Chapter 1: Sassenach Sweets
The bell dinged, signaling the arrival of a late customer. Claire rolled her eyes, wishing more than anything that she could close the store and get home quickly. She plastered on a fake smile and walked out to greet the new guest. A sigh of relief echoed through the mostly empty room when she saw who it was.
“Oh thank god, it’s just you.”
“ Just me?” Jamie teased. “I’m so flattered, Sassenach.”
Claire scoffed, walking past him to turn the “Open” sign to “Closed.” “You know what I mean. I was afraid it was the type of person who comes in two minutes before closing time and wants the world.”
Claire paused and watched Jamie for a moment. “Yes, in fact, they are.” She started walking back behind the counter and into the kitchen. “Come on. If you’re here, you might as well help me.”
Jamie shrugged. “Very well.” He rolled back the sleeves of his button down shirt and prepared himself to help Claire close down the bakery. She’d allowed most of the employees to leave a few minutes earlier. On days like that day, she liked to take the time to close things down on her own. It reminded her of how it was in the beginning.
It had been 5 years since she opened her bakery, Sassenach Sweets. The name had been inspired by Jamie’s nickname for her. Really, it was a way to thank him. She had been in the trenches of medical school and hating it. After many tearful conversations over pizza and beer, Jamie told Claire to pursue her dreams and do what she really wanted to do. And what she really wanted to do was bake. Knowing she could never own her own bakery, Claire gave up hope pretty quickly. But fate, and then Jamie, had other plans. He’d been on a spur of the moment trip with his brother-in-law to New York City when he bought a lottery ticket as a joke and then won. 3.5 million dollars had completely changed Jamie’s life. And then he changed Claire’s. He gave her the money she needed to start her own bakery, including funds for the store and equipment. Achieving her dreams had all come down to his generosity and support. It was something she never forgot.
Glasgow had apparently been the perfect place to open Sassenach Sweets. Within two years, Claire was opening a second store on the other side of town, due to high demand. There were many days she still couldn’t believe she’d actually followed her dreams, and more than that, that she’d succeeded.
“What brought you by?” Claire asked as she stood at the sink, washing pans.
“Eh, I was just thinking about ye,” Jamie replied vaguely.
Claire looked over at him as he scrubbed at a baking sheet. “Why?” She asked, her eyes narrowing.
A small smirk bloomed on Jamie’s face. “I ran into someone ye ken.”
“Oh god. Who?”
“Frank,” Jamie confessed.
“Where on earth would you run into Frank?” Claire wondered.
“Apparently, we go to the same barber.”
“Hmmm. I wonder how that never came up in all that time,” Claire mused.
Jamie rolled his eyes. “Tis no’ as though the man was ever fond of me. Ye may recall that he often avoided interactions with me.”
“To be fair, you did as well,” Claire reminded him.
“I at least tried. He was yer man and I wanted to give him a chance. He canna say the same,” Jamie defended.
“He was just crappy all around.”
Jamie looked over at Claire and watched her for a moment. “Ye ken ye never told me the true reason why ye left Frank.”
“What? Yes I have!”
“No, no’ really,” he insisted. “Ye said it just wasna working out. Tha’s no’ a real reason.”
Claire breathed out a sigh. “Frank had this great idea that he was going to manage the bakery for me so that I could focus on big picture stuff. But he never really seemed to care about me or what I wanted. It just always seemed like he wanted to be able to claim some of the success. And I wasn’t having that. I did this on my own. Well, aside from you.”
Jamie interrupted her. “Nah, ye did it on yer own.”
Claire smiled to herself. “Okay, well anyway, it was right around the time that I was working out the logistics of opening the second store and he wanted a piece of it. I didn’t really have the time for a relationship and I didn’t want to be with someone who only wanted me for my success. So I ended things.”
Jamie nodded. “Well, I still say, good for ye.”
Claire laughed. “Thanks, I suppose. It’s been quite a while now.”
“He still asked about ye,” Jamie informed her.
“Oh Lord. What did you say?”
“I was spending so much time trying to decide if I wanted to make up some story about ye finding some handsome, rich man or talk about yer massive success and in the time it took me to decide, he started talking about himself,” Jamie recalled.
Claire snorted. “Sounds about right.”
“Aye, I thought so as well. Ye were far too good for him, Sassenach.”
She looked over at him with a smile. “Thanks,” she said softly.
They worked in silence for a bit. Jamie assured her that he could handle washing dishes while she disassembled machines and put away the leftover pastries. Tomorrow they’d go to the homeless shelter a few blocks away. Day old pastries didn’t sell and Claire refused to waste them. Every morning on her way to work, she’d drop off the left overs from the day before.
Jamie was the first one to break the silence. “So did I tell ye about the new lass at work?”
Claire shook her head. “No. I believe the last one you mentioned was Laoghaire and that crashed and burned pretty quickly.”
“Oh, aye, and for a good reason,” Jamie remembered with a shiver. “Anyway, there’s this new lass at the office. She’s French.”
“Did St. Germain bring her on?”
“Aye, he did. Recruited her himself apparently,” Jamie confirmed.
“And the fact that your boss that you hate approves of her doesn’t deter you at all?” Claire asked with a raised brow.
“Perhaps it should. But she’s just...mesmerizing. She’s tall and blonde. She’s beautiful. I find myself staring out the door of my office just to see if she’ll walk by,” Jamie told her, a far-off look in his eyes.
“Well, she sounds special,” Claire replied with an almost flat expression. “What’s the girl’s name?”
Jamie smiled. “Annalise.”
Claire nodded to herself, focusing on the task at hand. “So how many days are you betting it’ll take before you get her to go out with you?”
Jamie shrugged. “I canna say. She’s been rebuffing me a bit. So I thought I’d call in a favor.”
“A favor, hmm?” Claire asked. She knew just where he was going with this.
“Ye ken how sometimes ye’ll prepare those wee baskets of yer treats and I take them into the office?” Claire nodded. “Well I was wondering if ye’d be able to do that for me. Soon, perhaps.”
Claire sighed. “Fine. But you have to promise that John will get at least one of them. He’d kill me if he didn’t.”
Jamie laughed, his head tilting back. “But of course!” He walked over to Claire and wrapped her in a hug. “Ye’re the best, Sassenach.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
He pulled back and looked at her. “I mean it. Ye’re a wonderful friend. And the best investment I ever made.”
A reluctant smile crossed Claire’s face. Even if it was silly, she always found it a bit endearing when Jamie referred to her as his investment. He was the only one who’d ever helped her with the bakery who’d never asked for something back. And it was the only way their friendship had prevailed. He gave her the money, ignoring her demands that he keep it, and told her to follow her dreams. She’d toss ideas back and forth with him as a way of keeping him in the loop as an investor. Each time, he’d simply say her vision was perfect.
The constant reminder of his part in helping her was what always got her to agree to his crazy ideas, like pastry baskets for his office. She didn’t mind and would never make him pay, but it wasn’t as though her time was endless.
It was two days later, after closing time that Joe keyed into the store to visit with Claire. She was laying croissant dough on a pan, ready to put them in the oven. “I thought it was after close. You don’t usually start this part this early.”
“I’m making a pastry basket for Jamie’s work,” she told him.
“Oh. I always love when you do that for me too,” Joe said with a smirk.
“You men. One at a time, please,” she laughed.
“No worries. It’s a hospital. People bring food in all the time,” Joe admitted.
Joe and Claire had met in their first year of medical school. They’d quickly become very good friends, bonding over being some of the only non-scots in their program. Joe had continued on and become a doctor after Claire had dropped out to open the bakery. Aside from some light teasing, Joe had been nothing but supportive of Claire’s choice to change paths. Joe and Jamie had carried her emotionally (and occasionally physically) through the process of starting her own business and making it grow. She often wondered where she’d be without the both of them. The little baskets were usually a thank you when they weren’t serving as shameless self promotion.
“So how was the hospital today?” Claire asked.
“Kinda boring, actually,” Joe admitted. “What about the bakery?”
“Well it’s an hour after close and I’m working on more food,” Claire stated, pointing to the pan in front of her. “It’s not a normal day.”
“Why are you doing this one?”
“Jamie asked for it. He needs to impress some girl at work apparently,” Claire said with a mild scoff.
Joe sat down on a bar stool across from her. “And how does that make you feel?”
Claire’s head snapped up to look at Joe. “Excuse me?” Joe simply raised one eyebrow, his gaze still trained on her. “Why would that make me feel any sort of way?”
“Perhaps because of your feelings.”
Claire burst out laughing. “I don’t have feelings for Jamie.”
Joe leaned forward on the prep table. “Lady Jane, come on. You told me you did!”
“That was in medical school which was a long time ago,” Claire reminded him. “Also, I was drunk. A lot has happened since then. Whatever feelings I was having for Jamie were shut down the minute he became an investor in my company. Business leaves no room for feelings.”
“Mmhmm. Sure.” Claire glared at her friend. “Look, all I’m saying is that I saw the way you used to look at him. And I see the way you look at him now. Not much has changed.”
Claire was silent as she placed the pan of pastries in the oven. She walked back over and looked at Joe. “You’re right in a way. Things haven’t changed all that much. Jamie still pursues women like they’re a dying commodity. And I’m still never one of them. So, you’re right in that way.”
Joe frowned, looking down at his hands. “You don’t have to do everything he asks you to do.”
“He’s my friend and I want to,” Claire insisted.
“Can you tell me the truth?” Joe pushed.
Claire sighed, leaning against the table to match Joe’s pose. “I fell for Jamie nearly the moment I met him. I hated being the silly girl in love with her best friend. It was such a cliche. But I couldn’t help it. You’ve met him. You know he’s sweet and has a charm about him. But when he gave me the money to start this, I was determined to shut it all down. Two things complicate friendships like nothing else: feelings and money. We already had the money complication. I wouldn’t be the one to push it a step further and admit my feelings. So I was determined to ignore them. Bury them. Date other people. Throw myself into work. And that’s what I’ve done.”
Joe watched her for a long moment. “And?”
Claire sighed, throwing herself down on a barstool, her head in her hands. “And it hasn’t made a bit of difference.”
She glanced up at Joe with a helpless look on her face.
“I’m still in love with him.”
Chapter 2: Old Friends and Enemies
Thanks for the great response to the first chapter! I hope you enjoy this one too!
Claire had given the basket to Jamie, promptly ignoring any memories of her confession to Joe the night before. She threw herself into her work. If she was honest, she was a bit mad at herself for actually confessing. Joe was a very trustworthy friend. There was no way he’d tell Jamie. Or anyone, for that matter. But it was still her well guarded secret. And in a moment of weakness (coupled with Joe’s persistence) she’d caved and admitted it all.
It was around lunch time when the door opened and two familiar faces with matching grins walked into her shop.
“My darling, Claire!” John cried, drawing her out from behind the counter. “You have no idea how happy I was to see Jamie walking in with a basket from you today. Truly made my week!”
Claire smiled, looking over at Jamie. “So it was a big hit, hmm?”
“Of course it was,” John replied. “It always is when you send them.”
“Was it a big enough hit?” Claire asked Jamie, an eyebrow raised.
He shrugged. “Still to be seen, I suppose.”
Claire just nodded. “So what brings you lads by here?”
“We were having lunch at a restaurant about a block away and I insisted on stopping by so we could thank you,” John told her.
She smiled. Claire had been fond of John for a while. He was a work friend of Jamie’s and a hearty supporter of Claire’s bakery. There were times that Jamie dragged Claire to work parties so he didn’t have to go alone. Claire always went along, though sometimes, it was just to catch up with John.
“Well you know I love you boys,” Claire reminded him. “I was more than happy to send the treats your way.”
“Jamie said you asked him to make sure I got some of them. That means so much,” John said, placing his hand over his heart. “You’re just the best, Claire.”
Jamie was watching her. “Aye, she is.”
Claire glanced over at him. The look he gave her made her heart clench. If he only knew what one look did to her. Even after all these years.
“Oh, by the way, Sassenach,” Jamie said, stepping closer to her, “I got a call from Rupert today. He’ll be in town and wants to get together.”
Claire nodded her head. “Okay, great! Sounds fun.”
Jamie made an uneasy face. “Well theoretically it does.” Claire’s eyes narrowed in his direction. “Geillis will apparently be with him.”
Claire sighed, stepping back. “Then, sorry, I’m out.”
Jamie groaned. “Come on! It’s been so long since ye’ve seen Rupert. The two of ye used to get on so well.”
“I know, and I miss him. But Geillis got Rupert in the divorce. I got you.”
Jamie rolled his eyes so hard she thought they might go back in his head. “That’s a lame excuse and ye ken it well. Come on. It’ll be drinks at a loud pub where ye can pretend to ignore any rude thing the lass says and then we can go back home and make fun of her just as we used to at uni.”
Claire couldn’t help but laugh at the memory. “I’ll think about it,” she offered. “But you can understand why I wouldn’t want to see her, right?” Jamie nodded with a sigh. “I mean we were very close friends and then she betrayed me.”
“I ken that. And that’s why ye got me in the divorce,” Jamie assured her, a small grin on his face. “But it’s been almost six years since ye’ve seen her. And it’s been three since ye’ve seen Rupert. Ye ken there’s a place inside ye where ye think it would be fun to spend an evening together, just the four of us again.”
Claire was determined to keep her face blank. But no matter how hard she tried, her glass face prevailed, much to Jamie’s amusement. “Fine,” she huffed. “I’ll go. But I get to decide when we leave. Even if that’s two minutes after that wench gets there.”
Jamie held up his hands in surrender. “Fair enough.” He tilted his head slightly. “Though please try to last a bit longer than that.”
“We’ll see. You know it won’t depend all on me,” Claire said with a note of finality as she stepped back behind the counter. She bid them both goodbye before hiding herself in the kitchen.
The next day, Claire was sitting with Jamie at a loud pub, waiting for their old friends to show up. Claire’s leg was bouncing up and down in her anxiety. Jamie noticed when he looked over at her. He put his arm around her shoulders before leaning towards her ear. “It’ll be fine,” he whispered.
His breath on her neck was messing with her even more. She just nodded silently. Jamie pulled her closer, allowing her to lean on him. “I promise ye that none of the old drama will come up. It’s just a casual drink among friends.”
“And what do I get if you’re wrong?” Claire challenged.
Jamie laughed. “A rare gem. Ye getting the opportunity to tell me I was wrong.”
Claire glared at him. “You’re quite literally a millionaire. You can do better than that.”
He kept laughing, his head thrown back as he squeezed her shoulder. “Oh, Sassenach, ye do make me laugh.”
She shook her head disapprovingly at him. “I more or less meant it.”
“Oh I ken ye do. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what yer prize could be if ye do prove me wrong.”
They didn’t have to wait much longer before Rupert’s booming voice carried through the loud pub to their table, announcing his arrival. He wove his way through the crowd, an excited look on his face. His arms were thrown out wide as he approached them. Jamie jumped up first, meeting him for a hug. Claire followed suit and realized she truly was happy to see Rupert.
“Goodness, ye two, it has been far too long!” Rupert exclaimed as he looked back and forth between the two of them. “And Christ, the two of ye have just been thriving, haven’t ye?”
Claire chuckled with a shrug. “I don’t know about that...”
Rupert scoffed. “I do. First I see an article about a local Scottish lad winning the fecking lottery and bringing home millions. Then I hear that about the Sassenach that is running a booming bakery business so good that my mother goes weekly and they had to open a second one.”
“Have you been keeping tabs on us?” Claire joked.
Rupert laughed, pulling Claire into a side hug. “It’s hard not to keep tabs on ye two.”
“Because we live in the same city as yer mam?” Jamie asked, wearing a devious grin.
“Tis certainly part of it,” Rupert confessed.
“So are you just home for a visit?” Claire asked, sitting back down.
“No, my school is having a wee reunion of sorts. That’s why Geillis and I came back this weekend,” he explained. “We arena far enough away to ignore our own reunion, sadly.”
“Where is she, by the way?” Jamie asked with a hesitant glance in Claire’s direction.
“She got stuck in traffic but she’ll be here soon,” Rupert promised. “Shall be good to get the gang back together!”
Claire nodded, hoping fake enthusiasm would be enough. She knew for certain she’d have more fun if it was just Jamie, Rupert, and her for the evening.
Geillis had been a close friend from the first year of university. All four of them had been close from the beginning. In their last year of university, they were all making plans. Claire was planning on medical school. Jamie secured a job at a bank. Rupert had found a place to live in Edinburgh. And Geillis had been flailing. So she lashed out, costing Claire an acceptance to a medical school in London. Claire had scrambled to gain an acceptance somewhere else. She ended up in Glasgow and in the aftermath of everything that had happened, Jamie had followed her. It had all worked out in her favor, but the betrayal by someone who was supposed to be such a good friend was never quite forgotten.
The three of them sat chatting for a bit as they waited for Geillis to show up. Suddenly, a head of bright red hair flew through the crowd and appeared at their table. Jamie was better at feigning his excitement to see her. She hugged Rupert and Jamie before turning to Claire. Both women froze, not knowing how to approach the other. Claire simply nodded in her direction.
“Geillis,” she said.
Geillis followed suit. “Claire.” The awkwardness of the moment wasn’t lost on anyone in the group. Geillis cleared her throat. “So Jamie, Rupert said something about yer work.”
“And why the hell do ye work? Ye won the fecking lottery, man!”
Jamie frowned. He got that question all the time. Anyone who knew he’d won a significant amount of money typically had suggestions for what he should do with it. “Well I decided I shouldna simply piss it away.”
“He lives in a flat, Geillis. And no’ a particularly nice one,” Rupert informed her.
“Hey, yes it is!” Claire defended. She had to. They lived in the same building.
Rupert laughed but shook his head. Jamie simply shrugged. And Geillis’s eyes turned to Claire. “Claire, I’ve heard lots about yer wee bakery.” Claire nodded hesitantly. “Shame medical school didna work out for ye.”
Claire was ready to fight. Jamie laid a hand on her wrist underneath the table. “She quit on her own terms,” he informed. “She had perfect marks but didn’t enjoy it. I told her she should do something she loved. And now she provides the world with delicious baked goods.”
“That’s more noble than doctoring in my opinion,” Rupert said with a wink. Claire grinned.
“How on earth did ye even open a business?” Geillis pressed.
Claire opened her mouth but Jamie beat her to it. “She got lucky. Made all the right calls and good choices and people wanted to support her and her idea.”
Claire stared at Jamie, wondering why he wasn’t telling the truth. Geillis seemed bored with the Claire praise. “I need a drink. Anyone else?”
“I do!” Rupert exclaimed, jumping off his seat. The two of them walked back through the crowd to flag down the bartender.
“Why didn’t you tell them the truth?” Claire asked once they were out of earshot.
Jamie shrugged. “I didna think Geillis needed to ken where yer support came from. Then she’d likely just say ye didna do it on yer own. But ye did.”
“Not really,” Claire argued. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“So I gave ye some help. But the success of the place comes down to ye, Sassenach,” Jamie insisted. “Tis no’ my contribution people are asking for more of.”
Claire wrapped her arm around his shoulder. “Thank you, Jamie. That’s very sweet of you to say.”
He matched her movement and his arm came around her waist. “Tis why ye got me in the divorce.”
The others rejoined the table and they carried on a conversation filled with reminiscing on their uni days and catching up (however truthfully) on their lives. It wasn’t as terrible as Claire had expected once they were just chatting. It seemed Geillis had dropped the veiled comments at the bar. For a moment, Claire was glad to be spending time just the four of them again.
But that moment ended when Rupert went to the bar and Jamie went to the bathroom.
It was just Claire and Geillis sitting at their table. They were silent for a long moment but then Geillis decided to speak.
“So I see ye still have yer all consuming love fer Jamie,” she said with an amused smirk.
Claire glared at her. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Tis quite obvious. I mean it always was,” Geillis told her. “But it still is now. I think the only person it’s no’ obvious too is poor Jamie. He’s never known the weird obsession ye’ve held for him.”
“I’m not in love with Jamie,” Claire lied. “We’ve just gotten a lot closer since uni. It’s the type of thing that happens when one friend doesn’t betray the other.”
Geillis’s eyes narrowed in Claire’s direction. “Perhaps I should sleep wi’ him. That was what got ye all mad at me in the first place. Maybe I could really earn yer ire this time.”
Claire slapped her hand down on the table. “I wasn’t mad at you because you slept with the guy I had been sort of seeing. I was mad at you because you decided that I needed to live the same aimless life as you so you got my acceptance to a great medical school overturned by calling them and saying I was unstable and unfit to be a doctor. I was pissed that you decided what you wanted for my life was more important than what I wanted.”
“Seems like yer life has worked out just fine,” Geillis commented.
“Yes, because I had to work my fucking ass off to fix the damage you’d done to it,” Claire yelled. She grabbed her purse. “You know what, I tried. But you are still the same self centered bitch you always were. It’s a shame it took me so long to see it before. Goodbye, Geillis.”
Claire didn’t wait for either of the men to return. She strode out of the bar and went to her comfort place.
Her hands were knuckle deep in dough when she heard the bell on the door. “Sassenach! Claire!” Of course he knew just where to find her when she was upset. The sounds of Jamie’s footsteps grew closer. He released a sigh when he caught sight of her. “There ye are.”
“Hi,” Claire said flatly.
“Ye just left. Ye didna even tell me,” Jamie commented as he walked over and sat down at her prep table.
“I’m sorry. I meant to send you a text but I was just fuming and I left and came here and I forgot.”
“Do ye want to talk about it?”
Claire picked up the dough and shaped it into a ball before slamming it back on the table with a sigh. “She has no regrets. She set out to ruin my life and she has no regrets about it. I don’t understand how that’s possible. One time you asked me to drop off your dry cleaning and I forgot and I felt guilty for days.”
Jamie chuckled. “Aye, but ye’ve always been a kinder person than Geillis.”
“You know I think she feels worse for sleeping with the guy I was seeing than she does for getting me kicked out of medical school,” Claire remarked with a dark look. “She’s psychotic.”
“Perhaps she’s jealous of yer success. Wouldna surprise me if that was the case.” Jamie raised a brow.
Claire shook her head. “I don’t know if it’s that. I think if anything, she wanted me to thank her for getting me kicked out because it set me on this path. Like she’s fucking responsible for it. She’s just yet another person who wants to claim my success for themselves.”
Jamie looked down at the table and nodded. “I’m sorry that I dragged ye along tonight.”
“It’s okay. I know why you did,” Claire said, reaching out to lay a hand on his. He glanced up at her with a small smile and her heart beat faster. “However,” she continued, moving her hand to cross her arms, “I will be asking for more compensation than just the opportunity to say you’re wrong. Even though you are. You’re so very, very wrong.”
Jamie laughed. He stood up from his chair and walked over to her. “Aye, I’ll give ye something else for yer troubles.” He wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. Claire had to fight her instincts to fall too deep into the embrace. He pulled back, placing his hands on her shoulders as he looked down at her with a broad smile.
“Wait, was that your repayment?” Claire asked, tilting her head at him. “Because it’s so not enough.”
Jamie rolled his eyes and walked back to his seat. “And what do ye have in mind? A Ferrari seems excessive for just one night o’ misery.”
Claire laughed. “No, but I like that your mind went there. Maybe I can get one out of you another time,” she teased. “Dinner would suffice.”
“Well how about we do dinner another night,” Jamie suggested. “I think tonight calls for old habits. Going to one of our homes, drinking beer and discussing the total idiots our friends are.”
With a nod and a smile, Claire showed her approval. “I like it. Let’s do it.” She rolled the ball of dough in saran wrap and put it in the fridge for the next day. After washing her hands, she turned to Jamie with a signal that they were free to go.
Claire was locking the front door of the bakery when Jamie took a call. “Hey, John. What’s up?” Claire couldn’t hear what John was saying but Jamie’s face lit up in an instant. He glanced over and Claire and looked torn. “Really? And ye think I should go?”
Claire’s heart sank. Their evening together was beginning to crash and burn.
“I canna, I’m afraid. I made plans wi’ Claire,” Jamie said, watching her. She could tell it wasn’t the answer he wanted to give though. That was where ten years of knowing the other came in handy. He hung up the call and gestured toward the way they walk home.
“What was that?” Claire asked.
“Nothin’,” Jamie brushed off.
“Jamie.” He turned and saw the look she was giving him.
“A bunch of my colleagues went out this evening and John called me to tell me I should be there. Apparently Annalise is there.”
Claire steeled her heart for what she was about to say. “Just go.” She wanted nothing more than to spend an evening just hanging out with Jamie. But if he wanted to be elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the same. “Go on. I’m fine.”
Jamie stared at her, clearly trying to decide if he should take her offer or not. “I dinna have to go, Sassenach.”
“But you want to. So go.”
Jamie breathed out a sigh. “I dinna want to leave ye alone.” He paused for a moment before his face lit up. “What if ye came wi’ me? Ye love spending time wi’ John. And ye could meet Annalise!”
Claire could think of nothing she’d like less than that scenario. Maybe even going back to the pub and hanging out with Geillis would be better. She shook her head. “That’s alright. I’ll just go home. You have a good time though.”
“Claire, I really dinna have to go.”
“I’m not your wife. Just go. I can take care of myself,” she insisted, even if it hurt. “I’ll see you later.”
“Tomorrow,” he promised. “I’ll buy ye breakfast.”
“And dinner,” Claire negotiated.
Jamie laughed, a grin on his face. “Aye, dinner too then.” He walked over and wrapped her in a hug, placing a kiss on her head. “Thanks for understanding, Sassenach. I’ll see ye tomorrow.”
Claire just nodded, emotion catching the words in her throat. She watched as he darted up the sidewalk, off towards his better plans. As she walked home, she realized how pathetic her personal life was. She was in love with her best friend. And he had no idea. No idea at all.
Claire rushed into Jamie’s apartment, running a bit late. “I’m here!” she called. Jamie peeked out from his kitchen. “Sorry, I know I said I’d be up in five but then I got a call I had to take.”
Jamie shrugged. “No worries. Tis just me,” he reminded with a grin. “Is everything alright?”
Claire settled herself on a stool at his kitchen island. “Yeah. Something just happened at the bakery today.”
Jamie turned back from the stove to look at her. “Well dinna keep me waiting.”
Claire chuckled as she walked over and grabbed a bottle off his wine rack. She opened it, pouring both of them a glass. “So a man walked in to the shop today. He said he and his wife live in Edinburgh but come to Glasgow all the time and have fallen in love with my bakery.”
“Rightfully so,” Jamie offered.
Claire smiled before continuing. “Basically, they want to bring Sassenach Sweets to Edinburgh.”
Jamie turned around and gaped at her. “They want ye to expand to a different city?” Claire nodded. “That’s incredible!”
Claire shrugged. “I guess. I put them in touch with my lawyers. I don’t know what the process would take or even be like.”
“Ye’ve already opened a second store. The one here,” Jamie reminded.
“No, I know that. But this is different. I wouldn’t be able to drop in on the day to day like I do here,” Claire explained. “I’m interested in it, I just want to be sure of the details.”
“Well, while we wait to hear the details, I still think we should celebrate this,” Jamie insisted.
He turned from the stove and raised his wine glass in the air, fixing her with a meaningful look. With a nod in her direction, she followed suit. “To a brilliant baker, a sublime Sassenach, and a wonderful woman.”
Claire fought the urge to roll her eyes. “You’re doing too much.”
He shook his head with a broad grin. “Nah. To one of my favorite people in the entire world, and...” Claire grinned as she realized the next thing he was going to say. “...the best investment I’ve ever made.” He watched her, an intense look in his eye. “I’m so verra proud of ye, Claire.”
Claire tried hard to fight the tears springing in her eyes. “Thank you,” she choked out before taking a long drink of her wine. Jamie wound around the island and pulled her into a hug. Breaking away after a bit, Claire shook her head. “Okay, you know I’m uncomfortable with praise. Change the subject.” She sat back down with a laugh and Jamie walked back to the stove. “How’s your work going?”
“Tis fine,” he said with a shrug. “Actually though, there’s an event on Friday. I dinna particularly want to go but I ken they expect me there. How would ye feel about joining me?” he asked, a nervous look on his face. “John should be there as well.”
Claire watched him for a moment. “Is this just your way of trying to introduce me to Annalise?”
“Och, no,” Jamie denied. “No, I believe I’m finished wi’ that.”
“Are you?” Claire asked, her curiosity piqued. “Why’s that?”
“I just dinna think she’s interested. At first John and I thought she might just be playing hard to get, but I think she’s just genuinely disinterested. The last thing I’d want to do is come off as creepy or rude. So I’m giving up on it,” he explained.
“Well that’s probably for the best. Don’t want anyone to have an uncomfortable work place.”
Jamie turned to look at her. “Exactly.” He took down two plates and scooped pasta onto both of them. Putting one down in front of her, he pushed the question again. “So will ye come?”
She didn’t particularly want to spend her Friday evening with a bunch of nose-in-the-air investment bankers, but she did want to spend it with Jamie. With a shrug, she agreed before taking a bite of her dinner.
Friday, Claire was putting the finishing touches on her look before meeting Jamie at the party. Her curls were tamed and pinned half back. She wore a red cocktail dress that she knew showed off her best assets. The neckline cut down but not too far as to look indecent for the party. Giving herself another once over, she recognized that she looked damn good. A voice in her head said she was trying to use this look to grab Jamie’s attention now that he’d given up on Annalise.
Throwing on some reasonably high heels, she grabbed her purse and walked out the door. It may just be a work party for Jamie, but Claire was determined to have a good time. At least he’d asked her to go and not to cater it.
She parked near the hall where Jamie told her to meet him. Attempting more of a walk and less of a strut, she headed toward Jamie. He was looking down at his phone but glanced up when she called his name. His eyes went wide as he took in her appearance. She wasn’t mad as he looked her up and down. “Damn, Sassenach.”
“Too much?” she asked, running a hand down her dress.
Jamie stepped closer to her. “No’ at all. Ye look great! I just...I suppose it’s been a while since I’ve seen ye in anything but jeans and a bakery T-shirt.”
Claire laughed, throwing her head back. “Way to call me lazy. I guess I ran with the opportunity to look nice for a change.”
Jamie put his arm around her shoulders, starting to steer her inside. “I’d say ye look more than just nice .”
Claire smiled up at him, thanking him quietly. As they walked inside, she couldn’t help but feel a bit smug. Maybe it was working.
They walked in and got drinks, milling around by the bar before Jamie was pulled into any obligatory conversations. They weren’t there five minutes before John spotted them and ran over. “Claire! I didn’t realize you’d be here.”
“Jamie invited me.”
“Well yeah, I figured that one out. It’s good to see you,” John commented. “And to see this outfit. You look great!”
Claire smiled broadly at him. “Well thank you. But you know, it’s only been a few weeks since I last saw you.”
“Oh yes, I know. My boyfriend is trying to diet and he told me he’d be able to smell sweets on my breath, so I’ve had to stay away,” he explained, looking down sadly.
“Well the next time he decides to cheat on his diet, I expect a visit.”
John laughed, grabbing Claire’s arm. “Like I’d go anywhere else!”
They chatted with John for a while before Jamie and John both begrudgingly decided they needed to go talk to others. Their boss was a hard man to impress and both of them were trying to. Jamie brought Claire along with him, showing her off, throwing conversation topics to her, and also using her as an excuse to get away from others. It worked pretty well.
Claire was standing at the bar, grabbing another drink for both of them when a woman approached. “Hi,” Claire said.
“Hello,” the woman replied. From just the one word, Claire could pick up the strong French accent. She must be Annalise. “I haven’t seen you here before. Do you work here?”
Claire laughed politely. “Oh goodness no. I just came with Jamie Fraser.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize...” the woman said, a strange look on her face.
As if he heard his name in conversation, Jamie walked over to Claire’s side. “What’s taking so long wi’ those drinks, Sassenach?”
She turned to see as he noticed Annalise was there. The one thing Claire hated about Jamie was that he could mask his feelings so well. She could never tell what he was thinking unless he wanted her to. And right now, she was dying to know what he was thinking. “Aha. I see ye met the new hire. Claire, this is Annalise. Annalise, Claire is the one who made all the delicious pastries we had a few weeks back.”
Annalise’s eyes snapped over to Claire, a look of excitement on her face. “That was you?” she asked. “My goodness, those were delicious! And your croissants! They made me feel like I was back in Paris!”
“Wow, thank you!” Claire said, laying a hand on her chest. “That means so much.”
“I’ve been by your bakery a few times since then because it was all too good!”
“Did you? Which one?” Claire asked. She couldn’t help but wonder if she had met Annalise without realizing it. She was always at the original shop, even if she wasn’t doing the baking or serving herself. When she could get her hands messy, she would, but running the business pulled her away from it sometimes.
“Oh I believe I went to the one on the east side of town,” the woman replied.
“Ah, yes, that’s our newer one,” Claire explained. “I was lucky just a couple of years ago to open a second location. I tend to stay near the original location. It’s become my happy place,” Claire told with a smile.
She had no idea why she was sharing so much with this woman she just met. The same woman who until this week, Claire thought Jamie was still pursuing. Claire glanced over at Jamie to have him help her stop talking. The look he was giving her nearly did the job. He expression radiated pride and admiration. Claire shook her head, looking back at Annalise. “Anyway, you should stop by the original shop. It’s just near the town center. I could maybe throw in a croissant for free.” Claire bit her tongue before she continued. “You know, anything for a friend of Jamie’s.” Claire wrapped her arm around Jamie’s waist. He wasn’t hers and it was wrong to feel possessive of him, but she couldn’t help herself.
Music began to play louder from the front of the room as the band started to play dancing music. “Claire, would ye care for a dance?” Jamie asked, finishing his whisky.
Without sparing a glance for the other woman, Claire nodded. “But of course.”
They walked over to the dance floor and Jamie pulled her close to him, taking one of her hands in his and the other finding her waist. Claire laid her free hand on his shoulder as he started to sway them. “Are ye having a good time?” Jamie asked, glancing down at her.
Claire looked up and met his blue eyes. “Surprisingly, yes, I am. What was the occasion again?”
“I dinna ken, honestly,” Jamie said with a chuckle. “They just announce these things and we dinna have much option. I think it’s St. Germain’s way of making us squirm.”
Claire laughed. “I could see that from him. He’s, uh...an interesting man.”
Jamie burst out laughing at her statement, his hand tightening on her waist. “That’s an understatement for sure.”
“Do you ever feel tempted to tell him you could buy your way to his position?” Claire asked in a low voice, her mouth close to his ear.
Jamie pulled back and looked at her. “I’ll admit the thought has crossed my mind. But no. I dinna want the man to ken that about me.”
“You don’t think he already knows?” Claire asked.
“I dinna air it out. If someone looks me up and finds the article, I suppose that’s one thing. But I willna go around waving it about,” Jamie answered. “And I think he’d treat me differently if he kent it. But he doesna.”
“That seems like sound logic,” Claire admitted. She chuckled to herself.
“It’s just funny to me that you’re so secretive with the people you know here,” she explained. “You’ve never been that way with me. We just tell each other everything.”
Jamie grinned, pulling her closer again. “Aye, but that’s just the way it’s always been wi’ us. I wasna that way wi’ Geillis, even when she wasna the devil.”
“So you’re saying I’m special?” Claire pressed. She didn’t know what had gotten into her that night.
Jamie glanced down at her, holding her gaze. “Aye, ye are special.”
The look he was giving her was too intense. She broke eye contact and looked back toward the room. The first thing she noticed was Annalise looking in their direction, pure fury in her eyes. Claire swallowed harshly, unconsciously curling in closer to Jamie.
But that look from her stayed in Claire’s mind. The rest of the evening, no matter where they were in the room, Claire noticed Annalise watching them. When they chatted with coworkers, refreshed drinks, or danced more, if Claire glanced the woman’s way, she still watched them. And her face still held the same irritation it had before. Claire couldn’t help but wonder if it was jealousy.
That thought snapped her out of her head and made her glance over at Jamie. He was laughing at something a coworker said. “Jamie, can I speak to you for a moment?”
Jamie looked over at her, confused and surprised by her request. He sputtered out his agreement and followed her into the hall. “What’s up, Sassenach?”
Claire stopped, turning on him. She stepped close so she didn’t have to speak loudly. “Did you only bring me here tonight to make Annalise jealous?”
Jamie started at her. “What?”
“Just tell me.”
“Claire, no. Of course not. I told ye I was done trying to win her over,” Jamie insisted. “Why do ye think I’d do that?”
“I don’t know, because she’s been watching us all night, looking fairly jealous and irritated that you aren’t alone,” Claire informed him. “At least that’s how I read her expression.”
For a split second, excitement crossed his face before he schooled his expression again. “I promise ye, I’d never do such a thing. Especially not to ye. Ye really think I’d use ye like that?”
Claire swallowed, taking a step back. “No. Not if I really thought about it.”
Jamie put his hands on her shoulders, dipping his head slightly to meet her eye level. “I brought ye here because I thought we’d have a good time. I was.”
Claire looked down at her feet, shame heating her face. “I was too.”
“Well how about we leave? We can go get those pancakes ye like at that all night diner,” Jamie suggested.
“We don’t have to leave your work party. You came here for a reason,” Claire replied, feeling guilty for starting this conversation.
“Nah, I’ve been here plenty long,” Jamie insisted. “Let’s go. Now I’m starting to want pancakes.”
Jamie didn’t even go back to say goodbye to his coworkers. They grabbed their coats and left the hall. There wasn’t much conversation as Claire drove them to the diner.
They both ordered a large stack of pancakes once they got there. It started to feel like it had in uni. When either of them were stressed or just needed a break from something, they went to a diner. They were actually sitting in the exact booth they’d sat in when Jamie encouraged Claire to quit med school.
Claire couldn’t help but worry that she’d shown too much of her hand that evening. Her feelings for Jamie had always been kept close to her chest, never risking that she’d have to acknowledge them. Especially to him. The night she’d told Joe had been a bad night. They’d both tanked important tests and had gotten very drunk. And that’s when she’d blurted her biggest secret. To this day, Joe was the only person she’d ever actually told. Others might have guessed, but he was the only one who knew for certain.
Thankfully, Jamie didn’t mention anything. He never brought up her accusations and never talked about Annalise. Instead, they just discussed their days, Jamie’s family, Joe, and anything that felt worth talking about. Every so often, the two of them had an evening or an afternoon that felt like recalibrating their friendship. Even when they didn’t know they needed to. That’s what the trip to the diner was in that moment.
As they got back to their building, Jamie dropped Claire off at her door. “Thanks again for coming wi’ me, Sassenach.”
Claire stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug. “Anytime. You know you only have to ask.”
Jamie kissed her head before stepping back from her. “And that’s one of the reasons why I love ye.”
Claire let out a fake laugh before quickly bidding him goodnight. She closed the door and leaned against it, whispering to herself. “I love you, too.”
Thanks for all the support so far on this fic! The response has been wonderful!
Chapter 4: Friendly Celebrations
Jamie and Claire were sitting and having drinks with Joe. Being friends with Claire had made the men friends by circumstance. They certainly did enjoy spending time with the other. Sometimes they’d be joking about something and Claire would feel like maybe, just maybe she hadn’t forced them into this friendship.
They’d been sitting there for twenty minutes when Joe got quiet. Jamie and Claire looked at each other before looking back at Joe. “I have something I have to tell you.” He pulled out a box and opened it to show a beautiful diamond ring. He got a small gasp from both of them.
“Are ye proposing to Claire? Because I’m sorry to say, ye canna have her,” Jamie joked. “We’ve been each other’s back up since our last year of uni.”
Claire laughed with Jamie, but it was a bit forced. She glanced over at Joe and he shot her a knowing look. Joe laughed too as he looked over at Jamie. “No, she’s all yours,” he said, only partially teasing. “I just wanted to share with both of you that I’ll be giving this to Gayle. And I truly hope she’ll say yes.”
“Well she’d be crazy not to,” Claire said, standing up to give Joe a hug.
Jamie clapped him on the shoulder before giving him a hug as well. “Claire’s right. Ye’ve got a good one, Joe. I’m happy for ye.”
“Thanks you guys. I wanted to tell you before it happened,” Joe said, taking a sip of his drink.
“Well this calls for a toast!” Claire declared. “To the future Dr. And Mrs. Abernathy!”
“Don’t be so loud,” Joe shushed. “Someone could know you’re talking about one of the only other Americans in Glasgow and tell her!”
Claire laughed as Jamie raised his glass in a whisper. “To Joe and Gayle!”
“Hear, hear!” Claire whispered as well.
“I still don’t trust you not to blow it, Beauchamp,” Joe said with a critical look. He shook his head at her before looking to Jamie. “Jamie, you always seem like you have someone in rotation. Who’s new with you?”
Jamie laughed, taking a drink of his beer. Claire wondered why Joe would bring this up. She had told him that the Annalise thing had ended. “Well I have a strange situation going on wi’ a lass at work.”
Joe quickly glanced at Claire before looking back at Jamie. “Do you? How is it strange?”
“Well I thought she wasna interested but then recently, I was out for drinks wi’ some people from work and she was one of them. She sat down right next to me and told me not to give up trying to woo her,” Jamie explained.
“She said that?” Claire asked.
“That was the gist of it. There was more to the conversation, but that was the most of it,” Jamie said.
Claire nodded, choosing that moment to take a long drink of her beer. “Well how fun that Operation Frenchie is back on.”
“Operation Frenchie?” Jamie asked through a laugh. “Is that what ye’re calling it?”
Claire shrugged. “Just threw it out there right now.”
“I like the sound of it,” Joe offered. “Makes it sound fun.”
Jamie rolled his eyes. “Of course ye would. Ye agree wi’ everything Claire says.”
“Oh and you don’t?” Joe argued, a brow raised.
“I mean it should be fairly obvious that both of you just agree with me or else I wouldn’t keep you around,” Claire teased. “I just needed hype men and you both got the job.”
“Mmhmm. Sure then,” Jamie replied. “Do ye need another drink, madam?”
“Ooh, madam. I’ll take that,” Claire said with a waggle of her eyebrows. “And I’ll also take another drink.”
“As ye wish, Madam,” Jamie left with a bow, making Claire giggle.
Jamie was barely out of earshot when Joe turned to her. “I thought you said that French hoe was done!”
Claire threw her hands up in the air. “I thought she was! Though I can’t say I’m surprised she’s suddenly into Jamie now. She seemed jealous of the two of us at that party. Maybe she really was playing hard to get. A bit too well.”
“Yeah, but he’s clearly still into her. Which sucks. If he had any sense, he’d realize you’re who he should be with,” Joe said with a smack of his hand on the table.
“He’s probably never going to feel that way,” Claire admitted. “Which just makes it pathetic that I have felt this way for the better part of a decade.”
“What, you think he’ll end up with this Frenchie?”
“I have no idea who he’ll end up with,” Claire replied. “I just need to stop thinking one day it’ll be me.”
“I don’t know about that. He did say you’re his backup,” Joe teased.
“Yes, that’s just how I want to be viewed by the man I’ve been stupidly in love with for years,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“Did you really make that pact?” Joe asked, watching the bar to see if Jamie was returning.
“Of course we did,” Claire said. “We were 21 and I was panicking about everything stupid like dying alone. So we made the pact.”
“Well you never date and Jamie never seems to date anyone for a long time,” Joe remarked. “Maybe it’ll happen.” Claire rolled her eyes yet again. “Okay, but can I suggest something? Something I’ve never actually told you before?”
“Maybe you should tell him how you feel.”
“Joe, come on!” Claire cried.
“No, I mean it. Maybe he needs to know what his options are. What if he wants to be with you but he thinks you’ll never feel the same?” Joe pressed.
Claire burst out laughing. “Like that would ever happen. Seriously, just drop it. Please.”
“It’s dropped. Especially since he’s walking back,” Joe surrendered, nodding towards Jamie.
Jamie sat back down, ready to recommence the celebration of Joe’s news. Claire faked her enthusiasm, but Joe’s advice kept rattling through her mind. There had been plenty of times she’d nearly worked up the courage to tell Jamie how she felt. Many of those times had been like their current situation: he was on the precipice of a new relationship she was going to have to sit by and watch play out. But each time, she talked herself out of it for any number of reasons. It could ruin their friendship. It would hurt too much if he didn’t return her feelings. The money had already made things too complicated. But in the end, it all came down to her being too scared to ever move. She was frozen in an endless cycle of her own misery but she could find no way out of it.
Later that night, Jamie and Claire were walking back to their building. It was a beautiful night. Jamie hung his arm across Claire’s shoulders. “I canna believe that Joe is getting engaged.”
Claire put her arm around Jamie’s waist as they kept walking. “I know. I’m so happy for them.”
“Makes me think we need to turn our lives around, Sassenach.”
She looked over at him. “Oh? How so?”
“Neither of us are anywhere close to getting marrit,” Jamie reminded her. “I mean, ye never date.”
Claire dropped her arm, stepping away from him. “Excuse me?”
“What? How are ye mad at me? Ye dinna date. The last man ye dated was Frank and that was years ago!” Jamie defended.
“I’ve been spending my free time making sure my small business succeeds!” Claire argued. “I find that more important than some random relationship. Maybe I don’t want to just casually date like you do. Maybe I want to try and find someone I think I could build a life with instead of chasing after some random tail!” she yelled, stomping away from him.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Claire! Wait!” He broke into a run to catch up to her. “Why are ye so mad at me? I’m sorry if I hurt ye. I thought I was just pointing out something we both knew.”
Claire slowed down but didn’t turn to look at him. “Well what about you? Your dating habits don’t bode well for getting married anytime soon. Or tell me, do you think Annalise is the one? Is that why you’re doing so damn much to get her attention?”
Jamie huffed, moving in front of her. He started walking backwards. “I dinna ken. I just...I suppose I like her. I just want to see where things could go. What is so wrong with me trying to find the right person? At least I’m looking!”
“Who says I’m not looking?” Claire argued. “I meet new people every fucking day. Maybe I just don’t share every thought I have about other men with you.”
Jamie stepped out of her way and stopped with a sigh. “What are we even arguing about here, Sassenach? Objectively, I was right. Neither of us are close to be marrit.”
Claire stopped and looked back at him. “That may be true, Jamie, but you should know enough about women to know that we don’t like to have that pointed out to us. I would think Jenny would have taught you better than that if I didn’t.”
Jamie hung his head. “I’m sorry, Claire. I didn’t mean ye’ll never get there. And ye’re right. The bakery is thriving and no’ many people can say they’ve done that. I’m sure soon enough some lucky man is going to see ye for the amazing woman ye are and make ye his.”
Claire shrugged. “Yeah, we’ll see.”
Jamie hesitantly put his arm back around her shoulders. “I believe it, Sassenach. Anyone would be lucky to be wi’ ye.”
Claire looked at him out of the corner of her eyes. “Really? Anyone?”
“Yes, anyone,” he insisted.
Jamie’s head snapped over to meet her gaze. He froze in place while he looked at her, a million questions in his eyes. It was answer enough for Claire. She forced out a fake laugh. “I was kidding!” He stared at her for a moment, trying to decide how to react. “But you should have seen your face!”
“Why would ye do that?” Jamie asked as they climbed the stairs to their building.
“Curiosity,” Claire lied.
“That’s a very risky game,” Jamie replied. “And what if I’d said we should go for it?”
“Ha! I guess you’d have shown me!” Claire joked half heartedly.
They stood at the stairs of Claire’s floor, Jamie poised to go up to the 5th floor and Claire ready to go to her flat. Jamie stepped down from the bottom step and walked closer to her. “That being said,” he leaned closer, “I’d still be honored if ye’d be my backup.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “Like you’re ever getting rid of me, Fraser.”
Chapter 5: Surprises
I've really appreciated the response to this story so far, especially given the slooow burn! I can't wait to see what you think of this chapter!
Claire was working on some paperwork in her office off the kitchen when Mary walked in.
“Claire?” She asked in her small voice.
“What’s up, Mary?” Claire looked up to see her oldest employee standing in her doorway.
Mary Hawkins was the first person she hired. Ever since the second store had opened, Mary had been working more there. She was the person Claire trusted most to run it. Slowly, they’d started training more people to have management positions and run the stores in efficient and orderly manners but also while keeping up the environment Claire had always wanted at her shop. Since more people were trained, that meant Claire could pull Mary back to work with her a bit more at the original shop.
“Th-there’s a woman up at the front looking for you,” she informed her.
“Nice woman or here to yell at me woman?” Claire asked with a grimace.
“I truly couldn’t tell. She had the energy for both.” Mary shrugged with an apologetic look.
Claire sighed, putting her pen down on the table. “Well okay then. I’ll go see.” Mary walked behind her as Claire wove through the kitchen. “I would really think that no one could be angry in a bakery. It’s the best place!”
“I a-a-agree, Claire,” Mary said, her stutter getting stronger as they got closer to the front.
“It’ll be fine, Mary,” Claire promised. “And if it’s not, I’ll take care of it! You can go back to baking if you want.”
“Th-thank you. I will then.” Mary abandoned Claire immediately.
Claire nodded, continuing out to the front. She scanned the seating area for just a moment before she knew who was there to see her. “Well look what the cat dragged in!”
Jenny laughed, standing up and walking toward Claire. “Tis so good to see ye, Claire.” They hugged each other before standing back and taking the other in.
“I agree. It’s been too long! I’ve just had to spend time with your silly brother,” Claire joked.
Jenny laid her hand on Claire’s arm as she laughed again. “And ye have my apologies for certain. I dinna ken why ye choose to spend yer time wi’ him.”
Claire shrugged. “It’s just habit at this point.” She sat down at the table where Jenny had been sitting. “So what brings you all the way to Glasgow?”
Jenny sat back down, a grin on her face. “Well the craziest thing happened. Ian had a day off and he told me I could go do whatever I wanted because he wanted to spend time wi’ the bairns by himself. And who was I to pass that up? I can guarantee that after today, I’ll ne’er have this chance again.”
Claire laughed. “I think that’s sweet. He wants to spend time by himself with them and give you a break at the same time. I think more men should do that.”
“Please dinna tell him that. He doesna need a bigger head,” Jenny said with a shake of her head. “Anyway, so I thought I’d come to Glasgow and check in on Jamie. And ye.”
Claire smiled at the woman she’d known for so long. “That’s very sweet of you.”
“I pretty much only see ye at my home. It’s been too long since I’ve been here,” Jenny noted with a look around the shop. “I also had another motive for comin’ here.” Jenny leaned across the table like she was about to share a secret.
Claire matched her pose. “What’s that?”
“I wanted to see what ye could tell me about this new lass Jamie’s after,” Jenny pressed. Claire’s mood fell a bit. She was tired of all talk being on Annalise. “I ken he’s keen on someone. And I ken tis someone he works with. I’m certain ye’ve heard more about her than I have. So spill.”
She shrugged, leaning back in her chair. “I mean I only hear Jamie’s side of her and if he’s taken with her, he’s only going to see the good in her.”
Jenny huffed out a sigh. “Well that’s probably right. Have ye met her by chance?”
“Actually I have,” Claire admitted. “Just once.”
“Well what’s she like?” Jenny asked.
“I don’t know why you’re so worried about this girl. You know Jamie never dates anyone for long,” Claire said, voicing her own wishful thinking.
“I ken that. But what happens when he actually finds someone?” Jenny wondered aloud. “I need to be ready for it. I thought surely something would have happened wi’ ye and my brother by now but that has never happened.”
Claire gaped at Jenny. There was no way she could know Claire’s feelings. Was it just because they were closer than most male and female friends?
“Sorry for sayin’ that,” Jenny quickly backtracked. “I just always wondered if it would happen at uni. But it didna. Anyway, back to the new lass. What were yer thoughts on her?”
Claire rapped her fingers on the table, trying to come up with a diplomatic answer. Any of Jamie’s other friends would be able to give a straightforward answer because they weren’t blinded by their love of him. She sighed. “I saw two sides of her that night,” Claire started. “I saw the side of her that was very sweet and apparently loves my bakery. And then I also saw the side of her that seemed incredibly jealous of the fact that Jamie was there with another woman. I would be willing to bet that the only reason she gave him the push to keep trying to catch her was because of me.”
Jenny’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Hmmm. I dinna like that. Ye’re a verra important part of Jamie’s life. She canna be jealous of ye. There’s no way Jamie would or could cut ye out.”
A fear that Claire hadn’t even thought of before struck her heart. What if one day Jamie cuts me out? “Uh-huh,” Claire agreed half heartedly.
“I guess I really do need to go to Jamie’s work and pop by. I want to meet this lass for myself.” Jenny nodded her head, standing up from the table.
“Well you can’t leave without something sweet,” Claire insisted. She walked behind the counter and pulled out a box. “What sounds good? On the house!”
Jenny raised an eyebrow at Claire. “Now how will ye make any money by just giving it away?”
“I think I can spare a pastry or two,” Claire promised. “Now what do you want?”
Jenny tapped her finger on her chin as she stared at the glass cabinets. “Well it all looks delicious. Hmmm. Okay, I think I’ll go for the eclair.”
Claire chuckled. “When I opened this place, Jamie tried to convince me that I should put an “E” on the end of those so they were like my name.”
“That’d be cute,” Jenny said with a smile.
“I thought people would just think I was stupid,” Claire admitted. She grabbed two eclairs and put them in the box.
“Two? I just need one!”
“Take the other to Jamie,” Claire instructed. “It might make him more forgiving of the fact that you just popped in. Plus they’re his favorite.”
Jenny stared at Claire for a moment before she nodded. “Alright. That I can do.” Claire brought the box around her and gave her another hug. “Thank ye. ‘Twas really so good to see ye. Make Jamie bring ye to Lallybroch again soon.”
Claire smiled brightly. “I will. That sounds lovely. Give my best to Ian and the children.”
“I will,” Jenny said. “And thanks again for the sweets.” They bid each other goodbye and Jenny walked out the door.
Claire was sitting back in her office a few hours later when her phone rang. Jamie’s face filled the screen. “Hey! What’s up?” she answered.
“Did ye ken my sister was coming to see me after she saw ye?” he asked without preamble.
“So ye did!” Jamie cried. “And yet, ye didna text or call me to give me a heads up?”
Claire giggled. “To be honest, it didn’t even occur to me. I was at work and got busy with a task. Plus I had a lovely time visiting with your sister so I thought maybe you would too.”
“Ye ken Jenny’s ways. Ye should have known it would be a nightmare. And worst of all she met Annalise!”
Claire choked back a laugh. Jenny certainly was a canny woman and found her way around things. Especially when it came to Jamie. “Well maybe you should watch what you tell your sister. You must have intrigued her. And I’m usually the woman you bring home. It’s not like she gets to meet the women you date.”
“Well aye, for a good reason!” Jamie replied. “She has no sense of boundaries.”
“Oh come on, how bad could it have been?” Claire asked.
“Ye ken I’ve been delicately laying the groundwork. And in one meeting, I fear I’ll have to start all over,” Jamie told her.
Claire rolled her eyes. “Is this much work seriously worth it? It’s just one woman. You’re an attractive, rich man. You’d have women lined up for you if you wanted. Why waste all this energy on her?”
“Because I want to!” Jamie argued.
Claire recoiled. “Fine. Sorry. I just don’t think she’s very fair to you. Why make you work so hard just to go on a date? You’d given up for crying out loud. I just don’t get it. I want better for you.”
Jamie sighed on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry I yelled at ye. I’m just irritated wi’ Jenny. That’s all. I didn’t mean to take it out on ye.”
Claire nodded before realizing he couldn’t see her. “It’s okay.”
“Do ye mind if I come by later?” Jamie asked.
“I’ll probably be here late. I have a catering order for tomorrow morning.”
“Well if it willna distract ye, I’ll be by.”
“Sounds good. See you later,” Claire said, hanging up the phone.
She was standing behind the glass case an hour after closing when Jamie let himself into the bakery. “Hey!”
“How’s the order coming?” Jamie asked. “Need any help?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m going to do a pretty standard order. Just looking at the case to mentally plan.”
“Even though it’s empty?” Jamie wondered.
“I still know where everything goes.” He nodded his head in acceptance. “So how did the rest of your day go?” Claire asked.
Jamie shrugged. “Work was fine. How about ye?”
“Well my highlight was seeing your sister even if yours wasn’t,” Claire confessed. “It has been a while since we’d seen each other. She said I should make you take me to Lallybroch soon.”
Jamie grinned. “I suppose we could arrange that if ye like.”
Claire nodded with a smile. “I would like that.”
“I would too.”
Claire went back to writing things in her notebook, planning out the order and when she should start each item. Mary was going to come in early tomorrow morning to help her prepare it. The two of them had been excited by the prospect of getting to just bake and not running anything.
“So I had an idea,” Jamie said, breaking the comfortable silence. Claire looked up and nodded for him to continue. “Of what I could do to fully win over Annalise.”
Claire fought the urge to roll her eyes or sigh. “Oh?” she replied instead.
“She seems seriously obsessed wi’ yer bakery. I think she lives near the other store because she often comes in wi’ a Sassenach Sweets bag,” he started.
“Okay,” Claire said, dragging out the word.
“I thought it would be nice if I arranged a tour of the place for her. Here. Where it all started.”
Claire stared at him blankly. “Does she know about the money?”
Jamie’s brow furrowed. “No. But why does that matter?”
“Well I guess I was just confused why you were going to give her a tour of my bakery. If she knew the truth about the money, that would make sense why you were doing it,” Claire explained.
“Oh I wasna going to. I thought you might do it.” He smiled encouragingly.
Claire stood there silently for a long moment, a quiet rage starting to boil within her. “So you want me to give the girl that you’re trying to date a private tour of my bakery?”
“Well yeah,” he said, seemingly confused.
Claire blinked a few times. He didn’t know how she felt, but even with that ignorance, this didn’t add up to her. Claire had already voiced her disdain with Annalise’s behavior. He had to know she wouldn’t really want to do this. She took a deep breath, knowing what she was going to say might lead to a fight. There was just no way of knowing how big it would be. “No.”
Jamie’s head snapped up to look at her. “What?”
“I said no,” she repeated, standing her ground.
“What? Why?” Jamie asked, standing up from his chair. “Why not?”
“Because this is my bakery and my livelihood and I get to decide what I do with it. And I won’t have you use me as a pawn in your games to get in some woman’s pants!” Claire explained, growing louder and louder.
“Oh come on, Sassenach. Why won’t ye help me?”
“Because I’m not doing it this time,” she maintained. She wanted him to just accept it so they could move on and talk about something else.
Jamie looked confused and angry. “Why? Come on, just think about all I’ve done for ye!”
Suddenly Claire was seeing red. She was heartbroken and furious. She was devastated and murderous. He never mentioned the money. He wasn’t supposed to be one of them. He was the last holdout. Until now.
“Get out,” she demanded in a low voice.
“Get the fuck out of my store. Give me your key. Turn around and leave,” she instructed, her voice still menacingly low.
“Claire, I dinna -”
“ Get out !” she finally yelled. “I don’t want you here. I don’t want to see you. Just go. Get out!”
Jamie looked so confused as he pulled his keys out of his pocket and fumbled to get her key off the ring. “Claire, I -”
He set the key on the table, still sputtering, trying to settle things. She wouldn’t hear it though. The betrayal was too fresh. Too strong. He stopped at the door before he left. She knew he’d try to get in one last word. Turning, she had her back to him so no conversation could be had. The bell dinged as he opened the door. Once the door shut, she collapsed in a ball, sobbing uncontrollably. Hearing those words from him had been the final crack, splitting her open. She didn’t, couldn’t move as she sobbed for hours on end. Curled in a heap on the floor, that was where Mary found her the next morning.
Chapter 6: Space
Thank you again for the amazing response to this story! It warms my heart!
Her puffy eyes didn’t want to open as Mary shook her. She slowly pried one eye open enough to see who was bothering her. Mary’s concerned face was close to hers, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. “Claire? Are you alright? What happened?”
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” Claire groaned, trying to sit up. Sleeping on the floor had not been her best idea. But at a certain point, she’d cried so much she had no energy to leave. The only option had been laying back down and giving in to the exhaustion. “What time is it?”
“It’s 5:00,” Mary informed her. Her hands fluttered in the air around Claire, never landing on her, but wanting to be helpful. “Is something wrong? Do you need me to call someone?” She grabbed Claire’s phone off the counter. “I can call Jamie.”
Claire’s head snapped towards Mary. “Do not call Jamie. Do you hear me?”
Mary stared at her, pure confusion and concern still clear on her face. “Yes, I hear you. But I need to call someone. You’re not in a good state and you need to go home.”
“No, I need to handle this order,” Claire argued, finally managing to sit up.
“I can handle the order. I’ll call in Beth and she’ll be able to help me if I need it, but I don’t think I will,” Mary assured her. “You’ve taught me well enough over the past five years. I’ll be fine. You, however, need to go home. You’re in no shape to be here right now. So how about I call Joe? Maybe Joe can get you home. Will that work?”
Claire didn’t want to go home. She wanted to be able to work and have that distract her from the gaping hole she felt in her heart. But Mary was right. She wasn’t fit to be working on an order, or anything right now. The look of her would certainly scare away any customers. Perhaps she could just go home and sleep it off. Maybe that’s what would be best. Mary took her phone and called Joe. He apparently agreed to pick her up, and in 20 minutes was ushering her into his car.
He pulled up outside her building. Claire tensed with the fear of seeing Jamie. Living in the same building had made so much sense at one point. But now she was dreading accidentally running into him. “Mary didn’t say what happened,” Joe said, breaking the silence.
Claire turned her eyes away from the building to look at her friend. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Maybe you need to,” he offered. “You know Jamie and I would always be here to listen.”
Claire felt a fresh batch of tears brimming in her eyes as she curled in on herself. “I’m not talking to Jamie about anything.”
Joe watched her for a moment. “Are you saying this had something to do with him?” Claire couldn’t speak past the lump in her throat. She simply nodded in reply. “What the hell,” Joe breathed. He met her stare. “Should I go beat him up?”
Claire choked out a laugh. “Don’t tempt me.”
“Did you tell him...about, you know?” he asked delicately.
“No,” she told him, “and thank god I never did.”
“Seriously, Lady Jane,” Joe pressed, “what happened?”
Her tears began to spill over as Claire recounted the events of the night before. By the time she’d gotten to the end, Joe’s face had fallen, looking truly miserable at the thought of what happened between them. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way.”
“You’re taking his side on this? You’re my friend!” Claire yelled.
“No, I’m not taking his side. I’m just trying to help you see a different angle on it. Jamie is your best friend. I know you don’t want to lose that,” Joe explained.
“Well if that’s the way he’s going to act, I don’t need him around anymore. I’ll be fine without him,” Claire grumbled.
“Are you sure? Because Mary said she found you in a pretty rough state.”
“Joe, do you know what it’s like to have the person you trust most say the one thing you never expected him to say? And then not even realize he said it?” She shook her head, tears spilling down her cheeks. “It fucking hurts. He’s the only one who could actually take credit for my bakery being a success. And then he did.” She wiped a few tears off her face. “For so long he’s said it was just me. That I was the successful one. He took no claim on it, until it would serve him well to claim it. Bastard.”
“So you’re not going to try and talk it out with him?” Joe asked, already knowing the answer.
“No,” Claire replied. “No, I don’t need to see him again. I don’t need his half-assed apologies or lame excuses.”
Joe sighed, nodding his head slowly. “Want me to help you in the building so we can make sure the coast is clear? You know there’s a chance he’s waiting outside your door.”
“Shit,” Claire whispered, “I hadn’t even thought of that.” She glanced over at Joe pleadingly. “Please, will you do that?”
He smiled kindly. “Of course.”
After Joe had gotten her safely inside without any Jamie sightings, Claire threw herself down on her bed. She didn’t even peel back the covers before she passed out again. Emotions could be exhausting. And the combination of devastation and betrayal seemed to be a lethal combination.
Claire woke up to twelve missed calls and twenty texts from Jamie. She rolled her eyes as she locked her phone again. “Leave me alone,” she said, leaving her phone in her bedroom as she walked out to the kitchen. She spent the day dodging calls and ignoring further texts from him. He didn’t seem to take her silence as a message.
That night, she was sitting on her couch, eating some ice cream when there was a knock at her door. Without even getting up, she knew who it would be. She would have had to buzz Joe in if he was coming to check in on her. Claire stayed where she was.
The knock became more insistent. “Sassenach! It’s me!” The confirmation didn’t make her move. If anything, it made her stay in her place. “Please open up. I ken ye’re in there. I stopped by the shop and Mary said ye’ve been home all day. Claire, please let me in. Please talk to me.”
His begging did nothing to sway her. She was set in her decision. If Jamie saw her as a commodity, he wasn’t someone she needed in her life. It would take time to not be heartbroken by it, but it would be better for her overall. He knocked a few more times, accompanied by further pleas. She never moved though. Eventually, he walked away and she was finally left alone.
The next day, though, the barrage of phone calls started anew.
* * *
Jamie sulked at work. Well, really, he sulked everywhere. His mind could focus on nothing but Claire. The worst part of it all was that he knew it was his fault. He’d spent the entire evening after she’d kicked him out beating himself up. The things he’d said had been out of line and wrong, to boot. He hadn’t even meant it. And he certainly hadn’t meant it the way she’d interpreted it.
He thought maybe the next day he’d call her and be able to explain himself. He pictured her dragging him across the coals for his statement before begrudgingly forgiving him. But that wasn’t what happened. She’d shut him out completely. It didn’t matter how he’d tried to get in contact with her, she wouldn’t answer. He couldn’t blame her for being pissed at him. There was just no end in sight.
Jamie decided he should dial back on how often he tried to reach out. It was around that time that Claire picked up a new tactic. She began intermittently answering his calls for a second or two, giving him a breath of hope, before hanging up. Then he couldn’t even leave a voicemail for her to ignore. It was driving him crazy. He wanted the opportunity to apologize and to prove to her that he didn’t mean what he’d said. The chance was never afforded to him though. He was constantly distracted at work and people were starting to notice.
“Jamie, can I ask you something?” John said one day.
“Ye just did,” Jamie replied, walking away from him. His tolerance for chatting had gone way down.
“Hey, hey,” John called, chasing after him. “Come on, it’s me.”
Jamie walked into his office and turned around, looking at John. “What?”
“You just seem...off lately. Is something up?”
Jamie threw himself down in his chair with a grand sigh. “Aye, ye could say that.”
John sat down in a chair across from his desk. “Well, talk to me. What is it?”
Jamie leaned forward, his elbows on the desk, his head in his hands. “Claire willna speak to me.”
A burst of laughter made Jamie look up. John saw his miserable expression and quickly stopped laughing. “Oh, I thought that was a joke.” He shook his head. “What do you mean she isn’t talking to you?”
“I mean she’s no’ talking to me. I’ve tried everything. I’ve texted her, called her. I dropped by her place but she willna answer. I went by the bakery and they kept saying she wasna there even if I saw her car in the carpark. I even messaged her on facebook once just to see. Nothing. We live in the same building and I havena seen her in two weeks,” Jamie told him, a broken look about him.
“Why?” John asked, looking confused. “You two are best friends. She comes to our parties and they’re notoriously the worst.”
Jamie nodded, wishing he had a better reason to give John than his own stupidity. “Twas my fault. I was trying to get her to do something for me and I offended her. I didna even realize what I said in the moment. But I canna explain myself or apologize or even try to make up for it. She’s just shut me out.” He shook his head, staring down at his desk. “We’ve been friends for ten years. In all that time, she’s been there. I dinna ken what to do wi’out her at this point.” He breathed out a sad laugh. “And I canna even tell her that.”
John was silent for a long time. “Just hang in there. I know it’s terrible advice, but there’s not much you can do if she doesn’t want contact. Maybe she just needs some space. I’m sure soon enough, she’ll want to talk to you again. It’s been the same ten years for her too. I bet this is just as hard for her.”
Jamie nodded, unsure how to reply. He knew he needed to give her space, it was just too hard. Jamie cleared his throat. “Thanks, John.”
He still wasn’t in better spirits, but he tried to take John’s advice. Each time he grabbed his phone to text Claire, he’d stare at it for a moment before putting it back down. She needed space. His need to apologize could take a backseat.
Jamie wandered into the employee lounge and poured himself a big cup of coffee. He was caught up in his thoughts, totally unaware of the person who came up next to him.
“Hello, Jamie,” she said in her thick French accent.
Jamie looked over and noticed Annalise standing incredibly close to him. That was when he realized he hadn’t thought of her, or really even spoken to her, in the last two weeks since Claire had stopped talking to him. He’d seen her at work, but hadn’t registered anything past that. His thoughts had only been with Claire.
“I noticed you’d seemed a bit down lately,” she continued before he could even reply to her. “You seemed a bit withdrawn. So I asked John what was going on. He said it had something to do with your friend.” She put a strong emphasis on the word friend .
Jamie huffed out a sigh, looking past her out toward where John was standing. He was ready to go punch him for sharing his problems with their coworkers so freely. “Don’t be mad at him. I insisted he tell me,” Annalise told him.
Jamie looked back at her, his brow furrowed. “Really? And why would ye do that?” he asked, taking a couple steps toward the door.
“Because you did not seem like yourself,” she explained with a wave of her hand. Jamie nodded, starting to walk away from her. He stopped as she continued talking. “I thought you needed some cheering up. Perhaps we could get dinner.”
* * *
Claire handed the white envelope to Joe. “Here, I need you to give this to Jamie.”
“And you really can’t just do this yourself?” Joe asked. He’d been trying to subtly and gently suggest she at least think about talking to him. Thus far, she’d been cold to each suggestion. “I mean even if you don’t see him, can’t you just slip the letter under his door?”
“It’s not a letter,” Claire told him.
Joe peeked inside the envelope, shocked at the contents. “You’re really doing this?” Claire nodded. “Are you guys going to be okay if you do this?”
“Jamie and I aren’t okay,” Claire reminded him.
“I didn’t mean you and Jamie. I meant you and your employees. Your business that you’ve worked so hard for,” Joe corrected.
Claire took a deep breath. Joe could see how the strain of the last two weeks had affected her. Circles under her eyes showed her exhaustion. She’d been working her ass off at the bakery, opening and closing every day while also running the damn place. Throwing herself into her work had been the way she’d chosen to ignore Jamie’s lack of presence in her life.
“I talked to my accountants and they think we’ll be fine. We’ve been drumming up a hell of a business lately and already have the interest stirred up in Edinburgh, so they think we’ll make up for it soon enough,” Claire reassured. “But I appreciate your concern. Now please, will you take that up to him?”
Joe nodded, holding the envelope tighter. “You live in the same building. How have you not seen him?”
“I found an exit on the side of the building. It’s not even an emergency exit. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know it’s there. So, I use that now,” Claire explained. “Thank you for doing this for me.”
Joe brought her in for a hug. “Anything for you, Lady Jane.”
He knew it would be hard to be somewhat in the middle of their fight, but when Jamie opened the door to his flat, Joe realized just how miserable a place he was in. The first thing he noticed on Jamie’s face was pain. It must just be a constant expression at this point. His pain turned to shock as he registered Joe standing in front of him. Shock turned to a mixture of happiness and sadness. It all happened in seconds, each emotion so plain on his usually masked face. “Joe, what are ye doing here? Tis good to see ye.”
Joe nodded to him. “Good to see you too, man. Uh, Claire actually sent me. She wanted me to give you something.”
“How is she?” Jamie asked, a desperate note to his voice. “Joe, she won’t talk to me and I know why but I canna take it. We live in the same building and I dinna even see her. I’m losing my mind. But I dinna care about me, I just want to know that she’s alright.”
If only Claire could see the state this man was in. He was pretty sure she would feel differently. The two of them were too stubborn for their own good. “She’s alright. She sent me up here to give you this,” he said, holding out the envelope.
Jamie looked confused as he took it. Confusion morphed into heartbreak as he opened the envelope and saw the check for his original amount sitting inside of it. “No,” he breathed. He looked up at Joe. “No, she canna do this. I dinna want this.” He tried to push it back at Joe. “Take it back, I dinna want it.”
Joe held up his hands, not letting Jamie give it back to him. “Look, this is between you and her. I’m just the courier.”
“What if I just tear it up?” Jamie asked, a wild look about him. “I dinna want this.”
“She thought you might say that. So she told me to tell you to please not do that. It’s yours and she wants you to have it back,” Joe said, trying to ignore the pain on Jamie’s face. Tears were forming in the other man’s eyes.
“I can’t do this, Joe. I can’t take it. I just want to talk to her, to tell her I didna mean any of it. I…” he broke off as tears started to fall down his cheeks. “I miss her so much.”
“I know, Jamie. But tearing up the check isn’t going to get her to talk to you. She’s just going to be more pissed. Just hang in there. Maybe soon she’ll get over it. I don’t know.”
Jamie nodded, tears still streaming down his cheeks. “Thanks, Joe.”
Despite himself, Joe brought Jamie in for a hug, patting him on the back. “It’ll be okay.”
“I’m no’ so sure,” Jamie replied. They broke apart with a nod to each other. Jamie walked back in his flat and closed the door. For a reason he couldn’t name, Joe waited for a minute. He wanted to make sure Jamie was going to be okay. This freeze out between the two of them seemed to be killing both of them. Joe was about to leave when he heard it. The sound of a sob coming from Jamie’s flat.
Chapter 7: A Gaping Hole
Thank you so much for all the support for this fic! I'm truly terrible at replying to comments, but I want you to know that I read them all, usually multiple times.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Weeks passed and Claire still refused to yield. Her feelings were still too raw to deal with Jamie. Joe would occasionally try to tell her that she should reach out, but she wouldn’t. She couldn’t. Giving the check back to Jamie was supposed to serve as a cutting of their ties. And it had worked. After Joe had given it back to him, Jamie had stopped trying to talk to her. There were no more texts or calls that she had to ignore. He’d finally taken the hint. Most of her was relieved, though there was a tiny part of her that was disappointed.
Ten years was a long time to be friends before letting someone go. But if the action was bad enough, it became easier. She found herself replaying their fight each time she wondered if she should reach out to Jamie. It had been important to Claire to have succeeded mostly on her own. The people that had tried to jump on after she was already starting to be successful pissed her off. But there was always one person who was capable of reminding her that she hadn’t done it all on her own. And until five weeks before, he’d never done so. Even if it seemed silly, even if it was irrational, Claire just couldn’t move past the feeling of betrayal that had been rooted in her since that night.
So instead of thinking about Jamie, Claire threw all her energy into work. She took on more roles as head baker while also trying to take care of everything she could for both stores. Bouncing back and forth between shops could be draining, but she was determined to do it all. Joe and Mary would often urge her to take a break, but she wouldn’t listen.
She was sitting in a meeting with the managers of the second store, trying to get a rundown on how things were going. “So things are running smoothly?”
Both women nodded emphatically. “Och, yes, ma’am they are,” Anna insisted. “We’ve been doing quite well. Even wi’ the influx of orders.”
Claire quirked a brow, looking at her employee. “There’s been an influx of orders? How many?”
The two women looked between each other before looking back at Claire. Margaret pulled out a file and looked for the exact number. “They started coming in a few weeks ago. They’re usually quite large. Here it is,” she said, pointing to a specific number. “We’ve had orders three days a week for three weeks.”
“And actually, I think the second week, there was a fourth order. I believe there have been ten so far. All under the same name, too,” Anna expanded.
Suddenly, Claire was suspicious. “Wait, it’s all been the same person? Ten orders in three weeks and it’s been the same person?” Both women nodded. “How much has been spent?”
Margaret went down the page til she found the number. “It’s been 10,000 pounds.”
Claire’s jaw dropped momentarily. She shook her head as she looked at the two women across from her. “What’s the name for these orders? Is it Jamie Fraser by chance?”
“No, actually it’s not,” Margaret said, double checking her information. “The name is Malcolm Mackenzie.”
Claire burst out laughing before quickly stilling herself. “Sorry about that,” she said with a wave of apology. “Let me know if these orders become too much to handle. Or if they continue.” She sighed. “I believe I know who is behind them.”
“Why do you say “behind them” like it’s a bad thing?” Anna asked.
Claire realized she must sound ungrateful. Someone had poured 10,000 pounds into her business and she was acting like she wanted them found and beaten. She figured out an explanation to the women before excusing herself from the meeting all together. As she drove back to the other shop, she wasn’t sure if she should be grateful or irritated that Jamie had taken her money and started shoving it right back at her. After her initial shock, she realized it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he was doing so. The man was nothing if not stubborn.
* * *
Jamie arrived at Lallybroch, a large box of baked goods under his arm. Jenny looked positively shocked at the sight of him at the front door. His hands had been too full to just let himself in. He dropped his bag at the door and placed the box on the dining room table before turning to greet his sister.
“What are ye doing here?” she asked, staring at him. “Tis been a while since I’ve heard from ye.”
“Sorry about that,” he said with a shrug. “Been a bit busy.”
Jenny stepped back, looking at him critically. “Are ye sure? Ye dinna look like yerself, brother.”
Jamie waved her off. “I’m fine,” he insisted, grabbing his bag and heading for his old room. Jenny followed him up the stairs. Ian walked out in the hallway, stunned at the sight of his brother-in-law.
“Jamie! I didna realize ye would be here,” Ian exclaimed with a large smile on his face.
“That’s because he didna bother telling any of us that he was coming,” Jenny replied for him as she still followed Jamie down the hall. “Ye certainly came wi’ a big box of snacks. Tell me, did Claire send any of those for us too?”
That was the first time Jamie paused since walking in the door. “She didna send them.” He stole a quick glance over his shoulder to see Jenny and Ian exchanging a confused glance.
“The last time I talked to her, she said she was going to make you bring her here,” Jenny continued to push. “But it’s been months. I’m surprised ye didna bring her this time.”
Jamie stopped at the doorway for his room, turning to look at the couple trailing him. “That would be because she hasna spoken to me in a month and a half.” He didn’t wait for their response, walking instead to throw his bag down on his old bed.
“Wait, what?” Ian asked, looking at Jenny to confirm what he’d heard.
“When was the last time ye talked to her?” Jenny asked. “And why have ye no’ spoken?”
Jamie threw himself down onto his bed with a large sigh. He sat up to see Jenny standing in front of the bed, Ian lingering near the doorway. “She’s mad at me.” He shook his head. “No, that makes it sound like she’ll get over it in a few days and we’ll be fine. We were arguing and I said the wrong thing. Something stupid. Something that, Christ, I didna even mean, especially no’ the way she thought I meant it. But she hasna spoken to me since.” He looked to Jenny. “I believe it was the last day ye saw her as well.”
Jenny’s brows shot up as she stared at Jamie. “Are ye kidding me?” He shook her head. “That was so long ago. Twas what, six weeks?”
Jamie hung his head, nodding to the floor. “Aye, six weeks.”
“What, uh, what did ye say?” Ian asked, stepping slowly closer.
Jamie glared at him. “Why does that matter?”
Ian shrugged. “Curiosity?”
“We might also be able to give ye proper advice if we really knew what happened,” Jenny suggested. “And sometimes talking it out helps.”
“I dinna want to talk about it,” Jamie grumbled.
“Well then why even come here?” Jenny asked, throwing her hands up. “Ye ken that we’d be able to see that ye’re miserable. And ye ken that we’d want to do something to make ye feel better. Why even come?”
Jamie ran a hand down his face. “Because I canna take it anymore. We live in the same bloody building and I still havena seen her in six weeks. She’s gotten quite good at pretending I was never a part of her life. That’s a talent I havena been able to manage. I feel as though I’m losing my mind. Each time I reach the second floor I have to make myself keep going rather than running to her door and begging her to see me.”
“Well, maybe that’s what ye should do,” Jenny offered. “Maybe ye should try and talk to her.”
Jamie glared at her, a slight shake to his head. “Ye dinna think I tried that? What, ye think she kicked me out and I just accepted it?” Jenny opened her mouth to reply but Jamie continued. “No, I texted her and called her. I went by her home and she wouldna answer the door. I went by the bakery and they lied and said she wasna there. I tried everything I bloody could, Jenny. Claire doesna want to see me. She doesna want to talk to me. And I’m losing my mind.” He laid his face in his hands. “I want nothing more than to make it up to her. Than to tell her I was wrong and just apologize. Even if she still thinks it’s unforgivable, I at least want her to know that I know I fucked up.”
Jenny walked over and sat down on the bed next to Jamie. She wrapped an arm around his shoulder, trying to comfort him. “I’m sorry, Jamie. That sounds verra hard.” She was silent for a moment. “Though, I must admit, I’m glad it didna have something to do wi’ what I said to her that day.”
Jamie’s head snapped over in her direction. “What did ye say to her?”
Jenny waved her hand, dismissing his question. “Tis no’ important.”
“Janet, what did ye say to her?” Jamie all but demanded.
Jenny held a hand up in surrender. “Fine, I said something stupid about how I was always wondering when the two of ye would get together.”
Jamie stared at her. “Why would ye say that?”
“Because I did always wonder. There was always only one constant woman in yer life and it was Claire. I always thought something would happen there eventually,” Jenny reasoned.
“We both did, actually,” Ian admitted. “We’ve talked about it numerous times.”
Jamie gaped back and forth at them. “What, just behind my back?”
“Well what was the alternative?” Jenny asked. “We ask ye to yer face when ye’re ever going to realize that Claire is a wonderful woman who ye could easily be with?” She shook her head. “We obviously couldna do that.”
“Seems pointless to mention it now,” Jamie said with a sigh. “It’s been this long, she probably willna speak to me again.”
Jenny sighed, looking over at Jamie. “And ye’ve tried everything ye can think of?”
Jamie was silent for a long time, hesitant to reveal the most damning evidence. “She gave me back the money.”
Jenny’s hand froze where it had been rubbing on his back. Ian’s jaw dropped. “The money? As in the money?” Ian asked. “The money that ye gave her to start her bakery?” Jamie nodded, his eyes closing in his misery. “Shit,” Ian whispered.
“So I think it’s safe to say that Claire doesna plan on having me be a part of her life any longer. The biggest stake I had in her life, she forcibly gave back to me,” he said, looking down at his feet.
“Well then you saw her?” Jenny asked. “Why not try and explain yourself then?”
Jamie shook his head. “I didna. She sent Joe.”
“Joe! What a great lad! How is Joe?” Ian asked. Jenny and Jamie both stared at him, waiting for him to read the mood again. “Sorry, I was just curious. Thought a change in conversation might be nice,” he defended with a shrug.
“Okay, how about this? What can ye try to take yer mind off of it?” Jenny asked helpfully.
“Nothing,” Jamie replied. “Believe me, I’ve tried plenty of things and nothing takes my mind off of it. I’m just…”
“Depressed?” Ian offered.
Jamie nodded. “Aye, a bit. Nothing really brings me joy anymore if I canna share in it wi’ her.”
Jenny flashed Ian a look and he shook his head at her, telling her not to say anything. Jamie ignored them. “Wait, so if she willna speak to ye, how do ye have a giant box of her baked goods ye brought wi’ ye?”
That was the first time Jamie had grinned. “Well, she gave me back the money, but I didna think it was mine to have. I gave it to her for her business and I intended to keep it that way.” Jenny narrowed her eyes at him. “I’ve been doing orders at her second shop under another name. I’ve been putting the money back in the bakery.”
Ian laughed, nodding approvingly at Jamie. Jenny shook her head, the beginnings of a smile on her face. “Wait, so how much have ye spent?”
Jamie grimaced. “We dinna need to talk numbers.”
Jenny rolled her eyes at her brother. “Jamie, I ken yer net worth. Just tell me. How much have ye been spending on baked goods?”
Jamie looked down at the ground, not wanting to meet her eyes. “Ten thousand pounds.”
Jenny screeched, standing up from the bed. “Ye’ve spent that much money on pastries? Christ, Jamie!”
Jamie looked up at her. “It wasna really on pastries. Twas on Claire!”
“I never wanted to tell ye what ye should do wi’ yer money when ye won, especially when ye decided to do mostly wise things wi’ it. But this is too much, Jamie. Ye need to be more responsible wi’ yer money,” Jenny insisted.
Jamie rolled his eyes. “I havena had this specific amount of money in five years. I was doing just fine wi’out it. I’m trying to give it back to her wi’out her noticing.”
Jenny sighed, looking down at Jamie. “So why are ye here?”
“Because I needed a break from it,” Jamie answered. “Everything in Glasgow reminds me of Claire. The only reason I live there is because she moved there after uni when Geillis blew her acceptance in London. I went there because she was in a bad place and I didna think she should be alone. I’m here because I needed to get away from the building we both live in.” He laid back on the bed. “I’m going to move soon. I canna keep living there.”
“Where would ye go?” Ian asked. “Here?”
Jamie sat up and looked at him. “No, I’m no’ about to move home. I dinna ken. Maybe somewhere out here. Somewhere far enough away from all the memories there. I could commute from here. It wouldna be that bad,” he thought out loud.
“Look, here’s my advice, though I ken ye willna take it,” Jenny started, sitting back down on the bed. “Try to reach out one more time before ye start making all these life changes. A lot of time has passed, even since the last time ye reached out. Try to talk to her again.”
Jamie looked at Jenny and considered her advice. It made sense, he just didn’t think it would make a difference. Nothing in six weeks had weakened the wall Claire had built between them. He was fairly certain that she’d consider it a breath of fresh air if he left. He nodded to appease his sister, though his mind was still negating her advice.
His family tried their hardest to take his mind off his misery, but nothing quite did the trick. Just as always. Jamie was sitting in bed that night, when his phone rang. “Joe?” Jamie answered, genuinely surprised by the man’s call.
“Hey, Jamie! How’s it going?”
Jamie was silent for a moment. “About as ye’d expect,” he said, trying not to totally weigh down the conversation already. “What’s up?”
“Well I wanted to call and let you know that I proposed to Gayle! And she said yes!” Joe told him, pure excitement resonating through the call.
Jamie felt a genuine smile on his face for the first time in six weeks. “Joe, that’s wonderful! Congratulations! I’m so happy for the both of ye.”
“Thanks, Jamie, I appreciate that. I wanted to call and tell you myself.”
“Well why worry about calling others now? Ye should be celebrating,” Jamie insisted.
Joe laughed. “Gayle’s calling some friends so I took a moment to do the same thing.”
“Look, sooner rather than later, I think there’s going to be an engagement party,” Joe said, hesitancy filling his voice. “Gayle was already talking about it before she even called her friends.”
“Joe, I can tell where ye’re going wi’ this. Dinna worry about me. I appreciate the thought, but Claire was yer friend before I was. She should be there. No’ me,” Jamie replied, though it killed him.
Joe scoffed. “No, you should both be there. And I want you to be there. You’ve been a good friend to me and Gayle and you have just as much right to be there. I’ll keep you posted on the details, okay?”
Jamie sighed. “Well, yer call. But that sounds good.” He paused for just a moment. “I’m happy for ye, Joe. Truly.”
“Thanks, man. And you know, this whole thing -”
Jamie cut him off. “That’s alright, Joe. I dinna need to hear it.”
Joe sighed. “Alright. Well it was good to talk to you. I’ll see you soon.”
“Likewise,” Jamie responded. “Congratulations again, and give Gayle a big hug for me.”
“Will do. Bye, Jamie.”
They hung up and Jamie’s mind began to race. There was a strong chance he’d get to see Claire again soon. He hated the fact that he didn’t know if that would end up being a good thing or not. He suddenly had hope in him again, though doubt was right there too.
* * *
Claire picked up her pace as she spotted Joe and Gayle standing toward the back of the room. She was so excited to celebrate her friends’ engagement. A happy occasion was a good distraction from her own emotional turmoil. She threw out her arms as Joe caught sight of her, wrapping him in a hug.
“You’re getting married!” she exclaimed. “You really did it!”
Joe laughed. “Damn right I did. I locked down the best woman in the world,” he said, wrapping an arm around Gayle’s waist. She laughed, rolling her eyes at her fiance.
Claire looked at both of them, a smile on her face. “I’m so happy for the both of you.”
Gayle and Joe thanked her before they shared a significant look. Claire wondered what that exchange could mean. A few people had gathered behind her, wanting to talk with the couple of the evening. Joe nodded to Gayle before he pulled Claire aside.
“Look, Lady Jane, there’s something I didn’t tell you.”
“Is Gayle dying? Is this a Walk to Remember situation?” Claire asked as a joke. Joe looked at her with a disapproving expression. “Nevermind, you say your thing.”
He stepped closer to Claire, his voice dropping. “I didn’t want to tell you before you got here because I wanted you to come.” She frowned at him in her confusion. “I invited Jamie. And he said he’s going to stop by.”
“You what?” Claire asked, her voice shrill. “Why?”
“Because he’s our friend and we wanted to celebrate with all our friends. I know that the two of you have been...not speaking, but I thought you could put that aside for one night,” Joe suggested. “Or just ignore him and pretend he’s not here. He probably won’t even be here for long anyway. He said he had something else going on but that he’d drop by.”
Claire scoffed. “Yeah, he probably has some woman to seduce.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “Can you promise me you’ll be civil? Please. I don’t mean to make it all about me, but tonight is to celebrate my engagement. Gayle has a ton of friends and I only have a handful of good friends and it sucks that two of them aren’t talking right now.”
Claire sighed, looking up at her friend. “Fine. I’ll be civil. Though I can’t promise I’ll actually talk to him.”
Joe held his hands up in concession. “I never said you had to. Just so long as you guys don’t argue and start a fight at the party.” He looked back at Gayle before turning back to Claire. “And for what it’s worth, I don’t think he actually has plans after this.”
Claire’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I think out of respect to you, he didn’t want to stay for a long time,” Joe admitted, giving her a pointed look.
She shook her head. “You can’t know that,” she denied, carefully scanning the room to see if he’d arrived already.
“Well that’s just one man’s opinion then,” Joe said with a sigh. “I gotta get back to Gayle. I’ll catch you later.” Claire nodded, unable to respond.
She got herself a drink and wandered around to find someone she knew. Someone that wasn’t Jamie. She constantly looked around to see if he was there yet. So far, she hadn’t spotted him. Approaching a group of Joe’s doctor friends that she knew from her brief stint in medical school, she distracted herself with aimless talk. Aside from the obvious reasons to be thankful, she was incredibly thankful her bakery had been a success when she had to talk to former classmates. At least her crazy endeavor had paid off. They couldn’t look down on her as much this way.
Claire was listening to a crazy surgery story when she heard a loud laugh, one that was painfully familiar. She turned toward the sound and saw Jamie talking with Joe and Gayle. Her heart immediately clenched. Her first instinct was to run to him, but she ignored it. She couldn’t do that. The wall had been put up for a reason. But still, she couldn’t help but stare. It had been so long since she’d even seen him. He looked good. Different in a way, but good. She was now completely ignoring the conversation she had been desperate to be a part of, just minutes ago. Before Jamie could look her way, she excused herself to the bathroom. It was the only place she could find some peace from the raging thoughts and feelings within her.
After spending a few minutes by herself, taking some deep breaths, she finally reemerged to the party. Claire looked to Joe and Gayle, but they were standing alone, talking sweetly to each other. Scanning the room, she looked around desperately for where Jamie was. She didn’t feel ready to talk to him, but she wouldn’t let herself be caught off guard. A waiter came around with a glass of champagne. It was almost time to toast to the happy couple. Claire stood off toward the side, watching as Gayle’s best friend called the room to attention.
She could barely listen to the toast. It was kind, to be sure. But Claire was not in the right headspace for it. She finally spotted Jamie over by the bar. He was also holding a glass of champagne, a look of melancholy about him. For the first time since she’d stopped speaking to him, she truly was concerned by how he was doing. There had been many times she’d wondered briefly if he was as miserable as she was. But each time she’d dismissed the thoughts as her anger was renewed.
Everyone lifted their glasses in toast to Joe and Gayle. The couple clinked their glasses against the others, sharing a meaningful look and a kiss. Claire felt tears burn in her eyes. Happiness was so contrasted with her current emotions. Betraying herself, she glanced over at Jamie again. This time he was staring right at her. They locked eyes for the first time in nearly two months and she felt it. She could do nothing but take a deep breath and stare at him.
Jamie’s mouth quirked up in a sad smile as he nodded to her, his glass raised. Claire said nothing in reply. All she could do was stare. Her heart and her body were both telling her to go to him. But her mind was the one keeping her in place. What if he just hurts you again? She swallowed harshly, their gazes still locked on the other. Her foot was moving forward when a woman approached Jamie, grabbing his attention. He smiled at her as she talked to him. She stiffened, feeling that familiar jealousy brewing within her. There was no way she could do it all again. Without sparing a look for Joe and Gayle, she left the party, desperate to get away from the pain of it all.
* * *
Jamie had been hesitant to go to the party, but Joe had been insistent. He’d agreed, saying he probably wouldn’t be there for long. It had been so long since he’d seen Claire. He had no idea what would happen when they were finally in the same room. There was no way he was going to use Joe’s engagement party as his way of apologizing to Claire. That wouldn’t be fair to Joe. So he agreed, though he wasn’t sure what he was in for.
Just before Jamie walked into the private room, he straightened his tie. Looking down at it, he regretfully realized it was one Claire had given him. She was everywhere in his life. Memories of her in his home and his work even. But she wasn’t really in his life. He knew the moment he saw her, all he would want to do was run to her and beg her to forgive him. It would take all the strength he had to respect her wishes for them.
Claire was the first person he saw as he walked in. He was frozen in place at the sight of her. She looked gorgeous. Her green dress showed off her body, albeit demurely, while her curls hung around her face. His hands itched to tuck them behind her ears so he could see her face better. A tug of longing struck him from the moment he saw her, but he could do nothing about it. She was caught up in conversation with some people he vaguely recognized. Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he proceeded away from her to find Joe and Gayle. They were the reason he was there.
They were caught in conversation, laughing over one of Gayle’s stories. When talking with them, it was easy to pretend that everything was normal. Their happiness was enough to distract him for a moment. But when others were clamoring for the chance to congratulate the couple, Jamie’s misery had no distraction anymore. He turned to look at Claire again, but she was no longer with the group of people from before. Looking around the room, he didn’t spot her anywhere. He sighed disappointedly, walking off toward the bar.
Soon, they were calling for toasts and Jamie was handed a glass of champagne. He listened to the toast talking about Joe and Gayle’s love for each other. It was a nice toast, but still made him sad. His eyes inevitably started looking for Claire again. He spotted her this time, standing just inside the door to the private room. There was no way he could take his eyes off her. Her glass face showed so much inner conflict. The voice inside his head reminded him that it was all his fault. If he’d not been a fool two months ago, they could have spent that evening together.
As he was staring at her, she turned and looked at him. Neither of them looked away. There was no way he could have. For the first time in months, she was looking at him, allowing him to gaze back. A sad smile crossed his face as he stared back at her, with a nod and a raise of his glass to her. He wanted to cross the room and talk to her. Even if it was just painful small talk, it would be better than being this far away from each other, unable to bridge the gap. He was about to move when someone tapped on his arm. Looking over, he saw a woman smiling up at him.
“Sorry, I wanted to ask you how you knew Gayle,” she asked, looking at him curiously. “Are you Max?”
Jamie frowned. “No, my name is Jamie. I’m a friend of Joe’s.”
The woman shook her head. “Och, I mistook you for someone else. Sorry to bother you.”
“Not a problem,” Jamie replied.
He turned back to look at Claire and she was gone. Looking around the room like crazy, he realized she had left. He tore out of the room, running toward the sidewalk. Her car was pulling away just as his feet hit the ground. He closed his eyes, breathing out a groan. His best chance had been blown.
* * *
Claire sat in her office, unable to focus on anything but the night before. It had been a good reminder of what being in Jamie’s life was really like. You could only keep his attention for so long before some woman swooped in and he was focused on her. Even though she hadn’t really wanted to talk to him, she was mad that she didn’t get the chance. Her ringing phone brought her mind back to the present.
“Hey, Lady Jane. So, how was last night? I couldn’t help but notice you and Jamie both left pretty early,” Joe said, a question in his tone.
“We didn’t leave together,” Claire quickly clarified.
“I figured you might have said something if you had,” Joe admitted. “But did anything happen?”
“No, of course not. The bloody man didn’t even talk to me. The biggest thing that happened was that we looked at each other.”
“Well isn’t that what you wanted to happen?” Joe asked. “You didn’t seem to want to talk to him.”
“He just stared at me. The man didn’t even approach me! Who does that?” Claire cried.
Joe took a deep breath on the other end. “Claire, did you approach him?”
“Look, I know a lot has gone down between you two, but I think you’re being a bit hypocritical here,” Joe said cautiously. “I love you, Claire, but I really think Jamie was just respecting your wishes. You were the one who made it clear you didn’t want him in your life. So he tried to honor that.”
Claire sighed. Could Joe be right? Was she blowing things out of proportion? Probably.
“Look, Claire, maybe it’s time to talk to him again. You clearly miss him. Just take the leap and send him a text or something. You’ll probably feel better once you do,” Joe advised.
“You think he’ll even want to talk to me?” Claire asked, voicing her secret fears.
Joe laughed. “Of course he will.” He paused. “But you won’t know until you try.”
Claire shakily agreed, already wondering what she’d even say. The noises coming from outside her office made it seem like the bakery was pretty busy on that Saturday. She stood up and shut the door. The outside world needed to take a backseat for a minute.
Pulling out her phone, Claire scrolled way down to Jamie’s name. It had been a month and a half since she’d last gotten a text from him. A full two months had passed since she’d sent him one back. She took a deep breath, trying to think of what to say. “Hey” seemed like far too little. “Can we talk?” somehow seemed to heavy. “I miss you” was all she really wanted to say. But was it enough?
She typed out a short message, her finger hovering over the arrow to send it. Swallowing past the lump in her throat, she tried to make herself push send.
The door to her office burst open with Mary calling for her help. Claire closed out of the message and set her phone on her desk. Sadly, the outside world couldn’t wait anymore.
As the bakery grew busier, the tentative message laid unsent. By the time Claire went home, she’d completely forgotten about her efforts from earlier.
Claire was curled up in her pajamas watching a movie on her couch. The simple pleasure of doing so made her happy. She was hugging a pillow to her chest and nursing a glass of wine when a knock at her door jarred her from her peacefulness.
He was the last person she expected to see on the other side of the door. “Ian?” Claire asked, staring at him. He smiled tightly in reply. “What are you doing here?”
“Can I come in?”
Claire nodded, stepping aside to let him in. “Ian, I feel like I know why you’re here. And before you say anything -”
Ian turned and looked at her. “Ye don’t know why I’m here.”
She recoiled a bit. “Okay. So Jamie didn’t send you? Or Jenny perhaps?”
He shook his head. “It wasna Jamie. And Jenny doesna want me to be here. But I thought ye should know.”
“Look, I ken ye and Jamie havena been speaking for some time now, but I wanted ye to know. And I thought he would probably want ye to know. Even if -”
“Ian, out with it!” Claire urged.
Ian’s face fell and he looked at Claire with a desolate expression. “Jamie was in an accident.”
Sorry about that ending! Next chapter will be up next Wednesday!
“I’m sorry, what?” Claire said, nearly out of breath.
Ian kept his grim expression. “He was in a car accident this afternoon.” Claire nodded, barely processing the information. She stumbled back and sat down on her couch. “He’s out of surgery but he’s not awake yet.”
“Is he going to be okay?” she whispered, fear taking over her. Ian paused and Claire jumped up. “Ian, tell me he’s going to be okay!”
“I mean, we think so. We obviously hope so. But he’s still not awake. Joe told us that it could be due to the trauma. His body is just trying to heal or something,” Ian informed her.
“Wait, Joe knew about this?” Claire asked.
Ian nodded. “Yeah, Jamie was taken to Joe’s hospital.”
Claire scoffed. “Why the hell didn’t he tell me about this?”
“Probably because Jenny asked him not to,” Ian admitted.
She frowned, her brow furrowed. “You also said she didn’t want you to be here. What is Jenny’s problem with me?”
Ian shook his head. “I promise ye she doesna have a problem with ye. It’s Jamie. She’s worrit about her brother. She’s worrit that if ye’re there, Jamie will focus more on the fact that ye’re talking to him again and less on his recovery.”
A fresh wave of guilt crashed over Claire. Her body started to revolt against the sickening feeling. Suddenly, her hurt and anger over the past two months seemed pathetic, wrong. It was Jamie, for crying out loud. How had she not spoken to him in all that time? What was wrong with her that she had just cut him out instead of offering him a second chance? She sat back down on the couch, trying to swallow past the nausea that was overcoming her. Her head was in her hands as she tried to steady her breathing. She felt sick at what she’d done. Soon another sickening thought sprang to mind.
What if I never get to make things right?
Claire stood up, taking deep breaths. “I need to see him. Please let me go with you.”
Ian nodded, a small smile crossing his face. “I figured that’s how ye’d react. Just when we get there, dinna tell Jenny it was my idea, alright?”
Claire choked out a small laugh before grabbing her purse. She didn’t care that she was in pajamas; she had to get to Jamie.
They got to the hospital slower than Claire would have liked. It was probably a good thing that Ian had driven. He guided her up to Jamie’s room. They were right by his door when she spotted Jenny and Joe huddled in conversation. Turning around, Ian had made himself scarce at the sight of his wife. She decided to walk towards Jamie instead of confronting the two people who should have told her sooner.
“Claire?” Joe called, stopping her before she got in the room. She turned and looked at him. Joe looked surprised. Jenny looked somewhat irritated. “What are you doing here?”
“I think you know quite well what I’m doing here, Joe,” Claire retorted, throwing a glance to Jamie’s door.
“Who told ye?” Jenny asked. She shot Joe a suspicious glance.
He looked over and noticed her. “Wasn’t me!” he insisted.
“Look it doesn’t matter who told me. I just need to see him, okay?” Claire replied.
“Twas Ian, wasn’t it?” Jenny asked, her eyes narrowed in Claire’s direction.
“Yeah, it was,” Claire confessed. “I’m sorry. But I’m also very glad he did.” Turning to look at the door, Claire took an unsure step closer to Joe and Jenny. “How is he? What happened? I mean I know it was an accident, but…”
Joe took a deep breath. “He was in a cab and it got hit broadside. Jamie was thrown from the vehicle. He had a broken arm and dislocated shoulder. Some deep lacerations on his back from the glass of the side window. And he also has a concussion. We figured he’d have a deeper head injury after being thrown from the car, but it turns out he was lucky. Just a concussion.”
Claire nodded, taking in all the information. She glanced over at Jenny. “I guess you were right. He did always have a hard head.”
Jenny laughed, quickly covering her mouth. “Aye. That he does.”
“Ian said he’s not awake,” Claire mentioned.
“He’s not yet,” Joe said, a tone of hope to his voice. “But he went through a lot. His surgery took longer than they expected because his arm was in rough shape. It seemed to take most of the abuse. They’ll also have to keep an eye on his back and make sure they don’t have to graft it. But I’m not sure it was that deep. Of course, I’m not the doctor in charge of him. I’ve just been annoyingly present. I’m sure Dr. Michaelson hates me right now.”
Claire took a deep breath, trying to mentally ready herself. “Okay. Well I’m going in there.” She took a step in the direction of the room before pausing. “Oh, and Jenny, please don’t go too hard on Ian. I appreciate him letting me know.” Jenny smiled and nodded to Claire.
Without another word, Claire walked into Jamie’s room. She felt tears immediately come to her eyes as she looked over at him. His eyes were closed, his hands in front of him, a few tubes and wires hooked up to him. He was propped up on his good shoulder, probably due to his injuries to his back. She shook her head and wiped her tears as she slowly walked toward him. Sitting in the chair next to the bed, she stared at him for a long moment. He looked almost peaceful. But the longer she sat there, her breath came short. Panic set in as she watched him. Tears continued to spill down her cheeks.
“You always had to get the last word, didn’t you?” she asked, choking out a small laugh. “God, Jamie, I hate this. For the first time in six years, I wish I’d finished medical school so I could know if you were going to be okay. So I could feel better about this. You have to wake up. You just do. I...I have so many things I have to tell you.”
Thankfully, someone (likely Jenny) had left a box of tissues right by his bed. She grabbed one and attempted to stop the flow of tears. It did nothing.
“I have to tell you that I’m sorry. That this whole stupid fight was just blown out of proportion. I have to tell you that I miss you. I’ve spent the last two months without you and I don’t want to do it for the rest of my life. That’s why you have to wake up. You have to, Jamie. So many of us need you. Jenny and Ian need you. Their kids need their Uncle Jamie. And I…” she broke down in a sob. “I need my best friend back.”
Claire reached over and delicately took his hand in hers. “I also have to tell you that…” she paused, taking a deep breath again, “that I love you. I have for a long time. Too long. And I never said anything. I don’t know why. Probably because I was scared you didn’t feel the same way. But I don’t care anymore. I need you to know. I love you and I need you in my life. I need you in my life so badly that I don’t think I’d care if you didn’t love me back. I’d put it all aside just to keep you in my life. So you have to wake up, James Fraser. Do you hear me? You have to.”
She sat there silently, bent over his hand in hers as tears continued to stream down her cheeks. Laying her head on the side of his bed, she took comfort in his presence, even if he didn’t know she was there. She didn’t quite know how long she sat there in silence, just willing him to open his eyes. Her own eyes had closed for a moment when she swore she felt a movement in her hand. Snapping her eyes open and sitting up, Claire stared down at his hand. His eyes were still closed. She stared down at his hand and willed it to move again.
It took a minute, but his fingers moved again, clutching onto hers lightly. She squeezed his hand in hers as she gasped. It was a slow process, but his body started to wake up. Eventually those blue eyes were looking back at her and she cried harder. “Claire?” he rasped, his voice barely a whisper.
“It’s me,” she said back, squeezing his hand again. “You’re awake!”
“What?” Claire asked, she stood up, sitting on the bed next to him. “You are. You’re awake.”
“No.” His face contorted, making him look like he was in pain. “Ye’re here.”
Her eyes closed, mentally kicking herself. She put her other hand over his, cupping his hand in both of hers. “Jamie, I’m here. You were in an accident. I’m here. I’m really here.”
His eyes opened further, though it looked like an effort. “Ye’re here?” Claire nodded emphatically. “Oh. Good.” He looked exhausted. “Thank ye,” he breathed.
Claire laughed. “You don’t have to thank me.” She looked back toward the door. “I should tell the nurses you’re awake.”
She stood, ready to walk to the nurses’ station but his hand tightened on hers. “No,” he pleaded. “Dinna go.”
Claire rubbed a hand along his good arm. “Jamie, I’m not going anywhere. I just need to tell the nurses that you’re awake. Okay? I’ll be right back.”
“Please,” he begged, his glassy eyes meeting hers. She saw the desperation in his gaze and she knew exactly where it came from. He didn’t know why she was there and he was terrified for her to leave again.
“Okay,” she said, sitting back in her chair. “I’m not going anywhere.” She couldn’t ignore the feelings inside of her when he breathed a sigh of relief. Claire reached for the call button and pressed it. “Now they’ll know and I didn’t have to go,” she said, though Jamie’s eyes were closed again. His hand was still holding hers tightly.
The nurse came in quickly, looking to Jamie and then to Claire. “He’s awake,” Claire said. The nurse looked back at Jamie whose eyes were closed before glancing back at Claire with an unsure look.
Jamie peeled open one eye, squinting at the nurse against the light of his room. “Aye.” The nurse nodded and left to get her machines to take his vitals. Jenny followed her back in, Joe and Ian quickly on her toes. “Hi,” Jamie said in a small voice.
“Look who’s awake,” Jenny said, walking to Jamie’s other side. She patted his head lightly, leaning in close to him. “Hey, when ye’re a bit more conscious and ye’ve healed a bit more, we’re going to have a verra long talk on seat belt safety and why we fucking wear them. Aye?”
Jamie groaned, closing his eyes. “I think that’s a marvelous idea, Jenny,” Claire agreed with a grin. “I thought only idjits didn’t wear their seat belts.” Jamie opened one eye to glare at her. That only made her smile harder.
Far too soon for anyone’s liking, the nurses ushered them out, reminding them they could return in the morning. Ian and Jenny said their goodbyes, promising to return. Claire did the same. As she turned to leave, Jamie grasped her hand again. Claire looked back and him and gave him a reassuring smile. She squeezed his hand in both of hers. “Rest up, okay? I promise I’ll be back tomorrow.”
He watched her for a long moment before releasing the hold he had on her and giving her a nod. “Tomorrow, then.”
She leaned forward, ruffling his hair back. “Tomorrow,” she promised, planting a kiss on his forehead.
Jamie was sitting up in bed when Claire showed up the next day. His whole demeanor had improved the longer he was off the anesthesia. “Hey!” she greeted in a happy tone.
He looked over at her, his face lighting up. “Sassenach, ye’re here!”
“Of course I am,” she said, trying to ignore the past two months. “Also, I come bearing gifts!” Pulling the basket out from behind her, she set it on the table in front of him.
“Ye baked?” he asked, his eyes growing wide.
“Only a bit. I also ran to the all night market and grabbed some of your favorite things. I know hospital food is notoriously trash, so I wanted you to be able to actually eat something good when you feel like it,” she explained with a smile.
Jamie looked up from the basket, a lot of emotion in his eyes. “Thank ye, Claire. Truly.” He reached out and touched the basket. “Tis a very thoughtful thing to do.”
She shrugged, planting herself in the chair next to his bed. “It’s nothing.” She cleared her throat. “So how are you feeling?”
Jamie tilted his head back and forth. “I suppose alright. Though, I’m told I’m on a number of medications.”
Claire laughed. “Well I’d bloody hope so.” She looked around the room. “Has Joe been by?”
Jamie shook his head. “Nah. Ye’re the first one to stop by.”
“Jenny and Ian haven’t even been here?” Claire asked, completely shocked.
“She texted me earlier,” Jamie started, “and apparently one of the bairns fell ill when Ian’s dad was watching them so they were taking her to the doctor before coming back.” A smile grew on his face. “She said she felt certain ye’d be here to keep me company.”
Claire matched his smile. “Well she’s a canny woman, that Jenny.”
The look on Jamie’s face changed, a serious look replacing the smile. “Claire, I -”
“Don’t,” Claire immediately stopped him. “Jamie, you don’t have to say anything.”
He closed his eyes and breathed out a sigh. “But I do, I need to tell ye -”
“You don’t have to explain anything,” Claire repeated. “I promise. We’re fine.” Jamie watched her for a moment, seemingly trying to gauge the truth of her statement. “Jesus, Jamie, you could have died. You think I care about any of that?”
“Ye should,” Jamie said with a grim look.
“I don’t,” she promised, placing her hand over his. “It’s in the past. We don’t need to bother ourselves with it.”
Hesitantly, Jamie nodded. Claire quickly tried to change the conversation. Even if she didn’t know that she should, she asked him about his accident.
“Honestly, I dinna remember much of it,” he admitted. “I was in a cab and someone hit us.”
“You never take a cab. Where were you going?” Claire asked.
“Och, nowhere important,” Jamie said, brushing off her question. Claire fixed him with a look. It was enough for him to cave. He took a deep breath. “I was headed to yer shop,” he confessed, not meeting her eyes.
“You were?” she asked, completely shocked.
Jamie nodded, his gaze downcast. “Aye. I got in the cab because I kent that if I tried walking there I’d turn around.” Claire couldn’t help but chuckle. “But after Joe and Gayle’s party, I just...I wanted to see ye.” He shook his head. “In all likelihood if I’d gotten there, I’d have not even walked in the door.”
“Well that would be a shame. We would have welcomed another massive order from Malcolm Mackenzie,” Claire said with a teasing grin.
Jamie gaped at her. “How did ye ken that?”
“You didn’t think it was notable that one person spent that much money?”
Jamie shrugged. “How did ye even ken it was me?”
She gave him a deadpanned look. “Gee, who do I know that has those two names in their full name and also has a highly disposable amount of money?” she asked sarcastically, tapping her finger against her chin. He grinned slightly. “It was pretty obvious.”
“Are ye mad about it?”
“I was a little bit at first,” she admitted. “Because I wanted you to have your money. But the more I thought on it, the more it amused me. I couldn’t help but wonder what you did with that amount of baked goods.”
Jamie laughed. “Aye, I became verra popular at work.” He shook his head. “They didna all go to work though. I took one order to work and the others went to various places throughout Glasgow. Said it was a courtesy gift.”
Claire gaped at him. “You were just publicizing the bakery?” He shrugged. Claire squeezed his hand in hers. “That’s very generous. And thoughtful.”
“Ye ken I’ve always wanted ye to succeed,” he said in a small voice.
Claire smiled, nodding to him. “I know.”
* * *
Jamie stayed in the hospital for longer than he wanted. He felt good enough and decided he was ready to go home. When he told Joe as such, Joe just laughed at him. So Jamie stayed and followed medical advice. He’d been in the hospital for four days.
But every day for four days, he’d seen Claire. And that made all the irritation worth it. He still couldn’t really believe that she was speaking to him again. And yet, each day she showed up when she could. Her presence helped keep his mind off the pain of his arm or his back.
They still hadn’t talked through things. Jamie felt they needed to but each time he’d tried, Claire had shut down the conversation. Eventually, he stopped bringing it up. The last thing he wanted was to make her stop coming to see him.
He’d been desperate after Joe’s party. Seeing her for the first time in months had spurred him to finally talk to her again. He wanted to talk to her at the party but she’d bolted. After a lunch with John where John spoke about his happy life, Jamie finally felt the motivation to go talk to Claire. He hadn’t been happy without Claire in his life. But then the accident had stopped him.
Waking up and seeing her next to his bed, feeling her hand around his had truly made him wonder if he was dreaming. She kept assuring him she was there and he was immediately relieved. His injuries didn’t matter so long as she was there.
Jamie was reading something on his phone when Claire strolled in, a smile on her face. “Sassenach!” Jamie greeted. “What brings ye by?”
Claire shrugged, sitting down in her usual chair. “Finished up with work and wanted to see how you were doing.”
Jamie looked down at his phone and narrowed his eyes. “Ye’re finished already?” She nodded. “But the shop isna even closed yet.”
“Mary’s closing down tonight,” Claire said as if it didn’t matter.
Jamie stared at her. “But ye like to close it down yerself so ye can make sure everything’s in order.”
“I don’t do it every day. And...well I thought it was more important to be here,” Claire reasoned. She tried to brush it off, but Jamie couldn’t move past it. He stared at her as she unpacked the bag she’d brought. “Feel like an eclair?” He could only nod in reply.
They sat in a comfortable silence as they ate her eclairs. “So how was work?” Jamie asked.
A small smile crossed her face. “Well I didn’t do much work today. I was in meetings most of the day with lawyers and business advisors as we plan out the Edinburgh store.”
“Oh aye. So is that going forward then?” He felt a bit hollow not knowing the details of the store. In the five years it had been open, he’d known everything.
Claire scooted closer. “We actually closed that today. Next week I’m going to Edinburgh to tour all the buildings available in our budget.”
Jamie stared at her with a smile. “I’m so proud. I kent ye’d do great things.”
She rolled her eyes. “I just run a bakery.”
Jamie took a pointed bite of his eclair. “I stand by my comment.”
Claire laughed loudly, shaking her head at him. God, he’d missed that sound. She kept talking but he couldn’t focus very well. He was reveling in her presence. It was just like before.
Except that it wasn’t quite like before. In the time he’d been without her, he’d realized something very important. Now, he knew he loved her. Now, he knew he couldn’t live without her.
I've so appreciated the support for this story! Next chapter will be up next Wednesday!
Chapter 9: Easing Back In
Surprise chapter! I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for all the support for this story!
Claire was walking to her door when she spotted the person waiting just outside. He stood with his good shoulder against the wall, looking down at his phone. Her stride slowed just a bit as she watched him without him knowing. He’d changed in the time they were apart. Granted, some of the noted changes could have been the accident and extended stay in the hospital. But there was something about him. Even when it made her feel guilty, she couldn’t deny that the way he lit up when she walked in a room was nice.
“Hey!” she called to him as she walked closer. His head picked up and sure enough, his face brightened at the sight of her. “Who sprung you free?” she teased.
Jamie grinned. “The doctors, actually. Jenny drove me home but she had to get back to her bairns.”
“Oh, so what brings you by here?” she asked, letting them into her flat.
He shrugged with his good shoulder. “I dinna ken, just felt like seeing ye, I suppose.”
She watched him for a moment before closing the door behind them. “Well, how does dinner sound?”
Claire walked into her kitchen and opened her fridge. She wrinkled her nose at the sight. “Well, as expected, I don’t have much of anything. I guess that’s what happens when I work all day and then spend the last several nights at the hospital.”
Jamie flashed her a sheepish expression. “Sorry ‘bout that.”
Claire shook her head, walking back toward him. “I’m not.” She grabbed the paper menu off the counter. “How does pizza sound? I do have beer in there.”
“Pizza and beer,” Jamie said, weighing the options as he tapped his chin. “Sounds fine to me. Ye ken I was the one that started that tradition.”
Claire laughed as she started dialing the number. “Of course I do.” She didn’t need to ask what he wanted. Their pizza order had been the same for years.
The pizza arrived and they ate while making comfortable conversation. It felt like old times and Claire was truly grateful for it. She’d missed Jamie in the time they’d been apart. But it hadn’t been until seeing him at Joe’s party that she’d really realized just how much. It was the first time she’d seen past the remainder of anger within her. She’d wanted to hate him, but she’d never quite gotten there. The whole two months it was more heartbreak and fear of repeating it that kept her from reaching out.
But after his accident, a different fear had surged within her. The fear that they’d never get the chance to make up. And so she’d pushed any remaining hurt feelings to the back of her mind because Jamie was too important. For the first time in two months, she felt like her heart was whole again.
They’d finished their pizza and Claire stood to put the plates in the sink and the pizza box in the fridge. As she came back into the room, Jamie had an odd look on his face. “What’s up?” she asked.
He took a long swig of his beer before he answered her. “I think we should talk.”
“We have been talking,” she reminded him.
“No, about what happened.”
Claire took a deep breath, retreating from him a bit. “We really don’t need to.”
“Yes, we do,” Jamie insisted.
“Why? Why do you want to talk about it so much?” Claire asked, throwing out her arms. “You realize, it’s not going to be pretty.”
“Aye, I ken that, but it needs to happen.”
“No, it doesn’t. We’re fine,” she maintained.
“Are we?” Jamie asked. “Or are we just ignoring everything because I got hurt?” Claire closed her eyes, shaking her head slightly. “I dinna want to worry about it months from now. I dinna want to second guess if we’re really alright or if ye just got scared I was going to die. I ken it will be...a lot, but ye deserve to air it out. And I want to hear it. I want to get everything out between us.”
Claire sat down on the arm of the chair across from him. “You really want to do this?”
Jamie nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“What if I promise you that it wasn’t just because of the accident?” Claire asked, giving him one last chance.
“I want to hear it from ye,” he said quietly.
Claire breathed out a sigh as she nodded. “Fine then. Just remember that this was your choice.”
Jamie nodded as well, motioning for her to continue.
She took a big drink of her beer, not looking at him. “It all goes back to the beginning. No one believed I could run a business. No one thought me dropping out of school to run a bakery made sense. Everyone thought I would fail. Everyone but one person,” she said, looking up at him. “And maybe Joe,” she added as an afterthought.
“But then came the people that saw that I was starting to be successful and they wanted in on it,” she continued. “Like Frank. Or more recently, like Geillis who wanted to claim that her ruining my life actually put me on this path or some shit. I’d had plenty of people who told me I wouldn’t make it and then they tried to say they helped when I was actually making it. And so I guess it gave me a bit of a complex. I wanted to be able to say I made it on my own. But I didn’t, really. I had your money.” She paused, trying to phrase it all in her mind. “There was one person who could claim my success for themselves and it would actually be true.”
“Me,” he whispered. She looked over at him, nodding. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, waving his hand for her to keep going.
“Yeah,” she said. “And for five years, you never did. Anytime I brought it up, you always said I did it on my own.”
“Aye, because I truly believe that,” he interjected. He quickly held up his hand in apology. “Sorry, keep going. I willna interrupt.”
She gave him a small smile before she continued. “But then you did. You said what you said and I lost it. I was hurt and pissed off. I wanted to feel like I did it on my own, even when I knew I never would have gotten to have my bakery without you. And then you said...that and I just couldn’t get past it. Joe tried to tell me that you didn’t mean it the way I took it, but either way, I was hurt. So rather than letting you explain yourself and spending the whole time doubting if it was true or if you were just trying to excuse what you said, I shut you out.”
Glancing over, his head was hung and he wasn’t looking at her. “Well, I couldna really blame ye. I kent then that I hurt ye. Though, Joe was right,” he said, his eyes flicking up to her, “I didna mean it that way. In ten years, we’ve both done a lot for each other. Little things that friends do. That was how I meant it. If nothing else, I promise ye that.”
Claire nodded. “I believe you. I couldn’t then, but I do now.”
“Why?” Jamie asked, staring at her.
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “Honestly? Because then, I couldn’t see you so I didn’t know how you were reacting. In my head you were just going on with your life.” Jamie looked at her, shaking his head with a miserable expression. “But I know now that wasn’t how it happened. So now , I can believe you when you say that.”
“Thank ye,” he choked out.
“But it all came back to the money,” she continued. “So much of the fight hinged on that. And it always hung over my head. So, that was when I decided to give it back to you. I didn’t want you to be able to make me do things I didn’t want to do by guilting me with it, so I had to get rid of it.”
There was a long silence between them. She could tell Jamie had a lot he wanted to say and yet, wasn’t. He stared down at his clasped hands, saying a lot with his silence. “I didna want it back,” he finally said.
“I know,” she replied quickly.
“It felt like the last tie,” he added. “Like it was the last thing I had of ye. I didna want any of the bakery for myself. I just wanted ye to be happy, to succeed. But when I stared at that check, I just...I wanted nothing more than to be able to still claim my part in it. Which I ken was fucked up, because that was what got me in that situation in the first place. But I felt like ye were slipping away and there was nothing I could do about it.”
“So you started trying to pour it back in to the bakery?” Claire asked, an amused grin on her face.
Jamie nodded. “The money was never mine. From the moment I won, I knew I’d give ye whatever ye needed. And as soon as I could, I did. I’d never had the full amount that I won because I gave some to ye. I didna need it back. The check had the right name on it, it just wasna on the right line. So I, perhaps, tried to be a bit devious and sneak it back to ye. It helped me feel like I was still a part of yer life, even in a small way.”
“I’m sorry, Jamie,” Claire said softly.
Jamie looked up at her, clearly confused. “What? Why are ye sorry?”
“Because I overreacted. You’re my best friend and I should have known you didn’t mean it how I took it. But I was just…”
“I hurt ye,” Jamie stated bluntly. “There’s no way around it. Even if I didna mean it the way it came out, I still hurt ye. Ye’re allowed to deal wi’ that however ye need to.” He watched her for a moment. “But I canna lie and say I didna miss ye. Or that it didna feel like I had a gaping hole in my life. Or that I didna pull my phone out to text ye or call ye multiple times a day for the entire two months.” Jamie sighed, shaking his head. “I’m the one who needs to be sorry. And believe me, Claire, I am. It was stupid and I dinna ken why I even said it. Honestly, I didna really realize what I actually said until ye got angry. But more than that, I’ve never kept track of what we’ve done for each other. There shouldna be an emotional debt between us.”
She nodded, tears forming in her eyes. “It would be a lot to keep track of over ten years,” she added with a small laugh.
“So, uh, if we’re good again,” Jamie continued, “can I just give ye the rest of the money back? Tis a lot to spend on individual orders.”
Claire laughed, standing up from the chair. She sat down next to Jamie on the couch. “Actually, no.” He opened his mouth to reply before she held her hand up. “Look, I gave it back because I was mad or hurt, but then it really felt like I was doing it on my own. And I liked that feeling. I liked knowing that I could pay back the loan.”
“It wasna a loan!” Jamie protested. “Twas an investment.”
Claire nodded, chuckling at his outrage. “I know. And believe me, I loved being the best investment you ever made, but I can do it on my own. So I rather want to now.”
Jamie sighed. “Alright then. But I ken a friend named Malcolm Mackenzie who is still a big fan of the shop,” he teased.
She burst out laughing, shoving against his good shoulder. “No more orders!” He slid down against the couch slightly, causing Claire to catch herself before she followed him. When he sat back up, they were closer than before. “I mean it. No more orders. You’re going to overwhelm my staff.”
“But then what will I do wi’ all that money?” Jamie asked.
“Keep it?” she offered. “Invest it like the rest of your money. Or blow it on something big and stupid.”
“I pride myself on being wise wi’ my money,” Jamie reminded her.
“Yeah, says the man who gave a good chunk of it to an inexperienced 23 year old to start a business,” Claire retorted.
Jamie smiled at her. “I stand by it. Best investment I ever made.”
She shook her head at him. “So, do you feel better now, having it all out in the open?”
Jamie shrugged. “I dinna feel worse, that’s for sure.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “I told you we didn’t need to do this! That it was just going to hurt!”
“But it was a necessary hurt,” Jamie assured her. “Look, it was important for me to ken how I hurt ye so I can make bloody well sure I never do so again. And I think it was important for ye to ken that I didna just go about life as normal. I couldna do so wi’out ye, Sassenach. We needed to know.”
She nodded reluctantly, releasing a sigh. “You know I hate it when you’re right.” He smiled widely. Claire leaned over and pulled him into a tight hug. Jamie’s arms were coming around her as he hissed. She released him quickly. “Your back! I’m sorry! I forgot!”
His face was contorted in pain but he shook his head. “I’m fine, really. Just hurt a bit.”
Claire laid a hand on his good shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Jamie shrugged off her hand and pulled her into a hug. “Dinna be sorry. For anything.” She wrapped her arms delicately around his back, trying not to hurt him again. The feel of him against her was nearly intoxicating. Too soon, he was pulling back, flashing her a reassuring smile. He’d been right, damn him, they had needed to hash things out. It brought her a sad sort of gratification to know that he’d been as affected by their separation as she had.
Without saying anything, Claire grabbed the remote and turned on the tv. They sat there contentedly, not needing to say anything else. Not really meaning to, she felt herself curl into Jamie a bit. It would hurt later, but she needed it at the moment. When his arm came around her, she felt at home.
They both sat there, feeling at peace and at war at the same time. They’d aired out their feelings, but not their true feelings. They sat there in comfort, just being together again. But neither of them knew that the other felt the same way.
* * *
It was nearly two weeks later when Claire was riding the elevator up to Jamie’s office. Her hands were clenched tightly around the basket she held. It was Jamie’s first day back to work since his accident and she was surprising him with one of her pastry baskets. If nothing else, it might make him popular at work after missing so much time. The doctor had cleared him for desk work and light exercise, though only one of those Jamie was opposed to. Jenny, Claire, and Ian had all convinced him to take some time off work to recover a bit more. He had the time and never took it.
When the elevator doors opened, Claire felt a nervous excitement. She walked over to the desk and greeted Nancy, the receptionist. It had been a while since she’d been to Jamie’s office, but everyone knew her. Nancy informed her that Jamie was in a meeting so Claire sat down in a chair by her desk. She’d only been sitting there a few minutes when she was spotted by a familiar face.
“Claire Beauchamp, as I live and breathe!” John called, waving to her with an excited look on his face. “What brings you here?”
Claire stood up to hug him. She held out her basket as evidence. “Wanted to help celebrate Jamie’s first day back.”
John grinned, his eyes growing wider as he took in the basket. “That’s awfully kind of you. Do you want me to take that off your hands?” he asked with a laugh.
She held it tighter to her. “That’s alright. I’m fairly certain that I know what would happen to it if I let you get your hands on it.”
“You know me too well,” John admitted with a mischievous grin. He shook his head as he sighed. “I’m glad Jamie’s back, I’ll say that. I felt so horrendously guilty.”
Claire frowned. “Why on earth would you feel guilty?”
John looked to her. “Well, I was having lunch with him right before he got in that bloody cab. If I’d only talked to him for a minute longer or if I’d told him he could stand to walk home.”
“He wasn’t going home,” Claire told him. “You want to feel guilty, try being me.” John’s brow furrowed. “After your lunch he was coming to see me. That’s when he got in the accident.”
“He was going to see you?” John asked. Claire nodded. “Well it’s good to know the man can take some subtle hinting.”
“Subtle hinting at what?” Claire replied, stepping closer to John.
Before John could answer, they were joined by another person. “John, what are you doing over here? Surely you have things you could be working on.” Annalise looked at John with a brow raised before glancing over to notice his companion. “Aha, you are...Jamie’s friend.”
“Claire,” John reminded. “You’ve met before.”
“Ah, that’s right,” Annalise said, giving Claire the once over. “Pardon me, but I thought you were gone.”
“I was in Edinburgh for a week,” Claire said, a bit confused, “but I wouldn’t say I was gone .”
“Oh that’s not what I meant. I thought you and Jamie were no longer speaking,” she said rather indelicately.
Claire steeled herself. She should have known going to Jamie’s work would be a den of horrors for her emotions. She nodded as a reply while she tried to get her words together. “Well we were briefly not speaking. But Jamie and I have been close for ten years, so we’ve had a number of fights in that time. Which also means we know how to get past them. Sometimes it just takes longer than others. But we always get back there.” Perhaps she was laying it on a bit thick, but she didn’t care.
“Yeah, they’re back on such good speaking terms that she brought Jamie one of her special baskets to celebrate him being back at work,” John inserted, flashing a smile at Claire. She could have hugged him in that moment.
“Well Jamie is in a very important meeting,” Annalise told her. “There is no telling how long he’ll be in said meeting, so why don’t I take that off your hands? I’ll make sure Jamie gets it.”
This offer was very different from the offer John had made. John’s had been lighthearted and a comment on his love for her baked goods. But from Annalise, she could tell that it was more about Jamie than it was about pastries. Claire watched Annalise, wondering what had happened with her in the two months she hadn’t spoken to Jamie. It was the first time she’d actually been concerned by it. Jamie’s eagerness at Claire’s presence in his life had wiped out any questions she had. But now questions were arising. She and Jamie had talked about nearly everything in the two weeks they’d been talking again. Even when she’d been in Edinburgh for a week looking at available shops, they’d talked every night on the phone. As far as she knew, they’d caught each other up completely on the two months, even the gory, sad details of it.
“I appreciate your concern, but if you two need to get back to work, I can always sit here by Nancy. That’s the beauty of running your own company, I can more or less set my own schedule and as of now, I have nowhere else I need to be,” Claire said with a fake smile.
“And I don’t really care to get back to work at the moment, so I can keep Claire company if you have work to do Annalise,” John offered, sporting a matching smile.
Annalise smiled back at them, fakeness abounding. She didn’t seem to have much of a retort coming. John started talking to Claire again, asking her very pointed questions about Jamie that clearly only she would know. It was obvious, probably to both women, what John was doing, but Claire didn’t seem to mind. Let the bitch know that Claire had been the one in Jamie’s life the longest. Claire answered every question in as much detail as she could.
“Wait, so Jamie only moved to Glasgow for you, right?” John asked after several minutes of their Jamie focused conversation.
“Uh,” Claire started, suddenly wondering the true answer to that question. “That was more or less it, I think. I moved here for school and Jamie had a job in Inverness but then he gave it up and moved to Glasgow about a month after I did. We actually shared a flat for a while before he, uh…” She didn’t want to talk about the lottery in front of Annalise. “Before he found a better place.”
“Sassenach?” Jamie called, a look of shock on his face as he walked toward them. “What are ye doing here?” He pulled her into a hug, leaving a kiss at her temple as they broke apart.
She smiled up at him. “Well, I wanted to celebrate your first day back.” She held up the basket in emphasis.
He grinned brightly at her, shaking his head a bit. “Ye’re far too kind, Sassenach.” Jamie glanced over at John and Annalise as he took the basket from Claire. “This is rather heavy, ye ken, wi’ my broken arm. Would ye mind helping me carry it to my office, Claire?” he asked.
John laughed, clapping Jamie on the shoulder before he parted. Claire tried to fight a smug grin. “Not at all, let me take it from you.” He didn’t even acknowledge Annalise any further before placing a hand on Claire’s back and walking towards his office.
She placed it on Jamie’s desk before sitting in one of his chairs. “I didna realize ye were already back from Edinburgh,” he said, sitting down in his desk chair.
“I actually got back late last night,” Claire told him.
“Ye should have called me. I’d have gotten ye from the train station,” Jamie said.
She shrugged. “It was late,” she insisted with a wave of her hand.
“Wouldna have mattered,” Jamie assured her. “Next time, call me.”
She shot him a small smile. “Well okay, I will then.”
“So...did ye find a place then?” Jamie asked, leaning forward against his desk.
Claire tried to act nonchalant. “Yeah, we might have.” Jamie raised one brow to her, making her grin. “So it’s this beautiful storefront. And get this…” Jamie nodded, urging her to continue. “It’s on the Royal Mile!”
Jamie’s eyes widened as excitement spread on his face. “No way! Ye got Royal Mile real estate?” Claire nodded gleefully. “That’s amazing, Claire!”
“I know! I couldn’t quite believe it myself. And honestly, it seemed like a bloody steal. I don’t really know how it happened,” she admitted, shaking her head in a daze. “I’m really excited though.”
“Well ye should be,” Jamie reminded her. “This is huge!” A sad look crossed his face for a split second. “So when will ye go back to Edinburgh next?”
“I’d say I still have a few weeks. They started on paperwork and such, but I won’t have to be back there till the end of the month,” Claire told him. “But then I’ll probably be there for a while to oversee things.”
Jamie nodded, looking down at his desk. “Gotcha.” He glanced back up at her. “Hey, how would ye like to grab lunch today?”
Claire checked her watch. “You mean in an hour and a half?” Jamie nodded. “Yeah, that sounds good. Unless you think you should be here.”
He shook his head. “Nah, I dinna care about being here for lunch. I just wanted to make sure ye dinna have to be anywhere.” She shook her head. “Fantastic. So I’ll pick ye up at the bakery?”
Claire stood out of her chair. “That sounds good to me.” She started walking out of his office when she turned back to look at him. “I’ll see you in 90 minutes!” Turning around, she bumped into Annalise. “Oh, sorry! Didn’t see you there.” Claire couldn’t miss the glare Annalise gave her. She was fairly certain Annalise had been lingering outside Jamie’s office for a reason.
* * *
They’d had a lovely lunch together, chatting and enjoying the other’s company. It was everything Claire had missed while they were apart. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what, but something was different about Jamie. It could have been the accident or their separation, but something was different in how they were when they spent time together. There was an eagerness about him she’d never noticed before. Maybe it was only Claire that was different. Perhaps she’d never noticed it in him before they had gone two months without speaking.
Whatever the reason, and whatever the change in him, it made things feel even better. She’d missed him when she was in Edinburgh. Most nights, if he hadn’t called her as she walked back to her hotel, she called him. She was becoming dependant on him again very quickly. It scared her, but not enough to make her take a step back. After two months away from him, she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to take a step back again. Even considering her still hidden feelings.
Claire was certainly distracted as she tried to do paperwork that afternoon in her office. Her mind kept going back to Jamie repeatedly. A smile continuously crossed her face and she hated feeling so silly. She wished she’d gotten more accomplished when Mary stopped in her office.
“Claire?” Mary announced, making Claire turn to look at her. “There’s someone here to see you.”
“Who is it?” Claire asked.
Mary shrugged. “I don’t recognize her. She said she was a friend of yours.”
Claire frowned. She couldn’t think of any female friends who would just drop by. Yes, Jenny had done so months back, but that had been a rare occurrence. Besides, Jenny and Claire had talked just the day before and Jenny had said nothing of stopping by the shop. Claire stood from her computer and followed Mary out to the front. She froze as she saw the woman waiting for her.
Claire cleared her throat as she walked around the counter. “Annalise, what can I do for you?”
The woman’s fake niceness came out in full force as she greeted Claire. “Oh, Claire, it is so good to see you again.”
“Yes, I saw you only a few hours ago,” Claire reminded her. “What do you need?”
“I was actually hoping to get some of your advice,” she confessed. “Seeing as you’re one of Jamie’s closest friends.” Claire didn’t miss Annalise’s heavy emphasis on the word “friends.”
“What about?” Claire asked with a sigh.
“Well I’m just a bit confused by him. You see we went out for dinner a while back but then...nothing,” Annalise told her. Claire felt her stomach drop as the woman spoke. “We had a very lovely time, let me tell you, but for whatever reason, he’s holding back.”
“What do you want from me?” Claire asked, pushing past the hoarseness of her voice.
“I just want to know how I can best get through to him. You know, let him know he’s free to ask me out again,” Annalise explained.
Claire took a deep breath. “I’ve known Jamie for a very long time,” Claire said in a pointed tone, “and usually if he doesn’t ask someone out for a second date, it’s because he doesn’t want there to be one.”
Annalise chuckled. “That may be your experience, Claire, but I can tell you that it’s not mine. He wants a second date, I am positive.”
“If you’re so sure about it, then why are you worried?” Claire asked. “Why come to me about it?”
“I simply thought you might have a better, uh, insight on Jamie,” she said, a devious look in her eye. “I don’t understand his hesitance. We had a very good time.” Claire tried to ignore her use of the word “very.”
“Well maybe you had a better time than Jamie did,” Claire suggested. “Look, if Jamie wants to see you again, in that manner, he’ll ask you. So either accept his silence for what it is or foolishly keep hoping. Either way, please don’t feel the need to come back and ask me about it.”
She expected Annalise to at least feign offense at Claire’s statements, but instead she saw a smile. “Very well, Claire. Good to see you, as always.”
As Claire watched her walk away, she realized the true purpose of Annalise’s visit. It wasn’t as pointless as it initially seemed. She was simply shoving it in Claire’s face that they’d been out together. It shouldn’t totally surprise Claire, and yet it did. As she went back to work, she was distracted again, but this time for a totally different reason.
Claire was wiping down the counters five minutes before the bakery was officially closed. Joe opened the door with a big smile on his face. “There’s the gal I’m looking for!” he called.
“Gal?” Claire asked. “What are you, 70 years old?” she teased.
He laughed, walking over to meet her by the counter. “Whatever.”
“What brings you by here? Don’t you have a fiancee to go home to?”
Joe nodded. “I do, but I had something I wanted to ask you.”
Claire set her rag down and walked over to a table, putting two chairs down. “What’s up?”
They sat across from each other, Joe drumming his fingers together. “I actually wanted to ask you if you would be my best man.”
Claire gaped at him. “What? Me? Are you serious?” He nodded. “God, of course I will!” She stood up and pulled Joe into a hug. “Why me? What about your brother?”
Joe shrugged. “He and I lost touch a long time ago. It should be you. I talked it over with Gayle and she agreed. You’re the best man in my life.”
Claire burst out laughing as they both sat back down. “That says a lot about the men in your life then,” she joked. “I am going to throw you the best stag party anyone’s ever seen.”
Joe chuckled. “You really don’t have to. Someone else can handle that.”
She shook her head. “Nope, I’m going to handle that.” They laughed together. “So who else will be in the wedding?”
“Well, Gayle wants to have a maid of honor and two bridesmaids so that set my number for me. So I’ll have you and then I think I’ll ask Jamie. And then I guess one of the guys from work,” Joe informed her. He narrowed his eyes at her, no doubt picking up on her glass face. “What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“You made a weird face when I said Jamie’s name,” Joe told her. “I thought you guys were good again.”
She shook her head. “No, we are. I just...I found something out today that irritated me, but I don’t know how to talk to him about it.” Joe nodded for her to continue. Claire sighed. “So the French hoe — as you so aptly put it before — stopped by here today.”
“Oh God, what did she want?”
“Really, I think she came to get under my skin. I think she wants Jamie and she sees me as a threat,” Claire admitted. “She told Jamie not to give up trying to get her after she’d seen us together. And then after she saw me at their office today, she felt the need to stop by here and tell me they’d gone out.” Claire shook her head, taking a deep breath. “I just...he never told me.”
“Well are you that surprised by it?” Joe asked. “He seemed pretty hellbent on getting her to go out with him.”
“I’m not surprised by the fact that they went out. And I really don’t even care. What you said was right. He was zeroed in on her. It was that he didn’t tell me,” Claire explained. “We’ve told each other everything about the time we weren’t talking and yet he didn’t mention that.”
“Maybe the date was a dud,” Joe suggested.
“Not from the way she was talking.”
“But if she wanted to get under your skin, be a wedge between you and Jamie rebuilding your relationship, then of course she made it out to be more than it was,” Joe reasoned. “She’s just a bitch trying to get to you.”
“You might be right,” Claire admitted.
“Let me tell you this,” Joe offered, “if the date was that good, Jamie would have been asking her to come see him at the hospital. But he didn’t. The only person he kept asking to be at his bedside was you.” Joe fixed her with a significant look. “The french hoe never stopped by the hospital. I’m guessing she didn’t even care Jamie got hurt. She just wants a plaything and maybe she thought that could be Jamie, but his gaze shifted.”
Claire stared at Joe. “His gaze shifted?” she repeated.
“You heard me.”
“You seriously think that?”
Joe nodded. “I do. I’ve seen the way he looks at you. It’s more than relief that you’re talking to him again. I also saw him when the two of you weren’t speaking. I stand by my comment.”
Claire shook her head, releasing a groan. “You know what, I can’t do this anymore. We’ve spent far too fucking long sitting here and evaluating what something Jamie said or did means. And it’s stupid. It’s never gotten me anywhere. And I don’t care anymore. Jamie can date whoever the hell he wants, no matter how manipulative or bitchy she may be. It’s his life, not mine. I’m going to take control of my own life instead.”
Joe stared at her, almost scared of her outburst. “And how are you going to do that?”
“That guy Peter still work at the hospital with you?” Joe nodded. “And he’s the one that’s always overly nice when I stop by? The one that you swear wants to go out with me?”
Joe sighed. “Yes, he is.”
“Great, a rich doctor! Why don’t you see if he wants to go out with me?” Claire asked, a crazy smile on her face. Joe grimaced but obeyed orders and pulled out his phone to text Peter. He texted out a quick message and sent it, clearly wishing he didn’t have to be in the middle. “Oh, by the way, you can’t tell Jamie about this,” Claire made him promise.
“Seriously, Lady Jane?”
“If he can go on dates and not tell me, why can’t I?” Claire asked. “Besides, my life is my own. He doesn’t need to know everything.”
Joe shook his head with a sigh. “Whatever.” His phone buzzed on the table. Joe picked it up to read the message. “Wow, he’s in.” Joe glanced up at her. “He wants to know if you want to get dinner on Friday.”
Claire smiled victoriously. “Tell him I would love that.” She stood up and walked back to the counter, resuming her cleaning. “Look at me,” she cried, “I’m going on a date!”
Claire had gotten ready quicker than she’d expected. Her hair was pulled up into a bun and she was wearing a deep purple dress that she felt pretty in. She felt lighter as she walked into the restaurant. It was freeing trying to date again. She was nervous, a bit, but ultimately, the stakes weren’t really that high. If Peter didn’t work out, she’d simply find someone else. She didn’t need Jamie and his secrets.
She was early and Peter had not arrived yet. Claire walked to the hostess stand to get a table. “We’re a bit full right now so it may be just a few minutes,” the hostess informed her.
Claire shook her head with a wave of her hand. “Not a problem. My date isn’t even here yet.” She moved to sit down on the bench and was surprised by the person she saw sitting there. “Ian? What are you doing here?”
His eyes widened as he took her in. “Claire?” he asked, jumping up. “What are ye doing here?”
Claire laughed. “I asked first.”
“Uh, I’m having dinner,” Ian replied, gesturing to the restaurant.
“Me too,” Claire said. “I’m actually going on a date,” she confessed.
Ian raised his eyebrows. “Are ye serious?” he seemed more defeated and less excited by her revelation. “Ye’re bringing yer date here ?”
Claire nodded, her eyes narrowing at Ian. “Yes. Why is that a problem? Am I not allowed to date?”
“No, of course ye’re allowed to date,” Ian said with a laugh. “No, it’s more the problem I’ll be having wi’ ye being on a date here.”
“Why would you have a problem with me being on a date here?” Claire asked, not following his statements.
Before he could answer, the door behind them opened. “Claire!” two different male voices called. Claire turned to see Jamie and Peter both looking from her to the other man. Jamie scowled at the sight of the doctor next to him. Peter, on the other hand, ignored Jamie and walked toward Claire.
“It’s so lovely to see you,” he said, taking her in. “Ye look absolutely beautiful.”
Claire glanced over at Ian and understood the look of misery on his face. This was a less than ideal situation. “Thank you, Peter.”
“Claire, what are ye doing here?” Jamie asked, stepping forward.
“I’m sorry, do ye know this man?” Peter turned to stare at Jamie.
“I do. He’s my friend.” She turned to Jamie. “I’m here on a date actually. This is Peter. He works with Joe,” Claire told him.
“Oh, so Joe was in on this then?” he replied, looking over at the shorter man. It was hard for Claire to see Jamie and Peter so easily compared. Jamie was taller, broader, and overall more attractive. But Peter wasn’t without his merits. He had a kind face and a sweet smile. He seemed genuinely excited to be going out with Claire, present interactions aside.
“In on what?” Claire asked, wondering why he seemed so put out. Jealousy crossed her mind, but she immediately pushed it away. It was too unlikely.
Jamie grabbed her hand and pulled her away from Peter for a moment, stepping close to her. “What are ye doing, Sassenach?”
“I’m just going on a date,” Claire defended. “What’s your bloody problem with that?” she asked, not stepping back from him.
The hostess walked back over towards Claire. “Oh, I see your date is here,” she commented, looking at Claire with Jamie. “Your table is ready.”
Claire breathed out a nervous laugh. “He’s not my date.” She stepped closer to Peter. “But we’re ready.” The hostess made an awkward face and then escorted Claire and Peter off to their table. Claire fought every urge she had to look back at Jamie. His reaction had been stronger than she’d have ever imagined. He seemed genuinely pissed that she was on a date.
“So, uh, can I ask who that was?” Peter asked as they sat down.
Claire shot him an apologetic look. “I’m sorry about him. He’s just my friend. He, Joe, and I are all close and I suppose he was just surprised to see me here.” She pulled out her menu to give her something else to look at.
“Ah, I thought perhaps he was an ex-boyfriend,” Peter commented.
Claire laughed awkwardly. “Oh goodness no,” she said, not pulling her eyes from her menu. Jamie and Joe had told her too many times that she had a glass face. She couldn’t let Peter somehow see the complicated nature of her true relationship with Jamie.
“Well why don’t we just forget about him?” Peter suggested.
If only I could , Claire thought to herself. She wouldn’t be in that situation if that were the case. “Sounds good,” Claire agreed.
“So ye’re the friend of Joe’s who runs the bakery, right?”
Claire nodded, excited for a topic she could dwell on. “That’s right, I am.”
He smiled at her. “Sometimes Joe will bring in one of those baskets and they’re so bloody tasty. Have ye always kent ye wanted to be a baker?”
Claire shook her head. “No, actually not. I knew I always enjoyed it, but I didn’t think I could make a career out of it. I actually started medical school. That was how I met Joe.”
Peter raised his eyebrows. “Ye’re kidding. Ye were almost a doctor?”
“I wouldn’t say almost . I left after my first year. And then I started the bakery,” Claire told him.
“Wow, what a shame,” Peter said. Claire frowned, her brow furrowing at him. “I mean that perhaps we could have worked together. That’s all.” She wasn’t so sure that’s truly what he meant. Claire had purposefully avoided some of the other people from medical school because they looked down on her for giving up.
“Anyway,” Claire said, “do you have a specialty at the hospital?” It was likely better to turn the conversation to him. He talked for quite a while about his passion for being a doctor. As he talked, Claire felt eyes on her. She glanced over once to see Jamie staring openly at her from their table across the room. She rolled her eyes and turned back to her table.
* * *
Ian watched as Claire and her date walked away with the hostess. Jamie stood there, clearly wanting to follow them and intrude on their date. A look of pain and slight fury crossed his face as he looked back to Ian.
“Let’s just go somewhere else,” Ian suggested.
“Och, no. This is my favorite restaurant. We’ll be eating here,” Jamie demanded.
“This is going to be a fun night,” Ian mumbled to himself. He walked over the hostess stand. “Hey there, is there any way that we could be seated somewhere far, far away from the table ye just seated?” The woman narrowed her eyes in confusion. “Look, if he sits near them, he’s just going to ruin their night and likely the night of other tables around them. Maybe if a table opens up by the window, we’ll take that.”
She laughed. “That’s verra considerate of ye. I’ll let ye know when one of those comes available.”
Ian went over and sat back down, going back and forth between trying to distract Jamie and debating just walking out of the place to see if he’d even notice. He thought his brother-in-law probably wouldn’t miss him.
Finally, Jamie sat down next to Ian with a huff. “Why would she no’ tell me she was going on a date?”
“Perhaps she knew this would be yer reaction?” Ian offered.
Jamie rolled his eyes at him. “Is this their first date? Or have they been together longer? How well does she even know this man? Did they get together when she wasna speaking to me?”
Ian sighed. “Do ye think I somehow have the answers for these questions, Jamie?”
They sat there in silence for a while before their table was ready. Thankfully, they’d taken Ian’s advice and sat them a good distance away from Claire. It didn’t really matter though. Jamie spent most of the meal staring at them, trying to glean how the date was going. Ian glanced over to see Claire laughing at something and Jamie’s face contorted.
Ian tried talking to Jamie to distract him, but Jamie’s focus was still on Claire. Ian began saying more and more wild comments to see if Jamie was even listening. He’d add a half-assed comment to most of what Ian said.
“I took a shite the other day and it was bright orange,” Ian said, laughing to himself. “Thought I was dying or something.”
Jamie’s eyes were fully on Claire. “Huh,” he replied.
“That didna even get ye, huh?” Ian asked.
“I have decided Jenny and I will have twenty bairns,” Ian tried again.
“Sounds good,” Jamie answered.
“No it bloody doesn’t,” Ian muttered to himself. “Ye stupid man.”
Ian watched him as he stared at Claire. They’d known each other for most of their lives and Ian knew precisely why it was hurting Jamie so much to see Claire there on a date, even if Jamie had never admitted it to him. It was obvious enough.
He tried one more time to sway Jamie’s attention. “So anyway, they did all they could, but it wasna enough. Jenny’s dead.”
“That’s great,” Jamie responded distractedly.
Ian huffed, picking his napkin up off his lap and throwing it at the side of Jamie’s face. Jamie jumped and turned to look at Ian, an irritated look on his face. “What are ye doing, man?”
“I just told ye that yer sister died and yer response was that it was great!” Ian told him. “Ye’re so bloody distracted. I could have left half an hour ago and ye wouldna have noticed.”
Jamie sighed, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Ian.”
“Look, I get it. I ken how ye feel about her. But ye canna be mad at her for going on a date if ye’ve never told her how ye feel,” Ian reminded him.
“How I feel?” Jamie asked, staring at Ian. “What do ye mean?” Ian stared back at Jamie with one brow raised. Jamie sighed. “Fine, ye’re right. But how do I tell her?”
“Ye just do,” Ian advised. “Ye’re gonna be going out of yer head with nerves, but ye work up the courage and ye tell her. Or else ye’ll spend the rest of yer life miserable. Ye think I wasna nervous to tell Jenny how I felt for her? Ye ken yer sister. Do ye think that was an easy conversation for me to start?” Jamie laughed. “I was shaking and terrified that she’d shut me down or worse, ridicule me. But she didna. She told me she felt the same, and as ye bloody well ken, we’ve been together ever since. Now, I think that some part of ye has always felt this way for Claire and ye just didna realize it. But ye have now, so ye need to bloody do something about it. I willna listen to ye whine about Claire going on dates if ye’ve no’ at least put yerself out there.” Ian nodded in conclusion.
Jamie gaped at him. “Wow. I think ye may be right. I’m just…” he cut himself off, staring down at his plate. “What if she doesna feel the same way and then she shuts me out again? I canna take that.”
“What if she does feel the same way and ye get to be wi’ her?” Ian countered. “Ye’ve more to lose by no’ telling her.” He sighed. “Jus’ do it. Or I’ll never meet ye for lads’ dinner again.”
Jamie laughed. “I suppose that’s fair. I’m sorry that I’ve been so rude this evening.”
“I get it. I saw Jenny talking to the butcher’s son and I thought she was flirting and I nearly lost my head,” Ian confessed. “But that gave me the motivation to tell her the truth, aye?”
Jamie nodded. “Aye. I guess I’ll have to say something.”
“Yeah, preferably before ye get in another accident.”
“Probably a good call,” Jamie admitted. He reached out and laid a hand on Ian’s arm. “Thank ye, Ian. I appreciate it.”
“What are brothers for?”
* * *
The Saturday crowd had drifted off well before closing time which allowed Claire to send people home early. It was another precious day where she got to close down her store herself. With the third store being added in, she knew these days were coming to an end. She was cleaning dishes when she heard a rapping at the front door. Frowning, she dried off her hands to go see what was going on. A smile crossed her face as she saw Jamie standing in the window, waving to her to let him in.
“What are you doing?” she asked as she opened the door.
“Well I dinna have a key anymore, so I had to knock on the door,” he explained.
Claire let him in and closed the door behind her, making sure to lock it again. “No, I meant what are you doing here?”
“Oh,” Jamie said. “I dinna ken. I just thought I’d see if ye needed any help.”
Her eyes lingered on him as she weighed his offer. Given his reaction to her date the night before, she did wonder if there was more to his statement. Either way, she wasn’t going to turn away his help. Shrugging, she walked back to the kitchen and motioned for him to follow. “I’ll wash, you dry.” She tossed him a towel, one eyebrow raised.
He caught it deftly and smiled. “Sounds like a good plan.”
They stood side by side, cleaning dishes and chatting aimlessly. Claire kept waiting for him to bring up her date. She knew he wanted to. But to his credit, it took Jamie a long time to actually do so. They’d moved on from cleaning dishes to scrubbing down kitchen surfaces when he finally asked.
“So, uh, how was yer date last night?” Jamie asked, not looking over at her.
Claire looked at him though, trying to read his expression. He was purposefully keeping his face blank. “It was fine.”
He looked at her then. “Jus’ fine?”
She shrugged. “He was a nice guy. A bit stuck up, maybe, but I’ve dated worse.”
Jamie nodded. “I was surprised to see ye on a date. Ye never mentioned it.”
Claire set her rag down on the counter and looked over at Jamie again. “I suppose I thought that was our new policy. You know, not telling the other about dates.”
Jamie glanced up at her, clearly confused. “What?”
“You didn’t tell me that you went out with Annalise,” Claire stated with a pointed look.
He was silent for a moment. “Fine, I guess I didna, but that...that was when we werena talking,” Jamie defended.
“You told me about seemingly everything else from that time but you left that out,” Claire argued.
Jamie sputtered, unable to form a clear defense. His brow furrowed and he frowned. “Wait, if I didna tell ye, who did? John doesna even ken about that.”
“Annalise told me,” she informed him, a grim expression on her face.
“ Excuse me ?” he asked, his tone darkening.
“Yep. She stopped by here to have me help her solve the mystery of why you barely talk to her after your oh-so-lovely date,” Claire said with a biting tone. Jamie looked angry as he shook his head. She was fairly certain it wasn’t at her. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“There were a couple of reasons,” Jamie admitted, looking down instead of holding her gaze. “It was a pretty boring date and I didna care to see her again after it, so I dinna ken why she made it seem so great. But more than that, after our fight, I didna think ye’d want to hear anything about her again.”
Claire nodded, understanding his point. “I mean, I didn’t. But I’d have rather heard about it from you than her.”
“Sorry,” he said in a quiet voice. “I almost forgot it happened, actually. Once ye started talking to me again, at least. For all the work to get her to go out wi’ me, it was a verra lackluster evening. I think we parted at the restaurant even.” He paused, sighing. “It was early into the two months,” he continued. They stood across the kitchen from each other. “She asked me to go to dinner and I agreed because I thought it would be a good distraction. But when we were out, it proved to be the opposite. Nothing could really take my mind off ye.”
When she didn’t know how to respond, Claire started scrubbing on the counter again. A long silence hung between them. Jamie stood with his back to the counter he’d been cleaning, just watching her. “I guess I just don’t know how you do it,” Claire finally said. “You put so much bloody effort into getting her attention, getting her to go out with you. But then, boom, you get your date and you’re already done with her? It doesn’t make sense.”
“I didna go out wi’ her again because I didna want to,” Jamie defended.
“Okay, fine, but why? You were so obsessed with her. What, did you have some big realization on the date that made you change your mind about her?”
“Aye, I did as a matter of fact.”
“Well what was it?” Claire blurted, paying special attention to the counter.
“She wasn’t you!” he nearly yelled.
Claire gaped up at him, her body frozen in shock. The rag fell from her hand as the silence grew between them. “I’m sorry?” Claire finally asked.
To Jamie’s credit, he never broke their gaze. The whole time he stared at her, daring her to negate what he said. “As ye’ve pointed out,” he started, “I’ve dated a number of women over the last decade and there was always something I found wrong wi’ them. I kent I was holding them to some sort of standard. And that standard was ye.”
Claire shook her head. “Jamie -”
He took a step forward, a step toward her. “Ye remember Amelia? That lass from one of my classes?” Claire nodded. “I remember thinking ‘She’s funny.’ And then one day the three of us spent time together and that changed to ‘She’s funny, but she’s no’ as funny as Claire.’ And then there was Sarah, a few years back. I remember thinking ‘she’s smart.’ But that too turned into ‘But she’s no’ as smart as Claire.’ The list goes on and on. I just didna ken what it really meant at the time. I was being clueless.”
Claire flashed him a confused look. “Wasn’t Sarah a lawyer? How was I smarter than her?”
Jamie ignored her. “And then I was there wi’ Annalise and anything I’d found captivating about her before just wasn’t enough. I used to think she was so beautiful. But that changed too.”
She shook her head, unable to believe the things he was saying. For ten years, she’d waited for any indication that he might return her feelings. But as he stood in front of her, all but saying it, it was hard to believe. Claire scoffed. “Please, she could be a model,” she rebuffed.
“Doesna matter,” Jamie replied, stepping until he was on the other side of the island from her. “She’s no’ who I want to be with.”
He held her gaze, drowning her in blue. Her heart was hammering inside her chest. She shook her head, breaking eye contact with him. “You’re just scared to lose me,” she denied, returning to scrubbing. “That’s all this is. We didn’t talk and now you’re scared it’s going to happen again. You don’t have to make it out to be more than that. But I promise you, I’m not going anywhere.”
Jamie frowned at her, walking around the counter. “If ye dinna feel the same way, all ye have to do is tell me so. But dinna disparage the way I feel. I ken what’s in my heart.”
“If I don’t feel the same way?” Claire repeated, her voice rising as she threw the rag down on the island. “Jesus Christ, Jamie, I’ve felt that way since we bloody met!”
Shock covered his face. Had he really never known? “Ye have?” he whispered. Claire nodded, glancing down to the floor. “Well then why have ye never told me?”
Claire looked up at him briefly, shrugging. “I don’t know. I suppose in uni I thought it would pass. And I didn’t really want to risk our friendship. You were in and out of relationships and the rest of my friends were rather fickle. And then after...after you gave me the money, I tried to not think of it. I tried to push it down and ignore it because the money made our relationship complicated enough.”
Jamie nodded, taking a small step closer. “Ye dinna have the money anymore,” he reminded her in a small voice.
She looked up at him, still somehow afraid that he was going to take it all back. “I know.”
Jamie reached out tentatively. He moved slowly, seemingly worried she’d shrink from him. His hand ran along her cheek in a tender motion. They were standing so close. He would only have to bend slightly or she would only have to lean up and they’d be kissing. Neither moved. Jamie cleared his throat. “I would verra much like to kiss ye. May I?”
Claire couldn’t help but breathe out a small laugh at his sudden formality. She glanced at his lips and then back to his eyes that were eagerly staring down at her. “Yes,” she whispered.
He didn’t hesitate, immediately leaning down to kiss her. Their mouths crashed together as years of repressed emotions surged to the surface. His hand on her cheek slid to cup the back of her head. He cradled her gently in his arms as hers wove up to wrap around him. Their lips melded together, hers parting for him. It wasn’t until the need for air became apparent that they broke apart.
They stood there panting, still wrapped together, nervously looking at the other. Claire laughed, almost shyly, and Jamie joined in. He laid his forehead against hers, staring down at her. She leaned up this time, kissing him again. This time was gentler, slower. He pulled her closer til there was no space between them. It was long and languid, though growing steadily more heated. Her hands found his waist, clutching to him. His fingers tangled in her hair. He turned them and her back hit the counter. She gasped into his mouth. He moved to plant kisses along her jaw and throat as he bent them over the counter. Claire grasped at his neck, groaning at his attentions.
Suddenly Jamie stopped and took a step back. “No, this is wrong.”
Claire felt the heat of shame rise in her face. She’d been more or less waiting for him to take it back. Of course he didn’t want her. She looked anywhere but at him.
“Oh, Christ, I didna mean that !” Jamie exclaimed, looking at her expression. He stepped back to her, running his hand along her cheek until she looked up at him. “I didna mean this,” he rephrased. “I only meant that I want to do things the right way wi’ ye, Claire.” He leaned in and kissed her softly. Pulling back just a fraction, he whispered to her. “Would ye like to go on a date wi’ me?”
She pulled back slightly so she could see his whole face. He almost looked nervous. She smiled, running her hand through his hair. “Of course,” she replied.
“How about tomorrow?” he asked, leaning in to give her another quick kiss.
“So? Ye’re gonna eat at some point,” Jamie reasoned.
Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “Fair enough. It sounds good.”
He leaned in close to her, nearly kissing her. “Good.” His lips closed against hers once more, leaving her with a soft kiss before he stepped away from her. “Then I’ll see ye tomorrow.”
Jamie was starting to walk from the kitchen when Claire called to him. “Are you just going to leave me to finish this by myself?”
He turned and his eyes went wide, like he’d forgotten the original reason he’d been there. A loud laugh echoed through the room as he walked back over to her. “I suppose no’.” He picked up his rag and resumed cleaning the counter he’d been standing at before their world-changing conversation had happened. They spent the next twenty minutes finishing cleaning the kitchen and closing down the bakery. Every few minutes, they’d steal glances at each other, flashing the other a small smile.
Once everything was sparkling and in its place, they went to the front to turn out all the lights. Claire hesitated before walking out the door. She ran over behind one of the registers and opened it, digging for something. Walking back over, she dropped the object in Jamie’s hand. He looked down to see his old key to the bakery in his palm. “The knocking really freaked me out earlier,” Claire said, trying to play it off.
“Mhmm,” Jamie said with a small smile, pulling out his keys to put it back in its rightful place.
They turned the lights out and locked the bakery before turning to walk back to their mutual building together. His hand reached down and grabbed hers. She couldn’t have fought the grin on her face if she’d wanted to. When she glanced over at him, he was sporting a similar expression. She curled further into his side and soon his hand left hers to wrap around her waist as they walked.
When they reached the second floor of their building, they both froze. Jamie looked down the hall towards Claire’s door before glancing down at her. He pulled her in for a long kiss. They were oblivious to the world around them until one neighbor started talking to them.
“Oh Christ, tis about time,” she scoffed as she walked past them.
They broke apart quickly, Claire leaning her head against Jamie’s shoulder as she held in a laugh. “Thanks, Mrs. Henderson,” she called in an embarrassed voice. Once the woman was out of earshot, the two of them laughed loudly. “Wow,” Claire said, covering her face.
Jamie took the hand over her face and kissed the back of it. “Tomorrow?” he asked again.
Claire smiled up at him. “Yep.” She laughed to herself for a moment. “I can’t wait to be privy to the Jamie Fraser Dating Experience.”
Jamie stared at her in horror which only made her laugh harder. “I’m sorry, is that something I once said?” She could barely talk through her giggles so she nodded in reply. “Oh dear god,” he cried, looking completely appalled. “And ye still had feelings for me after that?” he asked, shaking his head in disbelief. “How did that no’ dry them up like that ?” He snapped for emphasis.
Claire laid a hand on his cheek, still having some residual chuckles. “I don’t really know, honestly.”
“Christ,” he sighed. He looked down at her, both of them silent again. Leaning down, he left her with a quick kiss. “I’ll see ye tomorrow.”
She squeezed his hand in hers before they parted. “I can’t wait,” she promised.
With one heavy look between them, Claire turned to go to her door and Jamie turned to walk up the stairs to his. The promise of the next day stayed with them both the rest of the night.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this chapter!
Chapter 11: First Date or Hundredth Date?
Claire was all but ready to go for their date the next evening. She looked into the mirror by her door as she applied her lipstick. Smacking her lips, she gave herself a once over to make sure she looked good enough for the date. It was a tricky situation. She was going out with someone she’d been friends with for ten long years. Jamie had seen her at her most formal (as his date to Jenny’s wedding) and also at her most disgusting (finals during medical school). It was difficult to try and put together a look that seemed special enough for an occasion like this.
Her curls were restrained, but not straightened. She didn’t have the time for that. A navy blue dress that fell to her knees with sheer sleeves and a v-neck cut seemed like a fine option. She was dressed up, but not too much.
It was still ten minutes before the time they’d agreed on and yet she was completely ready. She paced back and forth in her flat, willing time to go faster. This date — for her at least — had been ten years in the making. He just needed to show up.
A knock at the door paused her pacing. She glanced at herself one more time in the mirror before she turned to open the door. It wasn’t Jamie, though.
“Joe? What are you doing here?”
He walked in and closed the door behind him. “Well, Gayle’s at a movie with one of her friends and I hadn’t heard from you in a couple of days. You never even told me how your date went. If I didn’t know Peter better, I’d have been worried he killed you.”
Claire laughed nervously, not sure how to tell him all that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. Joe finally seemed to notice her appearance. “Wait, are you going somewhere?”
She nodded. “Actually, I am. I’m going on a date.”
Joe’s raised an eyebrow at her. “Before Friday, you hadn’t been on a date since Frank and you’re going on your second date this weekend with a different guy? Damn, girl.” He stepped closer to her. “So, who is it?”
Claire was about to answer when a second knock sounded at the door. She glanced at her watch, knowing he was early. Joe beat her to the punch and opened the door for her. It made her glad that she was going on a date with a friend and Joe wasn’t going to intimidate some stranger.
“Jamie!” he greeted. “I’m glad you’re here. Did you know Claire was going on a date tonight?”
Jamie chuckled, clearly surprised to see Joe. “Uh, aye, I did.”
Joe looked over at her and glared. “So, you told Jamie, but not me? Is this because I got engaged? You think I don’t have time for you anymore?”
“Not quite,” Claire said, waiting for Joe to get the hint.
“You never told me, who’s the guy,” Joe pressed.
Claire looked over at Jamie and shot him an amused grin. He slowly moved one hand out from behind his back and handed her a bouquet of flowers. “So, here ye go,” he said in an almost shy tone.
She laughed as she leaned her head to smell the flowers. “Thank you. They’re beautiful.” They both glanced at Joe to see his shocked expression.
“It’s...it’s…” he sputtered, pointing at Jamie. They both nodded. Joe pointed to a spot behind Jamie. “Hey, Jamie, who lives in that apartment?” Jamie turned to look and Joe slammed the door.
“Joe, what are you doing?” Claire asked, gaping at him.
“Why the hell did you not tell me that you’re going on a date with Jamie?” Joe asked. “This is a big deal!”
“It’s not a big deal!” Claire lied. “Look, I don’t want to put too much pressure on things. Okay? So just drop it.”
“You’re wrong, Claire. This is a big deal. It’s Jamie. The guy you’ve had feelings for for a very long time,” Joe argued.
“You realize this door is not a rock, right?” Claire asked. “He can probably hear you on the other side.”
“Aye,” Jamie called through the door. “And this is rather weird.”
Claire closed her eyes and sighed.
Joe took a step closer to her. “Just be careful, okay,” he whispered to her. “I know Jamie’s a good guy, but I don’t want you to get hurt. You’ve got a lot riding on this.”
Claire smiled, stepping forward to give Joe a hug. “I won’t get hurt. But I appreciate the support.”
He nodded, patting her on the back before he opened the door. Jamie at least looked amused by Joe’s antics. “Listen,” Joe started.
“I dinna need the speech, Joe,” Jamie said, cutting him off.
“The speech?” Claire asked.
“Aye, the “She’s a great woman and ye better do right by her” speech both of us have given to various men in the past,” he informed her. “Most recently, I think was to Frank.”
“That tool,” Joe scoffed.
“Aye. But I dinna need it,” Jamie repeated.
“Fine,” Joe said with a sigh. “But that better remain true, Fraser.” Jamie nodded with a small smile. “Alright, I’ll go. You guys have fun.” He walked out the door, flashing Claire a significant look before he walked down the hall.
Jamie looked back to Claire, an awkwardness settling in the air between them. Neither seemed quite sure what to say after Joe’s presence. “Hold on,” Claire said, grabbing the flowers. She gave them back to him. “Let’s just try this again.” Jamie grinned as she shut the door on him. A few seconds passed before Jamie knocked on the door again. Claire ran a hand over her hair before she opened the door. “Hi,” she said softly.
“Hi.” He held out the flowers to her. “These are for ye.”
Claire smiled just as she had before. “Thank you. They’re beautiful. Come on in. I’m going to put these in some water before we go.” She walked over to her kitchen as Jamie stepped in, not walking past her entryway. “So, did you decide where we’re going?”
“Aye. How do ye feel about Antonio’s?”
She dropped the scissors she was holding, looking over at him with wide eyes. “Jamie, that’s too much.”
“Ye love that place!”
“I’ve only been there one time because it’s so expensive.”
“Aye, I was there,” Jamie reminded her. “And ye loved it.”
“The only reason I agreed to go there the last time was because you’d just won the lottery and demanded we go. And yes, the food was excellent, but that’s far too much,” she said, putting the flowers in a vase.
“Well, tis too late. I already made a reservation.”
Claire walked over to him. “Reservations can be cancelled.”
“No’ at Antonio’s,” Jamie lied with a smirk.
She rolled her eyes at him. “Why are you so insistent on going to this restaurant?”
Jamie sighed, reaching out to tuck an errant curl back behind her ear. “We’ve been to dinner at all of our favorite places so many times. I suppose I just wanted to pick a place that might make it seem...special. Ye ken?”
Claire felt a blush creep over her. She looked back up at him and nodded. “Yeah, I get it.” She reached out and fiddled with his jacket. “However, on most first dates, I do tend to go dutch.”
Jamie laughed, leaning forward to kiss her forehead. “I wouldna have let ye.” He smiled down at her. “Come on, we dinna want to be late.”
Claire nodded, grabbing her purse before they left her flat. They walked hand in hand to Jamie’s car, all the while in a comfortable silence. A nervous excitement ran through both of them, even if they’d done the basic parts of a date a million times. This time would be different and there was no denying it.
As they started driving, Claire broke the silence. “I was worried about it too,” she said. Jamie glanced over at her with a confused look. “Wondering how to make this seem different from all the other times we’ve just gone to dinner.”
“Aye, and did ye come up with any grand ideas?”
Claire laughed. “No. I just started worrying about what to wear.”
Jamie laughed with her, grabbing her hand in his. “Well, ye did a good job wi’ that. Ye look beautiful.” He raised their joined hands and kissed the back of hers.
She was smiling at him before nodding toward the road. “Light’s green.” Jamie nodded and continued driving, but didn’t let go of her hand.
As they walked from his car toward the restaurant, Jamie stopped her. “I thought of a way to make this different from all the other times.”
She looked over at him, an eyebrow raised. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”
He didn’t reply, but instead drew her close until his lips touched hers. His hands gently slid around her, bringing her closer. She reached up and rested her hands against his chest, sighing into the kiss. Slowly, they came apart, foreheads touching. “Sorry, I just couldna wait til the end of the night,” he breathed.
She smiled, almost to herself as her hand moved to rest at his neck. “No need to apologize.” She leaned in to kiss him quickly again, still amazed that after all these years, she could finally do so. “I am rather looking forward to eating, though.”
Jamie laughed, taking a step back and grabbing her hand again. “But of course. Let’s go.”
They were seated at an intimate, candlelit table by the window. Claire tried to prepare herself as she opened the menu. She never let herself spend this type of money at a restaurant. When the waiter came to the table, Jamie ordered a pricey bottle of wine for them to share. Claire tried to protest, but Jamie shook his head at her. “Look, I mean it, order whatever ye want. Dinna look at the price.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “Like that’s going to happen.” She glanced up at him while he looked over the menu. “Can I ask something?” He nodded. “Something that might be potentially awkward.”
His eyes flicked up to hers. “Ye can ask me anything ye want, Sassenach.”
She took a deep breath. “Do you usually do this?” she asked. He looked confused for a moment. “The whole ‘order whatever you want, who cares about the price’ type thing?”
Jamie shook his head. “No. I dinna broadcast my money,” he reminded her. “They may know if they found the article, but I dinna do that, no.”
“You know you don’t have to do that for me just to make things special.”
“I ken,” Jamie said with a nod. “But we’re already here and I’m no’ letting ye order a salad that costs 20 pounds. That’s jus’ ridiculous.”
Claire laughed at his outrage. “Thank you,” she said in a small voice.
He reached across the table and held her hand. “Well, thank ye for agreeing to come tonight.”
Claire hid a smile behind her other hand as she looked back down at the menu. The rest of the night carried on most of the same way. They’d vary back and forth between the comfortability they’d been used to for ten years and the awkwardness of new feelings they were trying to express. Jamie was much more open than she was about sneaking in small comments that pushed them further into “date mode.” It still felt a bit unreal to her. They’d gone out to dinner hundreds of times in the last ten years. And even though they were both trying to make it feel different, she still had a hard time believing it all.
After their expensive, but delicious meal, Claire expected they’d just go back home. When they left the restaurant, Jamie took her hand and walked in a different direction from the car. Instead of ending the date, they just strolled together, her arm linked through his. They talked about everything and nothing, simply content to just wander side by side.
Jamie paused as they approached an ice cream shoppe. He waggled his eyebrows at her in excitement as he dragged her inside. She laughed loudly at him, squeezing his hand in hers. Walking away with overflowing cones, they headed back the way they’d come as they ate their ice cream. When Claire raved about how good hers was, Jamie didn’t hesitate in leaning over and eating some of hers. She stared at him, scandalized as he licked his lips.
“Ye’re right, that is good.”
“You just ate some of my ice cream. Right off the cone!”
He held his cone out to her. “Ye want to try some of mine?”
“Just right off the cone,” she repeated.
“So? We’ve kissed. What’s the difference?”
Her walking slowed as she thought through his point. “Damn it, that’s a fair point.” He nodded with a smug grin. “But, the stealing of ice cream is still unfair.”
“What are ye going to do about it?”
Claire watched him for a second. When he went to eat more of his ice cream, she shoved the cone in his face, smearing it over his mouth and cheek. He stared at her in an amused outrage. “Claire!” he cried.
“Serves you right,” she retorted.
He motioned to his face where the ice cream started to drip. “Really?”
She took a moment to build up her nerve before stepping closer. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” Closing the distance between them, she licked the melting ice cream off his face, starting with his cheek and ending at his mouth. Her tongue played at the corner of his lips before seeking entrance. He sighed as he pulled her close, kissing her deeply. They kept kissing until a horn honked in the distance and they remembered where they were. Separating, Claire looked up at him with a grin. “Your ice cream was pretty good as well.”
“Christ,” Jamie breathed, walking after her as she turned and headed back to his car.
When they got back to their building, Jamie walked her back to her door. They stopped, giving each other the same nervous looks from earlier as they stood outside her flat. “I had a good time,” Claire said, feeling a bit silly.
Jamie chuckled. “Aye, so did I.”
His gaze lowered to her lips and she leaned in closer to him. Her hands reached up to rest at his neck as his hand touched her chin, guiding her into him. Their lips met again, moving slowly. It progressed quickly, though, fueled by sighs, tongues, and hands. Claire’s back pressed against her door and she pulled him closer to her.
Quicker than she wanted, Jamie stepped back. She took a look at the state of him — with his hair mussed and his lips kiss swollen. Yet again, it felt unreal that it was because of her. “Anyway, I have to work in the morning, so I should go,” Jamie said, his hands in his pockets.
“Seriously? You’re leaving?”
“I just said I had to work,” Jamie reminded her. He reached out, stroking her hair back. “Believe me, I’d rather stay. But I shouldna. Besides, that would be tacky on a first date.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “Wow. Well, I would just like to remind you that you were the genius who suggested a Sunday date.”
He laughed, stepping back to her. “I was right to,” he told her as he leaned in close again. “I couldna have waited til Friday for this.” His lips pressed against hers once more. Claire’s hands came up to cup his face and he stepped back again. “No, I should be going. I could stay here all night just kissing ye.”
She couldn’t fight the smile on her face. “I can’t say I’d mind all that much.”
“Aye, me either. Another time though,” he said with a pointed look. He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed the back. “Good night, Sassenach.”
Claire smiled back at him. “Good night, Jamie.” He started to walk down the hall and she let herself into her flat. She closed the door behind her before she leaned against it, letting out a contented sigh. That was when it finally hit her. She’d told Jamie of her feelings and the world hadn’t ended. Instead, it felt like it was all just beginning.
Chapter 12: Plotting a New Path
Claire’s alarm went off far too early the next morning. She was used to waking up early to open the bakery, but she was also used to being able to fall straight to sleep the night before. Last night had been an exception. After Jamie had left her, she’d tried to go about her nightly routine, same as always. But once she climbed into bed, she couldn’t sleep. A permanent smile graced her face as she laid there and replayed her evening.
She was paying the price for it now, though. Grogginess was overtaking her as she fought to wake up. An idea struck her and she sat up to grab her phone. Texting Mary, she let her know she’d be in late that morning and Mary needed to open on her own. She felt a bit bad for doing so, but Mary replied almost immediately and said that was more than fine. Pumping her fist in the air, Claire laid back down and curled under her blankets again.
As she willed herself to fall back asleep, she heard a knock at her door. Groaning, Claire pulled herself from her bed and threw her robe on over her pajamas. She smacked her hand against her face to try and wake up a bit. Opening the door, she was blown away to see Jamie standing there with a broad grin on his face.
“Morning, Sassenach,” he greeted, almost too cheerfully.
“Hi,” she said groggily. “What are you doing here? Do you know that it’s 5:00?”
“Of course I ken what time it is. But I ken ye have to get up verra early to open the bakery,” he replied. “And I brought ye breakfast.” He pulled his hands out from behind his back and revealed a bag and a carrier with two coffee cups.
She tilted her head as a smile crept across her face. “You did?”
He grinned, stepping closer. “I did.” Holding out the bag to her, he stepped in and shut the door behind him.
She opened the bag and saw two wrapped breakfast sandwiches sitting at the bottom. “I thought McNally’s closed.”
“Nah, they just moved.”
“Huh,” she said, looking back up at him. “This is so sweet. But why? What, are you trying to cram as many dates in as fast as possible til we hit a number that’s proper to get in each other’s pants?” she asked with a laugh.
He didn’t look amused though. His face fell as he opened and closed his mouth. “No.” He looked genuinely hurt by her comment. “I can go,” he said, turning for the door.
“Jamie, no!” she called, grabbing his arm. “I’m sorry, I was just teasing. I promise you I didn’t mean it.” She put the bag of food down on the table by the door. “Please stay and have breakfast with me,” she pleaded, reaching up to cup his face. “It was truly such a sweet gesture.”
He didn’t say anything, just nodded in reply. Claire smiled at him as she picked up the bag of food and walked to the table. Jamie grabbed her coffee out of the carrier and set it in front of her and then did the same for himself. She did similarly, handing him his sandwich and taking hers. Taking a bite, she groaned. “God, this is good. Thank you.”
A grin widened on his face, making her feel a bit relieved. “Ye’re welcome.” He took a bite of his own sandwich. “What do ye usually have for breakfast?” he asked.
“Do you remember when we shared that flat after we both moved here?” Jamie nodded. “And how you got so angry that I wasn’t eating breakfast that you made me breakfast each morning before I went to class?”
Jamie laughed. “Aye, I do remember. I believe I asked what kind of doctor doesna ken to eat breakfast.”
Claire cackled. “The kind that doesn’t actually become a doctor.” She laughed to herself. “Anyway, after you moved over here, I pretty much went back to my old habits.”
Jamie’s eyebrows raised at her. “Are ye serious?” She nodded. “Ye dinna eat breakfast?” She flashed him a guilty look. “Woman, ye should be smarter than that. What, do I need to start making ye omelets again every day as I used to?”
“You know I wouldn’t say no,” she replied with a grin. “You made some quite good omelets.”
“Aye, I still do. Because I’m smart enough to eat my breakfast,” he said with a shake of his head. “Full of proteins and vegetables, and all those good things.”
“Well you know, that offer sounds nice.”
“It wasna an offer, I was making fun of ye,” he told her. “Ye think I’m getting up at 5:00 each morning to make ye breakfast? And then what shall I do until I go to work at a reasonable hour?”
Claire chuckled to herself. “You could come to work with me and take up a second job.”
“Rupert and Geillis gave me a hard time for having a job at all,” he reminded her. “What would they make of me taking on a second position?”
They shared a laugh as they kept eating. Claire took a long swig of her coffee. “You know, I hadn’t quite considered all the plus sides of this arrangement.”
“This arrangement?” Jamie asked, a confused look on his face. “I never agreed to making ye breakfast each morning.”
She shook her head, smiling. “I didn’t mean that. I meant...us.” She reached out and held his hand. “This.” He nodded, looking down at their hands. “I’ve never dated someone who already knew all my preferences. Like my coffee order.”
“Are ye saying I have a leg up on all the other men ye’ve dated?” he asked with a smirk.
“As if you didn’t already know you would.”
He leaned closer to her, drawing her in. “I canna say I mind that.” And then, he kissed her. They shared a look before continuing to eat their breakfast in a comfortable silence.
After she’d finished, she picked up her coffee and planted herself down on her couch. Jamie followed suit and sat down right next to her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders as he’d done many times before. This time, she felt no hesitation as she leaned into him. He glanced down at her and she pressed her lips to his. His response was immediate as his hand moved to rest at the back of her head. She spared a thought for what a mess her hair must be, but then his tongue glided along her lip and she ceased to care about anything.
She parted her lips for him, her hands resting against his face. They kissed languidly, only breaking apart for a short breath before meeting again for a longer kiss. She turned, pressing him further against the back of the couch. He pulled her onto his lap, his arms coming around her. His hands moved up and down her back. One brazen hand roved further down, gliding over her arse. She squeaked against him.
He pulled back from her, panting slightly. “Sorry.”
She laughed, readjusting herself on his lap, now straddling him. “Don’t be. I was just taken a bit by surprise.” She leaned down and kissed him quickly. “I was just suddenly aware that it was you grabbing my arse.”
He looked up at her, a mixture of concern and amusement on his face. “And do ye have a problem wi’ that?”
Claire took his face in her hands, leaning down until she was nearly kissing him again. “No.” She crushed her mouth back to his, showing him just how comfortable she was with his touch. Both of his hands squeezed her arse this time, making her groan into his mouth.
He broke away, planting kisses along her neck. “Ye have the finest arse,” he breathed against her. “I’ve always thought so.”
She gripped his hair and pulled his head back some so she could look at him. “You’ve always thought so?” she asked.
He nodded with a smug grin. “Oh, aye. Why do ye think I let ye walk ahead of me all the time?”
Claire smacked his chest while fighting a grin of her own. She leaned back in and kissed him punishingly. He held her close, moaning into her mouth. Things were escalating between them faster than they should. Claire thought of what she was wearing and realized that he could have her naked in three small movements. That thought both concerned and exhilarated her.
He seemed to be aware of how things were moving between them. As he resumed his path of kisses down her throat, he said, “I should leave soon.”
Claire sighed under his attentions. “You don’t have to.”
He kept plying her with small kisses. “Ye have to get to the bakery.”
She smirked at him, leaning down to kiss him quickly. “Did I tell you that I’ve been giving Mary more responsibilities?”
Jamie looked confused, wondering why she decided to mention it now. His hands squeezed at her waist. “No, ye hadna.”
Claire nodded before kissing him again. “Yeah, I have. With the third store opening out of town, I thought it would be a good idea.”
“Sure,” Jamie agreed, pressing a kiss to her collarbone.
“Which means that this morning, Mary is opening the store,” Claire informed him with a wild look in her eye.
“Is she?” She nodded, leaning against him as he clutched her tighter. He looked up at her, a sly grin forming on his face. “Well then.” His hand cupped the back of her head and brought her back down to him.
They met again in a flurry of movements, hands drifting, tongues dancing. As Claire tried to get impossibly close to him, her hips rolled against his. Jamie groaned, his hands tightening on her. “Christ, Claire,” he breathed. “Ye canna be doing that.”
She kissed along his jaw, humming in response to him. “Why not?”
“Because it makes me want to take ye right here, right now and I dinna think either of us really have the time for that this morning.”
Claire felt devious, rolling her hips against him again, eager to see his reaction. His arms locked around her back, flipping them over so she was laying on the couch and he was over her. She squealed as her back hit the couch. He bore a smirk, staring down at her. “I’ll no’ have ye teasing me, thank ye verra much.” She laughed loudly, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck. He brought his head down and kissed her sinfully.
She broke apart, needing to catch her breath. “And you call me a tease.” He grinned before he moved his mouth, kissing a path down her neck. His body slowly lowered til he was hovering just above her. She rocked her hips against him again.
Jamie pulled all the way off of her, standing up from the couch. “Alright, I best be off.”
“What?” she cried, laying there, feeling incredibly riled up. He walked around the couch to throw his trash away before heading to the door. “You’re just going to leave me to go to work like this?” she asked.
He leaned over the arm of the couch and placed a kiss on her forehead. “Take a cold shower,” he advised with a grin before walking out the door.
Claire laid there for a minute, shaking her head at what had transpired that morning. She jumped up and got her phone, clicking quickly on his name. It rang once before he answered.
“How cold will your shower be this morning?” she asked, a hidden smirk on her face.
Jamie laughed on the other end. “Arctic.”
She made a satisfied noise. “Good,” she said, nodding to herself. “Oh, and Jamie?”
“Thanks for breakfast.”
“Anytime, Sassenach,” he promised her. “How would ye feel about dinner too?”
“Three meals in twenty-four hours?” Claire asked. “I think I’d be okay with that.”
“Perfect. I’ll see ye tonight then.”
Claire grinned. “I can’t wait.”
* * *
In the weeks that followed, there had been many more meals together and, more importantly, many more makeout sessions on one of their couches. There was a silent agreement between them that things wouldn’t progress that far. Neither had to mention it to the other, but a line existed between them. Though they spent nearly all their free time together, they still had some awkward moments as they tried to get used to going from a friendship to a romantic relationship.
It had been three weeks since they’d first kissed and admitted their feelings. Claire was up in Jamie’s flat, on his couch, and on top of him. His hands held firmly onto her ass, their new favorite place. She was kissing him, her tongue deep in his mouth. He moaned against her, clinging to her tighter. His hands started to drift, one sliding up and under her shirt, gliding against her skin.
She sighed into his mouth at the heat of his hand against her bare back. Her hips pushed down and his rocked up to meet hers. She could feel him beneath her, straining and ready for more. Her mind flashed images of them together, no clothes between them. His arms pulled her further down to him, like he could read her mind. She couldn’t help but wonder if tonight might be the night they crossed that line. One of his hands came back around, grazing her breast and cupping it over the shirt. His thumb flicked against the nipple, making her grind her hips against him.
“ Ah dhia , Claire,” he groaned. She did it again, feeling him grow harder beneath her. If he kept making noises like that, she wasn’t going to be able to stop. He seemed to be feeling a similar way, as he held her firmly against him while he kissed his way across her chest. Both his hands found their way back under her shirt and she wondered if he was going to just strip it off of her. She wouldn’t hate it if he did. Her hands ran down his chest, before she brought him back in for a long, heated kiss. She continued to move her hips against his, teasing him, really. He moaned her name again, making her feel even more powerful.
Her mind chose the very worst time to work against her. Jamie’s hand was weaving tightly in her hair, keeping her against him, while his other slid against her back. He sighed her name. But this time, she couldn’t help but wonder. How many other women have done this very same thing with him ? They didn’t last very long. How long will we last?
She froze on top of him. Her mind brought her to a complete halt. Jamie’s hands moved to cup her face as he looked up at her, concern coloring his expression. “Are ye alright?”
Claire nodded, unable to say anything else. She crawled off him, sitting at the other end of the couch. He sat up, staring at her. “We should take it slow,” she said.
He nodded, trying to catch her eye so she knew he was fine with it. “Sassenach, that’s fine.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I mean, we have been.”
She couldn’t look at him. “Then we should take it slow er .”
Jamie reached over, laying his hand just over hers. “Okay, then we will.”
Tears built in her eyes as she looked over at him. “You’re okay with that?”
He shook his head in confusion, scooting closer to her on the couch. Hesitantly wrapping an arm around her shoulders, he replied, “Of course. Whatever ye want.”
She turned slightly toward him. “What about what you want?”
“I want whatever ye want,” he insisted.
Her arms wrapped around him, laying her head against his chest. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Dinna thank me,” he scoffed. He ran a hand up and down her back in a very different manner than he had just minutes ago. Now, he was clearly trying to comfort her, though he didn’t know why. He grabbed his remote and turned on the tv, handing it to her to pick what they watched.
* * *
A few days later, Claire let herself into Jamie’s flat, feeling conflicted. He peeked around the corner of the kitchen and grinned when he saw it was her. “Sassenach! Ye’re just in time. I just finished dinner.” She walked into the kitchen, a blank look on her face. He kissed her quickly before he stood back. His brows knitted together as he took in her expression. “What’s the matter?”
She sat herself down at his table with a sigh. He sat down with her. “I got the word today that everything is settled for the Edinburgh branch. I’ll be heading there on Sunday.”
Looking over at him, she saw the fleeting moment where he looked crestfallen. But he quickly plastered on a smile and congratulated her. “Sassenach, that’s great!”
She shot him a look. “Jamie, you don’t have to do that.”
“Do what? Be happy for ye? Yer business is expanding. No matter what, no matter when, that’s great and exciting. I’m proud of ye,” he assured her. Standing up, he walked back over to the counter and grabbed two plates. He sat one down in front of her, noting her still morose expression. “Claire, this is a good thing.”
She sighed. “I know it is. It’s just that the timing...the timing sucks.”
He frowned, nodding in agreement. “Aye, it does. But that doesna mean ye shouldna be excited for this big opportunity.”
“I know that too. We just started dating, though,” she reminded him. She picked up her fork, stabbing a vegetable. “I guess I just wish we’d had more time.”
Jamie tilted his head, looking at her with a curious expression. “Are ye breaking up wi’ me?” She looked up, concerned until she saw his grin. “Because Edinburgh is no’ that far away. And I’ll still be here when ye get back.” He reached out and took her hand. “We can handle it. What about that time ye went to France and studied the art of baking for the summer before ye started medical school?”
“We weren’t dating then,” she pointed out.
He nodded. “Well, aye. But I still felt like I had to talk to ye all the time and we figured out a way to do that. And that had a time difference!”
“Just an hour,” she reminded him with a laugh.
He picked her hand up and kissed the back. “Claire, we’ll be fine. Tis no’ forever. Just a while.”
Claire stood up out of her chair and walked over to sit in his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck, leaning in to kiss him softly. “Thank you,” she whispered.
She kissed him again quickly. “I don’t know, for being supportive.” Her hand laid against his cheek. “Not many boyfriends of three weeks would be that selfless.”
“I canna say I’m being selfless, really,” he said, resting a hand on her leg. “I mean, I’ve been invested in yer bakery a lot longer than I’ve been invested in our relationship.”
She laughed, laying her head against his shoulder. “You’re the best.”
He turned his head to meet her gaze. “Ye just have to promise to come back to me. Ye canna find some handsome man in Edinburgh and then never return.”
Claire snorted. “Well damn, that cancels out the plans I’d already made.”
He laughed, squeezing her leg. “Dinna play wi’ my emotions like that.”
She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “There’s been no one else for ten bloody years. I think you’re fine.” Jamie’s face shifted and he opened his mouth to say something. Claire panicked that she’d said too much and kissed him instead. “I’ll be coming back,” she whispered. He nodded, holding her gaze. She gave him another quick kiss before she walked back to her own chair.
“I suppose I’ll have to keep up my tradition,” Jamie said as they kept eating.
“Of being the first in line at yer new store,” he reminded her. “I was the first in line for the first shop and then again for the second shop.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Does doing something twice count as a tradition?”
“Perhaps, no’. But that’s why I’ll have to do so on this one. Then it’s officially a tradition,” he promised with a smile.
Claire shook her head, laughing at him. She looked down at her plate as she took another bite. “Did you plan on me being here tonight?” she asked, looking over at him.
“No, but I had plenty,” he said with a shrug.
Her hand crept over and her fingers moved slowly up his arm. “Was my plate going to be your lunch tomorrow?”
“Perhaps,” he replied offhandedly. “But I’d rather share it wi’ ye and just throw something together for lunch.” She squeezed his hand, a broad grin on her face.
* * *
Sunday afternoon, they were standing outside the train station. Claire’s bags were on the ground next to her and her arms were wrapped tightly around Jamie. He kissed the top of her head, holding her. “I’ll come if ye’re no’ too busy,” he promised. “And we’ll talk on the phone.” He pulled her back slightly so he could meet her eyes. “Tis no’ like yer moving.”
She nodded, tears in her eyes. “I know. But it’s gonna be a while before I’m back.”
He leaned down and kissed her soundly. “I know. But we can manage. I promise.”
Claire looked up at him, nodding halfheartedly. She surged up to kiss him again. Her arms wrapped around his neck, pulling him down. They staggered backwards a bit and his back hit his car. He sighed as her fingers tangled in his hair.
They pulled apart just as quickly as they’d started. “I should go before I miss my train,” Claire said regretfully.
“Aye, ye should.” He kissed her forehead. “Call me when ye get there, alright?” Claire nodded. “And ye know, any time ye’re bored after work.” She smiled. “Or if something notable happens. Or unnotable, really.”
Claire reached up and wiped her lipstick off his lips. “Do you just want us to be on the phone any time we’re both not working?”
He smiled, looking down. “Dinna tempt me wi’ such an offer.” He glanced over at the station. “Ye should get going.”
They stared at each other, both of them holding back the sentiment they’d really like to say to the other. Claire nodded once, picking up her bags. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Talk to ye sooner.” He leaned down and they kissed again before she had to walk into the station. Jamie stood there and watched her go, wishing he didn’t feel so miserable. But he knew that if that was the price to pay for getting to be with Claire, he’d gladly pay it.
Chapter 13: Long Distance
Thank you for all the love for this story! I hope you enjoy the bonus chapter this weekend!
No one ever said that being in a long distance relationship was easy. It made it even less easy when said relationship is less than a month old. Jamie realized that it helped that they’d known each other for ten years. If they were a new couple, and completely new to each other, they’d be a mess trying to attempt long distance for an undetermined amount of time. But having their friendship to fall back on certainly had its perks.
They’d been doing well so far. It was only a couple of weeks in and they’d talked nearly every night. Claire had a lot to tell about the progress on the new store and Jamie was always eager to hear it. He may not be an official investor anymore, but he’d always been emotionally invested. There had been plenty of nights in the last two weeks that he’d skipped out on plans with other people because he thought there was a chance Claire would call him. And most nights, that’s what happened.
But even getting to talk to her that often, he couldn’t deny that he still missed her. It had only been a bit over a month that they’d been talking again. Even though they’d talked things out and now were onto a different phase of life together, he couldn’t help but worry that one day she’d just stop calling. Because of that, he probably always sounded too eager for her calls. He’d text her each evening when he was back from the office to let her know when he was free to talk. Maybe he was making himself too available, but he didn’t care. He needed Claire in his life. And that was just the way it had to work at the moment.
He was sitting in his office, counting down the minutes until he could leave and call Claire. It had been a rough day and he just needed to hear her voice. He texted her before he even left, trying to get a feel for how busy she was that day.
I’ll be working late. Sorry! I’ll call you when I’m walking back to my hotel. Chin up!
Jamie sighed, leaning back in his chair. He should be trying to look like he was busy, but he didn’t care enough to do so. John walked in and threw himself down in one of his chairs. “So I think everyone’s planning to go get drinks after this. You in?”
He looked down at his phone and reread the text from Claire. “Yeah,” he said with a grimace. “A stiff drink sounds good after today.”
John shook his head with a dark look. “I was thinking we could all get drunk and plan on how to properly assassinate St. Germain. Thoughts?”
Jamie grinned. “I canna see how that could go wrong.” John laughed, standing up to go back to his desk. “I’ll see ye in a few.”
There was a rather large group of his coworkers that ended up going out for drinks that evening. The raucous group sat at a small bar downing whisky like it was water. They were commiserating their shared terrible day before they went around each picking a different aspect of their boss to drag through the mud. It was just one of those days. But each drink somehow made Jamie miss Claire more. John sat next to him and caught on to how many times Jamie had been checking his phone.
“Waiting to hear from Claire?” John asked. He’d not so secretly been excited for Jamie’s new relationship. Jamie nodded, taking another drink. “I’m sure she’ll call. You said she always does.”
“She does. I just miss her,” Jamie groaned as he ran a hand down his face.
“That’s so cute,” John said. He flashed his friend a teasing look. “You’re just head over heels for her, aren’t you?” Jamie rolled his eyes. “I’m going to take that as a yes.” John leaned in closer. “And between you and me, I have to say that she’s the best one you’ve ever dated.”
Jamie smiled, nodding in agreement. “Ye dinna have to tell me that.”
They carried on drinking and eventually, it was John’s turn to get the next round. He vacated his spot next to Jamie. It was quickly filled by the last person Jamie wanted to talk to. He glanced over to see Annalise sitting next to him. Angling himself away, he turned to talk to the person on the other side of him. He hoped John would come and reclaim his seat. How the woman had never gotten the hint was beyond him. She tapped him on the shoulder and he rolled his eyes as he looked over at her.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, batting her eyelashes. He wondered how on earth he ever found her alluring. That had evaporated so fast.
“Just felt like chatting wi’ Marcus,” Jamie said with a gesture to the man on his left. He turned back but she tapped his shoulder again.
“You seem more down than everyone else here,” she pointed out.
“Aye, perhaps so,” he agreed. “I was just wishing my girlfriend could be here.”
Anger flashed in her eyes before she covered it up with a smile. “Well that’s her loss,” she said, her hand resting on his shoulder.
He scowled at her, shrugging off her hand before he walked over to the bar where John was standing. John grinned as he watched him approach. “I canna stand her,” Jamie said with a sigh.
“Sure, none of us can,” John agreed. “But to be fair, you did make that mess yourself.” Jamie glared at him. “I wanted to tell you she’d be nothing but trouble.”
“I wish ye had.”
“Are you telling me that no one tried to tell you that you were going down the wrong path?” John asked, one eyebrow raised.
“No, one person did,” Jamie admitted.
John burst out laughing. “Leave it to her to tell it to you straight only to have you make a pretty terrible mistake and have it ruin your work life.” He glanced back at Annalise. “I could have told you she’d be nothing but boring once you took the chase away.”
“I should ha’ known it on my own. She was just distracting in a way I hadna been in a while, so I thought that was something bigger,” Jamie confessed. “Twas wrong of me.”
“We all make mistakes, mate.”
Jamie sighed. “Ye dinna have to tell me that. Somehow I still feel like I’m paying for my last and biggest mistake.”
“What, the thing with Claire?” John asked. “Why do you think that? The two of you are literally dating now.”
“I dinna ken. I canna explain it,” Jamie replied, his face a bit crumpled.
“Have you talked to her about it?”
“Of course no’. We’re living in different cities presently. Tis hard to talk about those types of things over the phone. It’s probably just all in my head anyway. I think I’m just scared to lose her again. It was hard to be wi’out her before I confessed how I was feeling. Now...well I dinna think I could handle that,” Jamie said in a small voice.
John stared at him for a moment. “That kind of sounds like something you should talk about with your girlfriend. Don’t you think?”
“Maybe. I was thinking of going to Edinburgh and surprising her soon. I just dinna ken how busy she’d be on a weekend.”
“Well it’s not like you’re completely unhelpful,” John replied with a grin. “I’m sure you could help out if she had things to do.”
Jamie nodded thoughtfully. “That’s a fair point. I could.”
“Yeah, and then you could talk to your girlfriend about how much you love her and need her in your life.” Jamie shot him a look. “Communication is healthy, James.”
“Ye sound like my sister.”
“Can I ask you something?” Jamie raised a brow, encouraging him to continue. “When did you realize you loved her that way? Was it when you two weren’t speaking?”
Jamie took a drink of his whisky. He’d never even really told Claire about that. “I suppose I realized what it all meant when she wouldna talk to me. I always felt this odd possessiveness of her and was verra critical of anyone interested in her. She was always the standard that I judged the lasses I dated by, but I never took the time to think about why that might be. I dinna ken, but I’m sure if I sat down and really thought about it, I’d find that it has been a lot longer than just the last couple of months. I wish I’d slowed down and tried to think through what I was really feeling. Maybe then we wouldna be mere weeks into a relationship when she had to go to Edinburgh.” Jamie sighed, staring down at his glass. “I just truly had no idea that she felt that way for me.”
Jamie glanced over at his friend. “Did ye think she did?”
John shook his head. “No, but I met her after years of you two being friends. I always just thought you were really close.”
“I guess I just never thought she’d want me,” Jamie admitted. “And so I never allowed myself to think about it. Just looked to other women instead of the one right next to me the whole time. I suppose I should have known by the fact that I was willing to bankroll her business.”
“That’s not really something you do for just a friend,” John agreed. “But you’re together now, right?”
Jamie nodded, still feeling a bit on edge. “Aye. We are.”
He felt his pocket vibrate and his face lit up as he pulled his phone out. Claire’s picture smiled up at him and he fumbled to answer. “Sassenach!”
“Hi, there! Not too late is it?”
“No’ at all!” He looked over at John, pointing to his phone. “I’ll see ye later, mate.”
“Bye,” John whispered.
“It sounds like you’re somewhere loud,” Claire said. “Where are you?”
Jamie paid his tab quickly. “Rough day at the office today, so a large group of us took over a pub nearby to drink our sorrows away,” Jamie explained as he finished paying.
“Well, I can just talk to you tomorrow,” Claire offered.
“No!” Jamie replied. “No, I’d much rather talk to ye. I just paid my tab and everything.” He walked out onto the quieter street, hoping he could hear her better. “So, how is the bakery going?”
On the other end, Claire was smiling at his quick dismissal of her offer to hang up. “It’s going well. Things are all coming together in a pretty way. It’s been a while since I did this part, you know.”
“Aye. But this is yer third time. Ye’re basically a pro by now,” Jamie insisted.
Claire laughed. “Well I don’t know about that.” She took a drink of water as she laid on the couch in her hotel room. “So, what was so bad about work today?”
Jamie groaned. “St. Germain was on one. He...hold on,” he cut himself off. Claire could hear something in the background. She narrowed her eyes as she tried to listen in closer.
Jamie heard his name being called and turned around on the sidewalk to see Annalise tearing after him. “You forgot your jacket!” she said as she caught up to him.
He grabbed it from her quickly. “Thanks.” Turning back to the way he was walking, he started talking to Claire again. A hand on his arm made him turn around again. Annalise was looking at him expectantly. “Can I help ye?”
“You just left so quickly. You didn’t even say goodbye,” she said, a flirtatious look on her face.
He pointed at his phone. “I’m on a call.”
“What’s going on?” Claire asked in one ear.
“You could always hang up and call back later,” Annalise suggested, trying to pull him back to the bar.
“Claire, hold on,” Jamie said into the phone. He held it to his shoulder as he turned to Annalise. “Just go on back to the bar. Or go home. But leave me alone, woman. I thought I’d made it perfectly clear that I’m no’ interested.”
Despite Jamie’s attempts to muffle his side of the call, Claire could still hear it.
“Twas one date, months ago. I think ye should realize that I’ve moved on. Perhaps ye should as well. Find someone else to play yer games because it willna be me anymore. Aye?”
He walked away before Annalise could reply. Putting the phone back to his ear, he sighed. “Sorry about that, what were we talking about?”
“Your work,” Claire reminded him.
“Ah, that’s right. St. Germain spent most of the afternoon tearing all of us to bits. So, some drinking was required after the evening,” Jamie explained. “I only agreed to go since ye said ye were working late.”
He continued on but Claire had spaced out a bit. She chimed in here and there when necessary, but wasn’t entirely present for the conversation. Long distance was hard for her, especially when all she wanted was the reassurance of Jamie’s arms around her. But right now, he was closer to the woman who was still trying to sink her claws into him. They talked for a while before Claire begged off, saying she had to get up early in the morning. Jamie understood and bid her goodnight, saying he hoped they’d have a chance to talk tomorrow. She muttered an agreement before hanging up the call. It wasn’t a total lie; she did have to get up in the morning. But sleep didn’t come easily to her. She couldn’t help but continuously picture her worst nightmare over and over.
The next day when Jamie texted to see if she was free, she lied.
* * *
Nine days and a lot of missed opportunities to talk to Claire later, Jamie was sitting at a bar with Joe. “I’m glad ye could meet me,” Jamie said, raising his glass slightly. “Been a bit lonely,” he added with a laugh. “So, how’s wedding planning going?”
Joe shook his head with a sigh. “You mean when Gayle actually asks me what I want for my wedding?”
Jamie laughed. “Have ye fought her on anything?”
“Not a damn thing,” Joe confessed. “Honestly, I haven’t cared. I just want her to want to include me. But things are slowing down significantly now.”
Jamie’s brow furrowed. “Why’s that?”
“Well we set a date,” Joe told him. Jamie looked excited for them. “It’s in nineteen months.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
Joe nodded, his lips forming a tight line. “Gayle found this castle and absolutely had to have the wedding there. I want her to have the wedding she wants, so I said sure. But the earliest they had, which was already a cancellation, was nineteen months from now.”
“That’s almost two years,” Jamie pointed out.
“Yeah, I know. I wish I had a better “Castle Guy.” But I didn’t look into one of those when I moved here,” Joe joked.
“Are ye okay wi’ that long an engagement?” Jamie asked hesitantly.
“Sure. I mean, in a lot of different ways, it already feels like we’re married. We’ve lived together since I moved to Scotland for medical school. We just decided a while back that we wouldn’t look at getting married until we were both established in our careers,” Joe said with a shrug. “So I feel pretty good about it. And if Gayle gets her dream venue, then that’s all the better. I know she can’t wait to invite people from the States to her wedding in a damn castle.”
Jamie laughed, taking a drink of his beer. “Canna beat that.”
“I guess I can tell Claire that she can slow down on her plans for my Stag Party,” Joe mused with an amused shake of his head. “Girl was saying just last night how she had such great ideas for it, no matter how many times I told her she doesn’t have to plan it.”
Joe was laughing but Jamie was fixated on what Joe had said. He cleared his throat. “Ye talked to Claire last night?”
The other man froze as he was about to put a pretzel in his mouth. “Yes.”
“Gotcha,” Jamie replied shortly. He picked up his beer and took a long drink. “If she talked to ye, I wonder why she texted me and said she was going to bed early and wouldna have any time to talk.”
Joe closed his eyes in a grimace. “So, how are you guys doing?”
Jamie shook his head. “I thought we were doing fine. Claire’s been plenty busy, but apparently, no’ as busy as she’s let on.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I just miss her and long distance is terrible. And there’s no definitive time that it’ll be over. But I thought we were good. I guess no’ if she’s dodging my calls.”
Joe sighed. “I’m sorry I said anything. I didn’t realize.”
“Dinna worry about it. I was thinking about going to Edinburgh to surprise her,” Jamie mentioned.
An odd look came over Joe’s face. “You might want to do that. I think that would be a good idea.”
Jamie picked up on his tone and narrowed his eyes at the other man. “What do ye ken that I dinna?”
“Nothing!” Joe exclaimed with an unconvincing shrug. Jamie stared at him until he caved. “Look, she just said something to me yesterday.”
“What did she say?” Jamie asked, leaning across the table.
“Just that she...had some doubts,” Joe explained, clearly feeling uncomfortable.
“Doubts?” Jamie cried. “What doubts? About our relationship?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t explain. It was said one time and when I tried to press her on it, she clammed up and said that she shouldn’t have mentioned it,” Joe told him. “But whatever it is, that might be why she’s been weird about taking your calls.”
Jamie sighed, his head hanging in his hands. “I’m racking my brain right now trying to figure out what I’ve done wrong.”
“There’s no guarantee it’s you,” Joe reminded him. “She didn’t say what it was.”
“But it was about our relationship?”
Joe’s face scrunched as he nodded. “I guess. Maybe.”
Jamie shook his head, feeling helpless. “If I go to Edinburgh, am I going to be broken up with?”
“No!” Joe said emphatically. “No, that would be silly.” He looked at Jamie with a pointed expression. “I think you should go and spend some time together. I think it would be good for the both of you.”
Jamie released a large sigh. “Maybe so.”
* * *
Friday night came and Claire was relieved to have the weekend to relax. She walked into her hotel room and threw her bag down on the floor before laying down on the couch. It felt good to just stop moving for a bit. Feeling her phone in her back pocket, Claire dug it out and looked at it. Her lockscreen was a picture of her and Jamie. She stared at his face for a long time, pressing the button again each time it went dark. Finally, she felt the urge to return all his missed calls from the last week or so. Even though she felt guilty, she didn’t know how to call him when she was as nervous about their relationship as she was. Given how well he knew her, she knew he’d pick up on her hesitance. So, instead, she just didn’t call him. She’d texted him a few times throughout the days, though they were mostly replies to his messages.
But this time, her need to hear his voice drowned out her fears. She called him, getting antsy as the line started ringing.
“Jamie!” she cried. “God, it’s good to hear your voice.”
“Sassenach, how are ye?” he asked. Something seemed off about his voice, but she thought maybe he’d just had a long day.
“Doing alright. I just got home from the bakery. Well, not home home. I got back to my hotel,” she said. A horn honked on his end of the call. “Where are you?”
“Walking home from work,” he said. “How’s the bakery coming?”
“It’s good. I miss you, though.” She wished she could see his face.
“Aye, I do too,” he agreed, a sad tone to his voice. “Out of curiosity, if I were to send ye something, what is yer room number?”
Claire smiled to herself. “What are you sending me?”
“Room number, woman!” he repeated, his voice a bit lighter.
She laughed. “It’s 743.”
“Aye, thank ye. Tell me more about how everything’s coming,” he pressed.
“Going well. We’ve hired a staff though they won’t officially start for a bit yet. We’re still in the construction stage. But I’m trying to work ahead and have everything that we need ready for when I need to start with the staff training.” She continued on, only stopping when there was a knock at her door. “Hold on. Someone’s at the door.”
Claire jumped up, surprised beyond belief when it was Jamie on the other side of the door. “Oh my god, you’re here?” He grinned as he nodded in reply. She threw herself forward, wrapping her arms around him. Drawing him in over the threshold, she hugged him tightly. A thump against the floor drew her back as he tossed his bag just inside the door. “God, I’ve missed you,” she said, cupping his cheeks. “It’s so bloody good to see you.”
Jamie nodded, quieter than usual. “Aye, and ye.”
“What made you decide to come?”
An odd look crossed his face. “Well, I’d been thinking of it for a bit. I missed ye. But I ken ye’ve been verra busy, so I wasna sure when the right time would be.” He walked further into the room. “I had drinks wi’ Joe the other night and he seemed to think it was a good idea. Especially after something you’d said to him the night before.” He turned and looked at her, a strained expression coloring his face. “Which I believe was one of the nights ye told me ye couldna talk because ye were going to bed so early. Which was actually just one time in a string of instances where ye couldna call. But apparently, ye can talk to Joe.”
Claire closed her eyes, grimacing. “Jamie,” she started.
He kept going. “Joe seemed to think ye were having doubts,” he added, staring her down, daring her to agree. She opened and closed her mouth, no sound coming out. “I thought it was odd to hear it from him. Ye see, I figured when ye and I got together, it would be perfect because we already tell each other everything. But I suppose that’s no’ true.”
Her arms came around her torso, trying to hold in her emotions. “Jamie, it’s nothing, really.”
“Joe didna seem to think so.” He took a small step closer to her. “What is it? Is it me?”
Claire had really hoped she’d get over her doubts on her own before she ever had to talk to Jamie about them. And as she stared at the pain plain on his face, she wished she’d never said anything to Joe. “No, it’s just…I don’t know how to explain it.” In reality, she didn’t know how to articulate it to him .
“I’d think ye’d be able to talk to me. We’ve been friends for ten years, Claire,” Jamie reminded her.
“Yeah, that’s the problem!” she cried.
Jamie recoiled, looking stunned. “What?”
She shook her head, wishing she’d gone about this differently. “Yes, we have been friends for ten years which means that I have watched a number of your relationships from the sidelines. And all I could think about was how each of them ended so quickly. Then, I just...I couldn’t help but wonder when our expiration date would be.”
“Wow,” Jamie breathed. He seemed a bit deflated. “What, ye seriously thought I’d just ditch ye? Call it quits? And then what, just walk away from ye?”
“I don’t know,” she answered timidly. “I just couldn’t see how I was any different from any of them.”
Jamie gaped at her. “Of course ye’re different!”
“Because I love ye!” he yelled. He took a step back, running a hand down his face. Claire stared at him, shocked by his admission. He seemed almost as surprised. “Do ye really think I’d just leave? It’s you , Claire. Ye’re my best friend.”
“Jamie, I -”
“I spent the last couple of days trying to imagine what it was that was giving ye doubts. I didn’t realize I’d be answering for my past,” he said, looking anywhere but at her. “I mean, is that what ye really think of me?”
She could feel tears stinging her eyes as she shook her head.
“But it is though, isn’t it? I mean, ye believed me to be the type of man who would bring ye to a party solely to make another woman jealous. Ye thought I only wanted to bring ye breakfast the morning after our first date to — how did ye put it — rack up enough dates to reach a proper number to get in yer pants. And now this. Ye really think I’m just going to give up and leave after a certain amount of time?” Jamie stared at her, his hurt showing. “If that’s the man ye truly think I am, how have we even been friends all this time?” He ran a hand through his hair. “Those relationships were short because I could tell soon enough into them that they werena right for me. Would it no’ have been worse to string them along and lead them on?”
Claire stood there silently, tears starting to fall.
Jamie shook his head and took a step toward the door. “I should go.”
She jumped in front of the door before he could make it there. “No!” she said, standing her ground. “Look, Jamie, I’m sorry. I handled this the wrong way. I should have talked to you. But I just —” she took a deep breath “— I just got scared. Okay? After ten years we’re at this new phase of our relationship and it’s exciting. But I didn’t know how you really felt. And I’ve been sitting with these feelings a lot longer than you have.”
Jamie let out a breath. “That’s no’ fair. Ye canna put that on me. Ye never told me how ye felt.”
Claire scoffed. “Yeah, like it would have made any difference.”
He shook his head, throwing his arms out. “Of course it would have! It would have made all the difference in the world!” He gaped at her. “Do ye really think I would have been wi’ any of them if I knew I could have been wi’ ye?” he asked, his voice dramatically lower.
She had no response. They were on opposite sides of the room, with more than just space standing between them. Tears were falling down her face in earnest. They were glistening in his eyes as well. She hated the way she’d hurt him with her own avoidance.
Eventually, it was as if he lost all energy. He collapsed on the couch, a sigh escaping him. “What can I do?”
He looked up at her. “What can I do to prove to ye that I’m no’ going anywhere?”
Her heart broke at the vulnerable look on his face. He was terrified and she could see it. She shook her head vehemently. “Jamie, there’s nothing.”
“So, ye’re telling me that ye’re having doubts about me but there’s no’ a thing I can do to fix it?”
Claire bridged the gap between them, sitting down next to him on the couch. “Jamie, I mean there’s nothing you have to do. This is my issue.”
“Tis no’ just yers, Claire,” he reminded her. “Ye stopped talking to me because of this. That’s no’ just yers anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, reaching up to wipe away her tears. “Believe me, I am.”
He wasn’t looking at her. “Aye, I ken ye are.” They sat in a heavy silence for a long moment. His head turned slightly toward her, still not meeting her gaze. “I meant it though, what can I do?”
“There’s nothing you have to do,” she repeated. He looked over, an almost angry expression on his face. “Being here — coming to see me because you missed me — that’s enough. I promise.”
He nodded, looking down at his clasped hands. “How long have ye felt this way?” He finally glanced over at her, making eye contact. “It was before ye came here, wasn’t it?”
Claire cleared her throat. “Just a bit. It got worse with separation.”
“It was that night in my flat, wasn’t it?” he asked.
She shook her head in disbelief. “How did you -”
“Ye panicked. Ye froze,” he recalled. “And then ye asked to take things slower. And trust me, I was more than fine wi’ that. I could tell something bothered ye, but ye wouldna say what it was. I was terrified that I did something to upset ye.”
Claire bridged the final gap between them, reaching out and putting her hand on his arm. “Jamie, you did nothing. I got up in my head at the exact wrong time. I just knew that if...if we crossed that final line, and then you left, I wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
His hand moved to cover hers as he nodded. A long silence filled the room. Claire gripped his arm before she started to speak again. “I love you,” she whispered. He turned to her, a soft and vulnerable look on his face. “That’s why I got so scared. Because I love you. And I’ve felt this way for a long time, but this is only the first time I’ve actually said it out loud.” She laughed to herself. “Well, technically second, but you were unconscious the first time after your accident.”
Claire took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for hurting you so much. It kills me. I guess I got used to talking about my feelings with Joe and keeping it all a secret from you.” Jamie chuckled before she reached out and laid her hand on his cheek. “But I promise you that I won’t do that again. I mean, I may talk to Joe, but no more secret feelings. I promise you that if I start to get nervous again, you’ll be the person I go to.”
Jamie leaned his forehead against hers. “I would appreciate that. But just know, I’m no’ going anywhere.” His fingers tapped against her hand that still rested on his arm. “I love ye, too,” he whispered. He pulled back a bit to look her in the eye. “I’m sorry for yelling it at ye the first time I ever said it.”
Claire laughed, despite all that had happened. She leaned closer, letting him close the distance between them. Much to her relief, he did so quickly, pressing his lips to hers. Her hands moved to wrap around his neck as she scooted closer to him. His hand held her cheek, keeping her there. Weeks of long distance woes and the fight they’d had weighed into the kiss, making both of them a bit desperate. He parted his lips, granting her access which she happily accepted. Her fingers wove through his hair. They moved closer and closer together til her legs were draped over his.
She broke away from him with a look as she reached for the hem of her shirt. To her surprise, Jamie reached out to stop her. “Claire, no.” Before she could feel embarrassed, he continued. “No’ like this,” he whispered. “No’ because ye feel guilty.”
“What if that’s not why?” she asked. “What if I’m just ready?”
“I’m no’ ready right now,” he told her, flashing her pleading eyes. “I feel I’d always second guess it. Whether ye were actually ready or whether ye felt it was the best way to apologize for what happened. And that’s no’ how I want it to be for us.”
She let go of her shirt, leaning back into him and giving him a quick kiss. “I suppose that makes a lot of sense. Damn you.” He grinned, kissing her again quickly. “So, what do you propose we do instead? Dinner?”
He nodded thoughtfully. “That sounds good. Or perhaps — if ye wanted to, of course — ye could show me the bakery.”
One of her hands came to rest on his cheek. “You really want to see it?”
His hand held hers. “Of course I do.”
She smiled broadly, giving him one last kiss. “Well then, let’s go.”
Her hand held his the entire journey to the bakery site. He didn’t mind at all. It had been too long since he’d been afforded such a luxury. She chattered away about what to expect and what stage of development the store was in. Their pace slowed as they got closer to the store. Claire dug out her keys and let them into the dark building.
She walked around and turned on the construction lamps that were scattered throughout the store. As more and more lights turned on, Jamie stood in awe of the store before him. Familiar colors greeted him as he turned to look around. “How does this look so much like the original shop?”
Claire smiled, walking back over and tucking herself back into his side. “You caught that, did you?”
“Would be hard not to.”
She nodded thoughtfully, looking around. “Well, I found the original plans for the store and gave them to the people in charge here. They seemed to think it was doable. So, here we are. It’s still got a long way to go, but -”
“It looks great,” Jamie said on a breath. “Truly.”
Claire looked up at him. “You think so?”
Jamie kissed her temple. “I really do. It’s like I’m standing back in Glasgow.” He laughed to himself. “Actually, it feels like it’s six years ago. Like ye’re showing me the shop for the first time.”
She smiled to herself. “You were the only one I’d let see it.”
“Well, that was surely just because of the money.”
Claire shook her head, leaving a kiss at his jaw. “No, it wasn’t.”
Jamie curled her in closer, kissing her head. “It looks great. All yer hard work has really been paying off.”
“Thank you,” she sighed. “I mean the hardest part is really the training, so we’ll see.”
“It’ll work. Ye’re too brilliant for it no’ to,” Jamie assured her.
He laughed, turning to face her. Taking her face in his hands, he kissed her hard on the mouth. “I’m no such thing.”
She showed him around the bakery as much as they could with minimal lighting. Soon, they shut off all the lights and went to find a place to eat. Neither of them felt very picky so they found a place quickly. A couple of hours were spent enjoying drinks, dinner, and the other’s company. Jamie’s hand rarely left Claire’s. They sat as close to each other as their table allowed, both just glad to be together.
It was a beautiful evening as they walked back to Claire’s hotel, his arm around her shoulders, her arm around his waist. As they entered the lobby of the hotel, they immediately walked toward the elevator. Jamie stopped, turning back toward the desk. Claire gave him a confused look. “I need to check into my room.”
Her brow furrowed. “You got a room?”
Jamie took a step closer to her. “Well, I didna want to be presumptuous.”
She smiled, leaning up to kiss him quickly. “It wouldn’t be that presumptuous. You were coming to visit your girlfriend.”
Claire rolled her eyes with a grin. “You don’t need that room. Wait here.” She ignored him as he asked her what she was going to do. Claire walked up to the front desk and plastered on her best smile. “Hi,” she said, grabbing the woman’s attention. “I had a friend that was coming to visit me, but at the last minute it fell through. He asked if I could cancel his room for him.”
“Of course, ma’am. What was the name?”
The woman typed away at the computer before looking up to Claire with a smile. “All taken care of. Anything else I can help ye wi’?”
“Not a thing. Thank you!” Claire replied, matching the woman’s smile. As Claire walked back to Jamie, her smile became more smug. “All taken care of,” she parroted. Jamie rolled his eyes at her as he draped his arm back around her. “Got a second room,” she muttered to herself, elbowing him in the side. “We’ve shared a room before.”
“That was verra different, Sassenach,” Jamie defended.
Claire curled into Jamie’s side, scoffing. “We’re two mature adults. I think we can share a bed.”
Jamie was already in bed as Claire walked out from the bathroom in her pajamas. She smiled at him as she caught him staring at her. All she was wearing was a simple t-shirt, but she couldn’t help but appreciate his eyes lingering on her.
“What is that?” Jamie asked, disgust coloring his tone.
Claire looked down at her shirt before glancing back at him with a confused look. “My pajamas,” she told him. “I’m sorry that I didn’t pack for some sexy vacation when I was coming to Edinburgh by myself.”
Jamie shook his head, turning toward her. “No, that’s no’ what I mean. That’s my shirt.”
She scoffed at him. “Please. This is my shirt. Why would I be sleeping in your shirt?”
“Beats me,” he agreed. “But I can tell ye that it is in fact, my shirt.”
Claire walked to the front of the bed to rifle through her bag. “Please, this is from my university.”
“We went to the same university!” Jamie jumped out of bed, walking toward her. “Just admit ye stole my shirt.”
Claire stood up, going toe to toe with him. “I will not, because I’m no thief! This is mine.”
“So ye bought yerself a shirt that was clearly too big for ye?” Jamie asked, one brow raised. “Come on, that was my favorite shirt.”
“Clearly not your favorite if you lost it,” Claire retorted.
“Show me the tag,” Jamie said, stepping toward her, an arm reached out.
She stepped back, her hand covering the neck at the back of her shirt. “What? Why?”
“Because one of lads on my floor used to steal clothes so I started putting my name on my tags. Prove it, Beauchamp!” He moved closer toward her but she stood her ground. Reaching out, he tickled her til she leaned forward as she squirmed. Acting quickly, he pulled at the tag, zeroing in on his name printed largely across it. “Aha!” he yelled, letting go of her. “Tis my shirt!”
She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms. “Seriously?”
“How long have ye had my shirt?” Jamie demanded playfully.
“Long enough,” she answered evasively.
Jamie stepped closer, fixing her with a look. “When did ye steal it, ye wee thief?”
Claire looked at the floor, muttering her reply. “When we lived together.”
“When we lived together?” Jamie echoed. “Ye’ve had my shirt for six years?”
She sputtered out a response. “It’s really soft, okay?”
“Of course I know that. Why do ye think I bought it?” He shook his head at her. “I want my shirt back.”
“I’m not giving it back. You went six years without noticing it was gone.”
Jamie stepped right up to her. “Well, what if I just take it back?”
Claire glanced down at her front before looking up at him. She knew what she was wearing beneath the shirt and it was very little. Their eyes locked as the air changed between them. They both knew what his empty threat could mean.
Claire cleared her throat, not breaking eye contact with him. “Maybe you should.”
His breath grew heavy at her suggestion. He looked at her, brows raised. She swallowed thickly, nodding to him. His fingers reached out, dancing along the hem of her (or his) shirt. He was giving her one last out. They’d been there, on the precipice of this, numerous times. But this time, no out would be taken. She was ready. With one more nod, she encouraged him. His hands quickly grabbed at the fabric, pulling it up and over her head, throwing it behind him.
He let out a small gasp at the sight of her. She fought every urge to cover herself the longer he stayed silent. Slowly, hesitantly, his hand reached out, gliding from her collarbone to the swell of her chest. Her breath hitched as he stepped closer, his hand closing around her breast. She leaned into him. His eyes flitted up to look at her. Suddenly, his hands left her chest, pulling her in close as his mouth crashed against hers. Her hands flew to his neck. She reveled in the feel of his hands moving up and down her bare back.
Breaking their embrace, Claire yanked at his shirt, trying to get it off him. He took the hint and ripped it off. For good measure, his pajama pants also hit the floor. Claire moved closer to him, her hands reaching out for him when a panicked look crossed his face.
“Claire, wait,” he said, holding his hands up. She froze, a bit scared of the dramatic change in him. He took a deep breath. “My...my back. After the accident…”
She let out a breath, relieved that it was only vanity concerning him at the moment. “Jamie, I don’t care. I care that you lived. That’s all.”
He closed his eyes as he nodded. “Aye, but it’s no’ pretty.”
Claire stepped closer, her hands gently gliding up the sides of his arms to the tops of his shoulders. “Does it hurt?”
“Then that’s all I care about. Some scars aren’t going to scare me away.” She laid her hands at the base of his neck and pulled him closer to her, kissing him hard. His arms came around her, eliminating any space between them. They kissed passionately, not holding anything back this time. Jamie’s hands slid down, landing on her arse and squeezing. Her hips rocked against his, making him groan. He leaned down further, picking her up. Her legs curled around his waist, though her lips didn’t leave his.
Jamie walked over and laid Claire down on the edge of the bed. She expected him to move over her, but he didn’t. Instead, he worked at removing her panties. She lifted her hips up to help him. He pulled them off, tossing them behind him before he fell to his knees before her. Gently, her legs were spread with his encouragement. She was about to say something when his mouth descended on her. Any comment she had was lost as his mouth worked against her core. Her hand flew to his head, keeping him there and fulfilling her need to touch him. His tongue was swirling against her most intimate parts and she could only gasp in reply. Her hips bucked against his face and she heard and felt him chuckle.
“Bastard,” she sighed.
His hand squeezed where he held her thigh. Her breath was short as she felt her pleasure build within her. He added his fingers as she climbed higher and higher, her belly tightening in anticipation. She moaned his name repeatedly, no doubt spurring him on. Her fingers tangled tightly in his hair as she got closer and closer to her release. “Don’t stop,” she commanded breathily. Falling over the edge, she called out his name, throwing her head back.
He eased her down from her release before moving to join her on the bed. She scooted back, making room for both of them. The smug grin on his face did nothing to ease her still pulsing desire for him. He leaned down and kissed her deeply, his hands running up and down her body. She laid her hand at the back of his neck and pulled him down to her, his body fitting between her legs. Her body arched upward, feeling how ready he was for her. She reached down and took him in hand, marveling at how his eyes fluttered closed as she grasped him.
“Claire,” he groaned.
“Do it now,” she breathed.
Jamie flashed her a look before guiding himself into her. They both cried out loudly. She grabbed his neck, bringing him down to her and kissing him thoroughly. He broke their kiss as he started moving within her, pulling out before driving back in. Claire was glad they were in a hotel so she didn’t have to face her actual neighbors the next day. But she couldn’t keep quiet. Her hips rocked against his, meeting him repeatedly. She clutched to his back, feeling the scars left there from his accident. Feeling a bit scared at what could have happened, she brought his mouth back to hers and kissed him, holding him there til she was out of breath.
His eyes were locked on hers as they rocked against each other. He sighed her name as her hands reached down to his arse, pulling him in deeper. She wrapped her legs around him, moaning as his mouth attached to her neck, surely marking her. The thought of bearing his mark excited her. His hands ran down her body, one finding its way to the place of their joining. He stroked her, pushing her further and further to the edge for a second time. She could tell he was getting close as well when his thrusts grew erratic. Leaning forward, she panted in his ear, telling him to let go. He groaned, shaking his head, refusing to finish before her.
She was close. Grinding her hips against his, she tried to find what she needed most. Jamie moved her leg higher on his waist and moved over her, hitting at a different angle. A loud keening sound escaped her as she clenched around him, finding her release. And there he was, right after her, spilling into her.
He collapsed next to her, his body still touching hers. Claire looked over, reaching a hand up to touch his cheek. With an exhausted smile, he took her hand in his. She leaned in, kissing him softly. They were both spent and laid there staring at each other.
“I’m glad I said it before because it wouldna seem genuine now,” Jamie whispered, “but I love ye.”
Claire smiled, reaching a weak hand out to cup his cheek. “I love you, too.”
His arm came out, pulling her to lay against him as the sweat cooled on their bodies. They laid there in silence for a while, simply holding each other.
Jamie kissed the side of her head, his arm tightening around her slightly. “We’re fools.” She turned and looked at him, a bit confused. He sighed, nuzzling her neck a bit. “To think we could have been doing this for years.” Claire tensed a bit in his arms. He noticed right away, pulling back and looking at her. “Shit,” he whispered. “Claire, I didna mean to hurt ye...I just meant -”
A soft look came over her face as she reached up to cover his mouth. “It’s fine. I know what you meant.” She took a deep breath. “And maybe if I hadn’t been so scared to say anything for so long, we could have.” Claire leaned in and kissed him softly. “We figured it out eventually, right?” she breathed.
“Aye. And that’s all that matters,” he agreed, leaning back in to kiss her slowly.
Jamie broke their kiss, curling her in against him. Claire noticed the strained look on his face. “What?”
He glanced over at her, shaking his head. “Nothing.” All it took was one look from her to make him talk. “I wanted to ask ye something, but I didna want to — well, to make ye hurt or uncomfortable.”
Her brow furrowed. Instead of looking at his face, she stared at his chest, her fingers playing with the fine hairs there. “You can ask me anything.”
Jamie took a deep breath. “Was it hard for ye when we lived together?”
She looked up at him, surprised by the question he’d asked. Thinking back on their time living together, she knew how to answer him. “Yes,” she said softly. His face fell, his mouth opening to reply. “I mean, you couldn’t properly wash a dish to save your life. You left your socks everywhere, which honestly, Jamie, was just disgusting.” He shook with laughter against her. “The only bright side was taking ownership of that shirt.”
“Which, I’ll be taking back, by the way,” Jamie told her.
Claire scoffed. “Fat chance.” She looked over at him, her hand moving to rest on his face. “But as for this , no, it wasn’t hard. It was just...how it was. Some people have roommates they get along with. Some people have roommates they can’t stand. I had a roommate I was more or less in love with. It didn’t make it worse or better. That was just how it was.” She laughed to herself for a second. “Granted, you never brought a girl home the whole time we lived together. That could have ruined it all.”
Jamie laughed, kissing her head. “Most nights, I didna go out because it was the only time I got to see ye. Even if ye were just studying or trying to forget about school.”
Claire turned more toward him, wanting to look at his face. “Can I ask you something now?”
“I’m an open book,” he replied. “Well, at least to ye.” He nodded for her to ask.
“This was something John asked me somewhat recently. And I thought I knew the answer, but I wasn’t quite sure. Why did you move to Glasgow?”
Jamie stared at her for a moment, an almost confused look on his face. “Oh, I thought ye kent that. I moved there for ye.” Claire gaped at him for a second before her face broke out in a touched smile. “As ye recall, everything had rather gone to shite and ye found a program in Glasgow that took ye. But I could tell that something was still off and I didna think ye needed to be undertaking all that alone. So, I quit that job in Inverness and moved to Glasgow so ye wouldna have to be alone.”
Claire shook her head, laying it down against his shoulder. “I’m going to say something incredibly obvious, but I’m glad you did.”
Jamie chuckled, kissing the top of her head. “Me, too.”
“Aside from some rather obvious reasons, I’m just glad our friendship didn’t go the same way that mine and Rupert’s did,” Claire added.
“Well, aye. Though I feel confident in saying that it never would have. But then again, that’s why ye got me in the divorce,” Jamie joked. His hand reached over and took one of hers. “Even if I was a bit oblivious to the way things were — or could have been — between us,” he started, almost a bit cautious, “ye’ve always been the most important woman in my life.”
Claire tilted her head back to look up at him with a soft smile. She leaned in and kissed him slowly. “Me, too.”
“Ye’ve always been the most important woman in yer own life,” Jamie teased, whispering against her lips.
Claire shook her head, rolling her eyes. “Shut up.”
Her arms wrapped around his neck as she leaned in and kissed him again. He took her advice and stopped talking, putting all his efforts into their kiss and pulling her against him. She lifted her leg, gliding it up along his before resting it at his hip. As she got impossibly close, she could feel him harden against her. His hand reached out and grabbed ahold of her thigh, holding her leg in place. Their hips started a slow rhythmic roll, heightening things between them. He grazed her, teasing her and making her squeak. Jamie grinned against her lips, feeling the need to try and make her make that sound again. Claire reached down and dragged her fingers up and down his length before they were joined again.
* * *
They didn’t do much else the rest of the weekend but spend the time making new discoveries in each other. After being friends for ten years, she’d have said Jamie knew basically everything about her. But for the next two days, he spent his time trying to find all the ways to make her moan or scream. She was more than happy to reciprocate as well. It was more or less the final frontier of their relationship and they were fine crossing that line.
When Sunday came, neither of them wanted Jamie to have to leave. Claire was getting ready to walk with him to the train station as Jamie finished up throwing things back in his bag. “I saw that, Fraser. Put the shirt back!” she called from the bathroom, looking at him from the mirror.
“Tis my shirt, Sassenach,” he replied, echoing himself from Friday.
She turned around and walked out to the room. “Not anymore. I’ve officially had it longer than you ever did. So, it’s mine.”
“I’m taking my shirt.”
“And what will I sleep in, then? The nude?”
A devious grin crossed Jamie’s face. “Ye didna have much of a problem wi’ that this weekend.”
Claire glared at him as she walked closer to him. “Yes, but you won’t be here to take advantage of that,” she reminded him, leaning in to kiss him quickly. “Look, I will share it with you when I officially return to Glasgow. How about that?”
His eyes narrowed as he watched her. “Fine. But I’ll make ye keep that promise.”
Her arms wrapped around his neck. “I’m sure you will.” He bent down to kiss her, enveloping her in his arms. Similarly to nearly every other kiss that weekend, it grew steadily more passionate as they ignored Jamie’s impending departure. “Jamie,” Claire cautioned in a whine.
Jamie’s mouth moved to her throat as he walked her backward til she met the wall. “Surely, we have time.” His hips pressed against hers. She let out a small moan.
“Fine, but if you miss your train, that’s on you,” she said breathily.
“Do ye really think I’d care?” Jamie asked, one brow raised at her. She grinned before pulling him back and crushing her mouth to his.
She held him against her while he worked at removing both their pants. A small cry came from her as his fingers grazed her center. He lifted her up quickly, her legs resting on either side of his hips. With one look at her, he was inside her, thrusting madly. She cried out loudly, as she had multiple times all weekend. Her fingers were tight in his hair as she held on for dear life. Jamie grunted as he rocked against her. They both were racing toward their climaxes.
Her body tightened around him, pulling him in deeper. “Claire,” he groaned, his head falling to her shoulder. After a particularly deep thrust, she was moaning his name in reply.
Faster than she was expecting, she clenched around him as her release hit her hard. Stars flashed behind her eyelids as she held onto him and rode it out. His movements grew faster, finishing quickly within her. He pulled back to look at her, both of them panting wildly. A small, smug grin pulled at his lips. Her hand stroked his cheek before she leaned forward to kiss him again.
After cleaning themselves up a bit, they finally had to leave the room and get Jamie to the train station. She walked all but to the platform with him, not ready for him to leave yet. The weekend had been a defining moment for them, both physically and emotionally. Having to separate again for an unknown amount of time just felt brutal. Jamie held her hand the entire time they waited.
When it was absolutely time for them to part, Jamie turned to her. “You’ll let me know when you get home?” she asked. He grinned and nodded. “And you’re still checking on my flat every now and then?”
Jamie laughed. “Aye, of course I am.” He stroked a curl behind her ear with a small sigh. “I dinna want to go.”
Claire’s hands clutched at his waist. “I don’t want you to go either, but you do have to work.”
His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “I’m no’ so sure about that. I do have a lot of money.”
Claire laughed as she rolled her eyes at him. “What happened to James ‘I’m smart with my money’ Fraser?”
Jamie leaned down close to her, whispering in her ear. “He didna have an irresistible girlfriend living in a different city.” He pressed his lips to hers.
“It’s not forever,” she reminded him softly. “And if things go well, I should be able to make a trip back to Glasgow soon.”
“Or maybe I can come again soon and I can help ye wi’ things around the bakery?” Jamie suggested.
Claire raised her eyebrows at him. “Well, I like that idea.”
“Then we can make that a plan.” He gave her one more long, lingering kiss. They looked at each other for a moment before Jamie regretfully pulled away. “I’ll see ye soon?”
Claire smiled. “Talk to you sooner,” she said, repeating his line from when she left for Edinburgh. Jamie grinned, leaning in to kiss her again quickly. “I love you,” she said as he picked up his bag.
Jamie cupped her face. “I love ye, too.”
They shared a small moment before Jamie headed to the platform. He had just settled into his seat on the train when his phone began to vibrate in his pocket. “Did I forget something?” he asked.
“No,” she replied. “I just felt like talking to you.”
“Even though we parted merely a few minutes ago?”
“Yes. Do you have a problem with that?’
A wide smile spread across his face as he settled further into his seat. “No’ at all. Though, it does seem a bit mushy.”
“What can I say, you must bring it out in me,” she joked.
They teased each other back and forth as Jamie’s train pulled away from the station. He watched as the city fell away and gave way to the Scottish countryside. All the while, Claire chatted in his ear. A feeling of hesitant contentment washed over him. He only hoped it could hold him over til the next time he saw her.
Thanks so much for all the support for this story! I hope you're continuing to enjoy it! Two chapters left after this one. Next chapter will post Saturday!
As their separation continued, Claire and Jamie were much better about keeping in contact. Claire, especially, was very conscious of being the one to call him. Even though they left on good terms, she didn’t want to give him any reason to feel the way she’d made him feel before. No matter how busy she was, she always made time to talk to him. She wanted to talk to him more than a sense of obligation was pushing her to call him. Days turned into weeks, but they did a good job of maintaining their long distance relationship.
To his credit, Jamie made the trip to Edinburgh nearly every other weekend. He kept his promise to help her do things around the bakery. Even if it was just compiling binders for training, he worked alongside her, seemingly just happy to be with her. Sending him back to Glasgow was always hard and she dreaded it each time, but it was reassuring to know that they had the long distance thing managed.
A few weeks before the bakery was set to open, Jamie became extremely busy at work. He’d be at the office early and stay late. There were too many times when Claire called and caught him still at the office. His ability to go see her disappeared. Both of them hated it, but there was nothing they could do about it. Jamie was exhausted from how much he was working and all he wanted to do was see Claire.
One Friday night, Jamie was walking into his building, finally getting home from work. He paused at the second floor, looking toward Claire’s door. She’d been having him check in on her flat and water her plants. It had been a bit since he’d been there. With a sigh, he kept climbing the stairs, promising himself that he’d go by tomorrow. He hadn’t heard from Claire yet and he wanted to be able to talk to her before his inevitable crash. The bakery was opening soon. In a week, if he had the date right. He shook his head, thinking of how he wanted to be in Edinburgh with her instead of walking into his lonely flat.
Opening the door, he set his keys on the table just inside. His flat was dark and he didn’t notice the chair that had been moved. The sound of a lamp turning on startled him. Before he could even move to turn a larger light on, the chair next to the lamp swiveled around, revealing a smirking Claire.
“Christ, Sassenach!” Jamie gasped. He shook his head as he walked closer to her. “What are ye doing here?”
Claire shrugged, standing up and wrapping her arms around his neck. “I just missed you.” A broad smile crossed his face as he leaned down to kiss her. “You’ve been working so much and I couldn’t wait any longer. I hope you didn’t have any other plans,” she added.
Jamie stared down at her, a small shake to his head. “Honestly, the only thing I wanted to do tonight was talk to ye. So, I suppose that’s taken care of.”
Claire matched his smile. Her arms closed around him, bringing them closer together. “We could also not talk.”
A smirk spread on his face. “I wouldna be opposed to that either.” His hands slid down her back as they met for a long kiss. Without warning, he pulled back and looked at her like he’d suddenly remembered something. “Wait! What are ye doing here? The bakery opens in a week!”
She laid her hand against his cheek. “I know. But I needed to be here.”
Jamie shot her a disapproving look. “Ye need to take care of yer business. I’ll be here waiting for ye.”
“Well, sure, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. Everything is mostly set and taken care of. It’s fine.”
“What do yer employees think?”
“I told them I needed to check in on the Glasgow stores. I just didn’t tell them I’d be stopping by my boyfriend’s home first and foremost,” she said with a wink. Her hand played with his hair. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t do anything I thought would jeopardize my business.”
Jamie leaned down and kissed her quickly. “I ken ye wouldna. And believe me, I’m verra, verra happy to see ye. ‘Tis been far too long.”
Claire nodded in agreement. “It has. Why don’t you show me just how happy you are to see me?”
He stared at her for a moment. “Did ye take this chair from my office?” he asked, momentarily ignoring her challenge.
She shrugged. “Yeah, I just wheeled it out of your home office. All for the drama of the swivel.”
Jamie laughed. “Well, it worked quite well.” She chuckled. “Come here,” he said in a smaller voice, beckoning her closer. Her body fell against his as he crushed their lips together. “God, I’ve missed ye, Sassenach,” he sighed on a breath between kisses. Their hands were everywhere as they tried to get as close as possible. For them, apparently, three weeks was too long.
Claire’s fingers were working intently on getting his shirt unbuttoned. She pulled her lips from his and kissed her way down his slowly opening shirt. Each patch of skin revealed was met with a kiss. When she reached the last button, Jamie shrugged off his shirt. She knelt in front of him, reaching for his belt, and her intent past that was clear. Jamie shook his head, stilling her hands and bringing her back to stand in front of him. She gave him a curious look. He brought her mouth back to his, kissing her deeply, yanking up the hem of her loose dress. As he pulled it over her head, he looked down at her. “I want to be inside ye.” Claire looked breathless, nodding slightly as she crushed her lips back to his. Her arms were tight around him as he started walking them back to his bedroom. He wanted space to serve her properly.
They stumbled every so often on their slow trek to his room. Claire took off and dropped her bra in his living room. Her panties found the floor in the hallway. Jamie bent down to kiss her and they collided against the doorway to his bedroom. He simply pushed his body further against hers. Her breathing was heavy as his hands roamed her body. She peeled down his boxers and he stepped out of them. Jamie looked down at both their naked bodies. His head inclined toward the bed. “Get over there.” She smirked once before strutting over and laying herself flat on his bed.
Jamie took a moment to just watch her stretched out on his bed. Even if it wasn’t the first time they’d had sex, it was the first time he was afforded a view like this. He planned to commit it to memory.
“What are you waiting on?”
One corner of his mouth quirked up as he reached the end of his bed. He crawled up over her and bent down to kiss her. “Nothing.”
Her arms quickly latched around him, pulling him down to her. Their mouths met in a frenzy, hands moving of their own volition. Jamie’s tongue was deep in her mouth as her leg came up and wrapped around his waist. She rolled her hips up against his, telling him to get on with things.
He ignored her. His mouth found one breast while his hand fondled the other. She breathed heavily as her fingers tightened in his hair. His name flew from her on a sigh. Claire tried her tactics from before, but his urgency seemed to have left him. He kissed his way across her body, seemingly all the places he’d found that made her cry out. All the sounds he’d missed.
Both her legs locked around his waist, her arms assuming a similar position around his shoulders. She heaved herself over and rolled them til she was on top of him. Jamie breathed out a gasp as she settled on top of him, resting on his increasingly hardening cock. Claire bent down, kissing him hard before pulling back and guiding him into her.
They both moaned at the feeling. Apparently three weeks had been far too long. The two of them seemed to be in a frenzy, desperately rocking against each other, hands flying, and tongues tangling. Jamie’s hands found her arse, squeezing it properly, groaning as she sank down further on him. He thrust up into her madly. Bringing her down, he kissed her. She moved against him, swallowing his sounds. Her mouth moved from his, attaching to the side of his neck. He was fairly certain she was planning to leave him with a mark. He couldn’t say he minded. His hands held her tightly to him, a livewire on top of him.
When he felt he was getting close, his hand moved to stroke her. He’d be damned if he finished first. She squeaked above him as his fingers coaxed her. Her nails sunk into the skin at his shoulders as she rode him closer and closer to oblivion. The sight of her chasing her pleasure, her body moving quickly above him brought him dangerously close to the edge. He wanted her to be close enough.
“Jamie,” she panted desperately, her mouth crashing against his. He kissed her thoroughly. His hand moved to pinch one of her nipples and he felt her tighten around him. He grinned into their kiss, feeling her climax hit her. She clung tightly to him, her walls clenching around him. And just like that, he couldn’t hold on any longer. They held each other as they found their release together.
Claire collapsed against his chest. He couldn’t do much more than hold her there. Her head came up slowly, her eyes finding his. Jamie flashed her a worn out smile. She pressed her mouth lazily to his, kissing slowly.
“I missed you,” she whispered as she slowly rolled off him and tucked into his side.
Jamie’s head turned to look at her. “I missed ye, too.”
They laid there, spent, the sweat cooling on their bodies. Jamie chuckled to himself, remembering how tired he’d felt on his way home from work. But then Claire was here and nothing else mattered. Her hand moved lazily against his chest. He reached up and grabbed it, holding it securely in his own.
“Ye know what’s funny?”
Claire looked up to him. “What’s that?”
“We’ve had sex a lot of times.”
She grinned. “Yes, we have.”
“And yet, this is the first time we’ve done so in one of our own homes,” Jamie mused.
She stared at him for a minute, her eyes getting progressively wider. “Well I’ll be damned. That’s true.” She chuckled. “You’re right. That is funny.”
Jamie shifted, tucking her in closer. “You know, we could catch the train tomorrow and work on stuff at the bakery.”
Claire looked up at him, her brow furrowed. “Or we could just stay here.”
“But it opens in a week.”
“Exactly, which means that pretty much everything is in place.” She propped herself up on her elbows, looking down at him. “Yes, I was a bit blinded by my need to see you, but I also wouldn’t have just left.”
He nodded. “I ken. I just feel bad keeping ye from yer work.”
Claire leaned down and kissed him. “Don’t.” She curled against his chest. “This is all I want for the weekend. You and me.” Her hand moved absentmindedly against him. “We’ve barely gotten any time like that since we started dating.”
“Ye’re right,” he agreed. He chucked to himself before his hand squeezed at her waist. “Although, that first weekend I came to visit ye in Edinburgh was just a lot of ‘You and Me’ time, if I recall.”
Claire smirked. “Yes, it was.” She planted a kiss on his shoulder. “That was a good weekend.”
Jamie laughed, kissing her head. “Aye. Though I’d argue that any weekend I’ve spent wi’ ye has been a good weekend.”
She shook her head, a reluctant smile crossing her face. “That was cheesy, but I can’t say I didn’t appreciate it.”
They met for a long kiss, holding each other tightly. It was all either of them had wanted for the last few weeks.
* * *
An insistent knock at the door roused Claire. She rolled over and found the empty bed. In the back of her groggy mind, she remembered Jamie telling her he was going to get them breakfast. The knock kept sounding through his flat and she had no choice but to get up and greet the person. Finding Jamie’s robe, she threw it around herself, not even pausing to put on her undergarments. As she walked to the door, she noted the clothes that were strewn down the hallway. A small grin pulled at the corner of her mouth.
Claire threw the door open, interrupting another knock. Jenny’s eyes went wide as she took in Claire on the other side of the door. “Oh, hi.”
“I thought ye were in Edinburgh.”
“Well I came back for a bit,” Claire said with a shrug. “I missed your stupid brother.”
Jenny’s eyes traveled over Claire’s appearance. She was clearly trying to hold back a laugh. “I see.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “What brings you all the way here?”
“I have this box for my stupid brother,” Jenny told her, using her same description. “He asked me to bring it by. I think it’s a bunch of our da’s old stuff.”
Claire nodded, stepping aside so Jenny could move the box in. Jenny picked it up and walked over the threshold, pausing at the sight of clothes thrown around the room. “Been up long?” she asked, her voice slightly higher.
“No,” Claire said with a cough. As Jenny walked over to put the box down on Jamie’s kitchen island, Claire scampered around to throw the clothes towards Jamie’s room.
“I’m actually glad ye’re here because there’s something I want to talk to ye about. It’ll be better in person,” Jenny said, turning back toward Claire.
“Oh?” she asked, starting to feel nervous.
“Dinna worry, tis no’ about my brother,” Jenny told her with a wave of her hand. “No, tis actually about Kitty’s birthday. She turns 3 in a couple of months. Now, her first birthday, Jamie and Maggie were both sick. And her second birthday, she was sick. So I really want her third birthday to be special. I was hoping ye could make a cake. And before ye say anything, I would of course pay ye.”
Claire raised her eyebrows, thinking through Jenny’s favor. “You know I don’t really do cakes.”
“I know. But you’re a genius, so I feel as though anything ye touch is going to be perfect.”
A reluctant smile crossed her face. Jenny was good at buttering people up. “How about this? I will practice making some cakes. But if I’m not satisfied with them, I reserve the right to turn this down. I’ll make sure I can give you ample time to find another option. Since I have a bit of a brand, I want to make sure it’s up to my standards.”
Jenny nodded. “That’s more than fine. I completely understand!”
She was about to continue when the door flew open. Jamie walked in, not looking back toward the kitchen where they were standing. He stalked off toward his room, no doubt expecting Claire to be there. “Please tell me ye didna put any clothes back on because I —”
“Jamie!” Claire yelled, cutting him off quickly.
He turned around, freezing at the sight of his sister. He cleared his throat. “Jenny. Hi. I didna realize ye were here.”
“And now I wish I wasna,” Jenny said, a disgusted look on her face. “Anyway, I brought that box for ye.”
“Thank ye,” he replied, his voice still small. Claire could see where the tips of his ears were pink. She couldn’t help but laugh to herself.
“Claire, let me know how things turn out for ye.” Jenny turned back to Claire and they shared a knowing nod.
“Will do.” Jamie looked confused. “Jenny asked if I can make Kitty’s birthday cake.”
He shook his head. “Ye realize ye’ll have to pay her, aye?”
Jenny rolled her eyes. “Of course, ye dolt.” She grabbed her purse off the counter and strolled to the door. “Lovely to see ye both. Claire, maybe once ye’re back back, ye can make a trip to Lallybroch.”
Claire grinned at Jamie before looking back at Jenny. “I would love that.”
After Jenny left, Claire walked over to Jamie’s kitchen and started looking through the ingredients he had in his pantry. “Come on, ye’re no’ going to start working on the cake now . The lass’s birthday isna for a few more months.”
“I know, but I’ll be busy. And I have time now,” Claire reasoned, putting the flour on the counter.
Jamie groaned, walking up behind her. “This wasna how I really pictured us spending the day.” His arms wrapped around her as his mouth found the spot behind her ear. “Put it away and come back to bed with me.”
Claire turned around in his arms and shook her head. “You know, cakes can bake for an awfully long time,” she reminded him. “You also know what it’s like when I get a new challenge.”
Jamie sighed dramatically and gave her a quick kiss. “Aye, that I do.” He pulled her in by the tie on his robe. “But if ye’re no’ finished by noon, I’m making ye take a lengthy break.”
Claire grinned, her hands finding his waist. “I agree to that plan. Now, do you have any vanilla?”
“Be a dear and run down to my flat and get some.” Jamie rolled his eyes and grabbed his breakfast from the bag he’d brought as he left to go get her supplies.
By noon, Claire had tried a few different variations and flavors. The first cake was on a plate. The second was cooling. The third was in the oven. She was cleaning up the kitchen and handed the bowl with the remnants of the batter to Jamie. He grinned, readily accepting it. Looking up, he saw her lick the batter off her thumb as she strolled to the sink. She glanced over and saw when an idea was forming in his eyes.
Her back was to the sink as he approached her, his hand reaching for the tie of the robe she still wore. He was carrying the bowl and the utensils with him. A smirk grew on his face as her breath hitched. The robe fell open and he stared down at her. Her eyes bounced between him and the bowl in his hand.
“What are you doing?”
He picked up the scraper, still covered in cake batter. “I think ye know.”
She was cut off by him smearing the batter in a line down her chest and torso. A deep gasp echoed from her as she watched him. He flashed her a grin before he bent down to lick the stripe he’d just created. Her hand flew to his hair as he slowly moved up her body. He dripped more on her, pinning her to the sink as he licked her clean.
The timer for the oven went off, alerting her to the cake that needed to come out. “Hold on, I need to take that out.”
“Let it burn,” he said against her breast.
She tugged his head back, flashing him a look. “That is not the way to talk to a professional baker.” He rolled his eyes with a laugh. She took the cake out of the oven and set it to cool with the other. Looking back at him, she said, “I feel quite...sticky. So I’m going to go take a shower.” His face was unreadable. “Feel free to join me,” she told him in a low voice. She dropped the robe to the floor and walked back toward his bathroom. His shirt was on the floor and he was right behind her, his hands grabbing at her hips.
* * *
It was opening day for the bakery and everyone was jittery with excitement. Claire gave her usual opening day pep talk. Each of the employees were getting in place. Claire and the manager were planning to open the doors and greet people as they came in. She gave one last look around the store, making sure everything and everyone was in place. Flashing a smile and a thumbs up, she turned back to the door and pushed it open.
“Welcome,” she said to the line that had formed. Her eyes landed on the first person in line and she couldn’t help but melt a bit. Jamie shot her a dazzling smile as he walked right toward the door.
“Congratulations,” he whispered as he walked over to her, pausing to give her a kiss on the cheek. She was struck a bit speechless. His life had been so busy with work for weeks, and yet he still made time to come support her. Her heart was so full of love for him that she truly wondered if it would burst. Shaking her head, she focused back on the other customers walking into the shop.
It filled up quickly, putting everyone to work. After the line was all inside, Claire propped open the doors to welcome people in. A sign was placed on the sidewalk to let people know they were finally open. Walking back in, she took a moment to just watch. Everyone looked happy, even the workers. There was a part of her still filled with a bit of disbelief that she’d actually opened her third store. Sassenach Sweets was such a passion project for her, that she often wondered how other people loved it too.
The person who’d been there all along sidled up next to her, wrapping his arm loosely around her waist. “Ye did it,” he said, looking at the bustling bakery as well.
“I’ll be honest, I kind of can’t believe it.”
He pulled his eyes from the store and looked at her with disapproval. “Of course ye were going to. Ye’re Claire-fucking-Beauchamp.”
Claire laughed. “That’s it, huh? That’s why?”
“Yep,” he agreed on a chuckle. “Or perhaps that ye’ve prioritized yer business over nearly every aspect of yer life for the last six years, pouring yer heart and soul into keeping it going, finding ways to make it even better. Ye worked yer arse off for this place and it shows, Sassenach. Everyone who walks in can see how special it is. And that’s all down to ye.”
Claire looked over at him, a truly touched expression on her face. “Wow. Thank you. No one...no one’s ever really put it like that before.”
“Well that’s my fault,” Jamie admitted. “I’ve always thought as such. I suppose I just thought ye knew. Why do ye think I camp out each time ye open a new one?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “You didn’t really camp out, did you?”
“Of course I did. How else was I to reserve my spot in line?”
Claire gaped at him. “Are you serious? You were here in Edinburgh last night but instead of spending the night with me , you spent it sleeping on the ground?”
“In a tent,” Jamie clarified. “But, aye.”
Claire shook her head with a laugh. “You’re insane.”
He leaned over and placed a kiss in her hair. “Only when it comes to ye.”
She tucked into his side a bit, watching the line ebb and flow. “I’ve said it before and it bears repeating,” she mused. Jamie looked down at her. “I couldn’t have done any of this without you.”
Jamie scoffed. “Ye could have, but I never wanted to let ye try.” She squeezed her hand against his waist, hugging him a bit tighter.
“When will you go back to Glasgow?”
“I was thinking Sunday, if that’s alright by ye.”
“Why ask me? You’ve got your tent,” she said cheekily.
He laughed loudly, opening his mouth to reply. His comment was lost, however, when a familiar face walked through the door. “Rupert!” he called. Rupert looked over, excitement coloring his face as he took in the two of them. They all met in the middle. “What are ye doing here?” Jamie asked.
“Ye think Claire could open one of her shops in my city and I wouldna immediately go to support her?” he asked.
Claire smiled, patting his arm. “Thank you.”
“Is this about Claire or about the quality baked goods?” Jamie teased. “Because as her former taste testers, I know we both had a weakness for the damn baked goods.”
Rupert laughed. “Too true, my friend. The beauty is that I dinna have to choose. I can do both at the same time.”
“Fair enough,” Claire agreed. “It’s good to see you.”
“Good to see ye, too. I’m sorry the last time was such a mess,” Rupert said, his face falling a bit. Claire shook her head. That night with Geillis had seemed so long ago now. “But what’s this I hear that the two of ye are together?”
Jamie looked down at Claire with a large grin, his arm coming around her waist. “That’s right.”
“Wow, I am shocked, if I’m being honest wi’ ye.”
“Really?” Claire pressed. She always thought her feelings were more or less obvious. It might make her feel better if more than just Jamie was oblivious to them.
“Oh for sure. I thought ye were always just close friends. But in hindsight, after knowing this now, I can see it, I suppose,” Rupert told them with a shrug. “Either way, super happy for ye.”
Claire leaned her head against Jamie’s shoulder. “Thank you.”
Rupert grabbed Claire’s arm and dragged her to the line with him. “I need yer help. I dinna want to make any rookie mistakes. What are the best things I should be getting?”
Claire laughed and Jamie fell in line with them. “I’m the one ye should be asking. I eat here more than she does,” he said to Rupert, rolling his eyes at Claire. She waved him to take control and he pointed at the cases, telling Rupert his favorite items from each one. Claire stood there smiling as she watched Jamie talk it all up. He really had been a big part since the beginning, and it only got better.
* * *
Claire had been back in Glasgow for less than an hour when she’d gotten pulled into some big dilemma at the original shop. Her bags were back in her office, as she hadn’t even had the chance to go home. She hadn’t even had the chance to text Jamie and tell him she was back. Work immediately called her name. She was walking toward the front when a familiar voice called out to her. Glancing up, she was excited to see John standing in front of her.
“I thought you were in Edinburgh,” he commented. “I know because it’s quite literally all your boyfriend has been able to talk about for months.”
Claire laughed loudly. “Thank you, I needed that. How is my boyfriend? He hanging on okay?”
John shrugged. “Thankfully, work has kept him quite busy. But what are you doing here?”
“Just got back today. Jamie doesn’t even know. What brings you here?”
“We’re having some event tonight and like the total bigot that he is, St. Germain decided I needed to be in charge of food and drinks and hosting duties. You know, because obviously I’m good at that.” John rolled his eyes.
“You are actually good at that,” Claire said hesitantly.
“Well, yeah, but he doesn’t know that. He just thinks it’d be right up my alley because I’m gay,” John explained. “Anyway, I thought I’d stop by with the company credit card and see what damage we could do here.”
“For yourself or actually for the event?” Claire asked. “Either way, I’m happy to help you make choices.”
John chuckled. “I was actually thinking for the event. You should come. It’s been a while since you’ve been to one. Hell, have you been to one since you and Jamie actually started dating?”
“No, actually, I haven’t. I don’t know. Jamie doesn’t even know I’m back yet. I’ve been so busy.”
“That’s all the more reason!” John tried convincing her. “You can surprise him at the party. It might look good if the owner of the bakery herself brought the goods,” he encouraged, one eyebrow raised.
“You’re the worst,” Claire told him, “but I do want to see Jamie.”
John was thrilled that he’d convinced Claire and ordered a good amount of food for the evening. Claire was there a half hour before everyone else to bring it, and ended up helping John set up a bit as well. Slowly, other people from the office trickled into the venue.
Claire was standing at a table by the back wall, watching for when Jamie walked in. She spotted a familiar mop of red walking in a group of three other people. Two of the men were recognizable, but she couldn’t remember their names. The last one of the group, right at Jamie’s elbow was, of course , Annalise. It was funny though, as Claire watched them enter, she felt nothing toward the other woman. When she’d been secretly holding onto feelings for Jamie, the mere mention of her sent Claire into a spiral. And when they were together but Claire was in Edinburgh, she’d lost it a bit knowing she was with Jamie when Claire wasn’t. But now, she was walking in closely with Jamie, and it didn’t affect Claire one bit. She knew it had to do with how secure she finally felt in their relationship. She suspected it also had to do with the way Jamie’s face lit up as he spotted her, immediately abandoning the other three to make a beeline to her.
She was up and in his arms before he even said a word to her. Her arms were tight around his neck as she breathed in the familiar and all-too-good scent of him. She was back on the floor for a second before Jamie pulled her in for a long kiss, office event be damned. “What are ye doing here?” he whispered as he pulled back.
“I ran into John earlier and he convinced me to come. And to cater it.”
Jamie shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around it. “I thought ye were still in Edinburgh.”
“I got back today.”
A large smile spread across her face. “Back for good,” she promised him. He leaned down to kiss her excitedly. “I mean, I’ll still have to go check on it, same as I do here, but...you know what I mean.”
“I do,” he told her, a near permanent smile on his face. “And it’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.” He leaned his forehead against hers. “So, we’re finally done wi’ long distance?”
Claire wrapped her arms around his waist. “You bet. I might have come back a few days early because I just couldn’t really take it anymore. They were doing fine. And I wanted to be here.”
“I like the way ye think,” he told her, giving her one more kiss.
They spent the evening together, never parting. Jamie thanked John for the surprise, much to John’s glee. When Jamie moved to mill around, Claire was right beside him, her hand in his. He made sure she was part of every discussion, even when she had no clue what they were talking about. It reminded her of the last work event she’d gone to for Jamie. Things couldn’t have been more different this time.
Then, she’d worn a sexy dress to gain his eye. This time, she was in a simple pair of slacks and a nice top, but his eyes were glued to her. Then, she’d been constantly aware of other women, specifically Annalise. This time, she didn’t seem to care. Though, she couldn’t lie that she felt a small bit of satisfaction at any looks Annalise threw her way. Then, she’d felt like she had to stick with Jamie for her own needs. This time, it was Jamie who wouldn’t let her go, keeping her hand always in his. The best revelation, was knowing that no matter what, she’d be going home with Jamie this time.
It had been a couple hours at the party and Claire was straightening up the table to make it look a bit more presentable, even as it had been picked over. Jamie watched her. “Ye look exhausted,” he commented.
Her eyes flicked up to meet his. “And? I woke up in a different city and worked in two different shops today. I’d say I’ve earned my exhaustion.”
“I’m no’ saying ye havena. Instead, I’m saying we should get out of here,” Jamie suggested.
“Are you sure you can leave?”
He shrugged. “Ask me if I care.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “I’ve been here for two hours. I think it’s fine.”
They walked toward the door, hand in hand.
“Jamie!” He groaned as he turned toward his boss. “Going somewhere?”
“Yes. Home,” Jamie retorted.
“I think not. We are supposed to be impressing these clients. If you leave early, that will hardly impress anyone. Least of all, me,” St. Germain told him, one eyebrow raised. “Get back out there.”
Jamie rolled his eyes. “Yes.”
Claire couldn’t help but sigh. Home had been just within reach. “I’m going to need the bar to wake me up a bit. Think they have coffee?”
“Go home, Sassenach,” Jamie told her. “Ye’re exhausted. Just go on home and I’ll be there later.”
She tilted her head, looking at him critically. “Are you sure about that?”
Jamie nodded, pulling her into a tight hug. He placed a kiss on her head. “Aye. Go home and rest. I hopefully willna have to stay too long.”
Claire leaned back, placing a hand on his cheek. “Okay. I’m going to take you up on that because I really am tired. And I’ve really missed my own bed.” She shot him a look. “You’ll, uh, come to my place afterward?”
Jamie grinned, kissing her quickly. “Wild horses couldna keep me away.”
She didn’t know how much time had passed when she heard her door open and close. As tired as she was, she couldn’t quite get all the way to sleep. Each time she’d been right at the threshold, something had interrupted her. The sound of Jamie’s footsteps moved throughout her flat, turning off lights and walking back to her room. She wondered if he was the reason she couldn’t sleep — that her body knew he was close and wanted him there next to her.
He crept in, clear that he thought she was asleep. She heard the sounds of him stripping off his clothes and peeling back the comforter before crawling in behind her. His arms came around her gently, holding her close. Humming, she scooted back into him, her arms covering his as they tightened around her. He placed a kiss where her shoulder met her neck. Neither of them said anything, content enough just holding the other as they fell asleep.
Her last thought before sleep finally found her was that she was really a woman who had it all. Her business was truly a success, three stores open and thriving. And she’d found the love of her life in her best friend. As his arms held her to him, she felt that everything was just right with the world.
There's one chapter left and it will post on Wednesday! Thanks for reading! I'm sorry that I'm terrible at replying to comments and apparently only do it once in a blue moon, but just know, I have SO appreciated all the sweet and kind things you've said about this story! I will read them over and over again, even if I can't seem to find the time to tell you how much it means. So, thank you!
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.
I just want to say, thank you, thank you, thank you! When I started writing this fic, I never expected the response it was going to get. I really appreciate it! All the kudos and comments have meant so much to me! I hope you enjoyed the conclusion of this story. Thank you so much for reading!