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A Beautiful, Wild Country

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“You in for dinner tonight, Lady Jane?” Joe asked, sticking his head around the door of my bedroom. It wasn’t really my bedroom, it was his spare room in the flat that he owned in the centre of London and allowed me to crash in for a nominal monthly fee. The majority of my life was still packed away in boxes in Lamb’s home, there was even still a few things left at Frank’s. A life of moving from here to there, never putting down roots, taught me to not be a sentimental person, a hard exterior that rarely cracked.

I looked up from my book and shrugged. “Where else would I be, Joe?”

He cocked his head at me and sighed heavily, showing his exasperation at the mood I’d been in since returning from Scotland. I’d been grumpy and short with him, not that it was his fault. Part of me hadn’t managed to settle into my mundanity of life again after such an incredible weekend. The other part of me felt like an idiot for thinking that the weekend meant more than it did.

“If you miss Geillis so much, go and see her! She’s throwing that party at the end of next month and I will even cover your shifts at the hospital so you can go if it means you’ll get out of this mood.”

“Party? I haven’t heard about a party.” My stomach lurched at the idea that I’d been forgotten about already.

“Sure you do, your invite is on the table next to the front door.” On seeing my complete lack of awareness on what he was talking about, Joe left my room momentarily and returned with a navy blue envelope, with my name and address on it.

“How have I not seen this until now?” I narrowed my eyes at him and he batted me away.

“I told you about it the other night when you were running out of the door, you must not have heard me. Or checked your mail.”

My fingers ripped open the envelope and produced a single card, a silver saltire printed against the dark blue on one side and silver writing on the other.

Mr Murtagh Fitzgibbons and Mrs Geillis Fitzgibbons request your company at their St Andrew’s Day celebration!

The details of the party were printed below, to be held at their new home on the 30th of November.

“The dress code just says ‘tartan’ so God knows what you’re going to have to wear for that,” Joe quipped. I ran my hands through my hair, my body tingling slightly at the prospect of heading back to Scotland and who I might run into there. A memory of his skin against mine tore through me and I pressed my thighs together, hoping Joe wouldn’t notice. “So you’ll go?”

I pretended to consider it while the voice inside of my head was screaming a resounding yes at the top of her lungs.

“I might do. Are you sure you’d be okay to cover my shifts?” I asked, aiming for nonchalance. He snorted at me, eyes rolling back into his head as he got to his feet and left the room, calling over his shoulder,

“You’re lucky that I love you, Lady Jane!”

I leaned back onto my bed as my fingers ran idle circles across my collarbone, feeling the ghost of Jamie’s touch there. Visiting Geillis and Murtagh in their new home would be great, of course, but I hoped that Jamie would be in attendance too. I fumbled for my phone and unlocked it, mulling over what I was going to say. The night that I had returned to London from the wedding, my phone had buzzed as I was putting my keys in the door. A text from an unknown number. Intrigued, I opened it and a smile split across my face.

Hope you got home safely, Sassenach. J x

Since then, there had been a few messages back and forth but nothing of any real substance. Wishing each other a good day, hoping the other had had slept well. It had remained civil, no hints of anything regarding the night we had spent together but every time I heard my phone vibrate, my heart raced as I opened it and it fell if it wasn’t from him.

I typed a few sentiments in and quickly deleted them, unsure of what I wanted to say. Did I want him to now that I wanted to see him? What if he’d met someone in the weeks that had passed and was planning on showing up with a date? Getting to my feet, I began to pace around my bedroom, catching sight of myself in the mirror and shaking my head.

“Get a grip, Beauchamp. It’s just a text.”

My fingers danced over the screen and I hit send before I could change my mind.

Claire: I’m going to M and G’s St Andrew’s Day thing. Will you be there?
Jamie: Was thinking about it. Now I definitely will be.
Claire: Good to hear it. I’m sure it’ll be a fun evening.
Jamie: Looking forward to it, Sassenach.
Jamie: I can’t wait to see you.
Claire: I’ll see you there then.
Jamie: It’s a date.

***

A few weeks later, I was moving my way through arrivals at Inverness airport, keeping an eye out for the first place that sold coffee. It was late in the afternoon but I’d been on shift since 2am, part of my deal for me getting an entire week off in the first place and I was feeling veritably zombie-esque. Flying wasn’t something I enjoyed at the best of times and certainly not after a child had vomited on me in the second hour of a mammoth shift. I had binned the scrubs at the hospital but hadn’t had time to shower before my flight and I was unfortunately very conscious of how I smelled. It was less than two hours in the air but it felt long enough and now all I wanted was dinner, a shower and a very large glass of wine.

As I moved through the building towards the exit, I heard someone shouting my name and looked to my left to see a beaming Murtagh waving his arms in the air. Instantly more relaxed, I hurried towards him and gave him a tentative hug, explaining why he shouldn’t get too close.

“Christ, that’s a fair morning then. Let’s get you to our place and ye can have a bath and a sleep, if ye fancy. Geillis is ordering an Indian for tonight so she doesnae hae to cook before the big to do tomorrow.”

“A sleep sounds amazing, actually,” I linked my arm through his offered one and we walked outside to the car.

We spent the drive catching up on everything that hadn’t been said over the phone or by message in the weeks that we’d seen each other. The move had gone smoothly and they were both excited to be leaving for their honeymoon in a few days, jetting off to Norway for the week. As we got further from the city, the hills began to creep up around us and I became jealous that my friends were living in such a beautiful area while I was stuck in a concrete jungle. We left the main road and carried on for around ten minutes down a single track, a squat little building coming into view, warm light shining from inside, inviting us in. Rose bushes climbed up either side of the dark blue front door. It was beautiful, like something you’d see on a postcard.

“Such a beautiful little cottage!”

“Aye, it’s no bad. Although it’s a croft when yer up here, ye bloody sassenach. Come ben, we’ll get ye warm,” he ushered me inside in the side door, ducking to not bash his head and only barely managing to straighten up once we were inside under the low ceiling. The kitchen was large and had every mod con they would need but it still held that homey, just stepped back in time feeling. Geillis was stood at the counter, carefully dividing a bottle of red wine into three glasses. She beamed at me and brought a glass over to me, squeezing me with one arm as I took a long drink. Her nose wrinkled and she put some distance between us.

“Beautiful Beauchamp, ye smell like the De’ils arse.”

“Fully aware of that, thank you Geillie. And it’s nice to see you too,” I sighed, earning a wink from her.

“Take that and come wi’ me, I’ll run ye a bath. I know ye’ve been on yer feet aw day.”

With heavy feet, I followed her through the house and up the stairs, taking deep drinks from my wine and making her promise that she’d give me a tour when I was more settled. When she opened the door to the room that I’d be staying in, I practically fell into the plush pillows that called my name.

“En suite through the door, obviously. I’m going to get Murtagh to go and pick up dinner around 8pm if that suits ye fine?”

“Sounds like bliss Geillis, thank you,” I plopped myself onto the bed, feeling the soft bounce of the mattress underneath me. I couldn’t wait to get out of my clothes and into something that didn’t smell like the stale air that gets recycled through a plane. She gave me a quick kiss on the forehead and left me alone to unwind.

The bathroom contained a beautiful clawfoot tub situated just below the window and looking around I noticed that Geillis had not skimped on the candles. Lighting a few, I turned out the light as I filled the bath and used some fancy oil that was sitting in a wicker basket. I knew that getting some time away from work would be beneficial but staying in this beautiful house with all the thoughtful touches from my two friends made it feel like I was really on holiday rather than just staying with friends.

I sunk into the deliciously hot water in the bathtub and welcomed the sting on my skin. Closing my eyes, my mind to wandered and I found myself thinking about how my reunion with Jamie would be. It had been over a month and a half since our night together and although we had texted a few times, we barely knew each other any better than we did when I had left. Maybe he would appear with someone on his arm although he had said that he was looking forward to seeing me. And I hoped I would be seeing him in his kilt again.

After half an hour or so in the bath, I spent some time taking care of myself, dousing my skin in thick moisturiser, indulging in a little bit of self-care before climbing under the covers and setting my alarm for a few hours time. The room was dark enough that I didn’t need to close the curtains and I fell asleep looking at the stars. Voices from downstairs woke me before my alarm a while later and I felt suitably renewed so I put on the softest pyjamas I owned, a matching grey long sleeved top and shorts and cashmere socks from The White Company that had been a gift from Lamb last Christmas. The man knew how to luxuriate.

I was wrangling my curls into a bun on the top of my head as I descended the stairs and entered the kitchen where I could hear Geillis and Murtagh sniggering at something. The kitchen table in the centre of the room was decorated with our feast, or lack thereof.

“That won’t be enough to feed all of us the way Murtagh eats,” I joked, although there really didn’t seem to be enough food for the three of us.

“He couldn’t manage it all in from the car at once, hold your horses Claire,” Geillis smirked at me, her wicked green eyes twinkling with knowledge of something that I wasn’t privy too. I swept my eyes to see Murtagh also regarding me with a mischievous glint in his eyes when another body came through the kitchen door, holding the rest of our dinner.

“Sassenach.”

My heart dropped into my stomach and my stomach into my toes as soon as I saw him, all six foot something of him standing in the doorway with bags hanging from his hands. All of the times I’d thought of him hadn’t done him justice, he was even more beautiful than I’d remembered him to be. His hair was longer, almost at the length of his jaw and it suited him well. My mouth must have been opening and closing like a fish when Geillis pulled me onto the bench and sat down beside me.

“Murtagh bumped into Jamie in the Indian and thought he should join us, isn’t that nice Claire?” Geillis’ voice hid not a single iota of her glee at this turn of events. I turned to her and hissed under my breath.

“If you have planned this, I will kill you. Look at me!” I gestured to my clothing and she rolled her eyes.

“Twa long legs poking out of those wee shorts and yer skin flushed from the heat of a soft bed, aye, ye look like the Nuckelavee himself.”

“I don’t know what that is!”

“Are you two finished yer bletherin’?” Murtagh asked as he put plates down in front of the both of us. “Beer, Claire?”

“Please,” I practically grabbed it from his hand and took a long drink, my eyes going anywhere other than Jamie who was now sitting down directly in front of me.

“It’s good to see ye Claire,” he smiled at me, a hint of embarrassment in his voice. I cleared my throat and sent him a quick smile.

“Yes, you too. How’ve you been?” I asked, thinking that polite conversation was the easiest way out of the weirdness. If we both pretended that nothing had happened, it would be fine. Of course that meant Geillis keeping her comments to herself too.

“Aye, well. Just had the end of the hunting season now so nice and quiet until the Spring, hopefully.”

“Hunting season?” I was confused as to why he was telling me about this in particular. The corner of his mouth twitched.

“Aye, I’m the ghillie at Mar Lodge, did I no mention that?”

“Christ, did you two speak about anything before ye got down tae it?” Geillis laughed which earned her a swift kick to the shin under the table. Surprisingly, Jamie looked rather comfortable with being made fun off which is more than I could say for myself but then I suppose I was feeling embarrassed enough for the two of us.

“You behave,” Murtagh raised his eyebrows at his wife as he began to dish out the food. Geillis pretended to lock her mouth shut and throw away the key as I started to eat.

Thankfully, the conversation changed it’s direction as we all generally caught up with each other. The mixture of good company, good food and good beer was slowing my over-worked brain and I found myself really laughing for the first time since the weekend of the wedding.

“So what exactly is tomorrow night?” I asked, earning a derisive grunt from the three people sat at the table with me.

“St Andrew’s Day, he’s our St George,” Murtagh explained.

“It’s a day of celebrating bonny Scotland! Which, as ye know, we enjoy doing very much,” Geillis said proudly.

“Just a wee gathering. We’ll have some dinner and some music and there’ll be enough whisky to go around.”

“Oh God, not another ceilidh, I hope. I don’t think I’ve recovered from the last one yet,” I joked, Jamie looking at me with a smirk playing on his lips. I didn’t remember telling him how that smirk made my insides clench but I’m pretty sure he had guessed.

“I remember ye dancing very well, Sassenach.”

“Well, I had a good teacher,” I said quietly, Geillis and Murtagh making faces at each other, mocking the two of us. Murtagh stretched his arms over his head as an exaggerated yawn burst from his mouth.

“Well, it’s late and I’m knackered. It’s going to be a long one tomorrow so we should get some sleep.” He rose from his chair and Jamie followed suit.

“Aye well I’ll see ye tomorrow evening then.”’

“Och no, ye’ll stay, ye’ve had too much to drink to drive back,” Geillis practically purred, her hand squeezing my knee under the table. I tried to shift it away subtly as Jamie shot a glance at me. I could see his brain thinking and making a decision.

“I’ll walk, it’s no far,” he said, reaching for his jacket. I was immediately confused, we were at least an hour’s drive from Mar Lodge estate and more than that from the Glasgow flat he had previously mentioned.

“Jamie, it’s at least four miles and it’s pitch black outside,” Geillis said with more emphasis in her voice. “I’ve got mare sense than to incur the wrath of Jenny Murray by sending you out into the night by yersel so yer staying and that’s final.”

Jamie rung his jacket in his hands nervously, looking at me and then the floor.

Who the hell is Jenny Murray?

“Come on you, yer drunk,” Murtagh gathered up Geillis from the bench and gave her a kiss as she grinned, her brilliant teeth clashing with his lips. “Jamie, ye can have the second guest room, up the stairs and-“

“Aye, I ken, thank ye.”

Once the two of them had left the room, a stumbling Geillis being supported by her husband’s strong arm around her waist, Jamie and I suffered through an awkward silence.

“But by the grace of God,” he joked nervously. He was still standing but he placed his jacket back onto the table and he looked at me. “It really is good to see ye Claire.”

“So you said,” I tried to smile, my lips pressing together tightly as I tried to reign in the emotion that would be showing on my face. The idea of him realising that I was jealous at the mere mention of another woman’s name in connection to him was too embarrassing to even mention.

“Geillis has all the subtly of an elephant, eh?”

“A drunk elephant.”

“Aye but unfortunately, she’s right. Jenny would kill me if I walked home in the dark with a few drinks in me. One foot down a rabbit hole and I’d have a broken ankle for my trouble,” he smiled shyly. I heard the words ‘Jenny’ and ‘home’ at an increased volume, my nerves getting the better of me as I retreated into a ball, bringing my feet up onto the bench and my knees under my chin.

“Can’t have that.”

“I doubt I’d get off with my duties as an Uncle to wee Jamie either. The wee beastie likes limpet himself to my back more often than not these days,” he grinned, walking over to the fridge and grabbing another two beers, raising one to me in a question.

Uncle, eh?

I nodded my assent to another drink and he cracked them open with his teeth, spitting the caps into his hand before I could shout at him not to.

“You shouldn’t do that! That is so bad for your teeth!” I castigated him, snatching my beer from his hand. He chuckled at me and sat down on the bench across from me.

“Too late. Besides, yer a doctor, no a dentist.” He held the neck of the bottle to his mouth and I watched as he took a long drink, the muscles of his throat constricting and swallowing. It made my toes tingle and from the look on his face, he could tell the effect it had on me. “I’m staying wi’ my sister Jenny and her brood while I’m up for the party.”

Sister!

“Oh. That’s nice. I didn’t know you were from Broch Mordha too.”

“Broch Tuarach, technically. The house is called Lallybroch, it’s been in the Fraser family for hundreds of years.” He bit his lips together and regarded me closely, like he was trying to work out a puzzle. “Have ye noticed, Claire, that we are terrible at small talk?”

I giggled and looked down, instantly laid bare by his comment. He was right, of course. We knew each other’s bodies intimately but time had passed and it felt like we had become strangers again. Although the spark will definitely still there.

“I think I’m generally bad at small talk, to be honest. It isn’t easy for me to sit here and speak with you,” I admitted before even really realising what had come out of my mouth. “I’m sorry, I only mean-“

“I ken yer meaning, dinna fash, Claire. It isn’t easy for me either,” he smiled kindly before dipping his chin and looking at me with a new heat to his gaze. “It is very difficult for me also, to sit across from ye and not reach out to touch you.”

I couldn’t look away from him, his eyes fixing me to the spot as warmth ran through my body.

“You can touch me if you’d like.” I was emboldened by his gaze, the way he was looking at me as if he wanted to devour me. The corner of his mouth twitched upwards and he closed his eyes for a second before opening them, the heat having evaporated.

“Claire, I dinna want ye to think of me as some letch who wants to bed ye every time I see ye. Even if I do,” he admitted, making me blush again. “I think I will retire to my bed now and leave ye be for tonight. So ye ken that I can control myself around ye and that I wish to get to know ye, properly.”

My back straightened as I looked him dead on. The rejection stung, I wasn’t going to lie. It wasn’t the response I had been expecting from him and it had taken courage to put myself out there but I wasn’t going to beg for him to take me upstairs, I had some pride at the very least. Unfortunately he seemed resolute in his decision.

“Very well, goodnight Jamie.” I started to get to my feet and move towards the door as I heard the bench that he was sitting on scratch against the flagstone floor. Just as I reached the door, a hand appeared over my shoulder and gently pushed it shut.

“Doesnae mean I wouldn’t like to give ye a kiss goodnight,” he whispered down the back of my neck, the warmth of his breath sending shivers down my spine. I swallowed the nerves in my throat and turned to face him, leaning against the door as he pressed the length of his body to mine. It was evident that parts of his body weren’t as keen with the idea of sleeping alone as he was.

“Feels like you want to give me more than a kiss.” I challenged, my eyebrow curving upwards mockingly. He grinned as he pushed his hips harder against my own, grinding me against the doorframe. My breath caught in my chest as I resisted the urge to moan, not wanting to give him the satisfaction.

“My little friend doesnae hae the manners that I do, he’s rather more headstrong than I am.”

“Now that I find hard to believe. And we both know he isn’t little,” my voice was barely above a whisper and I tilted my head up to look at him, offering my mouth and daring him to kiss me. “False modesty doesn’t suit you.”

He moved his hips again, closing his eyes and savouring the sensation as I hung my arms around his neck and planted a single kiss on his neck.

“Sassenach, don’t tease me. I’m a man of my word and I won’t be with ye tonight.” The strain in his voice was so obvious that it almost came out as a groan. I laughed and nipped at the skin of his neck with my teeth.

“You’re the one who stopped me from leaving but I’m the tease?”

He pushed his forehead against mine and laughed quietly.

“That’s cos I didnae ken ye were wearing these wee things.”

His fingers toyed with the waistband of my shorts and I prayed that he would break and slip his fingers underneath. My blood was rushing through my veins, my heart pumping it around with so much fury that I could hear it in my ears.

“Jamie, please,” I whined in his ear, my knees going weak.

His hands grabbed my waist as his mouth descended on mine, my knees almost giving out completely. Our tongues danced along each other as my hands grasped for more skin, more pressure, more him. His hands were a blur on my skin, setting a fire in the pit of my stomach as I felt his hard length press against my hip. With a gasp, his mouth was gone and he stared at me, eyes wild with need.

“What are ye doing to me, Sassenach?”

He took a step back and ran his fingers through his hair, grasping the back of his neck with both hands. I tried to stop the heaving breaths that were battering their way through my lungs and I pressed my finger tips hard into the door behind me, desperate to transfer some of the kinetic energy that his body had awoken in me. After what seemed like a long time, he smiled at me and dropped his arms to his side.

“I hope you sleep well, Claire.”

Bastard! Well, two can play at this game.

“Sweet dreams, Jamie.” I turned and left the room, maybe adding an extra swish to my hips as I ascended the staircase, aware he was watching me from the doorway. Before I disappeared from his view, I stretched my arms over my head, lengthening my body and revealing the skin of my midriff slightly, my ears catching the sharp intake of breath from downstairs.

When I closed the door behind me, I ran my hands over my face and took a few deep breaths. His question had me stumped, I had no idea what I was doing to him or what he was doing to me. We had seen each other in person only a handful of times but it, whatever it was, felt stronger than anything I’d experienced before. What Frank and I had shared for a number of years paled in comparison to the fire that Jamie’s hands sent through my body. It wasn’t any question that our bodies knew exactly how to respond to each other and immensely enjoyed doing so. But I couldn’t deny the leap that my heart made when he came through the door, disheveled from the November wind. Nor could I say that he didn’t look genuinely happy to see me. As I climbed under the covers for the second time that night, I started to think about the fact that in a few days, I’d have to say goodbye again and my heart began to ache at the thought.