Claire stood by a tall table, watching Joe and Gayle dance happily. Their wedding had turned out beautifully, no matter the extremely long engagement. And she had to hand it to Gayle — the castle was gorgeous. A smile spread across her face as she saw the unrestrained joy on her friends’ faces. The day really had been perfect.
Jamie sidled up next to her, handing her a drink. Taking it from him, she kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”
“But, of course,” he replied, sipping his own drink. He stood with his back to the table, mirroring her position. She could feel his eyes on her, roving up and down her body. Looking over, she raised a brow at him. “Have I told ye how gorgeous ye look?”
Claire laughed, looking down at the suit she’d insisted upon. The slim cut was ideal and looked — she humbly admitted — damn good on her. And she couldn’t deny the flutter in her stomach each time she felt Jamie’s appreciating glances. “Yes, you have, actually. About five times today.”
Jamie laughed, snaking his arm around her waist. “Ye may hear it about five more times by the end of the night.”
Her laugh rang out as she laid her head against his shoulder.
“Can ye make me a promise?” Jamie asked.
“Yes, I promise that I’ll still wear it back to the hotel and you can take it off me.”
He nearly choked on his drink. “Oh, I just assumed that was a given,” he replied. “No, I actually had something else I was going to make ye promise me.”
“Can ye promise that we’ll no’ have this bloody long of an engagement?” he asked, ignoring the way her head whipped over to look at him.
“While I agree that it was, in fact, very long, I would like to remind you that you have not proposed. We are not engaged. And my ring finger is tragically empty,” she told him, holding out her left hand for emphasis.
A grin crossed his face. “Aye, I did actually ken that. But I thought it would be good to make these agreements before that happens.”
She rolled her eyes. “And when is it going to happen?”
Jamie squeezed his hand that was resting on her waist. “Wouldn’t ye like to know.” He grinned at her before kissing the top of her head. “I mean, ye’ve never even said if ye want to get marrit.”
“Yes, I have! Plenty of times in the last eleven to twelve years, I’ve mentioned my plans to one day marry.”
It was Jamie’s turn to roll his eyes. “Alright, fine, ye told yer friend Jamie that one day ye wanted to get marrit. Ye’ve never mentioned it to yer boyfriend Jamie.”
She looked up at him, a thoughtful expression on her face. “Hmmm. I guess you’re right. Maybe I just thought it was one of those things we didn’t have to talk about. We just knew.”
“I suppose it could have been. But I’d rather no’ spend the money on a ring and plan some fancy proposal just to have ye laugh in my face.”
Claire hip checked him, shaking her head. “You’re a fool, Jamie Fraser. Like that would ever happen.” She curled back into his side. “Also, you know it’s us. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I’d say yes if we were still naked in bed.”
Jamie laughed as he pulled her closer. “As tempting as that sounds, I would fear for the day in the future when our bairns ask us how I proposed.”
She laughed with him. “So, is that talk also happening right now?” she asked with a grin.
He took a sip of his drink as he watched her over the rim. “I’ll no’ lie to ye and say that I’ve no’ thought many times about having bairns wi’ ye, Claire.”
Leaning up, she kissed the underside of his jaw. “Well then, I shouldn’t lie to you and say I’ve not thought of the same thing.”
He smiled broadly, meeting her for a kiss. “Seems like we’re on the same page.”
She nodded, laughing to herself. “Took us long enough.”
Jamie rolled his eyes. “What’s ten years in the grand scheme of life?” He put his drink down on the table and took her hand, pulling her toward the dance floor. His hand went to her waist, keeping her close to him as they started to sway to the music. “I’ve a lot of living I plan to do wi’ ye, Claire Beauchamp.”
She couldn’t help but stare up at him, feeling very touched. “Same page, indeed.” They met for another kiss, moving slowly to the music and forgetting everyone else there.
“I heard some people by the buffet talking about how delicious and beautiful the cake was,” Jamie commented as they continued to dance.
“Aye, they said they wanted to ken what bakery they got the cake from,” he told her. “Dinna fash, I made sure they kent that it was Sassenach Sweets.”
Claire laughed, laying her head against his shoulder. “Very kind of you. You know, your sister still takes credit for my success with cakes. All because I made Kitty’s cake.”
He hid a smile in her hair. “Of course she does. She takes credit for us being together because she told me one time that she thought we’d be a good pair.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize I should have thanked her,” Claire joked. “It’s been over a year and a half. She probably thinks I’m ungrateful.” Jamie laughed, both of them feeling the vibrations as they held each other closely.
Jamie was silent as he glanced around the room at the rest of the reception. “I think we could go smaller than this,” he commented.
Claire glanced up at him. “Already planning it?”
He shrugged as he looked down at her. “Can ye blame me?”
“No,” she decided, smiling to herself. There were still times she couldn’t quite believe it had all happened. She’d told Jamie of her long-held feelings — granted, after he’d confessed his — and they’d been together since. It was just that easy. Sure, they fought occasionally and had undergone the difficulties of merging their lives even more. But a year and a half later, they were still solid. More solid than they’d been before. She wrapped her arms tighter, more thankful than ever that they’d figured it all out.
* * *
Claire was pacing through the kitchen at the bakery, stewing. The bell rang, signalling his arrival. “Claire,” he called from the front.
Jamie walked in, looking more dressed up than she’d remembered him being as he’d left for work that morning. “What’s up? I thought we were going to meet at the restaurant.”
“We were. But I had something I wanted to talk to you about and I didn’t want to do it in public,” she explained.
Jamie’s face grew a bit serious, concerned. “If ye’re about to break up wi’ me, I have to say, I’m no’ going to take it well.”
Claire laughed, shaking her head. “Of course I’m not, you idiot!”
“Oh good, then my fears are taken care of,” he said with a teasing sigh of relief. “What’s going on?”
She wheeled the chair out of her office and motioned for him to sit down. He raised one brow at her, but followed her directions. Standing in front of him, she adopted a straighter posture, her hands clasping and unclasping nervously.
“Okay, so as you know, the business has been growing over the last two years,” she started. Jamie nodded. “And so I had those meetings today about all that.”
“What did they say?”
“They told me that there’s interest in a fifth location,” she informed him. Four months after the Edinburgh store opened, a fourth store had started the process of opening in Aberdeen. The success of her bakery had been mindblowing to her, but Jamie kept insisting it was all to her brilliance.
Jamie’s eyes widened, an excited smile on his face. “That’s incredible! Where?”
Claire took a deep breath. “London.”
“Whoa. The sassenachs are taking back the sweets?” he asked.
She laughed. “I suppose so.”
“Sassenach, that’s amazing!” He jumped up and wrapped her in a hug.
“It’s a lot, but yes, rather exciting.” She gestured for him to sit back down. “So, on the heels of that, they proposed some changes to the business model.”
“Well, they suggested that in order to allow me time to do more of the part of my job I actually like, I should bring on someone to manage the business side of things,” she explained. “Look over the finances and make sure everything’s in order. Like a CFO.”
“That makes sense,” Jamie agreed. “Ye’ve balanced a lot of things all on yer shoulders over the last six years. Rather than having advisors and such, ye could have the person on staff.”
“Exactly,” Claire said with a nod. “And it makes sense. So they told me to think about who I want to offer the role to.”
“And? Do ye have any ideas?”
“I do,” she confirmed, pausing for a moment. “You.”
Jamie’s eyebrows shot up. “Me?”
“Yes, you.” She started pacing again, her nerves getting the better of her. “Look, I know this would be a big deal, but I have a pitch more or less ready. I think you’d be great in the role. I mean, you’re great with money.”
“Ye ken that I didna earn all the money in my bank account,” Jamie reminded her.
“I know, but you never blew it. The biggest risk you took was this,” she replied, gesturing to the room around them. “Okay, other reasons. You know the financial side of things, like businesses. You have been a part of this company since it started and —”
“Not that silent,” she retorted with a grin. “Even when you told me to make all the decisions, you still gave your opinion.”
“Ye barely took any of them.”
“I took some of them. But that was then. That was setting up an image and such. This is different. This is keeping it afloat. Keeping it running. This bakery is basically my baby. And there’s no one I trust with that but you.”
Jamie grinned. “I’m the only one ye trust wi’ yer baby?”
She stopped pacing and stood in front of him.
“Look, I know it’s a lot to ask. And I want you to take your time to think about it. But to me, you’re the only person who makes sense. You’ve been invested in this company as long as it’s been a company.”
“No’ really. Ye gave me back the money almost two years ago,” Jamie reminded her.
Claire rolled her eyes, groaning at him. “Okay, fine, you’ve been emotionally and financially invested at different points in its history.” She paused, looking him in the eye. “I know it might be crazy, but you’re the only person I could even think of having this position.”
Jamie sat silently, looking thoughtful. “Alright, I have some questions of my own.”
“Fair enough. Please ask.”
“Ye’d still have to make the final call on every decision this person made, aye?”
She closed her eyes, thinking it over. “Probably. As the owner, I think I’d want that right.”
“Only makes sense,” he agreed. “Then one single person couldna ruin yer business.”
She tilted her head as she looked at him. “You wouldn’t ruin it.”
“Never said it was me,” he replied cheekily. “Next question.” He stood up and paced as she had been before. “Would this person need to go wi’ ye, like when ye open the London branch or when ye go around to check the other stores?”
Claire caught the ghost of a smile on his face. “It would certainly make sense for that person to go along. Make sure everything is running smoothly financially as well.”
“Would it be frowned upon for this role to go to yer husband?” he asked, his back to her.
She narrowed her eyes at his back. “Yet again, jumping ahead of yourself there.” He shrugged, continuing to pace in silence. “I know it would be hard for you to leave your job.”
“No’ really. I like my job, but I hate my boss. And many of my coworkers,” Jamie admitted. “Plus, we’re already saving money by combining our homes.”
Claire smiled. “That’s true. Even if we chose to live in the more expensive flat…”
“Mine was bigger!” Jamie defended.
“You have a lot of money saved up,” Claire continued. “So, even if it was not a very profitable job at first, you’d be okay. I mean, you never listened to Ian and I when we told you to buy something flashy.”
He laughed, tilting his head side to side thoughtfully. “That’s no’ completely true. Ye’ll be pleased to ken that I did finally make some flashy purchase.”
She laughed. “Oh? And what’s that?”
Jamie reached in his pocket and pulled out a box. Opening it, he revealed a gorgeous diamond ring. He smiled at her, waiting for her reaction. At first, she simply felt stunned, her eyes bouncing from his face back to the ring.
“Oh my god,” she whispered.
“I dinna ken what it is about ye, Claire Beauchamp, but ye make me want to spend large amounts of money on ye,” he teased, bending down to be on one knee. “I love ye, Sassenach, wi’ everything I am. I want to spend my life wi’ ye. Will ye marry me?”
Claire’s mouth hung open, closing and reopening a few times before she finally spoke. A smirk crossed her face as she looked back at him. “You know we said 35, right?” His brow furrowed, looking incredibly confused. “Our marriage pact was for 35, not 30. You’re a bit early.”
Jamie rolled his eyes. “Are ye serious right now?”
She burst out laughing, walking closer to him. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. If I thought you didn’t already absolutely know what my answer was, I wouldn’t have joked.”
“I’m still waiting.”
Claire knelt down in front of him, her hands coming to rest on either side of his face. “Absolutely, without a doubt in my mind, I will marry you.”
He smiled brightly, bringing her in for a long kiss. After sliding the ring on her finger, he sat back down in the chair. “Okay, onto my next question.”
She whipped her head over to him, stunned by his ability to just return to business. “O-kay.”
“I believe ye can see now why I asked about yer husband working for ye,” he told her with a cheeky grin.
“Were you just carrying this around with you?” she asked, looking down at her hand, marveling at the beautiful ring he’d chosen for her.
“No’ for long. I was going to propose after dinner. But I couldna wait that long, I suppose.”
“I can’t say I mind. How many more questions do you have? I’d rather turn the conversation to the rather big thing that just happened,” she pressed.
He laughed. “Only a couple. I want to make sure what I’m agreeing to.” She nodded, rolling her eyes a bit. “So, if I were to accept this position, would my office be near yers?”
“I think we could make that happen. But would you really want it to be?”
“Oh, aye. Of course I would.” He reached out his hand to bring her closer. “I always want to be near ye.” She squeezed his hand as she grabbed it.
“Living together and working together might be a lot of togetherness.”
Jamie pulled her onto his lap. “I canna wait.”
She framed his face with her hands. “Does that mean…?”
“Oh, I was going to accept it from the moment ye asked me,” he informed her with a smile. “But ye always have to have questions in interviews.” She laughed, leaning into kiss him. It was sloppy and happy, both of them elated. “The most important question I had was whether I’d get to go wi’ ye to the other stores.” He held her tighter against him. “Edinburgh was an easy trip. Aberdeen was doable. London would be a lot longer.”
He brought her close to him, almost kissing her again. “And I dinna think I can be away from my wife that long.”
Claire smiled, pressing her lips to his. Her legs settled around his hips as she pulled him close to her. His hands rested at her back, holding her tight to him. As they separated, she laid her forehead against his. “I love you,” she whispered.
His hands squeezed against her. “And I love ye.”
“You know what I also love?”
“When you’re wrong.”
Jamie pulled back, looking at her with an amused but confused expression. “I’m sorry?”
“Do you remember that night when Joe told us he was going to propose?” Jamie sighed, rolling his eyes as a reluctant grin crossed his face. He clearly remembered the moment she was referencing. “You said neither of us were anywhere close to getting married. And yet...here we are,” she commented, holding out her hand for both of them to look at the ring.
Jamie laughed, squeezing her waist. “I believe I also said we needed to turn our lives around, which I would argue, we rather did.”
She leaned her forehead back against his. “Yeah, I suppose we did. All for the better.”
Claire kissed him softly. It was a quiet moment they would both cherish. “So, you’re accepting the job?”
“Wholeheartedly,” he promised her. “And ye’re accepting my offer?”
“Wholeheartedly,” she repeated with a laugh. “Last weekend, at Joe’s wedding, you mentioned that you don’t want a long engagement…” Claire reminded him.
“That’s right. I dinna want to wait too long to call ye my wife,” Jamie assured her, stroking her hair from her face.
“I mean, we’ll be gone a lot once the London store really starts developing. Would be an awful time to try and plan a wedding,” she mused.
Jamie nodded, a mock serious look on his face. “Oh, aye. Awful, indeed.”
“Seems only smart that we already have that taken care of.”
“Only seems reasonable,” Jamie agreed, the corner of his mouth quirking up in an amused smile. She smiled back, kissing him again. “How do ye feel about dinner?”
Claire sat further back on his lap, looking at him thoughtfully. “Honestly? I don’t really care about dinner. I kind of want to go home from the work we’re about to share to the home that we already share and get ready to start spending the rest of our lives together.”
He grinned at her, picking her up as he stood from the chair. “That sounds rather wonderful.”
Together, they shut down the bakery, turning off the lights and making sure everything was in its place. Claire turned to lock the door as they stepped outside. She felt Jamie place a kiss at the back of her neck as she put the key in the lock. Looking back in through the glass of the door, she flashed back to the first time she showed Jamie the bakery. If only I could tell six-years-ago-Claire that one day Jamie would propose to her there , she thought to herself.
For the umpteenth time, Claire turned to leave the bakery with Jamie. But for the first time, they were walking off toward their future together. And boy, was it sweet.