, smirking. 

“Ah, there she is! I was getting worried,” Claire chuckled, patting her hand. 

“Look, you don’t have to tell me anything. I’m actually not sure I’d like to know any details,” she took a bite of doughnut. “However, how do two people who seemingly don’t stand one another end up playing doctor under the sheets?” 

Maggie choked on her tea, “I thought you didn’t want details.” 

“Why are you in Oxford at all?” Maggie asked, pulling herself together. “I thought you would spend the weekend at home, alone.” 

“At least, that’s what you told me,” she grinned, looking at Claire, who was now the one blushing. After all, if Maggie had had a nice afternoon, so had she. 

“Actually, I was invited to an exhibition opening tonight.”

“For your artist companion?” Her smirk only grew, while Claire’s eyes widened for a brief second. 

“Sally told me about him after I pointed out how giddy you were lately.” Maggie added, taking a sip of coffee. 

“You do seem giddier, Claire bear,” Lamb pointed out, his turn to smile. 

“I’m just happy to see you two going along so well, after all those years.” Claire finished her doughnut, pretending to ignore the subject of their curiosity. “I always thought you two would be a great match.” 

Uncle Lamb turned to Maggie, a tender smile appearing on his face. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, “Well, so did I. I simply thought she didn’t like me very much.” 

“I didn’t, at first,” Margaret admitted. “I thought you were a snob, really.” 

“Me?” He looked horrified. “A snob?”

“She has a point, Uncle Lamb,” Claire chuckled, taking a sip of tea. 

“Now that’s just absurd,” he shook his head, reaching for a croissant. “I’m a little eccentric, I can give you that.” 

“Oh yes, a little,” Maggie grinned, kissing his cheek. 

“Just a tad, darling,” he answered, kissing her gently as if his niece had suddenly disappeared from the room. 

Watching them, Claire realised she wasn’t the only one in a state of adolescent infatuation. There and then, she also realised she didn’t want Jamie to simply be a fling; because, after all, it already felt like he was more than that.

Chapter Text

Claire stood by her parents’ graves, holding on to a bouquet of tulips she had purchased for them earlier in the afternoon. Whenever she was in Oxford, she made a point to come here for a visit. Sometimes, she would stay only a minute; other times, she would sit down and talk to them about whatever was going on in her life. 

And in other times, like today, Uncle Lamb would accompany her. 

“It feels like the perfect autumn day,” she mused, kneeling down to put the fresh flowers in a vase. 

“It does,” he nodded, smiling. “You love those the most.” 

Claire looked up at the sky, still grey and gloomy like it had been this morning, but with no warning of rain. “I thought it would pour today when I arrived.” 

“I also thought I’d find you home alone, nose buried in a book. but I was wrong about that too,” she added, grinning, and got up. 

“You are always banging on about me finding hobbies outside of work, I don’t understand why you are suddenly complaining now,” he nudged her, smiling. 

“I’m actually very happy for you and Margaret,” she smiled in turn, linking their arms. 

Lamb patted her hand, his smile broadening, “I’m glad you approve then. Not that we thought you wouldn’t, we only thought we’d tell you the news in a different way.” 

“At least you weren’t naked,” she joked, kissing his cheek. 

“Thank goodness you hadn’t shown up ten minutes prior, otherwise it might have happened to be slightly more embarrassing for all of us.” Lamb adjusted his glasses, holding his seriousness better than she could. 

“Moving right past that,” she chuckled, now walking out of the cemetery with him. “How have you been doing?” 

“Splendidly! It might sound silly to you, but I feel twenty again.”

“It’s not silly.” She squeezed his hand, understanding exactly what her uncle meant. “You’ve been a bachelor for too many years. It’s time to settle down, dear Quentin.” 

Lamb laughed heartily, walking alongside her. Only twenty years older than her, her uncle had been like her best friend ever since he had become her legal guardian. He admitted that he was not ready to be a parent at the age he was, often treating her like a small adult instead of a child. But the life he had given her turned out to be a fantastic education. 

“You are indeed very right, Claire bear. Time to settle down.”

Claire looked at him, grinning, “So it is serious, uh?” 

“Rather,” he said happily. “But enough about me!” 

“Here we go,” she rolled her eyes but smiled, knowing what the conversation was converging towards. 

“You’re blushing,” Lambert remarked, smirking. “Quite a lot, actually.”

“I’m not blushing,” — she was. 

“Who is it, then? Do I know him?” he continued, ignoring her protest. 

“I don’t think you do, no.” 

Claire finally relaxed, walking closer to her uncle. “He’s an artist — a sculptor, actually. He’s Scottish, and we met in Paris when I was there a couple of months back.” 

“Oh, an artist,” he smiled broadly. “How wonderful!” 

“Is it serious?” It was his turn to ask, turning to her. 

“Not quite yet, but it’s getting there.” Claire couldn’t hide the way her eyes beamed at the thought, or the smile forming on her lips. “We’re not rushing into anything, but I do like him a whole lot.”

“A whole lot.” Quentin quoted, winking, “I see.” 

“I don’t want to rush into anything, because Thomas and I have only been separated for less than a year, and I don’t want the twins to think I’m moving on too quickly or to get attached to someone it might end up not working with.” 

“Of course, darling. You will think about their well being before yours, you always will no matter the situation. But your daughters are intelligent enough to understand that you deserve happiness just as much as anybody.”

Uncle Lamb stopped and cupped her cheek, “What I’m seeing now is a Claire I have not seen for a very long time. I think the twins are seeing it too; after all, they mentioned it to me when they were here two weeks ago.”

“Did they?” she frowned slightly. 

“Oh yes. I don’t think they suspect that you are seeing anybody, but they understand the divorce might not totally be a disaster after all.” 

“I should talk to them.”

“You should,” he agreed, nodding. “All they want is for you to be happy, darling. You don’t have to worry about their reactions.” 

“Unless you want to wait for Thomas to start dating again so they can’t really blame you,” he added, smirking. 

“You’re wicked,” she chuckled, shaking her head. 

“I sure am! I think it gets worse with age, too.” 

“It’s part of your charm” She linked their arms once more, starting to walk towards his home again. 

“Margaret would agree,” Quentin beamed, making his niece laugh. 

********

Claire arrived at the gallery five minutes to seven. A small feeling of nervousness settled basked inside her stomach — though she couldn’t explain why. She was excited to finally see some of Jamie’s work. Save for the magnificent sculpture she had seen in Scotland a few weeks back, she had no idea what it looked like. 

Pushing open the door, she was greeted by a rather large and dimly lit room. Smartly placed all around were sculptures of white marble — some smaller, some bigger — but all reminiscent of Italy’s Renaissance era. 

To say her breath was cut short would be an understatement. 

The very same hands that had touched her — touched her body like such familiar territory, with so much worship — were also able to carve stones in such a way. 

“There ye are,” his voice interrupting her reveries about his hands. 

Claire turned around to look at him, a smile appearing on her face, “I should have warned you, I like to arrive slightly early.” 

“Nay complaints from me,” he smiled back, pulling her close. 

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she tiptoed to capture his lips, “Hello, you.”

“Hello, Sassenach,” he whispered against her lips, stroking her cheek. “How was yer afternoon?” 

“Rather good,” she pecked his lips. 

“I found out that my nanny and my uncle are a couple,” she grinned before making a face, “Almost walked in on them, actually.” 

Jamie chuckled, patting her butt, “Quite eventful, then?” 

“You could say that.” She fixed his wonky tie. For once, he was dressed somewhat normally; with a white shirt, a navy tie, and matching tartan trousers. She somehow missed the more colourful looks. 

“Sassenach?” His brow drew together in a frown. He took a step back to look at her. “Are ye wearin’ what I think ye’re wearin’?” 

Her lip flicked up into a smug smile, “I am, actually. Except it’s not the suit you ruined in Paris, it’s another one the people at Gucci kindly sent to me.” 

“Do ye just get whatever ye want?” he grinned, making her do a little twirl. 

“Pretty much, yes,” she pulled him closer, her tone flirtatious. 

“Is there anythin’ ye want right now?” he asked softly, his arm wrapping around her waist. 

“A couple of things,” she brushed her lips against him, her body pressed against his. “One of which is a glass of champagne.” 

“I shall get ye one right away,” he kissed the spot behind her ear and smiled. 

“People are starting to arrive,” she pulled back reluctantly. “I will go help myself with a drink and look around the exhibition while you do your greetings.”

“Do I have to?” he pouted, holding her chin. “I’d rather stay near ye all evening, Sassenach.” 

“These people are here to speak to you.” Smiling, she kissed him tenderly. “And your agent is already side-eyeing me for keeping you all to myself.” 

Rolling his eyes, Jamie pulled her closer once more and linked their lips for a long moment. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and smiled against her lips, “I willna stay away from ye for verra long, mo ghraidh.” 

Claire watched as Jamie extracted himself and started to make his way around the room, where guests had arrived and crowded the place. She was used to parties and art exhibitions; it was a wonder she never heard of him before, given the few familiar faces she saw around now. 

Glass of champagne in hand, she walked around the gallery, stopping at each sculpture to study it and read the little excerpt underneath. Up close, the extent to Jamie’s work was even more breathtaking. Each detail meticulously executed like the caress of a feather on granite. From time to time, she would look over to where the Scot was and they’d exchange looks;  silent dialogue full of mischief and flirtatiousness. 

After a little while, one of the pieces attracted her eyes, a familiarity about it catching her by surprise. 

It was one of the only nude ones in the exhibition. A long, headless body carved in white marble. It took a moment for her to register what she was looking at, until she realised it was like looking into a mirror, right down to the c-section scar on her lower belly. 

“I’m afraid this one is no’ for sale,” Jamie whispered in her ear, standing close behind her. 

Leaning against him, Claire smiled and looked at him, “Is that so?” 

His strong arms wrapped around her, his chin resting on her shoulder, “Aye, this one is all mine.” 

“So you just randomly sculpted this from memory?” She asked, turning around in his arms. 

“I did,” he stroked a curl away from her face. “I couldn’t sleep one night so I started it. Before I knew it, ye materialised.”

“Dating an artist has its perks, I guess,” she grinned, stroking the back of his neck. “I used to be married to a doctor, his idea of romance was a bouquet of flowers once in a while.”

“Are we datin’ then?” His lip flicked up into a grin — he seemed both pleased but careful at the question. 

“Do you want us to be dating? Because I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately and I rather like the idea.” 

“I like the idea too, Sassenach,” he cupped her cheek, his thumb stroking it. “Verra much.” 

Jamie looked around briefly before turning his attention to her once more, “I’ve talked to everyone I needed to talk to, what do ye say if we sneak out now? Get more privacy to talk about our relationship status and all?” 

“Are you sure? This is your exhibition, darling.”

“I am,” he kissed her hand. 

“Trust me, I did all the talkin’ I needed to. Now I’d rather let the pieces speak for themselves. I always do. My agent also informed me that whatever was on sale has already been sold.” 

“Shall we go?” He held out his hand to her. 

“We shall then,” she smiled, taking it and followed him out. 

The air outside was colder now, the light had faded and it was almost dark, safe for the lamplights in the narrow streets. Heat radiated out of Jamie’s hand against her palm, keeping her warm in the autumnal chill. 

Instinctively, she leaned against him, her body melting to his. 

“It was a beautiful show, Jamie.” 

“Thank ye, Sassenach, I’m glad ye enjoyed it,” he kissed her head, walking with her. “Thank ye for comin’ up here to see it and to spend time wi’ me, too.” 

“Thank you for inviting me,” she squeezed his hand, smiling. “I’m sorry we can’t spend every weekend together —”

“Ye dinna need to be sorry for that,” he looked at her in reassurance. “The time wi’ yer daughters is important, Sassenach. I wouldn’t want ye to sacrifice it to spend it wi’ me.” 

“I know,” she kissed his cheek, “I’m glad you understand.”

“Do ye think they’d like me?” He asked, after hesitating for a moment. 

“I think they’d love you very much,” she said sincerely, looking at him. “I thought that I would tell them about us at some point...I hope they won’t react badly.”

“There’s no rush, Sassenach,” he stroked her back. “Things can be serious but slow.”

“Indeed.” Smiling, she kissed him tenderly, stopping at the steps of the hotel. 

“However, we have a wee bit of time before we’re headed back to London,” he lifted her up, grinning. 

“I plan on taking advantage of it.” 

“Oh you do, uh?” Her legs wrapped tightly around his waist, her head buried into the crook of his neck. 

“Aye,” he kissed her shoulder, walking inside the hotel with her. 

They paid no attention to the few people in the lobby, nor the receptionist. Jamie carried her back to the room, managing to open the door with one hand. 

They didn’t plan on leaving the room again until Sunday evening to catch the train back to London together.

Chapter Text

Claire had no idea what time it was. To be quite honest, she did not really care to find out, either. She was...rather busy

“Faster,” she mumbled against his ear, pressing him closer with her leg wrapped around his waist. 

She heard a certain deep noise of satisfaction that she was starting to learn coming out of his mouth as his rhythm increased, all too happy to oblige.  

Mouth agape, eyes glued on him, she clawed his arm. Her own body moved in unison with his; faster. She didn’t need to repeat the word for him to understand, for him to know exactly what she wanted. How she wanted it. There was a tenderness about him, contrasting her own carnal desires. Mingling together to make a perfect fusion, like their bodies. 

“Mo ghraidh,” he rasped, capturing her lips as his arm slipped around her arched back. 

Moaning between kisses, she felt the build-up inside her stomach. The fire blazing, growing, like alcohol had been poured all over it. 

So this was what it felt like? To give yourself to somebody completely; to be consumed by lust and blinded by...love? She had a certain inkling about what it was like, what it felt like. She had been married for twenty years, for goodness’ sake. 

Yet, it was all foreign, this feeling. This...state of being. 

Claire had tried to avoid thinking about that word from the very beginning — pushing it away into a dark corner of her mind. But it kept coming back, over and over again. Each time she looked at him while he wasn’t paying attention. Each time he held her close, his strong arms protectively around her. Each time she thought of him when he wasn’t around. 

She came to the same unavoidable conclusion. 

— she was falling, and it was blissful. 

His fingers were on her body. Stroking. Cupping. Teasing. His tongue drew patterns on her skin like a paintbrush on a canvas. 

All of a sudden, her lungs were emptied of air for a brief second before they filled up again. His name resonated through the walls of the shared hotel room, reverberating on her skin in the form of goosebumps. There was a sweet taste in her mouth and a tingle in her fingers. The mattress underneath her felt like a cloud carrying them both. 

After a moment, Jamie’s head rested on her sweaty chest. Damp curls scattered on her skin, fire against snow. Both breathless. 

Jamie’s eyes were closed, lids heavy from pleasure. He was smiling tenderly. The sight was too sweet for her not to smile in turn, resting her hand on his cheek. 

Neither of them thought that speaking was necessary right now. It was dark, the room lit up only by the moonlight and the remnants of a candlestick they had lit up on the fireplace. The room wasn’t very big — the bed taking most of the space — but it felt so cosy. So warm and comfortable to just be here, together like this. 

Slowly, their breathing eased, falling into a synchronized pattern. Claire cupped his cheek, feeling him melt against her palm. 

Jamie opened his eyes and looked at her, the smile growing, “Are ye all right there, mo ghraidh?” 

“I’m more than all right.” She booped his nose, smiling. She could see the features of his face, the slanted eyes, the straight nose...

“Good,” he whispered against her skin before placing a kiss in between her breasts. 

“What is it that you call me?” She realised her voice was a little hoarse from all the screaming. “Mo grey?” 

Leaning up, he chuckled at her butchering of Gaelic and planted a kiss on her lips, “Mo ghraidh, Sassenach.” Suddenly, the amusement disappeared, leaving space for shyness. 

“It means my heart.” 

“Oh,” she blinked, taken aback by this. 

“But the first time you called me that was in…” she let her sentence fade, remembering the exact moment he had spoken the words. 

“Scotland, aye.” Jamie nodded, smiling. 

“Ye see, Sassenach,” he sat up a bit, resting his chin in his palm. “I ken ye might have wanted to wait, to take our time wi’ this but...well, to me, it was this from the start. From the moment I saw ye in that bar, something turned in my heart. Like a key in a lock.” 

“Before that, I never really thought about relationships. No’ that I’m a monk, nay, but I was happy cruisin’ along by myself. Busy wi’ work and such,” he continued. 

“Then, there ye stood, in yer lovely suit, hair a mess around yer face and eyes bloodshot wi’ murder because of the alcohol I had just inadvertently dropped on ye.”

Claire laughed at the memory, shaking her head, “I was simply surprised to see such a handsome, poorly-dressed man standing there. I didn’t go to the bar with the intention to pick up anyone, actually, but then you were there. Standing in your tartan shirt and looking at me like that.” 

“Like what?” He tilted his head, smirking. 

“Like you’re looking at me now.” She traced the bridge of his nose with her index finger. 

“Ye couldn’t resist then?” He closed his eyes for a moment, melting against her touch. 

“I had the oddest thing happen, actually.” 

He opened his eyes to look at her again, his brows furrowing together in a slight frown. “What?” 

“I felt like I knew you...from somewhere. I don’t know why, even now, there’s something about you that I just know. Like we’ve been friends forever. Isn’t it odd?” 

“It’s like when you speak to me in Gaelic,” she continued before he could answer her. “I usually don’t know what the word means, unless you tell me, but I have an inkling that I’ve heard them spoken to me before.” 

“Maybe we met in another life,” he said simply, kissing her stomach. 

“Maybe we did,” she smiled, stroking his curls back. 

Smiling, Jamie moved closer to her, spooning her. His arms wrapped protectively around her waist and his nose buried into the beautiful nest that were her curls. “Do ye think I had questionable style back then, too? Whenever it was we last met?” 

Claire chuckled softly, bringing his hand to her lips, “Probably.” 

“Aye, I think so too,” he mumbled, the hint of a smile against her ear. “Goodnight, mo ghraidh.”

“Goodnight, my ginger biscuit.” She closed her eyes, letting slumber gently take over her.  

*******

Claire woke up simply because her phone decided to ring. There was light in the room, noises from the city outside the window, and the sound of the shower running in the bathroom. 

Patting the bedside table, she yawned with her eyes still closed. Only when her phone was securely in her hand did she pick it up and bring it tor her ear, “Hello?” 

“I would say rise and shine, but it’s past noon,” Sally answered on the other side of the line. “Rough night?” 

“How do you even know I’m still in bed?” Claire asked, clearing her throat. 

“Hoarse voice, mumbling words, I know what you sound like in the morning, darling.” 

“You know,” she turned around in bed, rubbing her eyes, “Sometimes it’s like I have three children.” 

“I know,” Sally grinned proudly. “I’m a child having a child, can you believe that?”

“How are you feeling?” 

It had only been two weeks since the pregnancy announcement, and before Claire left for Oxford, Sally had not yet talked to her baby’s father. Quite frankly, she wasn’t too sure she would get around to doing it — both too afraid and too proud. 

“I start to feel better around four in the afternoon. Before that, I want to paint the bathroom walls with my insides, and most mornings I actually do.”

Claire made a face, remembering what the early stages of pregnancy felt like. “It’ll get better in the second trimester, don’t worry. Have you been to the doctor yet?” 

“My first ultrasound is on Wednesday.” 

“Well, that’s exciting! I want an ultrasound to put on the fridge, just so you’re aware.” Claire sat up, leaning against the bed frame. She could see herself in the mirror and almost laughed at the state of her hair. 

“Can I ask you something?” Sally’s voice was hesitant, a tint of fear underlying it. 

“Since when do you ask me if you can ask me anything? Should I be worried?” 

“No, it’s nothing bad,” her friend brushed off. “I was just wondering if you were free that morning? You probably aren’t, and that’s fine, but anyway —”

“I will come with you,” Claire said, interrupting Sally’s quick ramblings. 

“Are you sure?” 

“Of course, I’m sure! Can I ask you something now?” 

Sally sighed, “No, I haven’t talked to Max yet. He’s been trying to reach me, though.”

“Well, that means he wants to see you. That’s already something,” she said reassuringly. “Truly, from what you told me, this guy seems to have more than a crush on you.” 

“Wait until he finds out I’m pregnant.” 

“You won’t know where he stands until you tell him, darling. And you have to tell him. You can’t keep this from him, we’ve already talked about this.” 

“I know, I will tell him...it would be a lot easier if I could call him after drinking a bottle of wine or something but alas, I can’t.”

“Why don’t you call him and ask him to go to lunch with you on Wednesday? You can tell him and then show him his baby.” Claire suggested. 

“I’ll think about it and let you know, darling.” 

“No matter what Max says or decides, you are going to be a terrific mother and this baby is already very lucky. And you’ll have me and Margaret to help you, I promise you.” 

“I love you,” Sally sounded tearful — hormones, most likely, but Claire heard the smile in her voice. 

“I love you back, Sal.” 

“Do you regret not having more children?” 

The moment the question came out of Sally’s lips, the bathroom door opened to reveal a freshly showered and naked Scottish man. 

She was looking at Jamie, who was now resting against the door, arms crossed and smirk plastered on his face. Right around then, Claire’s mouth turned dry at the sight and at the thought of this man holding a newborn baby.

“Claire?” Sally called again. “Did you hear what I just asked?”

“Uhm, sometimes, yes.” 

“Did your Scottish man wake up? Do you want me to leave you alone?” Her friend chuckled. “You know what, don’t answer that! I’ll see you on Wednesday, I’ll text you the details.” 

“All right, do that. See you darling.” 

“See you,” Sally answered and hung up quickly. 

Claire put her phone back onto the bedside table and looked at Jamie, smiling, “Hey, stranger.” 

“Good morning, Sassenach,” he smiled in turn, walking towards the bed while drying his head with a towel. 

Kneeling on the bed, she let the cover fall away from her body. Once he was near enough, she wrapped her arms around his neck, “Not much morning lelft, I’m afraid.” 

“Nay,” he wrapped his arms around her bare waist. “We slept in.”

“I’m afraid so,” she said softly before sealing their lips. 

“The girls called ye?” He stroked her back, bodies pressed together. 

“Sally, actually,” she kissed his cheek and leaned back into bed without him. 

“Okay,” he smiled, sitting on the bed. 

“Should we order some brunch?” She kissed his shoulder, stroking her arm. 

“I called room service before my shower,” he smirked proudly, pulling her close. 

“What a man,” Claire whispered with a grin. 

“Mo ghraidh?” Jamie looked at her seriously. “Will yer friend like me?” 

“Give me one reason Sally wouldn’t like you,” she frowned, looking at him. “Just one.”

“I dinna ken,” he shrugged, laying next to her. “I’m no’ exactly the type of men ye’d go out wi’, I’m sure she kens it.” 

“The type of men I used to go out with ended up in divorce,” she laid on her side, her fingers stroking her chest up and down. “Sally would be the first to acknowledge that fact, and she’s never been too fond of Thomas.” 

“No?” He looked at her, surprised. 

“Nope,” she leaned down to kiss the tip of his nose. “Sally just wants to see me happy, and she has mentioned once or twice how much happier I look. I think you’re fine, darling.” 

The shadow on Jamie’s face disappeared and he relaxed. His lip flicked up into a smile, “Weel then, I guess we’ll get along just fine.”

“I have no doubt about it,” she cupped his cheek, smiling. 

Jamie brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm, “I’m always afraid ye’re goin’ to disappear, Sassenach. That ye’re just a fragment of my imagination, too good to be true.” 

“Even when I snore?” Her eyebrow rose as she teased. 

He laughed, shaking his head, “Colourblind and a wee bit deaf then it seems, can ye believe?” 

“Full of quality, my lad,” she moved her body to rest on top of him. 

“How much longer do ye think it’ll take room service?” he asked, his hands resting on her bottom. 

“Enough time,” she grinned, rolling them over.