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More strength than I have

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Chapter 1: Slow down

 

“Slow down Mr Fraser! Please try and remember this is a hospital.” cried the Nursing unit Manager, her plea barely audible above the squelching of the wheelchair on the shiny linoleum floor.
If James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser had a pound for each time he’d been told to slow down, he’d be a very rich man.

Jamie, as he preferred to be known, was always in a hurry. He wanted everything life could offer a lad his age; adventure, travel, fun, and he wanted it yesterday.
It was this headfirst rush into life that had almost been his downfall.

Just over eighteen months before, Jamie had been injured while rock climbing with his brother-in-law and best friend, Ian. It was something they had done many times before without incident.
Clear and bright, with little wind, it was a perfect day for climbing.

“Try to keep up old man!” taunted Jamie being competitive as always.

Accepting the challenge, Ian sped up the rugged mountain, quickly catching and passing a very unimpressed Jamie.
Now only slightly above him, Ian suddenly let out an enormous fart; the wind carried the eggy odour directly into Jamie’s face.

Both roared with laughter, causing Jamie to lose his footing. Unable to regain his grip on the sharp rocks, he slipped straight down the side of the mountain; coming to a temporary halt on a ledge with blood streaming from his face and hands. He tried to call out, but the pain would allow no sound to escape his bloodied lips. He lay, deathly still and silent.

Ian, for the love of God, help me!

Scrambling down to his aide; Ian desperately reached out his hand as the rocks collapsed, hurtling Jamie towards the earth.
Flesh tore from his back; the pain was so intense that he passed out before his lifeless body hit the ground.

 

~~~~

 

“Da! Da! He’s blinking, he’s moving!”

These were the first sounds Jamie heard as his eyes slowly opened in the hospital the next day. Blurred vision only allowed a glimpse of his sister Jenny and father, Brian, before exhaustion forced them closed again.

“Accche, Christ!” Jamie wailed violently.

An involuntary movement in sleep sent pain racing through his body. The sudden jolt upright caused fresh blood to leak from his bandaged back and vomit spewed from his lips; Brian and Jenny had been sitting nearby and rushed to his side.

“Shhh Mo Chridhe, shhh, try not tae move Jamie. We’re here with ye,” whispered Jenny.

“Yer in the hospital Jamie, everything will be OK son,” wept Brian, his voice wretched with despair.

Jenny grabbed a towel and clean gown from a waiting nurse and gently cleaned the vomit from her brother. With tears pouring from her eyes, she changed his gown, drenched in blood and sweat.
Brian stood solemnly, brushing Jamie’s curls from his forehead, his heart breaking at the sight of his son in so much pain.

Over the subsequent week, Jamie slipped in and out of consciousness. Severe trauma to his head and back required a steady stream of interventions to keep him stable. His family put a rotation system in place to ensure he was never alone in those first agonising days.

He also required several surgeries to repair the damage to his mangled back; followed by weeks of intense physiotherapy and rehab to regain strength and mobility.

The long, lonely nights in the hospital provided Jamie with ample time to realise just how lucky he had been to survive the accident. His initial anger and frustration eased as his pain did, and he realised his desire for adventure had not been dulled, unlike his love of rock climbing.

It was during his final days in rehab that Jamie first began tossing around the idea of travel. Not yet ready to settle back into farm life, he had several locations abroad on his shortlist, when his uncle Dougal suggested joining him in Australia.
Dougal was a Neurosurgeon in Melbourne and secured Jamie a job in his hospital. Completing the relevant training while recouping, he was off to Melbourne as soon as he was strong enough.

Jamie spent his first few weeks in Australia settling into his work and his new home. Living with his Uncle had been quite a change from his home in Scotland, Lallybroch.

He'd been happy to discover a pub just down the round from his new house. He'd spent many nights there and made a few new friends; popularity with the local lasses, who lapped up the handsome Scots accent, was an unexpected but most welcome surprise.

Working at the hospital proved to be more rewarding than he had expected, especially meeting the kids. As heartbreaking as it could be to see the wee bairns so sick, being able to bring some light and laughter to their days filled him with a sense of pride; his own lonely, painful nights in the hospital were fading into his memory.
Little did he know, another life-changing event was just around the corner.

Engrossed in deep conversation about Marvel movies, Jamie and a young patient named Willie were arguing the finer points of Thor vs Ironman, when someone came racing around the corner and collided into the wheelchair.

"Oh God! I'm so sorry, are you both OK?" They cried.

Jamie's Scottish temper instantly bubbled to the surface, and after quickly checking on Willie, he readied himself to scald them for their carelessness.
About to launch into his tirade, he instead found himself at a complete loss for words. Before him, stood the single most gorgeous woman he had ever seen.

Chocolate brown curls perfectly framed her delicate face; she was tall and slim and had the most beautiful whiskey coloured eyes.
Jamie felt a blush rise to his cheeks and ears as he realised he was staring.
Seemingly unable to speak, he only nodded in response.

“Today's my first day. I’m completely lost. Could you tell me where the radiology department is?”

"Aye," was the only response Jamie could muster.

Noticing his escort's sudden inability to speak in full sentences, Willie giggled and answered for him.

“We’re on our way there too. You can walk with us if you like?”

“Well, thank you, young man," she said, politely shaking his hand. "My name is Claire, Dr Claire, very pleased to meet you."

"Claire," sighed Jamie.

Oh god, did I say that out loud?

Loud giggles from the patient and the shocked expression written on the pretty Doctor's face told him that he had indeed said it aloud.
Nervously gripping the handles of the wheelchair, he resumed walking towards radiology, with Claire in tow.

Say something ye eejit!

“Jamie’s my name, Jamie Fraser; from Scotland. I’m from Scotland!”

Willie’s giggles again echoed loudly in the corridor, but this time Dr Claire giggled a little too.

“Sorry bout that, ye gave me a bit of a wee fright ye ken,” he said, trying hopelessly to regain his composure.

“Oh really? I would have thought a tall young lad like yourself wouldn’t be frightened by a wee lassie like me!” She teased in a terrible Scottish accent.

All three laughed as they walked, eventually reaching their destination. Willie was greeted warmly at the door by a nurse and wheeled away.

“Bye Dr Claire. Jamie, will you pick me up later?” Willie asked as he waived.

“Aye, I promise. See ye soon.”

They waved as Willie was wheeled away, down the long corridor.

“He seems very fond of you, have you worked with him for long?” asked Claire.

“No, not really. The young lad’s just taken a liking tae me. He’s been here for a few days having a video EEG done, so I’ve tried tae get tae know him a bit. I’ve only been working here a few months myself. What ward will ye be working in?” He asked.

“Neurology; our email's down and apparently as the newest Doctor, it’s my task to pick up some reports. A bit of a joke I think, to see if I can find my way.”

Smiling politely, they held each other’s eye for a few moments.
Hypnotised by those whiskey coloured eyes, Jamie felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity with the stranger before him. Little did he know she was experiencing the same feeling. Claire sweetly thanked him again for his help. It was only then that Jamie noticed her English accent.

A Sassenach

“From England are ye? I’m from Scotland,” he said matter of factly.

“Yes, you did mention that; see you around Jamie Fraser from Scotland.”

A surge of adrenaline pumped through his veins when he heard his name leave her soft lips. As he turned to leave, he caught a glimpse of her reflection in the sliding door. His heart skipped a beat to see she was watching him as she walked away.

Aye I hope so Sassenach.

 

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Sassenach

 

“Get a grip man.” Jamie said to himself as he strode alongside his Uncle at the end of their day.

“Hey, what was that?” grumbled Dougal; he was tired and cranky from his 12-hour shift and in little mood for guessing games.

“Oh nothin, just talking tae myself,” Jamie replied.

“Did ye manage tae get a look at the new nurse in neurology? Claire, I think her name is,” said Dougal. “What a body, I’ll be keeping a close eye on her work.” He winked while making a squeezing gesture with his hands.

“I’ll thank ye not tae speak of her like that, and besides, she’s a Dr, not a nurse, ye old pervert,” barked Jamie.

“Oh aye, ye did see her then. Got a good look I suspect ye did!” He roared with laughter.

Jamie reminded himself that he would soon have an Australian license and be a step closer to moving out of his uncle's home. 

He loved him and was grateful for the roof over his head, and his job, but he was tired of relying so heavily on Dougal and longed for his independence and privacy.

Before leaving Scotland, he had supplied Jenny with boxes of his old thing for her to sell on eBay and she sent the proceeds to him once it was all sold. He had been working hard and had saved enough for a small car, and would soon have enough to get his own place.

After a silent drive home in the hectic Melbourne traffic and a quick feed, Jamie decided to walk to the pub for a whisky. There was no shortage of whisky at his Uncle’s house to be sure, but he was tired of his uncle's ribbing about the new doctor and her 'fine body of work.'

It had been a pleasant surprise to Jamie to discover just how many Scots there were living in Melbourne. Jamie was called over by his friend and fellow Scotsman Rupert, as soon as he entered the pub. 

He’d met Rupert on his first night out, and the two became instant friends. The pair bonded over their homesickness, the excitement they had for their new home and their shared family name, Mackenzie; though as far as they could gather they were unrelated. Plus Rupert enjoyed the attention from the ladies that his new friend always seemed to attract.

The lads ordered their whiskeys and sat by the bar, chatting about football, or soccer as the locals called it, when Jamie heard a familiar voice beside him.

“Two white wines please,”

Jamie looked to his right and saw Claire standing next to him. Both a little surprised to see each other, they exchanged greetings and fell into an awkward silence. Highly amused by their awkwardness towards each other, Rupert leaned into Jamie. “Are you going to introduce me then?” 

“Right, sorry. Rupert Mackenzie, this is Dr Claire...oh, I don’t know your last name,” Jamie said.

“Beauchamp, Claire Beauchamp,” she said

She reached across Jamie to shake Rupert's outstretched hand. As she moved her arm back towards the waiting drinks, she knocked one of the wine glasses right onto Jamie’s lap.

"Ach, shite!" he squealed. 

“Oh god! I’m so sorry!” Claire exclaimed.

Before she could fully consider her actions, Claire grabbed a stack of napkins from behind the bar, bent down and attempted to pat dry his crotch. Jamie, who was quite justifiably shocked by this gesture, jumped up out of his seat and knocked Claire to the ground.

Rupert roared with laughter as both Claire and Jamie struggled to recover their composure. 

Jamie reached down and effortlessly pulled Claire to her feet. Even through her embarrassment, she couldn't help but notice his strength and the ease in which he picked her up, or the size of his hands!

"What in God's name is going on here then?" Quizzed a voice from behind them.  

“Geillis! This is my friend Geillis,” Claire stammered, still mortified by her ridiculous crotch drying attempt, and happy for the attention to shift to her boisterous friend.

"Jamie and Rupert," she continued, simply pointing to each as she said their names.

“Always a pleasure tae meet some fellow Scots,” said Geills in her thick accent. 

“Why don’t ye come sit at our table and relax a bit? We can talk about home while you dry off,” she smirked, winking at Jamie.

They moved to their table and sat in silence for a moment or two before Geillis, picking up on the sexual tension between her friend and the hunky Scot, decided to amuse herself.

“So Jamie, Claire tells me ye work at the hospital, too. What a coincidence bumping into ye here then. Oh my, ye didn’t follow Claire here, did ye lad?” she said with a faux look of shock and concern. Claire gave her a sharp elbow to her friend under the table.

“Why no, I live just down the way and Rupert lives just over the street. That's how we met ye see, here at the pub; it’s our local ye ken.”

“Oh, I ken,” smized Geillis. She moved on to interrogating poor Rupert about his sex life, and it suddenly dawned on Jamie; Geillis knew he worked at the hospital, and that he was a Scot. 

Claire told her about me!

Already completely smitten, this revelation only added fuel to the fire and hope that she felt the same attraction he did. 

At several points during the evening, they would catch each other in  look, and Jamie was sure Claire flirtatiously twisted her dark brown curls around her fingers whenever she spoke to him. 

The night was a blur of whiskey, wine and laughter. Before they realised, it was midnight, and with all four having to work the next day, they regrettably decided to call it a night. 

By that point, Geillis had given up on Claire or Jamie making the first move and decided it was up to her to get things moving. She arranged another catch up for Friday night when all four would be free and have no work the next day.

As they exchanged farewells outside, Geiliis, in her self-appointed role of cupid, nonchalantly shoved Claire in the back, causing her to lurch headfirst toward Jamie.  Claire put her hands out to stop herself from falling and landed roughly on his broad chest. 

She lingered; she knew she should move, but he just smelt so good, a perfect combination of sweat, soap and whisky. She could feel his heart rate increase, his warm breath against her cheek and his firm, muscular body beneath her hands.

She slowly lifted her gaze, and found him, wantingly locked onto her. He had the most amazing crystal blue eyes, so deep she felt she would drown in them.

She wanted him. She lent in to kiss his impossibly perfect lips, before suddenly catching herself and drawing away. She looked to the ground in a desperate attempt to disguise her desire.

Jamie remained still; biting his lip, both unable and unwilling to take his eyes off her. 

Why did ye stop Sassenach?

Rupert and Geillis stood and watched, mouths agape in disbelief at what they had witnessed. With little movement from the lustful duo, Rupert gave Jamie a solid whack on the back.

"Alright, time to go, lover boy," he teased. He grabbed Jamie by the arm and dragged him away. 

"Night Ladies!" he said with a hearty chuckle.

"Good Lord man, what the feck was that?" he quizzed as they walked away.

"I dinna ken," replied Jamie. "But I ken I'm in trouble."

~~~~~

 

Claire rolled over in bed and slowly opened her eyes. Her first thought was Jamie Fraser; his adorable mop of hair, and that large, muscular chest that she’d landed on last night. 

Never before had felt such an immediate and intense attraction. She’d always felt confident in her sexuality, but Jamie brought out something in her that was new, and she desperately wanted to see him again.

She stretched her long slender legs and reached up to grab her phone.“Jesus H Christ, 8.30!” 

Late on your second day, great impression, Beauchamp.

After a quick shower, Claire grabbed her bag and a banana and rushed out the door. Her phone rang as soon as her foot hit the footpath. 

“Hi Geillis, I’m late for work, I'll call you back later," she said as she rushed down the street.

“Aye, and hi tae ye too,” Geillis replied, completely ignoring her friend's obvious urgency to end the call. “I just wanted tae check how ye were feeling this morning? Still swooning?” she teased.

“Goodbye Geillis,“ Claire laughed; she knew her friend would not be offended by the sudden disconnection.

Geillis was Claire’s rock, and she had been since they met in University. She'd guided Claire through some of her darkest days, including her divorce from Frank Randall 2 years ago. 

They had married when she was just nineteen. An orphan and only child, Claire was raised by her Uncle Lamb, an archeologist. Her childhood was spent travelling the globe with him, never really knowing a true home.

The resentment in their marriage built quickly, as Claire forged a career and a life that didn't revolve around him. 

When Claire refused to give him the children he so desired, when she dared to ask for more time before starting a family, he left her.

She was devastated to have a failed marriage at just 25, but as the days and weeks passed, Claire came to see just how toxic the relationship had become and chose to thrive in her newfound freedom. 

Moving to Australia was a new beginning, and the blossoming relationship with Jamie, the complete opposite of Frank, was exactly what she needed. 

 

Claire arrived at her ward and managed to slip into the nurses station without drawing any attention to herself. She’d made it just in time for handover. While reading some patient’s notes, she felt a presence right beside her. She looked up to find a large, balding, bearded man extremely close to her face.

“Doctor Beauchamp is it?” he asked with a thick Scottish accent.

“Yes, that’s right, can I help you with something?”

"Aye, ye can lass. I’m Doctor Mackenzie, the neurosurgeon. I’ll be taking a look at young Elias with ye today.”

“Pleased to meet you, Doctor,” replied Claire.

They shook hands as professionals do when meeting, but Dougal was not thinking like a professional and rubbed his thumb gently against her palm, Claire quickly pulled her hand away.

EWWWW

“Right, let’s go and see him now then,” she said and took off down the hall; not telling him to fuck off was now her primary objective.

The two doctors entered the patient's room to find the young boy sitting in bed, strapped to an EEG machine, his mum wearily reading him a story.

“Good morning, how is our favourite patient feeling today?“ Claire asked in her cheeriest voice.

“Ok,” replied Elias.

“He's a very tired boy, Doctor. He had quite a few seizures last night, so we didn’t get a lot of sleep,” said his mum.

"Well, that's what we are here for. This is Doctor Mackenzie, he will be performing your surgery tomorrow," said Claire. She motioned toward Doctor Mackenzie who sat next to Elias on the bed. 

“Hello, young man. Sorry tae hear ye had a bad night's sleep. How are ye feeling now? Apart from tired.”

Claire was pleasantly surprised by the gentle and friendly manner that he addressed the young boy with.

“Bored,” replied Elias.

“Aye, well apart from bored. Are ye feeling alright lad? No headache or bellyache? Any seizures this morning?”

“No Doctor,” he replied through a yawn.

The two doctors went over a few things with both mother and son, then left the room. 

Claire wondered if she had been too quick to judge Dr Mackenzie. 

He had been very caring with their patient Elias. Maybe she had misread the handshake. The thought had barely left her mind, when the doctor approached and stood so close, he almost pushed her against the wall. 

“Thank ye, Dr Beauchamp, I look forward to working closely with ye.”

He turned to walk away but not before deliberately knocking the charts out of Claire’s hands. She bent over to pick them up and could see him watching her from the corner of her eye.

“What a creep!” grimaced Claire

“Meet Dr Titsfirst did we?” said a young nurse named Mary, who had the broadest Australian accent Claire had heard to date.

“Dr what?” Asked Claire confused.

“Dr Mackenzie," she explained, "There’s a bunch of us that call him Dr Titsfirst; cause he talks to your tits first, then he looks you in the face. He doesn’t do it to everyone mind you, just the young ones; thinks he can intimidate us meek and obedient little nurses. I reckon you’re the first Doctor he's tried it with though.“

“Really?” scoffed Claire, “Well, he’ll soon find he picked the wrong Doctor to start with, I’m not the meek and obedient type.

 

 ~~~~~



It would be almost three days before Jamie would see her again. He found himself looking for her everywhere he went, hoping for even just a glance of Claire.

My Claire

He knew they’d just met, but he was overwhelmed by his attraction to her, and felt ill at the thought of not seeing her soon. 

In between patients, Jamie walked up to the Neurology ward, hoping he might run into her. He spotted Mary and struck up a conversation, during which he casually asked about Dr Claire’s whereabouts. 

“She’s very nice, isn’t she? And very pretty,” she smirked.

After some more playful teasing, she revealed that Claire had been at a training program for the neuro residents but assured him she would be back later that day. Jamie tried to cover his relief at that news and thanked her for the help.

After lunch, he popped back into the neuro ward to see Willie, and perhaps also to see if Claire had returned. The ward was oddly quiet, no staff at the nurses station or in the staffroom, and there was still no sight of Claire.

He walked into Willie's room and found the young lad alone and in tears. Jamie rushed to his side, filled with concern. 

“Willie, what's the matter lad, are ye sick?"

Willie turned and looked at Jamie, with an expression that tore at his heart.

“I heard the nurses talking about him, about the boy, Elias. He died Jamie, he has epilepsy like me, and he died!”

He began to cry hysterically and collapsed into a heap onto his pillow. Jamie sat next to him and handed him the well-loved teddy bear that sat at the foot of his bed.

“Dinna fash lad, it’s ok, it’s ok. Shh,” he said, as he patted Willie gently on his back.

At that moment, Willie's mother walked in. She smiled at Jamie, and they swapped positions on the bed. Willie melted into his mum’s embrace. Jamie could feel the tears welling in his own eyes. Not wanting to upset the lad more with his own tears, he gave him a quick pat on the shoulder and promised he would be back tomorrow to see him before he went home.

Jamie left the room and slumped into a chair beside the nurse’s station, his memories of childhood grief swirling in his mind. He had lost his brother, also named Willie when he was a lad, and his Ma had passed away not long after. Jamie believed she died of a broken heart and it hurt right to his very core to think of them right now. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. 

As he stood, he caught a glimpse of a mop of brown curls half-hidden behind the staffroom door.

It was Claire, sitting on the floor crying.

“Claire, are ye ok lass?” he asked softly, moving closer by her side. She slowly lifted her head to reveal red swollen eyes, filled with tears, and a look of anguish on her face.

“My patient, he was only eight, Jamie, and I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t do anything to save him.” Jamie dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around her. 

“It’s alright Sassenach, dinna fash, shhh, it’s alright. I’m here wi ye,” he whispered. 

Jamie felt a sense of guilt in the pleasure he found in holding her, in how he wanted to be everything she needed at that moment. Suddenly becoming conscious of the intimacy of their interaction, Claire withdrew.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean too,” she sobbed.      

“Dinna be fashed with me Sassenach. I just want to help ye.”

“Thank you, Jamie, you’re very kind. It’s the first time I’ve lost a paediatric patient, you see. I feel so helpless." Tears flooded her cheeks, and she again sought Jamie’s arms without a second thought.

Both sat peacefully in each other’s arms; Jamie whispered Gaelic musings into her ear. He was completely lost in his desire to comfort her when their embrace was suddenly interrupted by Dougal Mackenzie.

“Well, what have we got here then?”

The two jumped apart. Clare ran out of the room, leaving Jamie equally embarrassed and annoyed for the disturbance to their embrace.

“I was just comforting the poor lass, Uncle. She lost a patient ya ken.”

“Aye, Young Elias, sudden unexplained death in epilepsy; there was nothing we could do for the lad. He was supposed to have surgery a few days ago, but he was tae unstable. Dinna fash about the lass; she’ll be alright.” He patted his nephew on the back and walked away with his head down. 

Jamie was torn on whether to search for Claire or to leave her be. In the end his decision was made for him, when he was called by his manager to assist another patient. 

His Claire would have to wait.

 

~~~~~~~

 

Claire sat alone, in the busy food court trying to force herself to eat something.

She’d been at a seminar in the city that morning and had only just returned to the hospital when she received news of Elias. She hadn’t eaten all day and was feeling light-headed and nauseous. It was not a pleasant combination, and she wasn’t sure if eating would cure her or make her feel worse.

She sat quietly, keeping her head down so no one would notice her swollen eyes. The sadness she felt was compounded by a sense of guilt that she couldn’t do anything to save Elias.

She eventually forced herself to eat, and once she started, found herself quite hungry. She was contemplating buying more to eat when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“You look like shite,” said Geillis. Claire tried to smile, but tears flowed instead. “Come now, let's get ye home, I’ve already spoken tae yer team, and they’re happy tae cover the rest of yer shift.”

Yet again, Geillis was there when Claire needed her. She supported the exhausted Doctor up out of her chair, and they walked outside to the fresh air, arms linked. 

It was early in Spring, and the Melbourne nights could still be quite chilly. 

Geillis wrapped her arm around her shivering friend, and just as they reached the road, they heard someone shout their names. They turned to find Jamie’s friend Rupert.

He greeted the pair warmly, and noticing Claire’s appearance, made his exit quickly, but not before reminding them of their planned catch up at the pub the next night. 

The girls crossed the street and made their way to Claire's flat.

Geillis opened the door and ushered Claire inside. She popped her on the couch and made her way to the kitchen. 

"Nothing a cup of tea can't fix," she called out from the kitchen.

By the time she returned to the couch with the hot tea and their new Aussie snack of choice, TimTams, Claire was sound asleep.

 

Claire woke the next morning barely able to remember arriving home. She looked at her clock, it was already ten. She dragged herself out of bed and hopped into the shower, letting the steaming hot water run over her slender frame. 

With every drop, the tension melted from her body. She felt grateful to have the next few days off after the first week she wouldn’t forget.

After changing into some fresh clothes, she made herself some tea and toast, then slumped onto the couch. Two things consumed her mind, young Elias and oddly, the word Sassenach. 

Sassenach? What does it mean?

She grabbed her phone and googled; SASSENACH: Scottish word for English person or foreigner, sometimes a lowland Scot.

“Well, he got the English part right,” she mumbled to herself, slightly disappointed that it wasn’t a term of endearment. Her mind continued to ponder about Jamie and she couldn’t help but wonder if he felt the same level of attraction.

She took her dishes to the kitchen and decided to go for a run to clear her head. 

There were many beautiful paths and parks nearby, and Claire had taken up jogging since her arrival. She grabbed her phone and headphones and headed out the door. Running with her head down, looking at her phone, she turned the corner and bumped straight into Jamie.

“Aye, Sassenach, we’ve got to stop meeting like this; people will talk” he grinned.Claire whipped her headphones out and returned the smile.

God, he's sexy

“How are you doing today?" he asked, his face changing from one of happiness to concern.

“I’m ok, thank you. Sorry about yesterday. I shouldn’t have...”

“It’s ok, Claire, honestly. I’m glad I could be there for you. My uncle told me what happened with Elias. I’m truly sorry.”

“Your uncle?” Claire asked with a confused expression.

“Aye, Uncle Dougal. Well, you’d know him as Dr Dougal Mackenzie; he’s a surgeon at the hospital.”

“Dr Mackenzie is your Uncle?’” Claire shot back.

“Oh aye, made quite the impression on ye, has he Sassenach?“ said Jamie with a raised brow.

“Why do you keep calling me that? Sassenach. I know it means an English person but...”

“I dinda mean to offend ye, Claire,” he interrupted, “I mean it with affection,” he saidlooking down at his feet, a little embarrassed.

Claire recognised the innocence in his reply and returned instead to the topic of his Uncle Dougal. After a thorough interrogation about their connection, Claire came to peace with the fact that he and his uncle seemed to be two very different people.

“Will ye be joining us at the pub tonight, then?” he asked hopefully.

“I’m not sure, Jamie. I don’t know if I feel up to it. I don’t think I’d make very good company.”

“Well, I’d love to see ye there. I mean I hope to see ye there. Be good for ye to get out, have some fun,” he said.

Leaning in closer, he took Claire’s hand and squeezed it gently. She felt it instantly, an overwhelming attraction. She had never felt anything like it with another man. 

“I won’t bite; I promise,” he teased

What if I want you too?

"Well, maybe you're right. It would do me good to get out," she smiled.

Jamie released her hand, flashed a big smile and continued on his way, leaving Claire feeling a little disappointed with his departure.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Jamie changed his clothes three times before leaving the house. He wanted to look perfect, not too casual but not too dressy. He eventually settled on jeans, a white tee and a brown leather jacket. 

It was a lovely mild evening as he walked the short distance to the pub. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, walked through the door and saw her immediately, standing beside Geillis and Rupert. 

She was glowing. She wore a sexy black dress that accentuated her gorgeous long legs, and her flowing curls were pulled to the side in a clip. Jamie strode towards them and was greeted by Rupert with a loud wolf whistle.

“Guid evening, how’s everyone doing tonight?” he said while shooting some serious side-eye to Rupert.

“Aye, good, thanks. You look rather dashing this evening Jamie. Don’t you agree Claire?” said Geillis cheekily. 

“Yes, very dashing. Should we find a table?” she said quickly, trying to change the subject. They found a table by the window and ordered a round of drinks.

Jamie was pleasantly surprised to find Claire was fond of whisky, even more so by the speed at which she could drink it, downing her first two, one after the other. This didn’t go unnoticed by Rupert either, who gave Jamie a quick wink of approval when she downed her third. 

Their mutual infatuation continued to grow as they shared stories of home, her childhood travelling the globe with her Uncle Lamb and his beloved Lallybroch. 

The table quickly filled with their empty glasses and the room with their laughter. 

Jamie couldn't take his eyes off her, the way her curls wrapped around her face and twisted down her elegant neck. Her lips were so soft and inviting. He was desperate to kiss her.

Around midnight, Gellis and Rupert engaged in a deep and seemingly secret conversation, leaving Jamie and Claire alone for the first time that night. 

“So, are you planning tae stay in Australia long then Claire?” he asked inquisitively.

"Well, my residency is for three years so I know I'll be here for that long at least. Though to be honest, I don't have anyone, or anything left in England to draw me back. What about you, what are your plans?”

“Ach, I’m not sure either. I'd be home tomorrow if my family had anything tae do with it, but I want tae have an adventure before I go back tae the farm. I love Lallybroch, with all my heart, but I just don't know if that’s the life I want, yet, anyway; maybe if I had a wife tae take home with me, it’d be different.” 

Jamie reached across the table and softly took Claire’s hand, subconsciously caressing her palm with his. “Claire, would ye go out with me again, just you and...”  

“Jamie! Oh wow, is that you?”

A very tall, very blonde and very French woman squealed and ran towards their table. She threw her arms around Jamie's neck and planted several kisses on his cheek. 

Oh Shite

“Jamie, it is you. It's so good to see you! I've missed you, my sexy Scot!” 

“Hey, Annaliese, good tae see you too,” he said, trying desperately to remove himself from the excited lass’s grip. 

He glanced up at Claire, who was sitting with arms crossed, looking very unimpressed by the new addition to the table. Annalise continued to pepper Jamie with kisses. He stood and swiftly ushered her towards the bar.

~~~~~~

Claire leaned over and grabbed Rupert by the scruff of his shirt.

"And precisely who is that? There's been no mention of a girlfriend during the evening,” she snapped.

“Dinna fash Claire, she’s not his girlfriend. They've spent a few drunken nights together tae be sure, but girlfriend nae, not his type,” he replied. Geillis nearly choked on her drink. 

“Beautiful, leggy, French blondes aren’t his type? Well there's a first for mankind,” she laughed. Claire gave Gellis a look she knew all too well and it stopped her laughter instantly.

Meanwhile, Jamie, who had managed to free himself from Annalise, made his way back to the table.

“Sorry about that, just an old friend.”

“Oh yes, she's very friendly, and not too old by the look of her,” Claire grumbled. The night's whisky consumption was well and truly affecting her ability to disguise her jealousy.  

“I need to go to the toilet!" she declared loudly. 

She pushed her chair out from the table and wobbled off in the opposite direction to the bathrooms. 

            

~~~~~~

 

Rupert and Geillis looked at each other, nodded and jumped from the table. This was their opportunity to put their secret plan into action.

“Good luck Romeo!” They mocked in chorus, and scurried off in hysterics. Jamie was left to sit alone, tapping two fingers on the table nervously. He was not sure if he was happy with this development but had little time to ponder it before Claire returned. She just caught sight of them as they slipped out the door.

“Where did those two run off to?” she asked and cast a suspicious eye over Jamie.

“I dinna ken, they just started laughing and ran out." 

He took her hand into his, leant in face to face, and whispered, "I suppose that means it's just you and me Sassenach." 

"Don't forget your little blonde friend,” she snapped. She pulled her hand away, narrowed her eyes and searched the bar for Annaliese. 

“No, she won't be joining us. She's just a friend Claire, I swear. We had a few dates but we just didn't click, not like us,” he said softly.

Smooth Fraser

Feeling rather pleased with this answer, Claire suggested another whisky.

“Nae, I reckon we've had enough for one night. Can I walk ye home Sassenach?”  

“Are you implying that I'm intoxicated?” she slurred. 

“Well, I'd be impressed if ye weren’t. Most people would be under the table with that amount of whisky,” he smiled. 

Ever the gallant gentleman, Jamie stood, moved behind Claire and pulled out her chair. The pair stepped outside, and when the fresh night air hit Claire's lungs, it caused her to wobble on her feet.

“Maybe I am a little bit tipsy,” she laughed. 

Jamie slipped his hand around her waist and found it was a perfect fit in the small off her back. They made the short walk to Claire's flat and reached her building without speaking; it was not an uncomfortable silence, quite the opposite. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.

They stopped at the door and turned to face each other. “Can I see ye again tomorrow?” he asked hopefully.

“Yes please, that would be lovely. Would you like to come in for a drink?”

Jamie had never wanted anything more in his life but surprised himself when no slipped from his lips. “I want to Claire, I do, but I think we've had a wee bit too much tae drink, I don't want anything tae happen that you may regret.”

Claire stepped closer to Jamie, placed her hand on his cheast and whispered. “I won’t regret anything, Jamie.” 

She was so close to him now. Her body almost pressed against him. He could smell her sweet floral perfume, and her hair had broken free from its clip and fell loose over her beautiful face.

God she’s amazing.

She slowly started to move her hips, ever so slightly, almost dancing against him. He could sense her urgency building, as she swayed back and forth. 

He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into a deep, lingering kiss. The bristles of his beard scratched against her soft cheeks as she gripped his head firmly as if to keep him from escaping.

His tongue danced over her lips and forced them apart, finding hers waiting, they massaged against each other.

Claire licked, then nipped his bottom lip and giggled sexily when the sharp sting caused him to jump.

She began to rub her body against him, pushing him closer towards her door. “Come in. I want you, Jamie,” she whispered, still pressed against him.

Go in ye numpty

She reached into her bag and fished around for her keys. Jamie had never wanted anyone more in his life, but he wanted their first time together, his first time with anyone, to be perfect and not clouded by the fog of whisky. 

“I can't believe I'm going to say this but, I really shouldn't. I want to, God I really want to, but ..."

She cut off his answer by dragging him back onto her lips. “Stay with me Jamie, please,” she begged as she kissed his neck and twisted her hands around his soft ginger curls.

“I promise soon Claire just, not tonight.” he said breathlessly. 

She achingly withdrew her lips from his neck and facing him, walked back to her door. “Ok Jamie as long as you’re sure,” she said, pouting. 

She resumed her search for her keys without taking her eyes off him. Keys found she opened the door. 

“Last chance,” she whispered. 

She slowly stepped into the doorway, turned to face him and slipped her dress off her shoulder. 

“Goodnight Claire Beauchamp,” he said, biting his lip to stop himself from following her.

“Goodnight Jamie Fraser,” she purred as she seductively freed her other shoulder from her dress and slowly closed the door behind her. 

Ye bloody eejit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

                                                                                                   

Claire arrived at Geillis’s house the next morning feeling a little worse for wear. Regret over her overindulgence in whisky had mixed with feelings of relief that Jamie was gentlemanly enough not to take advantage of her drunken state, and disappointment that nothing had happened between them.

Geillis startled her when she flung open the front door, just as she was about to knock. Claire’s surprise increased tenfold, to see Rupert standing behind her in a somewhat unkempt state. He bid farewell to Geillis, and brushed past Claire- giving her an awkward nod as he passed. 

“Jesus H Christ, what the hell happened Geillis?” Claire laughed.

“Come now, don't get yer knickers in a twist, Claire. Just a bit of innocent fun. Not my finest moment, I'll grant ye, but a girl cannae spend every night alone, can she?” 

“He's not your usual type,” smirked Claire. 

“Aye, but I’ve always had an eye for the hairy gents, ya ken that Claire. Now if ye have finished judging me, tell me what happened with Jamie?”

“Nothing happened,” Claire said coyly. “A little kiss, and then he left.”

“Ye liar!” screamed Gellis. She pulled Claire into the house, determined to get all the juicy gossip. 

 

~~~~                                

 

Jamie returned from his daily run, had a quick shower and was enjoying his breakfast when his phone buzzed. He picked it up and was greeted to a picture of Rupert with Geillis draped around his neck, her tongue in his ear. 

[Rupert 10:01]  How was yer night lad? Hope it went as well as mine! 

Jamie dropped his phone on the table and rubbed his eyes, not sure if he was amused or disturbed by what he had just seen. He finished his breakfast and put the dishes in the sink. He stood staring out the window, and wondered what Claire was doing right now.

Did she have a good night?

Visions of her flashed through his mind; her face, her lips, her body, the way she moved as she dropped that dress off her shoulder. When he closed his eyes, he could hear the wee moan she'd made as they kissed. 

Just the thought of it drove him mad. Christ, she’ll be the death of me. 

He had to see her again, to hear that moan again and he didn't care if he appeared too eager. He grabbed his phone, then realised they didn't exchange numbers. 

Rookie mistake, Fraser.

Remembering Rupert’s message, he shot him a text back.

[Jamie 10:11] Hey, do ye have Geillis’s number? I forgot to get Claire’s last night. Can ye ask her for me?

[Rupert 10:15] Maybe, but how do I ken that the lass wanted to give ye her number?

[Jamie 10.15] Stop being a dick. Can ye ask Geillis PLEASE!

[Jamie 10.24] Answer me damn it!!!!!!

[Rupert 10.31] Geillis is gone 😟

[Jamie 10.31] For fucks sake, do ye have her number or no?

After a few frustratingly slow texts back and forth, his phone rang. Unknown number flashed on the screen, and he stopped breathing.

“Hello,” he answered, trying to sound as calm as possible.

“Hi Jamie, it's me, Claire. I was with Geillis when she got Rupert's message. Are you stalking me?” she asked without the slightest hint of humour in her voice.

Jamie's heart nearly jumped out of his mouth. “What? No, I just, I dinna get yer number and I was wanting to see ye. I’m sorry Claire, I thought we, I dinna mean...” he stammered.

“Jamie, I’m kidding! I’m kidding!” She was laughing hysterically and Jamie could hear Geillis laughing along with her in the background.

“Christ Claire, ye scared the life outta me! I nearly dropped dead on the spot,” he sighed, rubbing his hand through his hair. 

“I couldn't help myself, you sounded so serious when you answered.” She choked a laugh. “Are you ok now? Has your pulse lowered a bit or do you need to see Doctor Claire?” She was laughing so hard, Jamie could only just make out what she was saying.

I love her laugh

“Aye, yer a witty one aren’t ye, just ye wait, I’ll get ye back,” he chuckled. They continued teasing each other for a few minutes before Claire's voice suddenly changed tone.

“Did you have a good time last night?” she asked.

“Aye, I had a great night Claire; it was great, really great.”

God, how many times did I say great?

“Would you like to have lunch with me today? There’s a great cafe on my street, #45, meet me in an hour?” she asked hopefully.

“Sounds amazing. See ye then Sassenach,” he replied while fist pumping. 

“Bye Jamie.”

A dhia

The way she said his name nearly floored him. 

A sense of contentment warmed him from within. To find someone he could be so attracted to, so drawn to, but still be able to joke and laugh and talk to the way they could, gave him almost more happiness than he could take. Possibly also more than his nerves could take, he was drenched in sweat. 

Deciding he needed another shower, he stood washing his body and as had happened so many times since they’d met, his mind wandered off to thoughts of her. He closed his eyes and could see her smiling and laughing. Her laugh was amazing, sexy, cute and kind of evil all at the same time.

A car horn tooting outside snapped him back to reality and a slight panic set in when he realised he’d been in the shower daydreaming for thirty minutes. Quickly dressing and almost running, he was still the first to arrive at the cafe.

He sat by the window and ordered a coffee; his fingers tapped rhythmically on his thigh and his foot twitched nervously. Thankfully, he didn't have to wait long before he saw Claire crossing the street in front of the cafe. 

She looked amazing as always, wearing a summery yellow dress as bright as the sunshine itself. She breezed into the cafe and smiled when she saw him. He stood to greet her and she leant in and kissed him on the lips sweetly.

“Good morning, Jamie.” 

“Good Morning, Sassenach.” A giant smile swept across his face.

Mo Cridhe

A waitress brought over the menu and they selected their meals.Claire chose smashed avocado on toast, a local delicacy she’d discovered and enjoyed, while Jamie went for the traditional fried eggs and bacon, beans and extra toast. 

“Hungry are we?” she teased.

“Aye, I’m a growing lad, Sassenach, and I’m starving after my run. I missed ye this morning; it wasn’t the same without ye knocking me over,” he said with a wink. 

“Maybe we could start running together in the mornings, if you're not afraid of me beating you.”

“I’ll hold ye to that Sassenach,'' he said, beaming at the idea of being with her every day.

When their meals arrived, Jamie went straight for the tomato sauce, his tongue poked out a little as he squeezed the bottle.

“Would you like some eggs with that sauce?” Claire laughed, bemused by the size of his meal and the amount he had heaped onto his eggs. 

“Only way to eat it Sassenach,” he said smiling, as he stabbed an egg with his fork and waved it in Claire’s direction. “Want some?” 

“I’ll be fine with my avocado, thank you,” she laughed. 

They ate slowly, savouring each other as much as the meals before them. It felt as though they were the only two people in the cafe. 

Jamie loved watching her eat, her little quirks and mannerisms fascinated him. How could he find her so sexy, yet adorably dorky at the same time. With every movement, gesture and laugh, he could feel himself falling deeper and deeper into...

Love, ye love her.

An internal argument raged in his mind. 

Love? Surely not, they’d just met. It canna be love, can it?

Almost as if she could hear his thoughts, she looked up at him and smiled that smile which made him weak at the knees. Whatever this was, love, lust, infatuation, he knew she was the one for him, and he would do anything to see that smile.

After they'd finished eating, the same thought was uppermost in both their minds.

"Will ye come home with me, Sassenach?" he said, taking her hand.

"Yes, of course," she replied.

Walking home, as close to each other physically possible, their hands constantly bumped and brushed against each other until Jamie took her hand and held it tightly. He never wanted to let it go.

They were a little over halfway home when Jamie remembered Dougal was likely to be at home, he wasn't ready for him to be aware of the relationship yet. Claire was in complete agreement, so they made a detour to her flat. Claire gave him a quick tour of the place, then headed to the kitchen to make some coffee. 

Jamie stood in the doorway watching her. How was it possible for her to be so sexy, just by standing there making coffee?

I have to touch her

He couldn't help himself; with one determined stride he was behind her. He swept her hair from her shoulder and let his warm lips trace the lines of her neck and shoulder. His hands swamped her magnificent breasts, then slowly slipped down to find her hips and lovely ass.

Claire dropped the cup she was holding and turned to kiss him, her hands running through his ginger curls. Their lips remained locked as they fumbled their way to the couch. Claire hastily discarded his jacket and kicked her shoes across the room as their hands frantically roamed each other's bodies.

“Oh, god, touch me, Jamie,” she begged breathlessly.

Jamie responded by pulling her back to his mouth and returning his hands to her ass. He squeezed in rhythm to her grinding on top of him, the leather couch squealing beneath them as they moved as one, completely lost in each other.

He felt her hands drop to his waist as she searched frantically for his belt buckle between her legs. Finally, she freed him of the belt and it cracked loudly, as it dropped against the polished wooden floor.

The noise jolted Jamie back to reality, and he stopped. A thousand thoughts attacked him at once. He jumped out from beneath her, leaving her confused and panting on the couch.

“Claire I, um, I have to go,” he stammered, hiding his eyes from hers.

“Wha..? Why? Did I do something wrong?”

“No, God no!” he cried and ran back to her side. He kissed her, before pulling away again. “I’m sae sorry. It's just, oh god, this is sae embarrassing,” he grimaced, rubbing his head in frustration.

“What is it, Jamie? Please, just tell me. Whatever it is, I can take it.” 

He stood silently, not knowing how to say it.

Just spit it out man

He gripped the sides of his neck and squeezed so tight, he feared he would pass out. “Weel, the thing is, I’m a virgin.” 

Claire's jaw dropped to the floor. “What?” she cried. She couldn’t help it, a wry smile and little giggle popped out.

Laughter was too much for Jamie’s ego to take. He grabbed his jacket and stormed out with Claire chasing after him in tears.

 

~~~

 

It was Monday and Jamie Fraser was thoroughly ashamed of himself. He had abandoned Claire Saturday afternoon and ignored her dozens of calls and texts since. He knew he had acted like a child. The shame burned right to the pit of his stomach, so much so, he had even called in sick to work that morning, unable to face her. 

She shouldn’t have laughed at him, but he should have been big enough to stay and talk things through. Stupid, stubborn pride, may have cost him the best thing that had ever happened to him.

The fact was that the whole virginity thing wasn’t the only reason he had put the brakes on. The main reason hadn’t come to him straight away. He’d been in the shower that night, berating himself for his immaturity, when it hit him. Annalise! 

Jamie had decided to wait for marriage early in his teenage years. He held his Catholic faith close to his heart and it had shaped many of his life choices. But after his accident, his long-held belief in abstaining seemed less relevant.

He wanted to live his life to the fullest, to experience more than his little part of Scotland could offer him. It drove him to seek new experiences in Australia and sex was most definitely one of those experiences. 

He came close to sleeping with Annalise. Their attraction was purely physical and after a few too many drinks on their second date, they headed back to her place. 

Things escalated quickly once inside, and he was preparing to take her on her kitchen bench, when her hands ran up under his shirt and stopped. He would never forget how her body froze as her hands glided over the scarred tissue- the pity and repulsion on her face as she lifted his shirt and peered around his back, or the embarrassment he felt as she slid from underneath him. 

He knew the scarring was bad, but he didn’t expect it to be such a sickening sight to a woman. 

Even while he knew what he had with Claire was special and nothing like the meaningless fling with Annalise, the mere prospect of Claire rejecting him in such a brutal manner was unbearable. 

But it was all irrelevant now. He was convinced of it. He lay in bed, unable to motivate himself to do anything. He had been there since Saturday night. Dougal had checked on him a few times but Jamie was able to fob him off by telling him he had the stomach flu. 

Around midday, he heard Dougal leave for the hospital. He rolled over and buried his face into his pillow and there he stayed, lying in silence, wallowing in self-pity for hours, until his own body odour forced him out of bed and into the shower.

He’d just stepped out when he heard a loud banging on the front door. He quickly wrapped a towel around his waist and threw on a t-shirt. 

Bang! Bang! Bang! Whoever it was, they were not waiting patiently. 

“Aye, I'm comin’, hold yer horses!” he yelled, as he crossed the living room and opened the door. Immediately, a belt came flying at his face which he just managed to duck before it hit him.

“What the bloody hell do you think you're playing at, James Fraser!” screamed Claire, as she pushed past him into the room. “What kind of a thing is that to do to a person, just run out on them like that? Do you honestly think I care that you're a virgin? Do you really think that little of me? And what, now you ignore me? You call in sick from work to avoid me?” Her face was red with fury, her fists clenched so tightly her knuckles were pure white.

“I’m sorry Sassenach, I ken I should have called ye back. I was just sae ashamed and embarrassed. I dinna ken what tae say,” he replied, his heart pounding so hard he feared he would collapse on the spot.

“Don’t call me that you bloody bastard! You have no right to talk to me like that while you treat me this way!”

“Please, forgive me Claire, please. Look, let's just sit and talk aye? And I promise I will tell ye why I reacted the way I did. Please?” he begged.

He slowly moved towards her, conscious of her still clenched fists and not all to sure she wouldn’t punch him right in the face. Ever so lightly, he eased his arms around hers, and held her tightly to him, until he felt the rage slowly release from her body. He sat her on the couch and took a slow, deep breath.

“Claire, I’m sae sorry.As I said, I was so embarrassed to tell ye I was a virgin. Then ye laughed at me, and I just...I couldna take it,” he started.

“I had always planned tae wait till I was married ye ken; t’was something I wanted for me and my wife. I wanted tae give her my whole self, my body and soul.” He took another deep breath in a bid to control his shaking voice. 

“Then a year or so ago, I had an accident when I was rock climbing with Ian. Remember I told ye about Ian? Jenny’s husband?” Claire slowly nodded her head in remembrance.

“Anyway, my back was torn tae shreds, Claire. I was in the hospital for months. I had sae many surgeries and skin grafts, and it left my back, weel disfigured, I guess ye could say.” He shook his head as the painful memories flashed through his mind. “T’was a long and painful recovery, but when I was healed and strong, I came to Australia. That's when I met Annalise.”

Up until that point, Claire had listened intently and hardly moved a muscle. But the moment that name left his lips, she jumped up and ran to the door.

“I knew it! I knew you had feelings for her, I saw the way you were looking at each other at the bar!” she screamed. Jamie ran and grabbed her by the shoulders.

“I dinna care about Annalise, I only care about ye. Please lass, just let me finish.”

Clare took a few deep breaths to steady herself. “Ok, I will listen, but you have to tell me everything Jamie, and let it only be the truth. It has to always be the truth between us from now on. You promise me that, or I’ll leave and not come back.”

“I promise,” he said. “Only the truth.”

They started the conversation as far apart as the couch would allow. Jamie slowly recounted his accident and recovery, his decision to come to Australia and finally his encounter with Annalise. 

Claire’s demeanour changed dramatically throughout. Each revelation drew her closer to Jamie’s side, and by the time the final words left his lips, she was sitting right beside him, holding his hand. 

“I should have spoken tae ye about this on Saturday Claire, I’m truly sorry,” he raised his hand to her face, cradled her cheek and softly kissed her. 

“It’s ok, Jamie, I understand. I’m sorry I reacted the way I did, I’m so sorry I laughed,” she replied, as she nuzzled her face into his hand.

He lifted her face to his, and looked deep into her bonny eyes. His breathing heavied to have her so close again. 

“Claire, I ken we havena known each other for long, but since we’ve met, I've spent my days thinking about ye, and my nights dreaming of ye. When I touch ye, I feel like every last breath has been taken from my lungs.” He kissed her again and his hands dove into her thick curls, their faces now cheek to cheek, he whispered into her ear. 

“I want ye, Claire, I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe,” He sharply pulled her head back and begged, “Will ye have me?” 

“Yes, Jamie. Yes, I will have you.”

The angst and despair of the last few days twisted into a passion neither could have anticipated. Jamie lifted her from the couch and carried her towards his bedroom, kicking open his door with his foot. He dropped her to her feet and let his hands roam her glorious body. She moved to take off his shirt, but feeling a slight flinch of apprehension, she stopped and slipped off her dress instead. She stood before him in her panties almost naked, baring herself to him. 

“God, Claire, ye’re the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” He let his eyes linger on her every curve, every inch of her, trying to imprint her in his memory, not wanting to forget a single detail of this beauty in front of him.

"Have you ever seen a naked woman before?" Claire asked.

"Aye, but not one so close." His face broke into a broad grin. "And not one that's mine.”

Without a word, she pushed him onto the bed and tugged the towel from his waist. His eyes stayed on her, as she perused his long, lean, muscular body.

“I knew those hands weren’t going to be the only big thing I liked about you,” she teased. He wanted to laugh, but her touch left him speechless. He threw his head back and bit his lip as she cupped him in her hand and began massaging his heavy balls. Her fingers slowly spread the full length of his cock and firmly worked it back and forth.

“Christ Claire,” he cried, writhing in pleasure.

He could feel himself tipping towards the point of no return and he didn’t want to finish so soon. He grabbed her by the hips and flipped her onto her back. Holding her arms above her head, he kissed her face, neck, breasts and stomach. He had to taste her. Sensing his intended destination, Claire’s legs splayed open and a desperate cry left her lips.

“Oh god, yes, Jamie please.” 

Jamie bent down and kissed her center through her underwear. Ever so slowly he pulled them down, marveling the soft lines of her beautiful long legs.

He then drove his mouth into her slick, wet folds. His tongue explored her until he found the spot that made her body convulse with pleasure.

Christ, she tastes so good

Her hands twisted into his thick curls, pulling then pushing his head deeper inside her. He squeezed her soft beautiful breasts, her nipples rock hard as she moaned in ecstasy.

Feeling her body tensing, Jamie knew he had brought her to the edge and it drove him into a frenzy. He slid two fingers inside her and was ecstatic at the deep throaty grunt it drew. She released her hand from his curls and slammed it onto the bed head. Arching her back, she pushed her hips forward and reached climax crying out his name.

“Jamie, are ye there lad?” yelled Dougal.

“Ifrinn!” cried Jamie. He jumped up, leaving the still breathless Claire shaking, immobile on the bed. “Aye, hang on,” he yelled.

Smiling with pride to see the state he had left her, he covered her with a blanket and tenderly kissed the palm of her hand. He pulled on some pants and slid through the half-open door. 

Dougal was searching for something in the kitchen and seeing Jamie’s dishevelled appearance, he gave him a wicked smile. 

“Ye got a lass in there with ye lad? That’s my boy! I won’t keep ye, just had tae come home for some paperwork and wanted tae check if ye'd left yer room. I see ye havena, but at least ye’re not alone in there now.” He smirked and elbowed Jamie in the ribs. “I’ll leave ye tae it then.” He collected his things from the table and left. 

Glad to see the back of him, Jamie grabbed some water and went back to his room, only to find Claire dressed and sitting on the edge of his bed. 

“Ye’re not leaving are ye Sassenach?” he asked, with a disappointment that couldn’t be disguised. 

“I don’t want to, but I really should get back to the hospital. I was only supposed to be gone a little while. Didn’t quite expect all this,” she smiled as she stood and pointed to the mess they had made of his room.

Jamie quickly picked her and threw her back onto his bed. “No, I’m takin’ ye prisoner; ye’re not going anywhere!” he said, his voice muffled by the positioning of his head firmly in between her breasts.

“I want to stay Jamie, trust me,” she said, laughing and touching his hair. “But it’s only my second week, I can’t just disappear.” Lifting his head with one finger under his chin, she seductively whispered. “You know, I finish at eight. Why don’t you and that heavenly tongue of yours come to my place about ten?“ 

He attempted to make another argument for her to stay, but it was stifled with a kiss. She pushed him from on top of her, gave him a good hard slap on the bum and was out the door before he could protest any further. 

 

~~~

 

It was almost a quarter past nine and Claire was still not ready to leave the hospital. She had several emergencies that afternoon and her paperwork had piled up, plus her work rate was not what normally was. 

Her body was still buzzing from her afternoon romp with Jamie and as hard as she tried to concentrate, images of his taut bum kept bursting into her mind. 

She grabbed her phone and sent Jamie a text.

[Claire 21:15]  Hi Jamie, I’m still at work, will be a while longer, Can I see you tomorrow instead?

[Jamie 21:17] Ye sick of me already? lol. Och, nae problem lass. Send me a message when ye’re ready tomorrow and I'll come over. 

She put her phone back in her pocket and began her paperwork when it buzzed again.

[Jamie 21:18] What are ye wearing Sassenach?

[Claire 21:18] Haha, the very same thing you took me out of this afternoon. Now leave me alone, I’m very busy and important.

Claire chuckled to herself as she looked at her work.

“What's sae funny?” asked a familiar deep voice right in her ear.

“Dr Mackenzie, just finishing off some paperwork. Did you need something?” she replied, without looking at him and completely ignoring his question.

“Please, call me Dougal,” he said, still far too close for Claire's comfort. She slid her chair away from him but he didn't take the hint and followed 

“Just wondering how ye’re settling in? I ken it's been a difficult start for ye, wha’ wi’ losing the young lad and all.” Even while seemingly trying to be kind to Claire, she couldn’t help but notice his eyes settle on her breasts, or tits, as Mary called them, before looking at her face. 

Haha, Dr Titsfirst

“Thank you for your concern, but I’m fine. It's always hard to lose a patient, especially one so young, but I am doing okay, thanks again.”

“Just as long as ye know, I’m here if ye should need me, for anything lass.” He shifted his hand towards Claire's, but she was too quick for him this time. She grabbed her papers, hopped up from her chair, and walked away.

“Yes, thank you, Dr Mackenzie,” she shot back.

Finally home around midnight, the temptation to call Jamie was strong, but her need for sleep was stronger, and she fell asleep on the couch with her phone in her hand.

The buzz of her phone woke her the next morning, still propped up on the couch and a pool drool spilling from her mouth.  Glad Jamie missed see that sight.

[Jamie 08:39] Morning Sassenach, hope ye dinna get home too late. 

[Jamie 08:39] Willna be able tae come over till tonight.

[Jamie 08:40] Been called into work. Finish at 6. Should I pop in then?

[Jamie 08:40] Enjoy yer Sunday.]

Claires lip instantly dropped to a moody pout, as she felt a pang of disappointment. 

[Claire 08:43] Morning. I’m on-call from tonight so we may have to try later in the week. 

[Claire 08:43] Sorry, call me later?

As it happened, Claire and Jamie barely saw each other in the following three weeks. A quick lunch or dinner, and a sneaky kiss or two in an empty hallway were all that they could manage. 

Claire decided it may be a good thing. They were moving very fast and, much as she wanted to be with him, this would be her first relationship since Frank. The wise thing to do would be to take it slow. Plus, it was also kind of fun. Finding enough privacy for a quick dalliance amid the busy hospital was exciting.

Her final day on-call had finally arrived, and Claire was happy to have the next five days off. She was looking forward to a lot of sleep and hopefully, a lot of Jamie. Almost ready to leave, Claire and Mary were sorting out some meds charts in the medication room, when Jamie popped his head in. 

“Afternoon lass,” he smiled.

“G’day Jamie, how ya going? hHad a good day?” asked Mary.               

“Aye, bonnie,” he answered, though looking only at Claire, who stood silently smiling.       

“Did you need something?” Mary asked, pretending to be unsure of why Jamie was still standing in the doorway.                                                           

“Oh, right, ahh, I just needed a quick word wi’ Dr Beauchamp, but ye two finish what ye doing, I can wait.”

Claire completed the checks on night's meds changes, while Jamie stood listening in admiration of her knowledge. Once they'd gone through everything, Mary said goodnight and left, with a huge smile on her face as she passed in between them. 

Jamie scanned the hallway behind him for anyone else, and with the coast clear, he walked in and closed the door behind him. “Ye know Sassenach, when ye talk all yer fancy medical jargon, I must confess, it makes me want tae do indecent things to ye,” he said, moving closer.

“Oh really, like what?” she giggled. 

“Well, I’d start by walkin’ up behind ye...” He grabbed her forcefully by the waist and turned her around,with her back pressing on his growing arousal.“Then, I’ll bend ye over the bench, and push me cock up against ye.”  In one rough thrust, he drove her body towards the wall, sending pill jars and patient charts crashing to the floor. His hips drove hard against her as his hand ran up the inside of her quivering thigh. 

Claire arched her back, pushing her ample ass onto his growing erection, forcing both to expel a breathless sigh. 

“Ye are mine, mo chridhe, and I yours,” his words were muffled by her hair as his tongue traced a path from her cheek to neck, while his hand shifted from frantically stroking through her pants, to desperately searching out the zipper. Her growing moans of pleasure only steeled his determination to free her from them immediately. 

Muted voices in the hallway suddenly brought the far from discreet location back into focus. Still, neither could bear the moment to end.

Please, Please, PLEASE go away

Jamie continued to pound against her and gave her a quick slap on her ass; she gasped at the sharp sting and gripped the bench so tightly she feared she would rip it from the wall. When his hand finally found it’s way inside her pants and slid underneath her panties, she felt she would come right then and there. Her volume increased, as did the voices outside. Jamie quickly slipped his other hand from her breast to her mouth, in a bid to suppress her moans.

The voices were now right outside the door. It was Mary; she had returned with another nurse, Lizzie. Fortunately, Mary suspected what may be happening behind the closed door, and was delaying entry as long as she could and rattling the door handle a few times in warning.

No! Damn it

Jamie whipped Claire around and laid one last, furious kiss. They let out a frustrated groan—and laughing—rushed to make themselves look decent, while improvising a conversation regarding a non-existent patient that Jamie needed to attend. Claire calmly opened the door, and they continued to discuss the 'patient' as the two nurses entered. 

“I'll get on that right away Doctor,” said Jamie. He walked past the two smirking nurses, holding a chart over his crotch to try and hide his still bulging erection. Lizzie grabbed some papers and followed him out, leaving Claire and Mary behind.

“So, you and Jamie hey?” She giggled as she shook Claire's arm excitedly. “God, I don’t blame you, he's so gorgeous. Half the women in here have the hots for him. I guess the address I found for you the other day was right then?” she smirked. 

“Yes, it was, thank you, Mary,” Claire said matter of factly, still fixing the buttons on her shirt while trying to project some kind of professionalism. 

“Are you sure no one can tell you accessed Jamie's HR records? No one saw you getting his address?” she asked with concern.

“Don’t worry Doc, no one saw me, don’t sweat. Your little secrets are safe with me.” She winked and tapped her nose at Claire, grabbed the meds trolley and walked out. 

The mere fact that Mary had brought up the address situation again made Claire feel uneasy. 

In the days following Jamie's sudden disappearance from her flat, Claire had become increasingly distressed at not hearing from him. With her calls and texts unanswered, she turned to Mary to see if she knew his address. She promised Claire she would find it and within the hour she had. 

Claire had no idea that Mary would access his HR records to obtain it. She was well aware that this was a breach of privacy regulations and it wasn’t the start to her career she was after. All she could do now was hope that Mary would keep the secret between the two of them, and besides all that, she was too exhausted to worry about it now. 

With her day done, she left the hospital and had just arrived home when she received a text from Jamie.

[Jamie 20:35] Hey Sassenach, finished work yet?

[Claire 20:36] YES! Wanna come over? Gimme 30 mins.

[Jamie 20:36] YES! Make it 10.

Claire giggled as she crossed her lounge and jumped into the shower. As had become routine in the last few weeks, as soon as the steaming hot water caressed her body, her mind wandered to Jamie. An instant ache swelled in her core on recalling him driving her into the bench from behind.

She tried to focus on washing her hair, but she could feel the sensation of his erection bulging against her ass. As her hand began to drift down to her wet center, she was startled back to reality by a knock at the door.

God, he really meant ten minutes 

She jumped out, threw her satin robe on and ran to the door. Jamie was waiting with a bunch of roses and the biggest smile she had ever seen. The smile quickly changed to a smolder when he saw her attire. 

“Sassenach, ye look amazing,” he swooned, he dropped the roses on the floor and wrapped his arms around her waist. A fierce and decidedly unvirginal kiss followed, but it didn’t last long. A blob of shampoo dripped from Claires still soaking wet hair, into Jamie's eye, causing him to break the kiss and make the most adorable pouty face Claire had ever seen. 

“Aww, has widdle Jamie got soapy woapy in his eye,” Claire teased, rubbing her eyes with her fists.  She grabbed him a towel and wiped his eyes.

“Is that shampoo or sulphuric acid Sassenach,” he joked, still squinting.

“Oh, poor baby. Just let me finish in the shower and I’ll make it all better for you.” she teased.

She got back in the shower, while Jamie sat on the bed, still rubbing his eyes. The bathroom door stood ajar, so even with his eyes squinted, Jamie could see her silhouette through the gap. 

Claire had her eyes shut rinsing her hair, but as soon as they were open, she spotted him watching her. She pushed open the shower door and gave him the come hither finger. He was there in a flash. His pants hit the floor, then the socks, which just left him in his shirt. Claire could see the hesitation in his eyes, but he pushed through the anxiety and slowly removed his shirt. 

He was so breathtaking standing there naked that she let out an audible sigh as she watched him move towards her. Every muscle on his body was perfectly formed. His collarbone, his biceps, his pecs, his stomach, everything was perfection. He was truly the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. He stepped into the shower and they stood face to face. Their eyes roamed every inch of each other's bodies. She could see him shaking, he was clearly nervous, but not nervous enough to stop him from being fully erect by the time his body touched hers.

She grabbed her loofah, covered it in bodywash and lathered it all over the front of his toned body. “Can I wash your back Jamie?” she asked softly. “It's ok, you can trust me.” 

He took a deep breath and simply nodded in response. A single tear ran down his left eye as Claire slowly moved behind him. She kissed him on the shoulder, then gently ran her fingers, then lips, over his mangled back. The damage was truly horrific, much worse than she could ever have imagined. Claire was shocked and emotional, thinking of the absolute agony he must have gone through, but she was determined not to let him see it or feel it. 

She continued her walk around his body, kissing and caressing each and every scarred line. By the time she faced him again, he still had a tear in his eye, but he was smiling.

“Yer lips are magic, Mo Chridhe. I could feel the dead flesh coming back tae life with every kiss. Ye’ve healed me Claire, no’ just my back, but my soul too.” 

Claire pulled him into a kiss, then draped herself over his body. They stood silently, holding each other under the steaming hot water, wanting to stay this way forever. 

Stepping from the shower, they lovingly dried each other's slick wet bodies. Claire pulled Jamie to her bed and there they lay, Jamie spooning her from behind until they fell into a blissful sleep. 

 

~~~

 

Jamie woke the next morning, happier than he had felt for, well, forever. He was laying in bed, next to the most beautiful woman in the world. Even as she slept, she was perfect. He lay on his side, his head resting on his hand. She made the most adorable wee grunting sounds in her sleep, not really snores; he couldn't describe them, but they were adorable for sure, a noise he hoped to wake up to for the rest of his life.

She rolled over and opened her eyes, a little startled to find him watching her, but she quickly beamed “Good morning.” He quickly grabbed her and rolled her onto his stomach.

“Good morning Sassenach,” he said as he kissed her neck, then lips. 

“Where did you learn to kiss like that?” she asked breathlessly.

“I said I was a virgin, no’ a monk,” he replied with a wry smile, “Now Sassenach, let's get ye dressed.”

“I was not expecting that,” she laughed while watching his perfect bum slip into his jeans.

He leaned over her and planted a kiss so passionate, Claire thought he would be out of those jeans in two seconds. “As much as I’d love tae stay here all day and devour ye, we have to go. We have an appointment.” he said, slapping her on the thigh.

“An appointment, what, where?” she quizzed. 

“‘Tis a surprise, c’mon up ye get. We’ve enough time fer a quick bite. The uber will be here in twenty minutes,” he replied. 

They hurried to get ready and were just finishing some breakfast when the Uber pulled up. Jamie had given Caire little hints of their destination; he only told her she had to wear jeans and boots. They jumped in the car and headed out of the city. After a 45 minute drive, they made it to the winding roads of the Dandenongs, a beautiful low mountain range just outside of Melbourne. 

“Looks a bit like home up here, hey Sassenach,” Jamie said, slapping her thigh. “I came up here with Rupert when I met him. He worked up here when he first arrived, ye ken.”

They turned off the main road and wound down a long gravely drive, at the end of which was a beautiful farmhouse with white post and rail fences. Horses and foals ran in the paddocks and there were even some wallabies in the distance. 

“It's beautiful Jamie, but what are we doing here?” asked Claire curiously.

“Ye been horse riding before Sassenach?” he smiled 

“What? Really, well yes, but not for years. Are we really going riding? That's brilliant!” Her eyes were bright with anticipation.

Jamie was wrapt to see her so excited; he loved horses and missed working with them terribly. A young woman named Jess met them by the car. Jamie arranged for the Uber driver to return in three hours and they set off to the stables. They were decked out in riding gear and taken to meet their noble steeds, Sleepy and Travis. Jess could see that Jamie was an experienced rider and was happy to leave them to their own devices.

After checking everything was ready, Jamie proceeded to help Claire up on her ride, made sure she was safe, then jumped on his own. Claire was impressed, and a little turned on to see Jamie effortlessly mount his stead and kick it on. 

As they rode, he told her how he had always wanted to work with horses and shared stories of the fun they had back home riding as kids. He loved to talk about Lallybroch with Claire, and he hoped one day she would love it as he did. 

They came through a little clearing and found themselves by a pristine lake. As they got closer to the water, Claire could see a picnic blanket and basket waiting for them. Jamie had arranged the whole thing. He swung his leg forward off the horse and lifted Claire from hers; the surprise on her face was everything he’d hoped.

They sat down and enjoyed their lunch, all of Claire's favorites—bagels, cheese, avocados, strawberries, grapes, and of course, TimTams. 

“Thank you, Jamie, for this. I’ve never had anyone do anything like this for me before. It's so special and romantic. I just, you've really blown me away,” she swooned.

“Aye, t’was nothing, ye deserve it,” he said modestly, rubbing his neck  “I really need tae thank ye Sassenach, for last night. It felt sae good to be touched like that, on my back, with no judgement, or embarrassment. I feel, I dunno, lighter, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” 

“So, you don't mind me seeing your back? Because I’ve got to say, you look pretty damn good without a shirt on,” she laughed. 

“I don’t,” he replied seriously. “Ye seem to have a knack for letting me know ye feel sorry for it without making me feel pitiful about it. It means sae much to me.” 

You mean so much to me.

He squeezed her hand and kissed her. His heart was so full and happy, he feared it might burst.   

 

                                                                                                           ~~~                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

They arrived home from their date exhausted, partly from the riding, and partly from getting very hot and heavy in the back of the car on the way home. Jamie had a short shift at the hospital that night, so she asked him to come over afterwards. The Uber dropped her off and continued to his home. 

She was just putting the key in the door when her phone buzzed.

[Jamie 15:50] Today was amazing. Ye are amazing.

God he’s adorable

Smiling from ear to ear, she was just about to text him back when her phone rang. It wasn't Jamie, but an international number.

“Hello, Doctor Beauchamp speaking,” she answered.

“Hello darling, don’t you mean Dr Randall?”

Fuck! Frank!

“How the hell did you get this number Frank?” Claire yelled so loud, a passersby jumped.

“Still haven’t refined your manners I see. How are you Claire?” he asked smugly. 

Every fibre in her being told her to hang up, but she resisted the urge; she needed answers.

“What do you want Frank? I haven’t heard from you since the divorce ,and I had hoped to keep it that way. I'll ask again, how did you get my number?” she demanded.

“Well, It’s a funny story really. My lawyer found your number for me. You see, the thing is, my former lawyer got in a bit of legal trouble himself, turns out he wasn’t actually qualified to practice. Anyway...”

“For god’s sake Frank, get to the bloody point!” she interjected.

“Well, darling, the thing is, you really are still Dr Randall. The divorce isn’t legal. We are still married!”  

Fuck...

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Sorry, what did you say?” Claire stuttered. She knew exactly what he said, but her brain couldn’t process the words it had heard. 

“Isn’t it wonderful darling? I have given it a lot of thought, and I’ve decided to take you back. I really think this is a sign, don’t you?”

“Pfffftttt, HELL NO!” she screamed. She threw her phone so hard it smashed to pieces on the ground. 

“OH FUCK!” She picked up the pieces that lay at her feet and walked the few remaining steps to her door with tears of anger and frustration pouring down her face. She walked in, collapsed on the couch and lay sobbing for what seemed like hours, until she heard knocking on her door. 

Jamie!  

Her heart leapt into her mouth as she realised, I never told him about Frank! 

In all the time they had been together, all the long conversations they’d shared about their lives, she had never even mentioned Frank's name to Jamie, not a word, nothing about the marriage or divorce. It wasn’t deliberate. She was just always so consumed with him whenever they were together that bastard Frank had never even entered her mind. My god, what do I say?

“Coming!” she yelled. A thousand thoughts whirled through her mind as she made her way to the door. She quickly checked herself in the mirror, pathetically attempted to force a smile then opened the door. “Oh, it’s just you,” she said to Geillis in relief. 

“Well, that’s a bloody lovely greeting, nice tae see ye too!” she chuckled. Her laughter stopped abruptly when she saw Claire's face stained with tears. “What’s wrong Claire?” she asked, hugging her tightly. 

“I’ve ruined everything G.” 

Claire attempted to tell Geillis what happened, but her anguished, heavy sobs made it hard to decipher the words spilling from her mouth. She sat drenching her friend’s shoulder with tears until she again remembered Jamie would soon be on his way over. 

“Can I use your phone, please? Mine’s broken.” She pointed to the shattered remnants on the coffee table and held out her hand, desperately wanting to stop Jamie before he arrived on her doorstep. 

Geillis handed over her phone and sifted through the scraps of Claire’s, shaking her head. “What the hell did ye do tae ye poor phone?” Claire didn't respond, she was too preoccupied with beating herself up for the lie she was about to tell and trying to text, barely able to read what she was writing through her tears.

[Claire 18:30] Hey Jamie, it’s Claire. My phone is broken so I am using Geillis’s. 

[Claire 18:30] She's having issues at home so she’s going to stay here tonight. So sorry. See you tomorrow? I will call you as soon as I get a new phone, Sorry again. 

[Jamie 18:31]  That sux. Talk to ye tomorrow. Hope Geillis is ok.

Claire dropped the phone and buried her face into her hands. 

“Claire, please, relax and tell me what's happened. Did someone hurt ye lass?” Geillis asked. 

Claire took a deep, shaky breath and revealed everything, from the sickening call from Frank and their non existent divorce to her feelings for Jamie and her fear that she may have ruined their relationship.

“Fucking Frank,” said Geillis. “That bastard sure seems to know the worst possible time to show up, doesn’t he?” Claire laughed a little and leaned into her friend. 

“You know what else I did?” Claire said, biting her nails. “I laughed at Jamie when he told me he was a virgin.”

“JAMIE’S A VIRGIN?” Geillies squealed. “Ye dinna tell me that! How could he be a virgin? He’s so...” 

“I KNOW!” Claire screamed and slapped Geillis’s arm for added impact. “He’s so hot! And my god, the way he kisses me, ugh, it’s unbelievable! So when he told me, I was just so shocked this little laugh slipped out.” 

She needed Geillis to tell her what to do, to tell her everything would be ok. She waited for her advice; but for possibly the first time in their long friendship, Geillis said nothing. Jamie's seemingly unbelievable virginity revelation seemed to have left her speechless.

“What do I do now?” Claire asked, almost trying to force something out of her. “I have to tell Jamie about Frank, but what do I say when he asks me why I never told him? I have no answers, I have no excuses at all.” She stood and paced the room, wringing her hands as the anxiety continued to build.

“And after I went on this whole damn rant with him about honesty,  ‘ We always have to be honest with each other Jamie ’, ‘ Only the truth between us Jamie,’” she said, mocking her own words. “And all the while, I’m the one who’s bloody married!” She felt sick as she thought of her sanctimonious speech and collapsed in a heap onto the couch.

“Well, tae be fair, ye havena actually lied. Ye just dinna tell him...yet. There’s a difference ye ken,” Geillis said, finally offering an opinion.

“I don’t know G. I mean technically, yes, but morally, no. I completely lost it with him over Annalise and I had absolutely no right to. We had just met, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him with someone other than me. I’m such a hypocrite! I couldn’t blame him for being upset with me, for hating me even.”

A desperate gasp of fear escaped her lungs at the mere thought. 

“I really think ye are being too hard on yerself Claire. Ye made a mistake, that's all. Believe it or not, ye’re only human; ye can’t be perfect all the time.”

“But I still should have told him .” Why didn’t I tell him? 

“He’s so amazing G, and I'm so happy whenever I’m with him. It’s almost like my brain deliberately blocked any memories of my life with Frank so I could stay in this perfect Jamie bubble.”

She threw her body face-first into the couch and sobbed. Claire could feel Geillis gently rubbing on her back soothingly, trying to calm her down, but the pain she was feeling only grew, every touch caused her to sob harder. Geillis seemed to realise her attempt to comfort was just making things worse, so she simply lay down next to her, draped her arm across her back, and cried in sympathy.

Deciding enough was enough, Geillis unexpectedly jumped off the couch and clapped loudly, scaring the very fragile Claire half to death. 

“Rrrright, what ye need right now is our little friend Mr Gin over here,” she said, as she walked to the counter and grabbed a bottle. “Come on, up ye get. I refuse tae let ye lay here and cry over something ye don’t even know will happen.” She poured two very generous glasses of gin and handed one to Claire. 

“What we need is a plan tae deal with Frank, and another for Jamie. I recommend we start with the Jamie plan, as I’m guessing he has a much bigger cock.” 

Despite her tears, Claire couldn't help but burst out laughing. “You really are disgusting you know,” she said as she squeezed her arm tightly.

“Aye, but ye love me anyway.” Geillis slugged her first glass and poured another straight away. “Sláinte.”

 

~~~

                                  

Sunshine bursting through the gaps in her blind woke Claire the next morning. Geillis was lying beside her and between them, an empty bottle of gin and one of wine. With her head pounding, she dragged herself out of bed and made some coffee. 

She woke Geillis up by waving the hot drink under her nose. In one swift movement, Geillis opened her eyes and swiped the cup from Claire’s hand. 

“Why are ye such a bad influence on me Beauchamp?” she grumbled. 

“Ah, that’s Randall, remember?” Claire replied drolly. Geillis chuckled heartily, happy to see her sense of humor had returned. 

“Alright!” Geillis said, stamping her foot and splashing coffee everywhere. “We’ve gotta get our shite together and get this mess sorted.” She grabbed Claire by the arm and dragged her to the bathroom.

“First things first, ye need a shower. Ye look like shite and ye feckin stink like a winery,” she said as she motioned to the empty bottles. “Secondly, we need to get ye a new phone.” 

“Aye, aye Captain,” saluted Claire. She surrendered herself over to Geillis and was subsequently nagged and dragged around the house, all the while feeling thankful that she had her best friend with her when she needed someone most

Getting themselves ready as well as two slight women who had consumed full bottles of gin and wine possibly could, they hit the shops for a phone. Claire was the salesman's dream, taking the first and most expensive phone she was offered, lacking any motivation to try and make a deal or stick to any kind of budget.

New phone in hand, her first call was to Jamie. It went straight to voicemail and she left a short message to call or text her back when he was free.  A wave of nausea swept over her and she recognised it immediately as guilt. She was relieved that he didn’t answer, how pathetic and weak of her. She wanted to talk to him and reveal everything about Frank, but she was terrified at the same time. The shame of her cowardice burned deep into the pit of her stomach.   He deserves so much better than this

There was no way she could deal with anymore of this without a serious caffeine hit so they made their way to a nearby cafe and ordered some coffee and a giant chocolate muffin for Geillis.

“Ye should call the solicitor first Claire; it will give some ammunition tae fire back with if Frank decides to play any of his fucked up games wit ye,” Geillis suggested.

Taking her advice, Claire looked over the list of solicitors she found on google while Geillis happily munched away on a muffin. She offered some to Claire but she waved it off, fearing it may make her feel even more nauseous.

The first call Claire made was to a local lawyer named Ned Gowan. He was calm, kind and almost fatherly in his manner. He assured Claire that he could work through the divorce process from here in Melbourne and the whole thing could be finalised without her having to return to the UK. She liked and trusted him instantly and felt she didn’t need to speak to anyone else. He agreed to take her case on and deal with it as soon as he could.

A slight sense of relief allowed her to take what felt like her first full breath that morning and after sculling her coffee in one go, she worked up enough courage to call Frank.

“Hello darling, I’ve been waiting for your call,” he answered. 

Claire shuddered hearing him calling her darling again and wasn’t in the mood to deal with any of his nonsense.“Frank, don’t speak, just let me say this. I have hired a lawyer and he will handle the divorce from here. Don’t contact me again. I've definitely moved on and you should too.”

“Fuck you Frank!” Geillis yelled at the top of her lungs, hoping he heard her before Claire bluntly ended the call. While Frank may not have heard her, the rest of the patrons and staff in the cafe certainly did. Claire mouthed an exaggerated ‘ sorry’ to a nearby staring waitress and tried hopelessly to cover her laugh. 

Just knowing that the wheels were in motion, that she would soon be free of Frank -- again-- gave her some peace of mind. And besides, she was still far more concerned with Jamie’s reaction to her news than the divorce itself. 

After a second coffee, they slowly walked back to the flat, finding the warm spring breeze a refreshing remedy for their tired, hungover bodies. Once Geillis was convinced that Claire would be ok alone, she left her at her door, and went home to have a nap. 

Claire walked inside and sighed when she saw the state of her house; it was an absolute mess. She begrudgingly grabbed a garbage bag from the kitchen and was about to start cleaning up when she got a message from Jamie. 

[Jamie 12:58] Got yer phone back I see? I will be home by 4. Dougal’s away. Come over when ye can. Door will be open. Can't wait to see ye, Sassenach.xo

Even with all the stresses whirling in her mind, her heart swelled at the adorableness of this giant 6’3 man, adding ‘xo’ at the end of his text. She had to make sure everything would be ok with Jamie. I can’t lose him

She had 3 hours till he would be home. She walked into her bedroom, garbage bag in hand, and caught her reflection in the mirror. Like Geillis had said earlier, she looked like shit. Dark circles framed her swollen red eyes, and she was as white as a ghost. Determined not to let Jamie see her like that, she dropped the bag and set her alarm. Snuggling under her fluffy doona, she yawned twice and fell asleep.

 

~~~

 

Jamie had decided that with Claire’s consent, tonight was the night he would finally lose his virginity. His close call with Analiese had strengthened his resolve to wait until marriage as he had originally planned, her reactions to his scarred body had shown how superficial and shallow people could be.

But he never planned on meeting someone like Claire, someone he knew looked past all those superficial wants and desires. They shared a connection he never imagined could exist, but it did. He needed to be one with her; body and soul. His heart skipped a beat, thinking of the bolt of electricity that surged through his body every time they touched.

Since their very first meeting, he had thought of how it would feel lying naked next to her, being inside her. His fingers craved the sensation of caressing her warm centre. His body reacted instinctively, just imagining, and he knew he needed to keep his mind busy or he wouldn’t make it through the night.

He was all prepared. Earlier that day he’d been shopping with Rupert who was full of advice, most of which was best for him to ignore. He’d purchased flowers, candles and, of course, condoms; although not the extra small Rupert had so maturely suggested.  

Everything was set. Dougal was away for the weekend so they had the place to themselves. He’d cleaned the whole house top to bottom and spent hours setting up his room. Fresh linens covered the bed and the candles and flowers were positioned and re positioned a hundred times. Everything has to be perfect. A perfect night, for the perfect lass

He had never been so nervous, scared or excited in his life. The only thing he could compare it to was the mixture of adrenaline and fear that tore through his body as he careened down that cliff the day of his accident. At this moment, he wasn’t sure what scared him more. The feelings Claire brought out in him were so intense, so passionate and so completely terrifying, he was unsure how to deal with it all. 

He knew there was still a tiny part of him that was scared of rejection. The loving kisses that Claire lavished over his scarred flesh had gone a long way to mend the deep wounds he harboured, but he was still feeling the pressure of his virginity. They had the most incredible chemistry and he wanted so desperately to please her, to be the kind of lover she deserved. 

What if I'm a disappointment?  

His brain ran over the myriad of possible outcomes until he felt ill. Remembering the only possibly useful advice that Rupert had offered him today, ‘ Dinna put too much pressure on yerself ’  and to ‘ Try tae enjoy it ,’ he decided to finish getting ready and try to relax with a hot shower. 

He found his mind drifting back to Claire’s soft lips and her tender kisses over his back. But reminding himself she was likely on her way, he finished washing and got dressed. After a good old fashioned pep talk in the still fogged up bathroom mirror, he was ready to go. He just needed something to keep his mind busy till Claire arrived. 

All of his planning and preparation for the perfect night flew out the window when Claire suddenly burst into the room and declared, “Jamie, we need to talk.” Her voice was higher than usual and her face carried a heavy expression, but it was quickly replaced by a smile and rapturous laughter, as there he was, sitting on the bed blowing balloons out of the condoms. 

Never more embarrassed in his life, he buried his head in his hands and let out a phony wail, wishing the earth would open and swallow him whole. “You really are the most ridiculous human being,” she laughed. 

He remained seated and red as a beet as she walked to him still laughing and kicked the balloons with her feet. She pushed his legs apart with her knee and stood comfortably between his thighs. 

His hands were magnetically drawn to her waist; to be so close and not touch her was impossible. Looking up into her bright, smiling eyes he felt his embarrassment wane, replaced by desire.

Pulling her to his knee, his long fingers traced the curves of her body; from her graceful neck, he glided down, circling her breasts and stomach, flowing onto her hip and thighs. As her breathing escalated at his touch, his heart rate accelerated and a tight ball formed in his throat. Before he realised what he was doing, the words fell from his mouth.

“I know we haven’t known each other for long Sassenach,” he said, placing her hand over his racing heart, his whole body now trembled, while his voice cracked awkwardly, “But, I lo--”

“Jamie, I...I ,” she stuttered. “I have to...go to the bathroom!” She jumped off his lap and ran into the ensuite, leaving him slightly bewildered and immensely regretful. He was so angry at himself. He knew it was too soon, but looking into her eyes, it just felt so natural, so right. 

Ye’ve scared her off Fraser

He rolled onto his stomach and buried his head into the pillows, punching them over and over again. ‘BZZZ...BZZZ’.  A sudden vibration ceased his assault on the bed. Without lifting his head, he reached under his chest and found Claire’s phone; it must have fallen from her pocket when she was on his lap. The screen came to life on his touch and he couldn’t help but read the notifications.

[Frank 15:01] Claire call me!

[Frank 15:45] Claire, I know you are angry

[Frank 16:11] For god’s sake, I’m your husband. Do not ignore me

Jamie's heart dropped, as did the phone from his tightly clenched hand. It fell back to the bed where it had lay just seconds ago, before his world had stopped. He sat deathly still, unable to contemplate what he had just seen. Without a word, he rose to his feet, grabbed his keys and left. 

 

~~~

 

Claire stood shaking in the bathroom. He loves me. He was going to tell me he loves me.

The joy she felt upon almost hearing those three words pass his lips, was instantly destroyed by the memory of Frank. Tears began to well in her eyes, but she fought hard to draw them back in. She had to tell him now. She couldn’t control how he took the news, but she could control how it was delivered, and she was determined to be calm and rational. 

Returning to Jamie, she found the room empty. She walked out into the kitchen, then the lounge, and there was no sight of him anywhere. Retracing her steps, she called out, “Jamie, where are you?” With no response, she was about to return to his room when she noticed the front door was wide open; she peeked outside and called him again, her voice audibly shaken and still, no Jamie. 

Panic began to set in; she ran back to his room and spotted her phone on the bed. As she drew closer, it beeped and Frank’s name flashed on the screen. She saw all the notifications and vomit rose to her lips. 

Ignoring Frank's messages, she called Jamie’s phone over and over again, but it rang out every time. Jamie, please answer. By the sixth attempt, it went straight to voicemail.

Running from the house, she made her way down the street calling his name. She awkwardly tripped and fell on the cracked concrete. Sitting on her hands and knees crying, she tried to think clearly, What do I do now? S he almost jumped out of her skin when her phone began to ring; it was Geillis, how did she always know the right time to call?

“Geillis, Jamie knows! He saw messages from Frank on my phone, and he left. I don’t know where he is, what do I do?” Breathing so rapidly and crying, her lips began to tingle and she felt dizzy; she knew she was beginning to hyperventilate, and Geillis could hear it too. 

“I need ye to breathe Claire, just breathe. We will sort this out. Now where are ye? I’m at the hospital, but I’ll leave now. Where are ye, Claire?”

Claire made a conscious effort to slow her breathing. “I have no bloody idea where I am,” she replied . She had run blindly from the house and had paid no attention to where she was running too. Glancing up to her left, she could see a street sign. “Royal parade. I’m on Royal Parade, in front of number five. Please hurry G.”

She remained slumped over on the footpath, crying over both Jamie and the pain from her quickly swelling ankle until Geillis finally pulled up in front of her.  

As soon as she sat inside and saw her friend's smiling face, her breathing regulated and a sense of calm began to wash over her, Geillis would make everything ok.

“Who’s car is this?” she asked as she put her seat belt on, knowing Geillis didn’t own one. 

“It's Lizzie’s, she was with me when I called ye, and she let me borrow it. Don’t worry, I didn’t tell her anything.” She patted Claire on the leg and drove away. “Now, let’s just drive for a while and figure out what we are going tae do.” 

Claire sat in silence for the most part, except for an occasional teary sniffle or yes and no answer. Geillis had decided to try and get a hold of Rupert; he knew Jamie best and would be the person to consult for advice.

They made the short trip to Rupert's home and pulled into the driveway. The first thing they saw was Jamie, standing beside Rupert at the front door. As soon as he saw Claire in the car, he took off down the street. Claire jumped out and chased after him, limping and begging for him to stop. 

“Jamie, please listen, I can explain everything,” she cried. “I know you’re angry, just stop, please.” Something she said stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Angry? I’m not angry Claire,” he said. He turned to look at her, tears ran down his red cheeks. He moved right into her face, looking directly into her sad eyes.

“I’m a fool Claire. I’ve fallen so hard for ye. I would do anything for ye lass, I would sell my soul for ye, just to be with ye.” He wiped his tears away and grabbed her by the arm. “You asked me to tell you the truth that day, remember? When I told you about my back and my virginity, that day ye laughed at me.” 

Claire was struck but the bitterness of his words, ‘you laughed at me’. He’d never mentioned it since , but it had obviously hurt him more than he let on. 

“You said it has to always be the truth between us, but you don’t have the guts tae be honest with me, tae tell me that ye’re married. I just don’t understand it Claire. I thought I knew you, but I don’t at all, do I?” 

“But you do Jamie, I have told you more about myself in the time I’ve known you than I have ever told anybody. You do know me, it’s just this one little thing.”

“Little thing! Little thing! Ye’re bloody married Claire! It’s not like you didna tell me ye like pineapple on yer pizza!” Now, he was angry. He threw her arm away in disgust, turned and punched an old elm tree on the nature strip so hard it shook. 

Claire recoiled and gasped with each strike on the trunk. Jamie didn’t notice her reaction until the last blow and even in the heat of anger, he couldn’t bear the thought of frightening her. 

He stepped towards her and took her hands in his. He took several deep, slow breaths to calm down. Claire stayed perfectly still, bar the shaking of her hands, not knowing what to say for fear of making things worse. 

“Please Claire, just give me some space. I canna talk tae ye like this. I will call ye when I’m ready.” And with that, he dropped her hands and walked away. 

Every step he took, every millimetre more between them, felt like a dagger tearing through her heart. She watched, waiting for him to look back to her, but he didn’t. He turned the corner and was out of sight. Claire limped back to the car, slumped into the seat and fell to pieces. 

Geillis, who had been standing next to Rupert watching the scene unfold, gave him a pat on the back and joined her. She gave her a quick cuddle, then backed out of the driveway. They drove home in silence, Claire staring out of the window the whole way, hoping to see Jamie and again beg him to listen and forgive her. 

As soon as they walked into the flat, Geillis made them both some tea and grabbed an ice pack for Claire's ankle.

“What did Rupert say? Does he hate me too?” Claire sobbed, almost choking on the bile that persistently rose in her throat.

“He doesn’t hate ye, Claire, and neither does Jamie. I gave him a quick rundown of the situation, and he was very understanding. I think Jamie will be too once the dust settles. Ye just have tae wait for him tae be ready.” Claire placed the ice pack on her swollen foot, while Geillis rubbed her back with one hand, and wiped her tears away with the other. 

“He loves ye Claire, blind Freddy can see that. He will forgive ye, lass, I’m sure of it.” 

“I love him too, G. I know it’s happened so fast it’s crazy, but when he touches me, it’s the most powerful thing I’ve ever felt. There’s something deep inside me that knows him, and needs him. I feel like I've been dreaming of him my whole life. What if I lose him?” 

The roller coaster of emotions and pain became too much and she was no longer able to swallow the bile down. She ran into the bathroom and violently vomited again and again. Crouching next to the toilet crying, she had never felt more miserable and desolate. I'm so sorry Jamie

Geillis came to her side and helped her to her feet. Wiping clean Claire's face and hands, she fought hard to hold back her own tears. “Ye need to go tae bed mo ghràidh. Please, try and rest, for me”. She wiped the hair that clung stubbornly to her friends face and led her to bed. Claire was utterly exhausted and followed her request with no reply. Geillis sweetly fluffed her pillows, tucked her in tightly and lay down, holding Claire’s hand as she cried herself to sleep.

 

~~~

 

Jamie tossed and turned in bed. It was four am and he had not a wink of sleep all night. He felt he was being ripped apart at the seams and had no idea what to do to pull himself back together. She’s married; how could she be married and not tell me? 

He truly believed he knew her, and maybe he did. Maybe she was right this afternoon; it was just this one thing she hadn’t told him. But how could she just forget to tell him? She had revealed so much about her past over many different conversations; how could a whole chunk of her life be excluded without it being a deliberate deception? 

Could she be ashamed of being divorced so young? Or maybe she was unfaithful in the marriage and couldn’t bear to confess her adultery? 

He felt sick as one particular thought crossed his mind; perhaps he was a violent man and she was too traumatised to talk about it. Now, he had gone and treated her like this, yelled in her face and frighted her by punching that damn tree. He would never forgive himself if this was the case.

His mind was being torn in two, as was his heart. He picked up his phone to call her but stopped. He needed to give himself and her more time.  He dropped his phone and lay back in his bed. He tried to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes, he heard her gut-wrenching cry as he walked away from her. 

Unable to stay in bed any more he got out, threw on his sneakers and went for a run. It was still dark outside but that suited him fine; his tears wouldn’t be visible to any passersby this way. 

He was on his third kilometre when his phone rang. It was Jenny. He really couldn’t deal with her right now so just let it ring out, but she called again immediately. “Yes Jenny, do ye know what time it is here?”

“Jamie it’s Da! 

 

~~~~

  





 

Chapter Text

A Plea for Forgiveness.

 

“Da’s had a stroke, we’re on our way tae the hospital. Ye have to come home Jamie! Please come home!” He’d never heard his sister like this, and it terrified him. 

His light jog became a full out sprint as he rushed to make it home and ready himself to get back to Scotland. While he ran, Jenny provided a full rundown on their da’s condition, only hanging up once they had reached the hospital. “We’re here Jamie, I have tae go, but I’ll call ye as soon as I can.” 

Jamie’s heart pounded and his legs burned like fire as he turned the corner into his street and made it to his house, jumping over the lush garden hedge and running straight inside.

While looking for a flight on his phone, he raced through the house, grabbing all the essentials and tossing them into a bag. A direct flight to Edinburgh was leaving in just under three hours, and he was able to book one of the last available seats. Three hours. I need tae leave now! 

Not even thinking to change from his running gear, he grabbed his passport and was set to go. He contemplated booking an uber but remembered Dougal had left his car at home. He still hadn’t sat for his Australian license, but he didn’t care, he was taking that car. 

Racing down the freeway, weaving in and out through traffic, he called Dougal and shared the terrible news. He could hear the shock in Dougal’s voice and was appreciative of his offer to sort out some leave for him from work, and for his understanding when he told him that he ‘borrowed’ his car. 

“That’s the least of yer worries, lad. Just let me know where ye park, and I will pick it up when I fly home. It’s rather convenient for me actually; I dinna need to get a cab now.”  Jamie promised to do so and thanked his uncle for his kindness. “Just get over there and look after Jenny. Brian has the heart of a mighty highlander; he’ll pull through, son.”

Praying his uncle was right, he turned off the freeway and pulled into the temporary car park, making sure to note the lot and space number for Dougal. He’d made it to the airport just in time and once he had checked in and cleared customs, he found he had a few moments to sit down and breathe; something he felt he hadn’t done properly since yesterday. 

As soon as he sat and rested his head against the wall, his brain was flooded with all the worries and concerns he had been suppressing since receiving Jenny’s call. One thought in particular kept popping back up over and over again. What if I don’t make it on time?  

Gripping his phone tightly in his hands and knocking it repeatedly against his head, all he wanted to do was talk to Claire, only she could ease his pain. She would probably be up by now, readying herself for her day. Picturing her in her cosy flat making coffee and enjoying breakfast made him feel instantly calmer. At that moment, he didn’t care if she was married or single, she could have two heads for all he cared; he just needed her. 

He scrolled through his contacts until he saw her beautiful face on his screen. His finger hovered over her name but something stopped him from calling. He wasn’t sure what it was—pride, ego or the anger still boiling just below the surface—but as much as his heart urged him to call her, he couldn’t do it. 

His phone suddenly rang and snapped him back to his more immediate and pressing concern of his da. He had to focus on him now; Claire would have to wait. 

The ringing stopped, but only for a heartbeat before it rang again, demanding his attention. It was Rupert. Shite, the furniture! 

Last week, Rupert had asked him to help move some furniture for Geillis today. In all the panic and rush of the morning, he had completely forgotten all about it. “Where the feck are ye?” was the greeting he received, “Geillis will kill me if we dinna get there soon.”

Jamie filled him in on what was happening, causing Rupert to apologise profusely for having a crack about him not being home. 

“Dinna fash, Rupert, but can I ask ye for a favour?” Jamie asked. “Can ye keep the news to yerself as long as ye can? I ken Claire will call ye when she doesna hear from me, but I need more time. Just let her know I will call her in a few days.”

“Are ye sure, Jamie? I really think ye need tae talk wit her; it would ease yer mind, would it not?” Rupert asked with concern. 

“Aye, ye may be right,” Jamie pondered, “But I canna do it yet. Maybe when I get home and settle down. Just please, dinna tell her anything if ye see her, please,” he begged.

The announcement for his flight rang out overhead. “I have tae go, Rupert. They’re calling my flight, but I’ll let ye know what's happening as soon as I can.” He put the phone down on the seat beside him, gathered his things and heading to the gates. 

Beside him walked a young couple, making their way to the flight looking excited, happy, and in love. Jamie was consumed with envy. A deep bitterness swept over him as they shared a sweet and tender kiss. I should be getting on that plane with Claire

Taking her home to meet his family was something he'd wanted to do since the day they met, and it tore him apart that she wasn’t there. Glancing back over his shoulder, his one desire was to see her behind him, reaching her hand out to take his, laughing as she tried to keep up with his giant strides. 

A sickening thought struck him as he walked on board the plane, stopping him dead in his tracks: what if I never see her again?

He shook it off, he had to. The stewards ushered him along the aisle to his seat, keen to get everyone seated and ready to go. Reaching up, he placed his bag in the overhead compartment and helped several others do the same, a frequent job for someone his height.  

Taking his seat, he warmly greeted the elderly lady already in the middle seat. Somehow he had managed to get a window seat and excused himself as he squeezed his bulky frame past her, suddenly becoming aware he was in a t-shirt and very short running shorts. 

He hated flying and nervously sat listening to every noise the wings, wheels, and engines made as the plane sped down the runway and soared into the sky. Little did he realise, the perfect distraction was ready and raring for a chat, sitting right next to him. 

Within two minutes of the plane taking off, Jamie had learnt the name, place of residence, and number of grandchildren of Marge, his neighbour in the middle seat. She was travelling to Scotland to visit her daughter, who had married a Scot named Gordon, and their five kids. Within ten minutes, he could name them all: Angus, William, John, Grace, and Tabitha or Tabbi, as she preferred to be called.  

After talking almost non-stop for the first hour of the flight and mentioning her preference for window seats several times, Jamie took the less than subtle hint and offered to trade seats with her. 

“Why, thank you, Jamie,” she said, patting his arm. She must have liked what she felt as she added a little squeeze on his bicep and an accompanying “Ooh.” 

In truth, Jamie was pleased to have a chatty companion. It allowed his mind to be consumed by something other than the painful thoughts of his da and Claire. It was a relief he welcomed, despite the tediousness of her conversation.

Marge was on her fifth straight story of her daughter’s proposal and subsequent wedding story, and whether she became aware of Jamie’s increasing fidgeting or noticed his eyes beginning to glaze over, she changed tact and actually asked a question about him. “And what about you, Jamie? Why are you travelling? Are you returning home after a holiday?” 

The respite from his thoughts was over and Jamie’s brow furrowed, deciding whether to reveal the truth behind his trip or make up an easier topic to discuss with a total stranger. It was just not in him to lie, as much as he wanted to, and told her the reveal the story behind his flight home. 

Marge's hand returned quickly and unnecessarily to Jamie’s bicep as he told her of his troubles with his da. As he talked to Marge, something unexpected happened. His mind and heart began to feel lighter. There was something about talking to her that he found comfort in; maybe it was the grandma vibe that oozed from her cable knit cardigan and baggy pantyhose, but he found himself revealing far more than he had planned. 

Before he knew it, he had even shared his heartbreak over Claire. Marge listened carefully as Jamie talked about their meeting; how quickly he had fallen for her, the fun they had on their horse riding and lunch dates, and, finally, his anguish over her secret husband. 

Remembering and sharing the stories Claire had shared with him of her childhood, he spoke of the loneliness she described feeling throughout her adolescence. As he spoke, he came to the realisation that there were likely many reasons why she didn't reveal the marriage. He still found it deceitful, but forgiveness wasn't as black and white as he had first thought. 

“She's clearly been hurt by this Frank fellow. Maybe that was why she moved to Melbourne. She was running from Frank and her past.” Marge turned and took Jamie's hand, patting it gently. “Take it from a wise old soul. True love is never easy, Jamie. There will always be barriers and hurdles to overcome. If you feel as strongly as you say you do, that is a rare thing. You need to fight for her.”

Their discussion was interrupted by the flight attendant bringing out their meals. Jamie hadn’t realised they had been talking for hours, and although he had truly needed it, he was happy for the break.

Deciding it was time to message Jenny and let her know he was okay, he reached into his pockets for his phone, but found them empty. He fished around in his seat, then stood and checked his bag; still, he couldn't find his phone. Taking his seat again, he tried to think of the last time he had used it. Rupert! He slapped himself on the forehead when he remembered he had put it on the chair next to him when gathering his things. 

“What’s wrong, darling? Lost something?” Marge asked, looking at him with brows furrowed. “Aye. ‘Tis my phone. I’ve gone and left it at the airport, and I really need to message my sister. She’ll be beside herself if I canna touch base wit her.”

“Here, use mine,” Marge said, reaching into her bag and handing her phone to Jamie. 

He quickly sent a message to Jenny and was tempted to send one to Claire, too. He sat for a moment but couldn’t think of what to say and decided against it. He needed to talk to her, a message wouldn’t cut it. 

Thanking Marge for her kindness, he returned her phone and for the first time in the whole flight, they sat in almost complete silence, eating their worse than average meals and washing them down with a few “sneaky whiskies” as Marge had called them. 

After dinner, Jamie’s new confidant fell asleep, leaving him alone in his thoughts for the first time. He knew this funny old lady was right; something happened in that marriage and whatever it was, it hurt Claire deeply. She was in pain, and he had walked away from her.  

Jamie knew his scars were clearly visible to the world; it seemed Claire had been carrying hers deep inside. Her compassion, tenderness, and affection had begun to heal his emotional wounds. Maybe this time, he would be the one to heal hers. 

 

~~~

 

The rest of the flight passed as slowly as fifteen hours ever had. Jamie had tried desperately to sleep, but just wasn’t able too. He paced up and down the aisle and enjoyed a good chat with the flight attendants about football and the best local eateries in Melbourne and Edinburgh while the majority of passengers slept.

Descending into Edinburgh, he felt his worries begin to build again. Each meter they dropped seemed to increase the stress he felt, and by the time they landed, any relief he had found in his confessions with Marge had disappeared. 

Jamie stood crouching and removed his and Marge’s bags from the overhead compartment. She hugged him tightly, for an uncomfortably long time, and bid him farewell. “If things didn’t work out with Claire, look me up in Melbourne,” she said with a cheeky wink. 

Exhausted and sore from squishing his large frame into the small seat for twenty hours, he stretched as he departed the plane and headed down the gangway.

Ian was the first face he saw as he walked through the gates and a relieved smile appeared over Jamie’s face as they embraced. “It’s good tae see ye, Jamie; pity it’s under these circumstances.” 

Jamie could see the stress and tension in Ian's eyes and was almost afraid to ask about his da. He swallowed the emotion threatening to bubble to the surface, took a deep breath and spat it out. “How is he, Ian? Is he still… well, is he still da?” 

Ian gave him a reassuring squeeze and pat on the shoulder as they set off, walking through the busy terminal. “Aye, he is, Jamie. He actually smiled today when young Jamie said hello to him. It’s not much, but it's a start. We have a long way to go, but he has improved, even since last night.” 

Jamie's walking pace had slowed to a halt as he listened. He rested his face in his hand, relieved to hear a little good news and overcome with the emotion of it all. “C’mon, let's get ye tae the hospital tae see him,” said Ian.

After a brief panic from Ian, forgetting where he had parked in the massive airport car park, then weaving through the busy traffic, they finally made it onto the motorway and raced towards the hospital. They sat in silence for quite some time with Jamie being unable or unwilling to make any conversation. His tortured mind was far too consumed with conjured images of his da suffering the stroke, peppered with the sound of Claire's gut wrenching cry as he walked away from her just forty-eight hours ago. 

He sat shielding his face with his hand, his tired eyes unable to tolerate the sunlight streaming through the window. Blinking repeatedly, he attempted to hold back the tears threatening to burst free again.

“I was sae relieved when ye walked out through the gates,” Ian said, breaking the silence. “I canna believe ye left yer phone in Melbourne. Jenny was a mess when she couldn’t reach ye.” 

Guilt struck Jamie like a slap to the face, thinking he had added to the stress that Jenny was already under.

“Sorry for worrying ye both. I still canna believe I did it myself,” he said, forcing a smile. “I kept reaching for the damn thing the whole flight, too. I was sae grateful tae the woman sitting next tae me for letting me use her phone. I’ll pop into town and get a new one as soon as I can.” 

Ian continued chatting, filling him in on the latest escapades of the kids, complaining about the weather and the shocking state of the local roads. 

Jamie tried to be invested in the conversation, but the combination of the winding hills, fatigue from his sleepless night in Melbourne and the long flight finally caught up with him. He fell into a desperately needed sleep, but even there he found no peace. 

As she often did, Claire followed Jamie into his slumber. But unlike his normal dreams, filled with lust and passion, it was not Jamie holding her close to him, but another man. 

His face was hidden behind her voluminous curls. Jamie tried desperately to move to a position where he could clearly see him, but the man would spin away each time he got close. Again and again, he tried to catch a glimpse, but it was in vain, the man remained faceless.

Claire’s face, however, was clearly visible and beautiful as always. She was smiling and laughing, holding this mystery man tightly and kissing him, just as she had done with Jamie days earlier. She led the man to her bed and her dress dropped to the floor. Now sitting astride him, she tore off his clothes and began lavishing his body with her tongue. Jamie tried to call out to her, screaming to tell her to stop, but no words left his lips. It was helpless. No matter what he did, he was trapped, being forced to watch him take her , and it felt like torture

Jamie told himself to wake up, but he couldn’t. The dream went on and on continuing for what seemed like an eternity, until finally, Ian woke him as they arrived at the hospital. One nightmare had ended but another was still waiting. 

They pulled into a car space, but Ian didn't turn off the car or move from his seat. “Are ye okay, Jamie? I could hear ye crying in yer sleep, lad. Do ye need tae have more rest before we go in? I can take ye home first if ye need.” Jamie wouldn’t hear of it. He hadn’t come all this way just to sleep, he needed to see his da now.

They walked into the busy hospital and Jamie ducked into the first bathrooms they passed. Looking in the mirror, he could see why Ian was so concerned about him; he was ghostly pale and had heavy, dark circles forming under his eyes. He splashed the freezing cold water over his face and slumped over the sink. Get it together, man.

Rejoining his brother-in-law, who gave him a sturdy, encouraging slap on the back, they made their way to Brian’s ward. They were greeted by a tearful yet smiling Jenny, who came running out of Brian's room after instantly recognising Jamie's deep voice echoing down the hallway. 

“Thank god ye’re here, Jamie,” she cried. She threw her arms around her brother and they stood, holding each other crying. “Can I see him please, Jenny?” he asked quietly. 

“Aye, but be prepared, Jamie, he looks terrible. I dinna want ye tae get a fright.” 

Jenny led him into the room and even with the warning he had been given, Jamie was still shocked at the sight before him. There lay his precious da, covered in leads and monitors, his eyes closed and his body lifeless. Jenny stood beside him, reaching up to hug the back of her giant ‘little’ brother.

“He had a breathing tube in at first, but they took it out last night,” she explained, as Jamie tucked her in under his arm. “Then this morning, he opened his eyes for a bit, and smiled at wee Jamie. He has not been awake since but he’s breathing a lot better and he's looking stronger already, aren’t ye, da?” she said, directing her gaze to her father.

Jamie released Jenny from his arm and cautiously edged closer to the bed. To see the man he so admired, worshipped even, vulnerable and weak, fractured his heart a little more with each step he took. 

He gently sat on the bed and took the once strong hand of his da into his. He lay with his head on the bed and the tears flowed freely. Jenny attempted to comfort him by gently rubbing his back just like their ma used to do with them as kids. Jamie felt his mind and body relax to the familiar and soothing pattern, and his sobs eased.

An eerie silence fell over the room. Even the normally busy ward was peaceful and quiet. Jamie remained seated on the bed, holding Brian's hand, while Jenny snuggled into Ian’s lap on the only chair in the room. 

Mrs. Crook, Jenny and Ian’s neighbour, had picked the kids up earlier, so the three sat quietly, contemplating what was before them.

Suddenly, Jamie jumped off the bed and turned to his sister, a massive smile of surprise on his face. “He squeezed my hand! He squeezed my hand!”

 “Are ye sure?” cried Jenny, as she ran to his side. 

“Aye, it was gentle, but it was a squeeze for sure.” He kissed Brian's hand and wrapped his free arm around Jenny. 

“He can hear us, Jenny, I’m sure of it. Ye’re going tae be alright da, I promise.” Brother and sister embraced in the hope and Jamie sweetly kissed Jenny on the forehead. Everything is going to be alright.

 

~~~~

 

Brian’s condition improved greatly over the next few days, overcoming a significant hurdle almost every day. They were small steps to begin with—opening his eyes and keeping them open for longer, blinking or squeezing a hand in response to his children’s voices, even taking in small amounts of food and water. 

He had also attempted to talk by softly calling his son to his side. Jamie had never been so happy to hear his name. He leaned over and kissed his beloved da on the cheek. “Aye, ‘tis me, da,” he cried.

Each step and achievement was celebrated, and by the middle of Jamie’s second week in Scotland, Brian managed to speak for longer periods and converse almost like normal. He remained bedridden however, still unable to sit upright without getting a headache or feeling dizzy. 

It was a cold, miserable autumn day and Jamie was sitting near the bed, reading the newspaper aloud to his father. He had been at the hospital all day when Brian motioned for him to come closer. Jamie leaned in towards him and Brian rested his hand on Jamie's cheek.

“Claire, where is Claire?” he croaked. Jamie winced, hearing her name for the first time in weeks; it felt like an old wound being torn open all over again. “She’s still in Melbourne, da. She may not know I’m here actually. We had a fight and I came here before we could make amends.” A giant tear ran from his eye and dripped down onto the crisp hospital sheets. 

“Why?” Brian asked before coughing. 

“Why did we fight?” guessed Jamie. Brian nodded in reply, the stubborn tickle in his throat not allowing a verbal response. 

“Well, it turns out she’s married. I dinna ken why, but she never told me about it. Not in all the times we were together, all the conversations we shared about home, our childhoods, not a word. I only found out when I did because the bastard sent her a message and I saw it before she did.”  

Struggling to maintain his composure, he took a deep breath and wiped the tears from his eyes. Christ, I canna stop crying.  “I got a call from Jenny about yer stroke before we could sort things out, and I havena spoken tae her since I left. I dinna ken what tae do, da.”

Brian squeezed his hand tightly; even though he was so unwell, his son was all that mattered in that moment. “Call her Jamie. I can see you love her. Call her.” His words were followed by a frightening flurry of coughs he seemed unable to control. 

Jamie poured some fresh water and held it to his da’s lips. “Have a drink; it’ll help settle yer cough.” After a few small sips and with encouragement from his son to rest, Brian was asleep, exhausted by just the short conversation. 

After months apart, first while Jamie himself was in the hospital and rehab, and now that he was living on the other side of the world, his da still knew him so well. He wanted to talk to Claire. He missed her terribly and needed to know the truth, but he still wasn’t sure if he was ready to make the call. There was something stopping him, and he wasn’t sure what it was.  

Quietly moving from the bed, Jamie stood to walk out and was surprised to see Jenny, arms crossed and looking unimpressed, listening at the door. He knew what that face and body language meant. 

He had filled Jenny and Ian in on his relationship status with Claire when he first arrived. Jenny had made her feelings quite clear; she was glad Jamie was in Scotland and far away from her drama. As far as she was concerned, once a liar, always a liar. 

“Yer not calling her, are ye? She’ll only hurt ye, Jamie. Ye canna trust her, ye know that,” she hissed. 

“Leave it, Janet.” 

Pushing past her, with nothing more to say, Jamie walked outside and stood in the pouring rain, enjoying the almost refreshing feeling of the cold rain drops splashing against his skin. He could do this for hours, just letting the rain wash away his worries.

Walking slowly through the gardens, he thought of his call with Rupert during his first week at Lallybroch. Jamie couldn’t help but ask if he had seen or heard from Claire, and in an unusually sombre tone for the normally jovial Scot, he revealed that he had indeed seen and spoken to Claire. 

Clearly heartbroken, she had called him several times a day and despite his promise to Jamie, she wore him down eventually until he felt he had to reveal Brian's stroke and Jamie’s subsequent rush home to be by his side. 

“I couldna take it, Jamie, she was sae frightened and persistent. We ended up having a good chat, and she told me all about the situation with this Frank fella. I must say, he sounds like a complete ass. She’s a cracking lass, Jamie. I’m sure once ye can talk things through, ye will find it in yer heart tae forgive her.”

Rupert’s words had played over and over again in his mind since the call. Ye’ll find it in yer heart tae forgive her. His brain had been working overtime all week to overrule his heart. One moment he would be resolute in his decision that no matter what Claire said or did, he could never forgive her. The next, he would see a lass with dark brown curls like hers and he would see her beautiful face and soft lips, and his anger would melt away in seconds.

But right now, walking through the gardens, he knew his truth. He’d forgiven Claire for everything she had done and everything she ever could do, long before that day. For him, there was no choice, that was falling in love. 

Whatever Scottish sunlight had been able to sneak through the heavy clouds had well and truly disappeared. It was dark and cold and the rain was becoming heavier, forcing Jamie back into the hospital. 

Brian was still sleeping, and he felt comfortable with leaving him now Jenny was here. He let her know he was going home to rest and help out with the kids‘ dinner; he had promised to make ‘Aussie’ hamburgers with wee Jamie, who was fascinated when he heard they ate them there with pineapple and beetroot on top. 

Once back at Lallybroch, he was pleased to find Ian had already started cooking and his presence wasn’t required. He went straight upstairs and into his parent’s room to rest, needing to feel their presence and comfort more than ever. 

The memories of his childhood were everywhere he looked. He could see his ma, sitting by the fire knitting, and his da opposite her, enjoying a whisky and reading the paper. 

He sat on the bed and looked out the window. The beautiful farmland and the tower that Lallybroch was named after were always a beautiful sight to him. But it was not what he wanted to see right now, he wanted to see Claire. His heart was heavy with longing for her, and he missed her with every fibre of his being. 

A loud tap on the door snapped him from his Claire-filled day dream. Jamie lay down and rolled to his side and found Ian, smiling in the hall with baby Maggie cooing in his arms.

“Doing a wee bit of reminiscing, hey?” He walked into the room, stopping just beside the bed. “Jenny comes in often when she needs time tae think.” Ian stood beside the bed and Jamie leaned over to tickle Maggie's chubby little feet, drawing a cute chuckle that lightened his heavy heart. 

“Are ye doing okay, Jamie?” Ian asked. “I ken it’s been a long and rough week for ye.."

“Aye, for all of us,” replied Jamie. He sat up and took Maggie from Ian, holding her in his arms and giving a little bop with his finger on her cute button nose. His eyes followed her wee finger as she pointed towards the window and around the room. “I still canna believe ye never took the laird’s room. It’s rightfully yers, ye ken.”

“Och, Jenny just never felt right about it. There are too many memories of yer ma, and besides, yer da shouldna have to give up his room for us. Even though he’s offered, it never felt right.” Maggie decided she’d  had enough of Uncle Jamie and started wriggling and climbing her way out of his arms and back to her da’s. 

“Anyway, a letter came for ye today from Melbourne.” He raised his brows in a knowing fashion and tossed the letter to Jamie. “C’mon, Maggie, let's go check what yer brother’s up tae.” Ian and Maggie returned downstairs, leaving Jamie staring at the envelope on the bed.

Jamie could barely read what it said, but he instantly recognised the handwriting as Claire's. Why do doctors always have horrible writing? 

The first thing he noticed upon opening the neatly folded letter was the fragrance; her floral perfume. He would know that scent anywhere. He held the letter to his nose and inhaled deeply, his heart skipping a beat as he breathed in again. If she had been there in front of him at that moment, smiling brightly and smelling so good, he would have taken her in his arms and never let go. 

As he looked over the letter he noticed a few ink blotches. He wondered if they were the result of a water spill, but looking closely, he could see that it's actually the result of teardrops. His heart clenched thinking about her with tears running down her cheeks, trying in vain to write to him.

 

Dear Jamie, 

Let me start by saying, I hope you are well and your father is doing better. I am so sorry you all have to go through this, and I wish him a speedy recovery. If you need anything, please know, I am just a call away. I have tried to call but your phone just goes straight to voicemail. 

Jamie, I cannot apologise enough for the pain and anger I have caused you. It was never my intention to hurt you. I have spent a lot of time in the last few days trying to understand why I did what I did. I still don't have all the answers. But what I do know is how I feel about you.  

I am not going to try and convince you of anything. I am just going to tell you what happened between me and Frank. My only request of you, is that you read this letter with an open mind and heart. 

I met Frank when I was just 18. He was 28 and a historian, working with my Uncle Lamb. He was the first man who ever showed any interest in me. He seemed so romantic, mature, and intelligent. We began to date, and he told me everything I wanted to hear; I fell hook, line, and sinker. 

I knew he could offer me a real home, something I hadn't known since childhood. I convinced myself I loved him, and we married after only one year together.

We settled in Oxford, where Frank had secured a teaching position at the university, and I began my medical studies. It became very clear early on that Frank and I had different expectations of our marriage. 

He was far from impressed when I was accepted into medical school and made no attempt to hide his disdain for my studies, friends and later on, my work.

He especially hated Geillis. He was jealous of the carefree fun we had, and he believed the time we spent together was not appropriate for the wife of a man in his position.

He wanted his wife, and mother to his future children, to be just like all the other professors’ wives. He wanted me to be happy at home, cooking, cleaning, and looking pretty for the boss, should we be invited to or host a work function or dinner party. He began to criticise how I acted and dressed and was generally trying to control every aspect of my life. 

The resentment in our marriage built quickly as did the pressure for a family. When I asked for more time to finish my training before starting a family, he refused, and I submitted. We tried for over a year to have a child; our failure to conceive was heartbreaking and Frank's reaction—the way the blame fell on me eroded what little self confidence I had left. By the end of that year, I had been unable to give him the children he so desired, when he desired, so he left me.

I was devastated. To have a failed marriage at just 25 was bad enough, but to be thrown away by the man who said he loved me, for him to now call me barren, was soul crushing. I felt like a complete failure and the worst part was, I had become someone I didn’t recognise. I second guessed everything I thought I knew. I blamed myself. I felt unworthy, unlovable and all alone, again. 

But as the days and weeks passed, I came to see just how toxic the relationship had become, and I knew I was better off without him in my life. I chose to thrive in my newfound independence and freedom. 

As far as I know, we were divorced 2 years ago. It had all been finalised, and I hadn’t seen him since the day he left. I only found out the divorce was null, the day before you you saw those messages from Frank.I was living with Geillis in Oxford for a while, and that’s where we were when we decided to come to Australia. 

Finding my flat, my new home, and making it my own was like being reborn. I felt as though I had my whole life in front of me, and I was hopeful, for the first time in a long time. Australia was everything I needed, plus it delivered me the best day of my life—the day I met you.

Something shifted in me that day, and the future I was planning for myself suddenly became our future. From the moment we met, I haven't stopped thinking about you, even my dreams are consumed by you. 

Jamie, if you take away anything from this, please let it be that I didn't deliberately deceive you, and everything I have told you is nothing but the truth. 

No words can describe how I feel when I'm with you. When you touch me, I have never felt anything like it, not with Frank, not with anybody. I want us to be together. I need you and I miss you so much. I’m so truly sorry.

Come back to me, James Fraser.

Forever Yours,

Claire. xo

 

~~~

 

Claire, God, I love her so much. Jamie wiped the tears from his eyes, picked up his wallet and walked downstairs. “Can I borrow the car, Ian? Thanks,” he said, without waiting for a response.  

Speeding through the winding hills, he was on a mission to reach town before the stores closed. The anger surging through his body provided all the adrenaline he needed to not fear the speed he was driving. To think of a man treating his Claire like that, or any woman for that matter, filled him with a heated rage he had never known. That fucking mad bastard, Randall… I could kill him!   

He made it to Tesco just as the doors were closing. Luckily the manager, Hamish, was a friend of Jamie’s from school and he let him sneak into the store after promising he would be quick.

Hamish grabbed a cell phone and a SIM card from behind the locked case and passed it to Jamie, who quickly walked to the registers and paid. Barely two steps from the register he was tearing at the packaging, becoming more and more impatient and clumsy with his hands. “Christ, do they glue this shite on?” Jamie muttered to himself and glanced over at the teenage clerk who was glaring at him for being in the store after closing.

“Aye, just give it tae me,” she said, rolling her eyes. She snatched the phone from Jamie's hands and had it open and set up in under two minutes.  

“Ta!,” he said, snatching it back with a snarl on his face. He took a deep breath, walked from the store and dialled. 

 

~~~

 

Ten days earlier

Jamie's phone had been going straight to voicemail since Sunday; it was now Wednesday afternoon, and Claire hadn’t slept for more than three hours in a row over the past four nights. She had still managed to work each shift as normal and refused to let her pain and suffering affect her performance. Somehow, as soon as she crossed the hospital threshold, ‘Dr. Beauchamp’ took control and all the drama could all be pushed to the back of her mind.

She had called Rupert several times, but he refused to reveal Jamie’s whereabouts. Today, though, she had reached her limit of her patience; there was no more ‘Mrs. nice gal’, she was getting some answers.  

As soon as her shift finished, she planned to go straight to Rupert’s. He had been able to play coy and tell her nothing over the phone, but he wouldn’t find her so easy to get rid of when face to face. 

Luckily for Claire, she was working in the outpatient clinic this week, something she loved to do. With patients booked solid all day, she barely had enough time to eat, let alone stew over her love life. 

The day passed quickly and as planned she headed straight to Rupert’s once she left the hospital. She knocked on his door and as soon as he opened, she barged straight in, not waiting for an invitation. Walking down the long narrow hall to the kitchen, she slumped into a chair at the table, knowing full well she was being rather rude, but not caring in the slightest. 

Rupert didn’t say a word, he looked rather shocked by her abrupt entrance, but simply began to make them some tea like he would on a regular visit. Claire could see him watching her from the corner of his eye, he looked terrified of her. It almost brought a smile to her face to see him scared of ‘such a wee lass’, as Jamie would say. It pained her to think of him like that, smiling and calling her lass and sassenach, and made her more determined to find him. I have to speak to him and make him understand. 

“Now, as I said tae ye over the phone, Jamie’s no’ here, lass.” Rupert said. “He’s gone away for a few days, and he told me tae tell ye, he will call ye when he’s ready. I canna say more than that.” He took a big gulp of his tea and placed a cup in front of her. 

“And as I told you, Rupert, I need to know where he is. It’s torture. I need to know so I can have some type of peace. Please, Rupert.” Her determined tone disappeared as she began to cry. He placed his hand on her shoulder as she wept. He may come across as a bit of a lad, tough and grouchy, but he had a soft heart, and he hated to see Claire like this.

“Okay, Claire, if I tell ye, if , ye have tae promise me ye will leave him be until he is ready. I promised him I wouldna tell ye about the stroke.” He gasped and slapped his hand over his mouth.

“Stroke! Jamie had a stroke?” Claire dropped the cup from her hand, spilling the boiling hot tea down her legs. She sat still, vision blurring, and in that moment, she swore she heard her heart break. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower's stem. Her skin was screaming out in pain but she paid it no attention, she felt frozen in time.

“No, ye dinna understand,” Rupert rushed to her side to comfort her. ”It’s Jamie's da, Brian, that had the stroke, Jamie is fine, lass.” He rubbed her gently on the back and stayed that way for a few minutes, waiting for the colour to return to her face. 

 “I’m sorry tae frighten ye, lass,” he said once her breathing returned back to normal. He held his face in his hands and rubbed it out of frustration and grabbed a towel for Claire to clean herself up with. “Och, I told him I wouldna worry ye wit it.” 

Claire’s brain had thawed and she was finally form a sentence, “Jamie's father had a stroke? Is he...” The realisation suddenly hit her like a bolt of lightning. “Jamie’s in Scotland! Jesus H. Christ! When did he leave? Rupert, do you think he’ll come back?” 

As her mind exploded into a pile of ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’, her heart raced and her lips began to tingle. She fought hard to slow her breathing and heart rate down, she needed to focus and get all the information she could out of her unwilling source. “Look, Rupert, I know you promised Jamie, but you can't just give me half the story, you have to tell me everything.” 

Rupert sighed heavily and looked at her with his big, sad eyes. She knew he would crack, she just needed to push him off the edge. “Please, Rupert, Geillis would be so impressed to hear how kind and sweet you have been towards me. She loves a sensitive man.” 

She watched him from the corner of her eye as he moved back to the kitchen and made her more tea. She could see him thinking, she knew she had him, and felt a hint of guilt for manipulating him. It was bad, but she would do anything to get Jamie back in her arms. 

“Jamie got a call from his sister, Jenny, on Sunday, and he left straight away for Scotland. Dinna fash, Claire, he will be back, but I canna say when. Luckily Brian’s stroke was mild and they think he’ll make a full recovery. Last I heard, he was opening his eyes and smiling, but that's really all I know.”

Claire remained seated as Rupert gave her a fresh tea. She sipped it slowly and tried to gather her thoughts. “Can I ask another favour?” she said. “I need someone to talk to Rupert, a guy.” 

Rupert gave her a broad grin and nodded, almost looking relieved to no longer be holding onto any secrets. He walked out of the room and returned with a whiskey bottle and two glasses. “I've a feeling we’ll be needing more than tea for this.”

 

~~~

 

Claire woke the next morning with a raging headache and laying on an unfamiliar, smelly, filthy couch. Unfortunately, her eyes opened just as Rupert stood in front of her in briefs and a robe that was much shorter than she or probably anyone would have preferred. “Rupert, that robe’s not covering much, can you put some pants on, please?”

Blocking her eyes with her hands, she couldn’t help but giggle as he did a little model catwalk turn in front of her. Claire suddenly realised she had seen that robe before, “Is that Geilis’s robe?” 

“Aye, it is!” Geillis answered as she waltzed from Rupert's room into the lounge. “So, this is still happening, is it?” Claire laughed. “It appears you can keep a secret after all, Rupert, well done.” Geillis smacked him on the bum and checked her watch. “Ye better get ready, Claire, ‘tis almost eight.”

Releasing a steady stream of vulgar language, Claire jumped from the couch and rushed to gather her things, as Rupert and Geillis cuddled and laughed. She had to go home and change first. She reeked of whisky which was never appropriate for any doctor but particularly not for one at a children's hospital. She would most likely be late, so Rupert offered to give her a lift home to give her a fighting chance of being ready on time. 

The drive saved her time, but also allowed her to thank him for the chat last night. They had talked for more than two hours, and she found it quite cathartic to get everything off her chest. It also allowed at least a few hours sleep, the most she had in days. 

She had already confided in Joe but appreciated being able to have another man's opinion, especially one so close to Jamie. Knowing Joe and Rupert shared the belief that Jamie would forgive her in time, gave her some peace of mind. Unfortunately, her sense of peace didn’t last long, as the drive back to her flat would take them straight past Jamie’s house. 

Feeling sick to her stomach as they drove by, she remembered the last time she was there with him. Sitting on his knee, his heartbeat racing as he held her hands to his chest, about to confess his love for her before she cut him off. Even though they had only known each other for a few weeks, she felt it too—an all encompassing passion she had never known before.

Everything she saw now reminded her of him—the café where they met for lunch, the park they had planned to take their daily jogs in, and then the pub where they had their first unofficial date. A surge of heat flashed through her body as she remembered their near kiss that night. She knew even then this was something different, something unusual. 

Embracing the bright sunshine streaming into her window as they headed towards her flat, she felt a determination build inside her. They belonged together, she had no doubt over that. There was no way she was going to give up now. No matter how scared she felt, she had to pray for the strength to carry on. Yes, she was tired and heartbroken, but she was also stubborn and smart and she would get through this, no matter what lay before her.

Once home, Claire readied for her shift. The few hours of whisky induced sleep she had snuck in at Rupert’s seemed like a million years ago; she was so tired, physically and mentally. Running out of time to eat, and despite the growing protest from her stomach, she left her flat, crossed the busy road and walked into the hospital. 

Jamie was never far from her mind, but as soon as she placed her lanyard around her neck, Dr. Beauchamp kicked in and her mind focused on making it through another day without him. 

Waiting in line for her desperately needed coffee, she felt a cold, bony hand fall on her shoulder and knew who it was without turning—their close proximity and the heavy breathing on her neck gave it away immediately. “Hello, Doctor Mackenzie, how are you today?” she asked politely. Like I give a shit. 

“I’m well Dr. Beauchamp. But… I must say, Claire, ye look quite unwell. Are ye sure ye are well?” he smized. “Yes, I’m okay, thank you. I’ve just had a busy week. You must remember your registrar days, although… that was quite a long time ago, wasn’t it?” She turned to look at him and could see her little jab had landed. God, he’s got such a massive ego.

“Did ye hear about young Jamie? He’s back in Scotland... Oh, that’s right, I forgot ye would know all about it.” He leaned right beside her and lowered his voice. “Ye know, I am sure there are rules around doctors sleeping with the hospital support staff. People talk, Claire. Remember that.” He grabbed his coffee from the counter and walked away. 

Claire stood shaking in the queue, she felt frozen to the floor and didn't hear her name being called when her order was ready. “I’ll grab that,” Joe cut in, taking her coffee from the counter. Claire could see him standing in front of her, she could see his mouth moving but she couldn’t hear a thing, then everything went black. 

 

~~~

 

She woke in a hospital bed, an IV drip in her arm and Joe standing by her side. 

“Lady Jane, don’t go scaring me like that.” He smiled and took her hand, patting it gently, attempting to sooth her frayed nerves with each touch. 

“What happened? Why am I in bed, with a drip?” Her eyes were struggling to focus on Joe's face as he spoke, the bright hospital lights caused her to see spots and stars floating through her field of vision.

“You went and fainted on me, good and proper, too. I carried you the whole way here and you didn’t move a bit.” Claire attempted a stealth move towards her chart while Joe was adjusting the drip, but he caught sight of her and snatched it away before she could

“Nice try! I’m worried about you, LJ. I know you are stressed about Jamie, but you have to look after yourself. You’re not going to be getting him back if you're six feet under.” The smile had now been replaced with the stare of an unimpressed doctor. 

“Don’t give me that look, that’s my look,” she smiled. 

“I’m serious, Claire. I took some bloods while you were out. You're seriously dehydrated, very low in iron and B12, plus you are a little on the thin side. You need to eat better and get some sleep.”

“You got bloods back already? How long have I been out?” 

“Three hours, and that’s just the start of the rest you need. Now once this IV is finished, I’m taking you home to bed...” 

The moment the word ‘bed’ left his lips, Dougal appeared from behind the curtain, almost like he was waiting for his cue to strike.

“Aye, so, she’s ruttin wit ye tae, then?” His gaze turned from Joe to Claire. “Any wonder ye fainted, lass, ye must be exhausted.” He grabbed his crotch and lewdly thrust his hips towards her. That was it for Joe. He grabbed him and wrestled him out of the room, returning a few moments later with his shirt askew an expression of anger Claire had never seen in him. 

“What the hell was that?” Claire exclaimed. “I’m sure he's only looking out for Jamie, but he's taking things a bit far, don’t you think?” 

“That's not just about you and Jamie, he’s angry at both of us,” said Joe. “I confronted him about Mary, yourself and the other girls. You could say he didn’t take it well. Now promise me you're not to worry about this, Claire. I’ll deal with him, I just need you to rest.” He checked the IV bag and promised he would return in about thirty minutes to take her home. 

Claire lay back in bed staring at the ceiling, feeling angry at herself for the mess she felt her life had become. As if she didn’t have enough to deal with, she now had Dougal harassing and threatening her. Well, Dougal be damned, there was no way she was going to let him push her around. 

Joe was right, she had to look after herself better. If she kept going like this, she would drive herself into the ground. She needed all the strength and grit she had in her to fight for Jamie. 

She had an epiphany of sorts as she lay there contemplating her path forward. If Jamie could find it in his heart to forgive her, if she could forgive herself for her past mistakes, and they reconciled as she hoped, she vowed she would do whatever it took to make him happy, to make them happy. She had to get that divorce finalised and make a fresh start. Fuck Frank, and fuck the past. The future is going to be mine and Jamie’s.

Reaching down to the foot of her bed, she grabbed some paper from the patient’s chart. Maybe Jamie wasn’t ready to talk to her, but he may be prepared to read. Thinking about Jamie, tears spilled down her cheeks and onto the paper as she began to write. 

Dear Jamie, 

Let me start by saying…

 

~~~

 

10 days later

 

It was just after three AM when her phone rang. Claire rolled over and looked at the screen, she didn't recognise the number, but it was a +44 international code. Scotland!

“Jamie?”