It took Jamie four days to talk to Claire again. Four days during which he was adapting to his life on campus with people watching his every move, but most importantly spending every minute looking around to find the lovely curly head again. Four days in which every minute was filled with thoughts of her whisky eyes and her smile, of what to tell her once he’d see her again. He even sketched her face a couple of times when he woke up at night after she took possessions of his dreams.
James Fraser was more than infatuated and he knew it.
He saw her once during the first days, but as he was surrounded by girls she only smiled politely and hurried to her next class, accompanied by a gentleman, a vision that made Jamie’s heart twist a little bit.
The first week of school also meant the first weekend to party. Jamie’s roommate, a good friend and fellow aristocrat, John Grey, convinced him to go out at the local pub instead of spending his Saturday evening face buried in a book. Jamie had learned from a young age to be careful in public places. He knew that a single wrong move could land him on the cover page of The Sun with some dreadful caption, but he was at university as a young lad, not the future King of the country, and he intended to enjoy his time as much as everyone else before diving head first into his duty for the rest of his life.
A drink at the pub would be harmless and in a week or two, the novelty of his presence on campus would die down and he could live in a semblance of peace.
As Jamie made his way inside the pub, his eyes were immediately attracted to her. She was sitting at the bar with the same gentleman he had seen her previously and he swallowed hard. He knew himself well enough to attribute the slight sting on his heart to jealousy, a feeling he was not accustomed to nor was he entitled to feel since Claire Beauchamp was not his.
At least not yet.
When their eyes met, Jamie felt his skin prickling and he gave her a smile. He didn’t pay attention neither to John nor to what was happening in the pub, he was transfixed by Claire as if she was the only person in the room, curls wild and cheeks flushed by the whisky she had been drinking.
“James?” John looked at him sceptically. “I said the others are over there, let’s join them.”
“Oh, aye. Ye go, I’ll get us some drinks and I’ll be right there.” Jamie answered, eyes still on Claire as John went away to join the others.
He made his way towards the bar, wondering how he could start a casual conversation without looking like a complete idiot but thankfully, as he came closer, she spoke first.
“Jamie,” Claire smiled warmly.
“Hello, Claire. I dinna think I would see ye here.” He ran his hand on the back of his neck and smiled shyly. He couldn’t help but give a glance at the man next to her and smiled politely.
“You think about seeing me?” She grinned, amused.
If she only knew… But he wasn’t going to admit that he was thinking about her since their meeting or the fact that he almost showed up at her house at some point during the week.
“I mean, ye seem more like the type to stay home on a Saturday night out and enjoy a good book with a tea. Just like myself but I got dragged by my friend.” He leaned against the bar, playing it cool.
“That’s pretty much my situation.” She chuckled and looked at the gentleman next to her. “By the way, this is Joe, a fellow archaeology student and a good friend of mine.”
A good friend.
Jamie felt a sense of relief and relaxed as Claire continued her introductions. “Joe this is…”
Joe grinned and interrupted her. “I know who this is, thank you very much, Beauchamp.” Joe held his hand out to Jamie and grinned. “Nice to meet you, your Highness. You are as handsome as seen on telly.”
“Thank you, but please call me Jamie.” He chuckled, shaking Joe’a hand.
“Don’t mind him, he’s already intoxicated,” Claire smirked, watching the two men.
“I am not!” Joe smirked, sensing the attraction between his friend and the prince.
“It’s alright.” Jamie chuckled “I’ve heard the whisky is good here so I canna blame him. Can I offer ye both a drink?”
“Actually, I was on my way out.” Joe lied and finished his drink. “But I’m sure Beauchamp over here would like a refill.” Winking, he kissed Claire’s cheek and disappeared in an instant.
“Well, now you met Joe,” Claire smirked. “He’s quite the character but he’s the best.”
“Are ye two dating?” The words came out of his mouth before he could control them.
Claire looked at him amused. “Truly, it’s none of your business.” If her new favourite activity was to drive the young prince crazy, it was working.
Blushing, Jamie cleared his throat. “Aye, no it’s none of my business, Claire… I…”
“We are not dating.” Claire grinned. “Joe’s interests are not in me, or women in general, if you get what I mean.”
“Oh. Aye, I do. Maybe I should introduce him to John.” He grinned, sitting on the stool next to her and ordered two glasses of the finest whisky.
“Are you trying to get me drunk, James?” She raised her eyebrow.
“I dinna think ye can get easily drunk.” He handed her the drink with a smile.
“Good judgment, Fraser.” She took the glass and looked at him. “Cheers!”
“Slainte!” He winked and took a sip.
“You are far more Scottish than you are English, aren’t you?”
“Aye. My ma’ insisted we learn our heritage and my da’ agreed. I grew up in the Highlands so I picked up the accent since I was a wee bairn.”
“Wee bairn,” she repeated, mimicking his accent and making him laugh.
Jamie grinned and watched her eyes. All it took him was a second to be drunk on their whisky colour again and to forget the world around him. He didn’t even see John coming over him.
“James?” John’s voice brought him back to reality and Jamie looked at his friend who was watching Claire. “Everyone is waiting for you over there.”
“Oh aye, I’m coming.” He finished his drink and got up, looking at Claire. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”
Nodding, Claire finished her drink as well and smiled softly. “Enjoy your evening”
Jamie watched helplessly as Claire gathered her things and left the pub. He was cursing inside and he turned to John with a glare. “Next time ye wait for me to come over.”
“Sorry, James, but you know how Geneva and the others are. Who is that girl, anyway?” John asked sceptically.
“It’s none of yer business, John,” James mumbled. The last thing he wanted was to be spending his evening with Lady Dunsany and her group of uptight rich girlfriends who only wanted to date him because of his title - but he had no choice on the matter.
“Never mind, come.” John got more drinks and made his way to the others with Jamie following him slowly.
Jamie woke up at dawn and stared at the ceiling for a long while.
He had dreamt of Claire again.
After she left the pub, his evening turned out just the way he expected. He sat at the table, nodding or smiling politely while drowning in his whisky. He didn’t listen, his mind was occupied with Claire and how his evening could have been if John hadn’t interrupted them.
Lost in his thoughts, Jamie came up with a plan. It was quite simple really. He got dressed and sat down at his desk to write some words on a paper. When he was done, Jamie folded the note and carefully placed it in his pocket. He would give her this note at some point, maybe today or maybe in two years, who knows but he needed it to be ready.
He left to go to the best bakery in town and bought various pastries before making his way to Claire’s cottage. The city was almost empty as it was not even 8am on a Sunday morning but he didn’t mind, quite the contrary. Jamie thought about showing up at her house during the week, but he was afraid to be too forward.
This time he couldn’t help it.
Jamie stopped in front of her house and it took him five minutes to gather the courage to ring the doorbell. What was he going to say?
He stood there, waiting. When no one answered he tried again, before realizing that she might still be asleep or not even home. Sighting, he turned around to leave when Claire appeared at the door with a surprised smile. “Well, you are up early!”
“Good morning to ye too, Claire,” he smiled.
“Good morning,” she responded, looking at his bakery’s bag with a grin as she held hers up. “I see great minds think alike? It’s a surprise I didn’t see you at the bakery.”
“Aye, Sunday mornings are nothing without croissants, scones and tea, of course. I thought we could share.” He smiled shyly.
“Of course! Will you join me and Frank?” She asked with a smile, opening the door.
“Frank?” He frowned with an awkward smile.
Of course, she had a boyfriend.
“That’s my cat.” She chuckled, seeing his reaction.
“Oh aye, I mean sure!” He relaxed and looked up, he prayed to god he would be able to keep up with Claire Beauchamp before following her inside.
Her home was exactly the way Jamie pictured it, with books everywhere and a sleeping cat- the famous Frank- near the fireplace. Fresh flowers on the table and an old leather sofa. Deep down, he knew she could be a timeless heroine of classic literature novels written by Austen or Hardy.
He followed her to the little kitchen, continuing his visual exploration of the home, hoping to find one or two secrets about her, hidden in the walls. He noticed only two pictures: one of a couple with a young curly child and another of a man in the middle of the desert.
“I have coffee too if you don’t want any tea.” Claire said as she set the table and unpacked the pastries.“Oh and please, make yourself at home.” She added with a smile.
“Oh no, tea is quite alright. Thank ye.” He smiled, sitting down. He watched her for some moments, before he said, softly, “I am verra sorry about last night.”
Claire turned around to look at him. “Oh no don’t be, you were with your friends.”
“Still, I dinna want ye to think I dinna want to spend the evening in yer company. Actually, I’m pretty sure I would have had more fun.”
“Truly, you have nothing to apologise for and you brought me pastries, I can’t possibly be mad at you right now.” She grinned, pouring the tea into two mismatched mugs. “How do you take your tea? Black or white?”
“White with a sugar, Sorcha.” Biting his lip, he hoped she didn’t hear the nickname or that she wouldn’t speak Gaelic.
“You just called me light?” Claire grinned. Of course, she understood Gaelic.
Jamie blushed slightly and smiled. “It’s her name in Gaelic, I dinna think ye had the language.”
“I understand some things, I wouldn’t say I have it.” She placed the mugs on the table and sat down in front of him. “Tea with milk, you’re a little bit English after all”
“Aye, though I have to admit I feel more Scottish than English dinna repeat that” He grinned.
“I won’t tell a soul,” Claire whispered and sipped her hot tea carefully. “And what are you studying?”
“History, of course. Even if I had all the training as a teenager already, I love it and I want to know everything about this country before I… Well, you know.”
“Become King?” Claire smirked.
“Aye,” he nodded and sipped his tea.
“You know, a half Scottish lad on the throne of England will be quite the revolution, and without a single blood shred.” She remarked.
“I guess I canna avoid my destiny, Sorcha. I might as well embrace it and try to be a good leader. At least half as good as my father, it would be quite the achievement already.”
Claire touched his hand, giving him a smile. “I think you’re going to be great. And you still have some time to prepare, even if I doubt you could ever be prepared for such a thing.”
Jamie couldn’t help but smile back, and stroke her hand with his thumb as their eyes met. “No ye canna be prepared, but I think that’s life in general.”
Nodding, she smiled. “Yes, it is…”
“Tell me more about ye, Claire.” He asked softly. He wanted to know every single detail about her life, to be able to protect her from her fears or even pain.
“I was born in London and I lived there for the first five years of my life with my parents, until they died.” She started, noticing the change in his eyes and feeling his hand tightening around hers.
“Then I stayed with my uncle Lambert, the archaeologist, and we travelled all over the world for his job for most of the time until he became a professor here. Two years ago he passed away, so I started studying archaeology because it reminded me of him and this place is kind of the only home I’ve ever known. I feel good, here.” She continued with a smile.
“Ye would like to teach then?”
“Yes, I’d love to continue what my uncle started here.” She smiled, taking a bite of croissant.
“Ye are the most interesting woman I’ve ever met, Claire.”
“I’m quite unusual, that’s for sure.” She grinned, watching his amused face. “So, apricot or raspberry jam for the scones?”
He wanted to tell her that the jam didn’t matter, as long as he could taste it from her lips - but he didn’t. He smiled instead, and answered, “Raspberry,” looking at the vivid red colour in the jar, almost sensing the flavour on his tongue; intense, sweet and a little sharp.
Just like her.