Is it the whisky that burns inside him, or the amber of her eyes?
James Fraser does not know, nor does he care, as he blatantly stares at the curly-haired goddess that sits at the bar in the pub, tipping back a tumbler full of whisky that almost matches the hue of her sharp gaze. Beguiled, he turns his chair to face her, mesmerized by the creamy skin exposed by her low-cut blouse and black skirt—an oddity in the frigid February air.
It has been a long time since he felt attracted to another woman. Jamie wishes he could stand up and go talk to her—ask her name, offer his own, buy her another whisky and discover if he has the courage to kiss away the taste of it from her lips. He sighs; there’s no use imagining things that will never come to pass. He is in no position to want or deserve her. Pulling his mobile from his trouser pocket, he scrolls through his work email, already planning tomorrow’s hectic schedule.
Jamie looks up, hoping it’s the brunette goddess, but instead, is met with a bewitching green-eyed gaze and red hair similar to his own. He offers a polite smile. “Aye?”
“My friend—” She gestures to the woman he has been ogling at the bar, and his wame does a slow roll. “She was wondering if ye would like to join us. Celebrate.”
“What’s the occasion?” He stands, picking up his own drink and twirling it in his hands.
“Ye should come over and find out. I’m Geillis, by the way.” With a raucous laugh, she leads the way to the tall stools that line the counter. A head of bouncy curls turns slowly and the tawny eyes he so admired roll upwards at Geillis, but her mouth—Christ, that mouth! —smiles.
“G, I told you not to bother him. I’m so sorry, we’re both a little past sloshed now.” A rich English accent trembles in his ears, and he’s absolutely enchanted; he didn’t expect she would be a Sassenach in Glasgow.
“No bother at all, lass. James Fraser, pleasure to meet ye.”
“Claire Ra—um, Beauchamp.” She extends a slender white hand to clutch his in a surprisingly confident grip.
“Well, I’ll leave ye to it. I have my sights set on that lad yonder. Let me know when ye want to go, C.” With that, Geillis saunters over to a dark corner of the packed pub, leaving them to get to know each other. He takes the vacant seat next to Claire.
“Yer friend said ye were celebrating. May I ask why?” Jamie signals the bartender for another round, which Claire accepts with a nod.
“My divorce was finalized this afternoon.” Claire smiles charmingly at his raised eyebrow. “It sounds terrible, perhaps, but it was a long time in the making. We’ve been apart for almost a year. I moved here from London to start over. My husband—ex-husband now—and I… turns out we were not as well matched as we had thought.”
Jamie tosses back the rest of his whisky. Desire, unbidden, pricks its way up his spine. “I’m sorry to hear that; how long were ye married?”
“Three years. I’m a doctor, he’s in politics. My career was also ill-suited for his plans to run for MP.” She crosses her long legs, and the tip of her shoe brushes against his trouser leg. He can’t tell if it was accidental or on purpose.
Jamie leans in, and catches a hint of her perfume. It’s intoxicating, but he manages to ask, “How so?” He cannot imagine that this vibrant, intelligent woman could be a hindrance for any man.
“He wanted me to be more of a proper housewife. He assumed I would give up my practice to support his political endeavors full time. He was wrong.” Claire shrugs, and finishes her drink.
She declines another when Jamie offers; instead, she turns the conversation towards him. “And you, James? What is it you do?”
“Jamie, please. I’m a solicitor. I work for my uncles’ company, Leoch Holdings. Publishing division, working out contracts and such.”
“I’ve heard of it. Quite an enterprise, isn’t it, tech and media and others?” Now it’s Claire who leans in a bit closer, and he is drawn to the delicate wings of her clavicle, and imagines what it would be like to trace them with his tongue when he realizes she’s expecting a response.
“It is, keeps me quite busy. They do seem to have their fingers in many pies.” He bites his lip, and deflects back to her. “I must ask. What is a Sassenach doing in Glasgow, practicing medicine? Surely London was big enough for ye and yer ex-husband?”
“A Sassenach?” Claire repeats bemusedly. “Haven’t heard that term in a long time.”
“Och, lass, I apologize, I didna mean it as an insult—”
“It didn’t sound like one. This Sassenach traveled the world with her uncle while growing up. He was an archaeologist; we lived in Egypt, Peru, India, Iran, Mexico, wherever there was a site to dig. When he died I returned to England, met Frank, married him. When we separated, I wanted somewhere foreign yet familiar. Scotland seemed like a good option.”
“Indeed, Sassenach.” Jamie pairs the words with what he hopes is a dazzling smile, and he is rewarded with a silvery peal of laughter. However, Claire hops down from the stool before he can offer any assistance, landing gracefully on her high heels and pulling her skirt down.
“Jamie, I must be going now. Celebration or not, I’ll be pulling an all-night shift tomorrow and should get some sleep.” She offers her hand again, and he stands, towering over her, enveloping her delicate fingers in his warmly. He is disappointed the evening was cut short, but knows it must be this way.
“It was a pleasure, Claire.” He feels the strangest urge to kiss her hand like on the period dramas he secretly enjoys. “Do ye need any help getting home? I can call a company car to drive ye, and Geillis.”
“We’re roommates. I just hope G is through with that one.” Claire motions with her head at the corner where Geillis had gone, and sure enough the bright hue of her hair gives her away. Claire’s friend is—entangled with a gentleman. “I’ll call an Uber. Thank you.” Another dazzling smile leaves him in a fog, wanting to ask for her number, for a rendezvous, anything to prolong his time with her.
But she walks over to Geillis while pulling on her coat without a backward glance. Jamie stares after her helplessly, riveted on the swing of her hips and the most perfect arse he’s ever seen. Claire taps her on the shoulder, and her friend drops the poor bloke, fetching her purse and waving goodbye at the lad. Jamie watches them as they leave the pub, making sure they are safely tucked away into an Uber before calling for a car to take him home.
Claire, Claire, Claire.
The encounter cannot have lasted more than half an hour, but she is all he can think of, consuming every one of his senses. Drunk on the whisky of her eyes, he manages the walk up to the flat. Once inside, the door snicks shut behind him. Jamie walks quietly into the guest bedroom.
Frowning while patting himself over, he pulls his wallet and phone from his trouser pockets, placing them on the nightstand. Stripping down quickly to his boxer briefs and undershirt, he lays on the guest bed in the flat that he shares with his wife.
“What do we think of the wee fox cub?”
Claire whips around, medical chart in hand, to face Geillis. The smirk on her friend’s face is a little too much; Claire rolls her eyes and goes back to jotting notes. They’re halfway through the night shift, and she needs to focus on her patients, not on James Fraser.
“He’s alright, I suppose. Don’t think I’ll meet him again.”
“Ye didna exchange numbers? What is wrong wi’ ye, woman?”
Claire shrugs. “He was fine. Handsome of course, polite, attentive. But the ink is barely dry on the papers, G, and my work hours are intense. So are his, from what I could gather. I don’t want a new relationship that’s doomed to fail from the start.”
“Who says it has to be a relationship, love? Why couldn’t ye just have some fun with the lad? I’m sure he’d be all for it.”
What she doesn’t say is how the mere thought of Jamie’s blue eyes makes her head spin and recalling the coppery red waves of his hair brings a smile to her face. He had been charming and eloquent and seemed just so bloody normal, after everything she’d gone through with Frank. It had felt good to know she was desirable, even if just for one night.
“G, no offense, but I’m not like you. I can’t have a one-night stand to scratch an itch, no matter how attractive he is.”
“None taken.” Geillis grins wickedly. “Ye ken how much I enjoy it, just thought ye might consider it as well.”
Claire says nothing. Finishing with the chart, she deposits it at the nurses’ station before moving on to her rounds; Geillis is on her tail and unwilling to drop the subject.
“Meetin’ for a coffee is not a crime. Ye should look him up. Ye said he works for Leoch?”
“He’s nephew to the owners. Big family business. I’m sure he wouldn’t have time.”
“Ye didna even ask—”
“Well, neither did he! So, I suppose he wasn’t that into me after all.” Claire will not admit how much she had hoped Jamie would ask for her contact information; she had been too proud to offer it herself. A small part of her wonders if he’s the sort who will look her up online. She has almost no social media presence, however, and remembers that all her accounts are under her former husband’s name, Randall.
Geillis’s phone chirps with a text. She huffs, harried, and walks away from Claire. “It’s like ye dinna trust the eyes in yer heid, ye dolt. Anyone could see he wanted ye.” She turns and waves at her. “Rawlings wants me to assist. Talk to ye later, Beauchamp.”
Claire knows she is right. She can’t trust her eyes or any part of herself after what Frank did to her. It has been a year since she found him kissing his executive assistant in his office, but being deceived and betrayed still hurts.
She doesn’t know how much time it will take for her to trust again.
Geillis bursts into the doctors’ locker room, startling a half-dressed Claire.
“C, promise ye willna be angry wi’ me.”
“Why, what did you do?” Claire pushes her mad curls away from her face and tugs her shirt into place.
“I can’t promise to something I know nothing about.” Claire pulls her hair into a messy bun on top of her head. She’s familiar with Geillis’s dramatics and is willing to wait her out.
“I’ll have ye remember that ye did say ye didna want anything to do wi’ him, so I wasna doing anything wrong—”
“Jesus H, Geillis Edgars, out with it!” So much for patience.
“I called James Fraser and gave him yer number.”
“What?!” Claire shakes her head, sure she heard G wrong. “What on earth possessed you to do that?”
Geillis removes her own scrubs, talking as she heads for the showers. “Well, I thought I might have a go at the wee fox cub, given as how ye didna want him yerself. Am I still correct in assuming this?”
“Get on with it, G, before I strangle you. Keep talking or I’ll follow you into the shower stall.”
“I searched online for the Leoch company number, which sent me to an operator. I asked her to connect me to a James Fraser, and that was it. Quite easy, actually.” The steady pounding of the water almost drowns her out, but Claire needs more information.
“Did you ask him out, for a coffee or dinner or drinks?” And why does she care so much?
“Drinks, aye. He politely said no and asked for yer mobile number instead.” Geillis flips the shower off and wraps herself in a towel Claire hands her. “If ye weren’t my dear, dear friend I’d be offended.”
“Would you?” Claire laughs outright. “What else did he say?”
“He wanted to know if ye’d be agreeable to going out. If he could call ye.”
“And what did you say?”
Their conversation is cut short by the shrill notes of Claire’s ringtone. She digs it out of her jeans pocket and glances at the unknown number. Urged by Geillis, she taps the green icon and answers with a breathy, “Hello?”
“Claire? It’s Jamie. Jamie Fraser.”
Thank you all for the wonderful response! I am slowly but surely getting to all your comments. <3
Jamie says he hopes it wasn’t an intrusion, getting her number from Geillis, but between the whisky and the hour and the fact that she’d just signed divorce papers, he hadn’t felt it proper before.
Claire agrees to dinner, almost as soon as Jamie gets the words out. She has been separated for a year, she reminds herself; she’s doing nothing wrong. Geillis is listening in, gripping Claire’s shoulder in excitement. She dresses quickly and practically pulls Claire all the way back to their flat, insisting that she needs time to prepare, and promising to make herself scarce should Claire bring company later that night.
Rifling through her closet, G selects a calf-length midnight blue dress, one of the demurest pieces she owns. Claire is surprised at the choice, but puts it on before Geillis changes her mind and wants to put her in black latex or something. She wonders if she should straighten her hair, opt for a more sophisticated look, but in the end, she leaves well enough alone—if Mr. James Fraser has an objection to mad curly hair, he can bloody well bugger off.
He had offered to pick her up, but Claire feels a bit awkward about it. She gets an Uber to the spot he picked, in downtown Glasgow. Stepping out of the car, she smooths the dress over her body, shouldering the strap of her purse. The heels she wore last night hug her feet, clicking on the wet pavement. A light rain falls, so she hurries inside the restaurant before it can ruin her hair.
Catching a glimpse of Jamie’s vivid red hair at the bar, her insides seem to trip and dance, a warm flare of anticipation settling in her very bones. Claire has a sudden urge to turn and flee, but he spots her at the entrance and immediately stands, making a beeline for her.
Claire knows it’s Geillis’s words in her head making her nervous, and the decision she made earlier. She might just be up for some no-strings-attached fun. Why shouldn’t she? She is still young, and it doesn’t have to mean anything. She had wanted to hate herself for listening to G and donning matching lacy underwear—“Even if Jamie doesn’t get to see it, it boosts yer confidence!”—but now she is glad for it. With a deep breath, Claire channels G’s spirit and is determined to go through with a one-night stand.
Once Jamie reaches her side, she realizes that the connection she felt at the pub hadn’t been her imagination; if anything, the grin on Jamie’s face when he sees her up close confirms it. Claire glows inwardly, happy for once she let G dress her.
“Hello, Jamie.” Claire inhales his clean fresh scent, heady and spicy and purely male. Perhaps her plans for the night wouldn’t be hard to carry out.
“Good evening, Sassenach.” With a brief kiss on her cheek, Claire accepts her new nickname as Jamie takes her hand and loops it through his arm, guiding her into the restaurant. It’s a small, intimate bistro, with low yellow lights; they cast his features into relief, slanted cheekbones and full lips. He leads her to a corner table, away from most other patrons; a server immediately takes their drink order and sets a plate of bruschetta before them, on the house.
“Seems like they know you well.” Claire takes a bite of the crispy bread and tomato concoction and Jamie does the same.
“I come here often on my own. It’s quiet enough to get some work done, and disconnect from long days at the office.”
Jamie’s gaze is piercing blue, and Claire tries to match its intensity. There’s something simmering between them, an unresolved, indefinable else that must have out before the night is through. She has never felt this intense, this fast, with anybody before—not even her erstwhile husband.
“So, Jamie. Why did you call during your long, busy day?” Claire sips her whisky, knowing it makes her tongue and inhibitions looser.
“The easy answer? I wanted to see ye again.” He glances down at his plate, and purses his lips. “But there’s things I have to tell ye, before this goes any further. Am I right in believing, Sassenach, that there might be more between us?”
Claire swallows. “You are. I can’t say what this is, but I do know it’s not usual.”
“Aye, well. There are… complications in my life, things that are out of my control. In my line of work—well, no, that’s no’ accurate to say. What I do, I do to protect my family and people I care about.”
“That sounds—dangerous. Ominous.”
“It is. But what I need you to know is—”
“Listen, James Fraser.” Claire understands that it’s the whisky talking now, and she doesn’t want complications. “I think I know why you called. And I need you to know that it’s alright. I want it. I want you, too.” She wants easy, she wants excitement and pleasure. She wants to grab it while she can, while she still feels the attraction between them. No one knows what tomorrow will bring and she doesn’t really care.
Jamie has no right to her; he knows this. He has no right to her time, her conversation, her smiles, the possibility of more.
Jamie wonders if perhaps Claire is the woman to whom he can reveal the truth. The depth of his feelings for her on such short acquaintance is unexpected. He doesn’t want to lie to her, but he cannot risk Claire, and place her in danger.
She hadn’t let him speak another word as she pushed away from the table and beckoned for him to follow. He had tossed a few bills on the table and gone after her. Claire met him outside under the bistro’s dark green awning and pressed her lips against his. Her mouth was whisky heat and warm honey, everything he had thought it would be. Jamie couldn’t formulate thoughts beyond Claire, and what she was doing to his body. He hailed a street cab and she gave directions to her flat.
Jamie is trying not to think of the implications and possible consequences of his actions. He knows that this shouldn’t happen, it can’t happen, but he feels helpless, caught in the moment and the knowledge that she wants him as much as he does. Neither of them is even the slightest bit drunk, not by a long shot, which makes this moment even more poignant. This won’t happen again, he vows, you can’t ever have her again, so enjoy it now, while it lasts, while she believes in you.
Sorry so short! But we're going places, don't worry :) Thanks for reading! <3
Once inside her living space, he doesn’t stop to examine and wonder at the books, knick-knacks, or décor. The only lights are the street lamps’ glow pouring in through the windows. Claire leads him straight to her bedroom, and he closes the door behind them by pushing her against it, holding her arms above her head by the wrists and devouring her mouth.
Claire frees one of her hands to scrabble at his clothes urgently. She wants to touch him, feel him. He obliges, almost ripping off his blazer, dress shirt, and trousers. Jamie feels half-crazed with desire, heart pounding. But then he remembers something else: the incident, the flames, the pain, the scars on his body.
Standing in nothing but his underwear, already straining at attention, he gives her a few seconds to trace his toned and well-defined body, lithe and strong, before he spins her around, and her palms slam into the door.
Claire gasps, shocked at the sensation. He presses his chest against her body, and she can feel every line, every muscle, contoured deliciously. He grabs a handful of her arse and squeezes gently, eliciting a soft groan from her. He’s been longing to do that since he first saw her. But before they go on, he has to tell her.
“Claire, my back. The skin of my back, I mean.” He swallows hard, the practiced story flowing easier than he thought. “A few years ago, there was an accident. Electric wiring was faulty. It caused a fire. There were substantial burns. I’m alright now, but the skin on my back looks… it feels—”
“It’s alright. It doesn’t matter. I mean,” she amends, trying to look at him, but he won’t let her turn, “it doesn’t matter to me. You’re beautiful, Jamie.”
“No, you are.” His lips nip and bite at the nape of her neck, his nose nuzzling into her hair as he pulls the dress zipper down. He delights in the smooth ivory skin that is slowly revealed by his actions, skin so unlike his own.
Jamie slides the sleeves off her shoulders and lets the garment pool at her feet. She kicks off her shoes, and the difference in their heights becomes even more pronounced. He shifts her now, pupils widening as he notices her matching undergarments. He brushes a finger lightly around the edge of the lacy cup of her bra, before seeking her permission to continue. When she nods, Jamie tugs it down, bending to capture her breast in his mouth.
The heat of his lips and the contrast with the chill air of her bedroom peaks her nipples, and he takes turns laving each of them with his tongue, while his hands knead and her voice moans. Or perhaps it is his own.
Claire puts her arms around his shoulders, and he tenses. Holding his gaze, she tentatively touches the mangled skin of his back, scouting the rough terrain of burns and scars, covering everything to the small of his back. Jamie is like stone, apprehensive, but her eyes never waver from his. He knows others have viewed him with disgust and pity, but he finds nothing like this in Claire’s eyes. He understands she is sorry for what happened, but doesn’t feel sorry for him, and that makes all the difference.
Part of her thoughts switch into doctor mode as she feels the ridges embedded into his skin, conscious of the treatment and procedures Jamie has undergone to heal. The fire must have been monumental, and she is glad he is alive, here with her. Claire knows he is insecure about this part of him, what he thinks of as a great flaw; she finds it endearing and makes him all the more real to her.
Claire can’t wait any longer and she shoves away from the door, grasping Jamie’s arms to bring him with her to the bed. She fumbles with his boxer briefs before he takes her hands, gently pushing them away as he removes them himself. He is now nude before her, glorious and hard and stunning.
Not to be left behind, she undoes the clasp of her bra while Jamie removes the matching bottom half, untangling the underwear from her legs. Claire perceives how his eyes glaze over as he sees her laid bare, and she fights the urge to cover herself with the sheet, suddenly shy. Jamie senses this and crawls up her body instead, taking her mouth again, sheltering her nakedness with his.
Claire reaches down to the solid length of him, roughly caressing and causing him to gasp in her ear. Jamie skims the creamy expanse of her belly and hips before dipping a finger into her warmth; he can’t help imagining if this is how she feels now, what would it be like to be fully inside her? He circles the apex of her thighs with skill until she’s arching her back off the bed, her orgasm ripping through her.
Jamie swallows the sound, his tongue licking at the edges of her mouth. He asks her softly if she has any protection, and is promptly directed to her nightstand. Claire had asked her roommate for supplies. He slips on the condom and settles his weight in the cradle of her hips, where she is wet and yearning. His arms tremble with the effort of his restraint; she craves to break his control. A frown crosses his features, and she tries to kiss it away.
“Sassenach, I—” Jamie’s voice breaks the sacred silence, his breathing harsh.
“Don’t.” Claire presses her index finger to his lips, stopping his words. “Don’t think, don’t say anything. I want this. I want you.” She spreads her legs wider in invitation and he can feel himself instinctively probing for entrance.
With a loud moan, Jamie sinks into her, almost undone by the heat and silk and promise of their bodies joining. Claire encourages him, her heels digging into his arse, spurring him on. Her hands rove all over his back, as though it were nothing, panting in small huffs, and he touches his forehead to hers, wishing he could prolong this feeling forever. Tenderness swells inside her, unexpected, light and airy like hope.
Soon she is coming, crying out, and Jamie goes with her; the last, erratic thrusts of his hips have him groaning as though his heart would burst. Claire feels him pulse briefly as he withdraws, and bends his head to kiss her. She nips playfully at his bottom lip and he laughs, a fascinating sound she’s not heard before. Slowly, he relaxes and she curls into him, her head on his shoulder, spent. Even if this never happens again, Claire knows she’ll remember it forever.
His Sassenach drifts into a deep sleep, her arm across his chest. Late into the night, warm bodies pressed together still, Jamie holds Claire to him in a desperate embrace, trying to keep the nightmares at bay.
Thank you so much for all your comments. I'm swamped with work, so I can't always reply, but please know that I read every single one of them and appreciate them very much! <3
Claire is avoiding Geillis. Her roommate has no compunction in asking extremely inappropriate questions about her night with Jamie, and Claire does not particularly want to share any of the details; she wants to keep them close to her, a memory to warm her on lonely nights.
When she woke, Jamie had been gone, a note folded on the pillow next to her head. She had hesitated to read it, a small burst of unease digging a hollow in her chest, but she quickly tamped it down. Reaching over for the paper, she takes in his neat penmanship and reads:
Mo nighean donn:
Thank you for last night. You are beautiful, inside and out – never forget it.
Claire had immediately used Google to translate the Gaelic—my brown-haired girl. With a huge smile on her face, she had gone about her morning routine and back to the hospital. As she does her rounds, she seriously considers texting Jamie at the weekend, and repeating last night’s activities. Just fun, no strings attached, another night together. It sounds very appealing.
A stethoscope winds around her neck, and Claire reaches up to grasp it. Bloody hell, Geillis had found her.
“Tell. Me. Everything.” Geillis releases her, eyes alight with mischief and curiosity. “How was it?”
“G, you can’t ask me that!” Claire tries to dance away from her but her roommate is nothing if not persistent.
“O’ course I can! I’m yer best friend, I’m entitled. I have to live vicariously through ye. I can just imagine, that fine specimen in the throes of passion, the gorgeous fox cub—”
“Jesus H, woman, stop imagining, please!” Claire buries her face in her hands, red and mortified. “And keep your voice down, I don’t fancy the whole hospital hearing this.”
“Will I get to hear this?” Geillis cocks her head inquisitively, eyebrow raised.
“Look.” Claire takes Geillis’s hand and leads her to an empty exam room. She shuts the door and peeks out the window, but there’s no one to hear. “I’m trying to be casual about it. Just a one-time thing. We didn’t talk a lot about each other, no real basics, not about our families… except about Lamb and me, that night at the pub.”
“So ye dinna ken anything more about him?”
“Not really.” Claire does not think the details about Jamie’s scars are hers to share. “And yes, he is absolutely great in bed and that is all I’m disclosing, woman. Now go away, I have work to do.” Claire yanks open the exam room door and scurries away before she is interrogated further.
“Oh, come on!” Geillis calls out after Claire, who is determinedly not looking back.
It’s nearly midnight when Claire emerges from the hospital. Jamie watches from the shadows near the employees’ entrance.
He feels like such a deviant, stalking her from afar. He knows he cannot hope for more, he cannot let her in—and he fears it is far too late for that. She is in him like a live wire, bringing him back into the world after years in purgatory.
A quick Google search for her name had turned up nothing. So, he had typed in ‘Geillis’ instead—an uncommon enough name. He spotted Claire’s roommate’s picture on Instagram, extracted her last name hitherto unknown to him (Edgars) and seen a picture of her with Claire, both of them smiling tiredly and holding up matching cups of coffee. A caption that read All-nighter with my best lass, location set for Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, and a tag for Claire Randall.
So that is her ex-husband’s surname. Claire had introduced herself as Beauchamp and he is fiercely glad she reclaimed this part of her. But she has clearly not changed any online information or updated social media. After clicking to Claire’s Instagram account, which was set to private, he had wanted to see her. Armed with a place to go find her, although unsure if she was even working that night, he had waited and waited.
His patience rewarded, he can glean bits and pieces about her. She hasn’t changed out of her scrubs and her tired feet are clad in white trainers. Her curly wig is tucked into a messy bun, her face devoid of any make-up—she is beautiful.
Claire seems to be walking towards the bus stop; he remembers when he woke up last night he had called a car to pick him up at Highgrove Road. He considers following her all the way home, just to make sure she was safe, but that borders on serial killer. Jamie chides himself for these intrusive, invasive thoughts when a sudden cry shatters the air.
Last chapter was short, so as promised, here's #6.
Jamie races towards the noise, a scuffle and yelps coming from an alley nearby. He comes upon a stocky man dressed in dark clothes who is pawing at Claire, simultaneously trying to yank her purse away from her and put his hands on her breasts. Claire is valiantly kicking out at the man who is a head shorter than her, while attempting to scratch the man’s eyes out.
Jamie sees red. His Viking berserker heritage kicks in and he charges into the fray, arms swinging. He is not so far gone that he does not protect Claire from the blows he administers. His Sassenach stumbles further down the alley, cowering. Jamie delivers strong uppercut punches to the man’s stomach, until he is laid flat on the dirty pavement gasping for air. He slams his fist one more time into the attacker’s face, knocking him unconscious.
He thinks quickly if he should phone the police, but when he glimpses Claire trembling against the rough brick wall, all thoughts except her are erased. Jamie approaches slowly, hands extended, making sure she understands he means her no harm.
Claire sees Jamie, backlit and tiptoeing towards her, and know she is safe now. She pushes away from the dingy wall and hurls herself into his arms, finally letting the adrenaline surge through her and leave relief and tears in its wake. Jamie holds her carefully, unsure if she is hurt, but making soft shushing noises and stroking her neck.
“Mo nighean donn, ye’re alright. Dinna fear, dinna fash. I’m here.” His breath makes white clouds in the air; she sobs unabashedly into his shirt, clutching him wildly. He leads her away from the alley, making sure her attacker is out for the count. He surreptitiously dials Willie Coulter and gives brief instructions on where to find the piece of shit. Willie can make it go away—it’s what he does, and he’s good at his job.
“Your hands.” Claire speaks for the first time in the whole ordeal, and it’s to notice that he is slightly injured. She doesn’t question what he was doing on that street in the first place.
Jamie glances down at his knuckles; they’re only a bit cut and bloodied. “I think that’s mostly not my blood. Dinna mind that now, Sassenach. I’ll call a company car. Would ye have me take ye home, or anywhere else? Do ye want me to walk ye back to the hospital? Where is Geillis?”
“No, no, I—she was going to her parents’ for dinner. I’m fine, really, he didn’t… I mean, he couldn’t—” Her voice broke and her hands were clenched into fists.
Jamie pulls off his own coat and drapes it over her shivering shoulders. “Sassenach, are ye alright? I do think the hospital might—”
“No, please, I just don’t want to be alone right now.”
“My flat’s nearby. Is that alright?”
His coat on her is huge and all-encompassing, with its scratchy wool surface but warm inner lining; it smells of Jamie and she burrows deeper into it, while its owner has his arm around her and then she starts shaking uncontrollably.
“Sassenach, what’s wrong? What can I do?” Jamie’s voice is anxious.
“I-I-I—I’m going into shock.” Her voice is strangely detached and she observes her hands tremble uncontrollably. She has the most unholy urge to laugh, to whoop and cackle until the lead weight in her stomach dissolves and she can feel like herself again.
“We’re here, mo nighean donn. Let me help you out.”
The walk up to his flat was a lopsided, heavy-footed affair, with Jamie propping her up as she continued to shiver and small giggles burst from her mouth. Jamie eyes her oddly, but chooses (wisely) not to comment.
Inside, Jamie practically carries her to the plushest couch, a grey suede behemoth that is cold beneath her scrub-clad legs. He pours her a generous helping of whisky, neat, and presses the cut glass tumbler into her hands. “Here, drink this. It should help.” He hisses suddenly and pulls away, the scraped skin of his knuckles stinging.
“Do you have a first-aid kit?” Claire tries to stand, but Jamie places a hand on her shoulder gently. “Let me see that.”
“’Tis nothing. I’ll wash my hands at the sink. They willna spoil for the keeping. I’ll put the kettle on for tea. Do ye need anything else?” When she shakes her head, he smiles briefly and goes to the kitchen, flipping lights on as he goes.
Claire takes in the ambience of his flat—dark colors, from wood to drapes to upholstery, seemingly sterile and almost unlived in. Like a flat for realtor showings, nothing seems quite real or ideal. There are striking geometric prints on the walls, but nothing that speaks of a home.
When he returns, Jamie senses her trepidation and shrugs apologetically. “I’m no’ really here much. I spend most of my time at the office.”
“So what were you doing… there? At the hospital?” Claire asks, unwilling to remember just yet what transpired in that alley but realizing Jamie had to have been there for her, wanting to hear the words from his lips.
He rucks up the back of his hair abashedly, suddenly finding his wingtips very interesting. “I think ye can guess. I was hoping to see ye, mo nighean donn.”
“That’s lovely,” she says, remembering his note.
“Lovely? That I’m obviously stalking ye outside yer workplace?” Jamie frowns playfully.
“No,” Claire responds softly, “the other bit. The one about me being your brown-haired girl. In Gaelic.”
“Och, aye.” Now Jamie’s face flares bright red to match his hair. “My parents made sure Jenny and I were fluent. It was important to them that we… I meant every word.” The silence that befalls this declaration is interrupted by the kettle’s shrill whistle. “Tea. I’ll go. Stay, please.”
Claire nods and watches him step into the kitchen. Standing, the coat now forgotten on the couch, she wanders around the flat, hoping he won’t mind; it’s not like she’s intruding in his very bedroom. She is thinking of his hands—his very strong, capable, injured hands, that saved her earlier. Maybe he has a first-aid kit somewhere; she will ask and insist he let her tend to him.
There is a tinkling of crockery coming from the kitchen, noise of cupboards opening and closing, Jamie humming off-key. She is glad she doesn’t have to be alone. Claire peruses the mahogany bookshelf, still clutching the whisky. She takes note of the books displayed there, wishing she had more time to devote to reading. She traces a finger over the spines and stops when the glint of glass catches her eye. There’s something tucked behind the books.
Before she can think of what she’s doing, she reaches behind the stack of hardcovers and paperbacks and pulls out a picture frame. At first, her brain doesn’t quite register what she’s seeing; it’s all just a blur of white and black, but then she can clearly define red hair and a shorter head of blonde locks. Claire starts shaking violently again; her heart slams in her throat and she’s afraid she might vomit.
It’s Jamie’s wedding picture.
Geillis finds her in the darkness of their shared flat, sitting on the floor sobbing desperately with her head on the small coffee table.
“Love, what is it? I could barely understand ye on the phone!” Geillis says, alarmed.
“He’s fucking married, G.” Claire wipes her sleeve across her eyes, but it isn’t enough. She leans back against the couch, letting tears course down her temples into her hair.
“I was at his flat. He took me there after… well, some arsehole tried to mug and grope me when I left the hospital—” Geillis lets out a groan and sits next to her on the floor, but Claire waves her away—“I’m fine! That’s the point, Jamie was there, somehow.”
“Fucking stalker,” Geillis growls.
“That’s what he said.” Claire hiccups, holding more tears at bay. “But he saved me, G. I went into shock.” She ignores another of Geillis’s grunts. “We went to his flat, he gave me whisky and was making tea in the kitchen when I discovered he had hidden his wedding picture.”
“What does she look like?”
“Really?” Claire wants to laugh at Geillis’s inane non-sequitur. She knows it’s also G trying to distract her. “Blonde, I think? I didn’t really stop to look closer. I left the picture next to my glass on his living room table and left.”
“Nice.” Geillis wrapped her arms around Claire. “I’m so sorry, love. That he was such a prick, I mean. I feel partly responsible. I gave him yer number and pushed ye to go out with him!”
“I made my own choices, G. None of it is your fault. I just never thought I’d be that woman.” Claire glances at her mobile, silent and useless on the table. She had turned it off when she left his flat, after using it to call Geillis. She had missed calls, voicemails, and a few texts; she had responded to none. She is unfortunately familiar with betrayal, and doesn’t want to hear the usual excuses, platitudes, lies. It seems he isn’t going to show up at her home, and for that Claire is glad—he has a small sense of shame, after all.
“What happened to yer attacker? Did the police show up? Did ye file a report?”
Claire pauses. “No. There was—I didn’t even stop to think, but Jamie, he… he made a call. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to the other man.” She breaks down sobbing.
Geillis holds her a long time. Over her friend’s shoulder, she can see bruises dotting her wrist. If it hadn’t been for Jamie…
“There’s a patient for ye in four, dearie.” Mrs. Baird hands Claire a chart. “Some sort of accident involving his hands, he wasn’t very forthcoming with information.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I’m off at six today, and please let me know how the concussion does through the night.” She walks over to the recessed exam area and pulls the curtain back. That glint of hair is unmistakable and Claire stops in her tracks. It’s Jamie.
He looks as though he hasn’t slept, eyes hollow, unshaved and unkempt. Something tugs at her heartstrings, but she immediately tamps it down, steel in her spine and in her glare.
“Sassenach, please, I must—”
“No.” Such a simple word, no. Claire turns heel towards the nurses’ station, where Mrs. Baird stares at her in confusion.
“I can’t treat this patient. Is there anyone—”
“I’ll do it.” Geillis, out of nowhere, marches to the room and slides the curtain shut. Claire can make out the barest of venomous whispers, including fuck and prick. G is apparently ripping him a new one; the sound of a sharp sudden smack has her speeding back to the exam area against her will.
She peeks inside and Jamie is sitting there meekly, head hanging down, a reddish imprint fresh on his cheek. Claire feels a small vindictive thrill of satisfaction, but that is gone when Jamie glances up and catches her eyes.
“Seems I probed a little too hard,” Geillis says sweetly, hands on her hips. “His hands are a bloody mess. Serves him right.” Jamie nods in agreement, his gaze holding fast.
Claire steps in, unable to stop herself. “But they didn’t look so bad, last night…” She clamps her lips shut, remembering last night. She remembers the shadowed face of her assailant, too. “What happened to him? In the alley?”
“What?” Jamie looks confused.
“The bloke that tried to mug me! There were no police involved, who did you call?”
“Oh. Aye. There’s a colleague at Leoch… his job is to fix things. Anything ye need. Legally. Or otherwise.” Jamie looks sheepish. “Dinna fash, the man is safely behind bars.”
Claire huffs, arms crossed defensively. “So what happened to your hands?”
“I… I met a tree. In Hyde Park. I was upset. Not at ye, of course, never, but at myself. At whatever possessed me to think I could lie to ye,” Jamie says, quiet and ashamed.
“I don’t give a bloody fuck,” Claire hisses, livid at the nerve of the man who thought he could just show up at the hospital and expect her to drop everything and listen to a single word he had to say. “You’re married, and you bloody well should have told me before I slept with you!”
“I tried, but—”
“Jesus H Christ, you tried? My own husband cheated on me! Did you honestly think for a second—” Claire sees him wince at this information and she stops cold. She doesn’t have to explain, she doesn’t have to make him understand.
“C? Let me bandage him up and then I’ll have security throw him out.” Jamie opens his mouth to protest but a single look from Geillis makes him reconsider. “I’ll put the prick on the blacklist, ye willna have to—”
“I married her to protect my family,” Jamie says in a low tone. Claire and Geillis both turn to him, stunned at the admission.
“What?” Claire asks flatly. She is still protective of herself, but caught off-guard by his words.
“Will ye let me just explain why I didn’t tell ye? It wasn’t to trick ye, I swear on my mam’s grave.” Jamie looks at them pleadingly, and Geillis is the first to move.
“Ye ken, I think I hear Mrs. Baird calling. C, I’ll be right outside if ye need me, aye?” With a quick squeeze of Claire’s hand, she leaves them alone once more. Tension hums thickly in the air, and Claire decides the sooner he speaks, the sooner he’ll go.
“Doctor-patient confidentiality?” Jamie asks, and Claire nods curtly. “Her name is Laoghaire. She is my wife in name only. We dinna even wear weddin’ rings, I—she entered into this arrangement knowing it would be a sham marriage. I ken she loves someone else, Joseph Cameron. But we dinna go around advertising how we manage our relationship.”
“An open marriage, is that it? Or why is it a sham?”
“I was… forced to wed Laoghaire. There are circumstances beyond my control. What I said before is true, I meant to protect my family, our livelihood. I ken it all sounds suspect, but—please. If ye dinna believe me, I’d like ye talk to Murtagh Fitzgibbons. He’s my godfather, Chief Superintendent for Glasgow Police Scotland.”
Claire fights against the lump in her throat. She finds herself wanting to believe him, but is much too tired to make sense of it all. “Police? What is this, Jamie? Why?”
“Ye make me feel things I haven't felt, want things I shouldna want—and dinna deserve.” Jamie swallows hard. “I’ve never met anyone that comes close to ye and I’m afraid to reach out and have ye, knowing I’ll lose you.”
Claire bites her lip. “How can I trust anything you say?”
“Because I’m likely to be killed by telling ye the truth.”
Jamie agrees to have Geillis accompany them to Glasgow Centre headquarters, to reassure both women he is acting in good faith. He makes it clear that Geillis will remain in the lobby; what he has to say is extremely sensitive and he does not wish to endanger anyone else. Once their shift is over, and Jamie’s hand has been bandaged, they take an Uber to their destination—a company car would be unwise in this case.
Claire is adamant now that she needs to know the truth; she does not quite believe that Jamie’s life is in danger, but fortunately understands that Jamie is unlikely to go to all this trouble if what he is saying—like the facts about his marriage—are more lies to get his way.
His heart pounds wildly; the idea of someone else allowed into the small circle of people he trusts implicitly, and that particular person Claire, is dizzying in its implications. He believes their meeting was much more than chance, the night they spent together was fate, and the feelings he harbors for her are already love.
Mary Hawkins, Murtagh’s assistant, smiles pleasantly and invites them to sit in the tiny reception area while she calls Murtagh to let him know Jamie’s here. She glances curiously at Claire, who is still dressed in scrubs and clutches a grey pea coat around her tightly.
When the phone on her desk rings, Mary picks up with a bright, “Right away, sir!” and waves them through to the office. Jamie grasps Claire’s hand with his uninjured one, only to find his is clammy. She takes it anyway, and squeezes it hard. Together, they walk into Murtagh Fitzgibbon’s private enclave.
“Jamie, a bhalaich!” Murtagh walks around his desk to greet his godson in a tight embrace. Jamie releases Claire’s hand briefly to return it, clapping the older man soundly on the back. Murtagh notices the bandage on Jamie’s hand, but says nothing. The superintendent has sparkling dark brown eyes that can go from jovial to dead serious in a second, and a grizzled but trimmed beard that adds dignity to his face. Murtagh glances at Claire, and Jamie sees her through his godfather’s eyes; she stands regarding this display of family with tight lips and nervous feet.
“Murtagh, this is Claire Beauchamp. She is—och, well…”
“I’m his potential lover,” Claire interrupts, holding out a hand to shake. Murtagh’s bushy eyebrows rise at the simplicity and boldness of her words, but grips her hand firmly.
“A bheil fios aice?” Murtagh speaks to Jamie, still holding her hand. Does she know?
“Aye,” Jamie says, admiring Claire’s defiance. “She is aware. But I need yer help to fill in the gaps.”
“Are ye sure, lad?” Murtagh gestures for them to take a seat. “Ye ken that ‘twill not be easy. There is no goin’ back from this knowledge.”
“I think I can decide for myself, thanks very much.” Claire sits ramrod straight. “It’s the least Jamie can do after—”
“She found the picture. With Laoghaire.”
“Ye might want to introduce them then,” Murtagh says, and Claire looks taken aback. “She wouldna mind, and ye’ve met Joseph.”
“Meet your wife? How does that even—”
“My uncles from Leoch blackmailed me into marrying Laoghaire.” Jamie swallows hard; it’s the most straightforward approach to ease Claire into this. “They have… documents, pictures, video, that make it seem as though I’m responsible for someone’s death. And in a way, I am.” Claire pales.
“I’d been Jamie’s parents’ friend since childhood. When they passed, I took care of them, as their godfather.” Murtagh stands to pour them a whisky from a decanter set up in the corner of the office.
“I have an older sister, Janet. Jenny. But the entail on the Fraser estate declares that only a male heir can inherit, so the land goes to me even if I’m not the oldest. Jenny manages Lallybroch wi’ her husband Ian, my best mate.” Jamie accepts his drink and tosses it back in a single gulp.
“The family territories of MacKenzie and Fraser adjoin each other for quite some distance, running side by side from the seacoast past the lower end of Loch Ness,” Murtagh supplies. “It’s a fairly rich bit o’ ground, decent fishing and a good patch of forest for huntin’, a small village.”
“Picturesque enough that Leoch Holdings wants to take over it and develop it into a prime bit o’ real estate, with flats, hotels, shops, the works,” Jamie agrees. “But the best land is Fraser land, and the only way the MacKenzies get it is if I die, or I have bairns—”
“With a MacKenzie woman, I presume.” Claire sips the whisky, and it fills her with fiery warmth. She begins to unravel the complications Jamie spoke of.
“Aye, Sassenach.” Jamie smiles at Murtagh’s surprise over the term. “The entail is ironclad, and no lawyer has been able to untangle it. I canna sell it even if I wanted to. MacKenzie and Fraser bairns would inherit both.”
“Is she your cousin?” Claire is mildly repulsed at the thought.
“Only very distant, through marriage, not blood. But what I meant to say—”
“So, you and your wife Leery—if she’s as accommodating as you say—are duty bound to produce heirs. How did she ever agree to marry you?”
“Our uncles, Colum and Dougal, threatened to cut off her and her parents. They begged her to agree, unwillin’ to lose their lifestyle,” Jamie explains.
“And this is where the lad’s legal training comes in as well,” Murtagh adds slyly.
Jamie takes a deep breath. “I’ve never touched Laoghaire. Our marriage is unconsummated, which makes it void in Scotland.”
Claire blinks, visibly baffled. For a moment, she doesn’t even know what to say, processing what Jamie’s revelation means for their own relationship. She shakes her head to clear it. “You say that having children is one way for your uncles to take the land. How do you manage to not… you know?” Claire blushes.
“Och, Sassenach, I’ve told them that the burns may have made me… unable to sire children. Nerve damage and such.” Jamie matches her reddening cheeks. They both know he is perfectly capable of performing.
“The other way they win is if you—you die. Does this mean that they’ve tried that?”
“Not yet. I agreed to marry as well because Jenny has bairns of her own, including boys. They can inherit too, but I dinna wish my uncles to harm them in their pursuit of wealth and power.” Jamie’s voice is hard. “There was the fire, but that was merely a happy accident that didna turn out as well as they would have hoped.”
“The fire? Your scars?” Claire asks, and Jamie and Murtagh exchange glances.
“Start at the beginning, a bhalaich. Dinna confuse the puir lassie.” Murtagh pours them another tumblerful. Claire is still nursing the first drink, her mind reeling with the information regarding Jamie’s marriage.
“A few years ago, I was working late at night at the Leoch office building. I was still inexperienced, tryin’ to prove meself at the job. I had a colleague; his name was Alexander McGregor.” Jamie’s eyes are full of shame, but his voice is steady. “He had stayed that night too. When I was finally leaving, I noticed he was in a private conference room, with the blinds drawn. That was smart, for Alex knew there were cameras in there. I thought it might be something serious, for their talk grew so heated I could hear the argument coming from the room. I thought I’d knock and defuse the situation.” Jamie paused to take a deep draught. Claire is tempted to reach for his hand and comfort him, but senses this is a story he has to tell for himself.
“Before I could turn the doorknob, I heard a muffled gunshot and I broke into the room. I could only see Alex for a second, slumped in a chair, blood pouring from a hole in his stomach. The man struck me in the heid wi’ the gun, and I dropped like a stone.” Claire gasps softly.
Jamie plows ahead resolutely. “I woke up a few minutes later when I smelled the smoke, the gun in my own hand, and it was already too late. Alex was dead, and the room was up in flames. The man had rigged the wiring on the overhead lights when he left and caused the fire, disabling the sprinklers too. Wi’ the closed door, it was an inferno. My back was seared and blistered, the skin peeling off as I tried to get Alex’s body out. Or so the doctors told me. ‘Twas a miracle I survived at all.”
Murtagh clears his throat. “He was in the hospital for a month. Jenny and I were terribly worried, thinking he might not pull through.”
“But why?” Claire bursts out, bewildered. “Why kill Alex?”
“Alex discovered internal documents that implicated men in power, links to bank accounts of several police officers, judges, and politicians on Leoch Holdings’ payroll. My uncles were—are—trading money for favors, overturning convictions, and legislating in the company’s interests.”
“During the investigations, we found no trace of any document in the room, most everything had burned up,” Murtagh says. “There was also no CCTV footage available. Someone had tampered with the video.” With this, the old man stood up, and unlocked a metal filing cabinet next to his desk. Claire watched in fascination as he manipulated a false bottom and extracted a fat manila envelope. “But then we got these.”
“Murtagh took care of my dingy flat while I was in hospital. Alex had messengered over copies of the documents in secret—wise of him, to leave no digital trace. There was a letter explaining what it all meant, and who the man was—Stephen Bonnet, he’s a commander in the force. Murtagh saw it, and could verify that my name was not on the records. Therefore, I was unlikely to be involved in my uncles’ dirty business.”
“Why did he not tell you from the start?” Dread was settling into Claire’s very bones, as she grasped the magnitude of the situation.
“He didna trust me, I imagine. Upon his discovery, he assumed I was in cahoots with my uncles, bein’ family and all. But I made certain comments to him that probably convinced him I was unaware of their dealings.”
“What did you tell him?”
“At the time, when I started at Leoch, my uncles were pressuring me to date and marry Laoghaire. I told Alex this, and said that it was wrong and I plain didna want to, and if they fired me for it, they could go fuck themselves and I’d work bagging groceries at Tesco before I’d let them bully me like that.” Claire almost smiles at this vehement outburst. “I lost on that account.”
“He was listed under an assumed name on the documents. That’s why Alex, poor lad, didna think he might be involved either. Bonnet fixed it so Alex’s body was not autopsied, so no one could ken of the gunshot wound that killed him. The McGregors were told there were no real remains, and they had only ashes to mourn. My uncles—”
“Threatened your life if you exposed them and forced you to marry,” Claire finishes for him. “But there is no proof of you doing any wrong!”
Murtagh sighed. “We thought so as weel. But Colum and Dougal’s reach is much longer than ye ken.”
“They had tech experts alter images and deep fake a video that pin Alexander’s death on me,” Jamie says. Claire shakes her head.
“But surely anyone—”
“’Tis my word against theirs. With their endless resources and contacts in law enforcement and the courts, who would believe me?” Jamie’s tone is final and resigned.
Silence weighs heavy in the air; Murtagh collects their empty glasses and sets them on his desk. “I’ve used my position in the force to continue to gather evidence, more papers, whatever I can use to help bring Colum and Dougal MacKenzie to justice, and absolve Jamie from any blame. I’ve involved Chief John Grey from the SCD, Specialist Crime Division, who works with organized crime, and it’s taken us years to be able to discern who to trust and who is in Leoch’s pockets.”
Claire is stunned at this turn of events. She had expected a godfather who at best, might cajole her into believing that Jamie’s marriage was a lie, an economic convenience of sorts, and that had been true after a fashion. But she had not predicted that this was an issue involving crime, illegal activities, and the death of an innocent man. Jamie appears to read her thoughts.
“That is the truth, Sassenach, and I trust ye enough that I ken well ye willna expose the ongoing investigation, or speak to anyone about what happens at Leoch. I’ve endangered yer very life by making ye privy to my story, and for that I am truly sorry.”
“Jamie, I—” Claire’s voice breaks. She casts about for what she wants to say. “Thank you for trusting me. I won’t say anything, not even to Geillis,”—at this she remembers G is still waiting in the lobby— “and… and I want you to understand, we are what we make ourselves, we use what we have, and we decide what we are. You, James Fraser, are an honorable man.”
Jamie remains behind to spend time going over new evidence with Murtagh. Claire assures him Geillis and she will head straight to their flat, and he asks if she would call him tomorrow. He doesn’t want to assume, he doesn’t want to lie anymore; he will give her time to think, to decide if this is something she also wants, if she feels as he does, their short acquaintance be damned. Can Claire risk her heart?
There is an unbearable weight of sorrow pressing upon Claire’s spirit; as she rides the elevator, descending numbers flashing in the display, she racks her brain trying to figure out if there is anything, anything at all she can do to ease his burden.
When she spots Geillis waiting for her, she realizes how lucky she is to have a friend like her—unconditional, constant, a forever kind of friend. G had been there for her in her darkest times, even when…
Suddenly it hits Claire. Without a word, Geillis follows her out into the rainy Glasgow night.
“What’s happened? Are ye convinced? Was he telling the truth?”
“Oh, G. I can’t even tell you. He’s for real, and he’s just been so unlucky in life… I have to help him.”
“What do you mean? Help him how?”
“I’m going to call Frank.”
“Frank Randall was yer husband?”
“Do you know him? Oh, Jesus H Christ, is he in the documents too?”
“No, Sassenach, he isn’t, but even I’ve heard of him.” Jamie pauses. “Why do you think he would help?”
“To uncover a massive scandal and come out on top as a sort of savior, moral do-gooder, champion of justice? That will surely take him all the way to 10 Downing Street!”
While G is pulling nights, Claire has a week off from the hospital, a mini-holiday that’s long been owed to her. She is still considering her position regarding Jamie, but she has to admit it’s been hard not to see him, only speaking to him on the phone. Her plan is to call Frank Randall in London and have him do some digging of his own. For all his failings (and marital fidelity aside), Claire knows Frank is nothing if not morally upstanding when it comes to his career and political dealings.
Jamie doesn’t sound terribly convinced. “Sassenach, I think I should join ye if ye meet with him, don’t ye? This is my problem, and while I appreciate yer desire to help, I wouldna have ye involved more than necessary.”
“Involved?” Claire is surprised. “Jamie, after everything you shared with me, I’m more than involved. I’m at least knee-deep in this, and I want to see this through. I am willing to do anything to help you, to exonerate an innocent man.”
There is a long pause on the other end, long enough that Claire thinks the call dropped before Jamie speaks hesitantly. “Claire, I’ve asked ye before, what it was between us. When I touched ye, when I lay wi’ ye? Is it more for ye too?”
Claire is silent. The first thing she can think to say in a strangled voice is, “Lie with me? Who talks like that?”
Jamie laughs softly. “I do, I suppose. As for question, mo nighean donn, ye’d said ye didna ken, and I didna either.”
“I still don’t.”
“But it’s there.”
Silence on both ends again, just the sounds of quiet breathing, determining, if what is between them is usual; both conclude that it is different, and strange, and coveted.
A beat more. “Sassenach, may I come over tonight?”
“I’m sure your own flat is never as messy as this,” Claire says apologetically as she rushes around picking up all of Geillis’s shoes strewn around the place and a few take-out containers they’d forgotten on the coffee table.
“My flat is not even mine. My uncles own the building, and gifted us the living space when Laogh—when I married.” Jamie trips over his wife’s name and Claire tries not to tense up. “I received a raise when I left the hospital, but I refused to accept a promotion. What I do for publishing, I keep a hundred percent legal. All of the money, except what I need for food and such, I give to charity. I ken if I tried to leave Leoch Holdings, most doors would be closed to me once my uncles put in a word here and there. That is the only reason I’m still employed there.”
“Can you tell me more about this family of yours?” Claire perches on the couch, feet tucked under her. She and Jamie are sitting on opposite ends of the small living room, despite the seething urge to touch that lingers between them. She understands that it will be completely up to her to initiate more.
Jamie settles back on a kitchen chair, in the traditional Highlander pose of a man preparing to tell a story. “How many generations back?” he replies, with a lopsided grin. He touches the butterfly tapes remaining on his hand lightly, waiting for her answer.
“Your parents, your sister, your uncles.”
“My parents…” Jamie’s eyes take on a faraway gaze. “They were childhood sweethearts. They had a verra happy marriage. My sister Jenny is the oldest by four years. Then I came along. When I was twenty, my mother passed away after battling cancer. My father followed a couple of years after—a stroke.”
“Jamie, I’m so sorry.” Claire wants to reach out and hug him, but cradles her elbows in the palms of her hands instead, holding herself.
“I daresay ye ken something of loss yerself.”
Jamie is perceptive. “My parents. A car accident when I was five. That’s why my Uncle Lamb raised me. I don’t remember them all too well, but I can’t say I regret my upbringing.”
“It made ye who ye are now,” Jamie says, his gaze softening as he looks at her.
“And your uncles?” Claire blushes under his scrutiny, but returning
“Colum MacKenzie is… verra canny. He’s been ill all his life, Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome.” Claire winces, thinking of the hardship the man has endured: a degenerative disease that renders his legs immobile at times and causes great physical pain. “It still doesna excuse the harm he’s done, the crimes he’s committed.”
“Aided and abetted by your other uncle?”
“Dougal. He’s the youngest of the two brothers, and it’s him that actually wields Leoch’s power in his sickly brother’s name. If Colum’s the brains of the operation, it’s Dougal that’s the body, the driving force. I’m sure he canna wait for Colum to die so he can take over the reins.”
“He sounds quite ruthless,” Claire remarks with a shiver.
“He is, that. He’s the one who gave me the wedding picture and insists I bring it out when he visits.” Jamie hesitates. “Is Frank Randall cold-blooded as well?”
Claire shifts at the sudden change in topic, and understands that he is accepting her offer for help. She reaches for her phone and poises her finger, ready to dial a number she’d deleted but still knows by heart. “He is, that,” she says, echoing Jamie’s own words. Their eyes hold, amber whisky and ocean blue.
“Jamie, can I ask you something?” At his nod, Claire continues. “Why aren’t you angry about what’s happening? At your uncles, your circumstances? Don’t you think it’s terribly unfair?”
“I used to be angry, Sassenach, at the beginning. I felt—still do—powerless. But I learned that it does me no good to despair, to ask ‘why me’ at every single thing. I dinna ken the answer to that.” Jamie smiles. “But I’m starting to suspect God kens what He’s about now, and I’m about to find out if I’m truly blessed. Call Frank. We’ll meet him in London.”
Look for another update on Saturday! :) Thank you all for reading, liking, and reblogging!