As if both of my trips to Scotland hadn’t been idyllic enough, I was awoken the next morning by the sound of a child’s laughter.
Sitting up from my bed, I tried to coax my eyes into focus. I was not a morning person, never had been and working shifts at all hours in the hospital had done nothing to help my internal clock. My hands raised tentatively to my head, fingers grasping the knotted curls that had accumulated on top of it and I heaved a sigh, blowing the air from my lungs through pursed lips.
Throwing my hair up and out of the way, I had a quick shower and jumped into some clothes, revelling in bundling myself up in a big fairisle knitted jumper that had been a gift from Geillis and Murtagh the previous Christmas. As soon as I shut the door to my room behind me, a small boy of three or four barrelled into my legs and I only just managed to catch him before he fell. A woman came flying up the stairs, her long brown hair whipping around her face, and put her hands on her hips at the sight of the little boy.
“There ye are mo chridhe. And just who have ye found to pester now?” She eyed me up speculatively and I loosened my grip on the boy, smiling down at his sweet little face.
“It’s not a bother, we just bumped into each other. I’m Claire, Geillis and Murtagh’s friend,” I tried my best to smile, to look as inoffensive as possible to the very small but very intimidating woman.
“So yer the Sassenach then,” she said measuredly.
“You must be Jenny,” I smiled again, making her squint at me as though she was sizing me up.
“How’d ye ken that?”
“Well, it’s only Jamie that calls me a Sassenach-“
“I’m Jamie!” The little boy shouted at me excitedly and I watched as Jenny’s face softened, full of love for her little boy. She closed the gap between us and bundled him into her arms with a practiced ease.
“Aye but you’re wee Jamie, mo bhalach. She means your uncle Jamie,” Jenny clarified for him, bopping him on the nose with her index finger as he squirmed and giggled in her arms. “Were you running off from your uncle, ya wee beastie?”
Wee Jamie nodded enthusiastically at his mother before getting distracted by the sound of loud, slow footsteps that were edging closer to us. He squealed with glee at the sight of his uncle stomping up the stairs, arms extended over his head in a menacing arch.
“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!” Jamie boomed, his nephew struggling to get out of his mother’s arms before she finally gave up and let him down. He ran straight towards his uncle who immediately grabbed him by his waist and flipped him upside down, uncontrollable laughter filling the air.
“No Englishman here, Mr Monster, only a Sassenach lass,” Jenny turned her gaze back to me, the tone of her voice not really helping the feeling of uneasiness that I had around her. Jamie plopped his nephew on his shoulders and looked between the two women that were in front of him. When he saw me, he grinned even with wee Jamie making a concerted effort at pulling out his hair from the root.
“Claire, this is my sister Jenny Murray. And her wee rascal James Murray is the one trying to make me bald before my time,” he joked as he bent at the knees allowing Jenny to collect her son from his shoulders.
“Go and find Murtagh and ask him to show ye where he keeps the good biscuits,” Jenny said, her hand moving gently through her son’s hair before he slowly made his way down the stairs. “Careful, mind!”
There was an awkward silence between the three of us adults now that wee Jamie was gone and I pulled at the hem on my jumper, desperate to fidget with something. I was acutely aware of Jamie’s eyes on me and his sister’s raised eyebrows pointed in his direction.
“Mornin’ Sassenach,” Jamie spoke softly, “Did ye sleep well?”
“Yes, thank you. Is there coffee downstairs?” I moved past Jenny as Jamie nodded, my feet desperate to carry me away from the awkward situation that I was not able to deal with until I had some sort of caffeine boost. Fully aware that I was still in earshot, I heard Jenny ask her brother a question and his answer made my heart swell.
“So that’s her, mo brathair?”
“Aye, that’s the one.”
It was hectic, to say the least. Preparations had taken all day, Geillis furiously rounding on Jamie and Murtagh if they dared try to enter her kitchen as she soldiered on with getting enough food ready to feed the thirty or so guests that would be appearing in a few hours. She’d set me to work peeling the mound of potatoes that Jenny had dropped off that morning into the belfast sink and I carried out my duty diligently so as not to incur her ire, the pads of my fingers turning pruny from the water and starch. I lifted my fingers to my face and my nose wrinkled at the smell.
“This is why we wear gloves at work,” I muttered under my breath, quickly snapping my lips together in a smirk as her flaming red hair flew behind her as she spun to glare at me.
“Peel, Beauchamp,” she seethed, “One of the integral parts of mince and tatties is, you know, tatties.”
By the time we were finished in the kitchen, Geillis had produced three massive pots of varying types of cooked meat and vegetables. At first glance, they all looked the same with only different shades of brown and beige but I had to give it to her, they smelled delicious. When Murtagh and Jamie appeared in the doorway, she gave them a single nod allowing them to enter her domain.
“Smells affa fine, darling, is that yer mam’s recipe for the stovies then?” Murtagh sneaked his arms around her waist and planted a wet kiss on her temple, her stoney demeanour finally starting to slip.
“Ye ken fine well it’s your mother’s recipe, ya wee sook,” she giggled as Murtagh smiled widely.
“Aye but ye still cook it so well. Make sure ye end up wi’ a lass that can cook, Jamie lad, big man like you needs feeding regularly.”
“Claire cannae boil an egg so-“
“I’m away for a shower!” I announced, quickly pulling the strings of my apron out of their knot and walking out of the kitchen. As soon as I’d told Geillis over coffee that morning that Jamie and I had spent the night in our respective bedrooms, alone, she’d been making little jokes and comments and they were starting to grate on me. My feet carried me up the stairs and into my room and I was in the shower within five minutes. The muscles in my shoulders and arms were aching after being hunched over a sink but the hot water worked wonders. It had been a stressful day what with having to listen to Geillis barking orders and my God, did she really have to set Jamie to work moving furniture all day? Every time my eyes had drifted into the other room, he was lifting something heavy, the muscles in his arms and back flexing under his short sleeved t-shirt. As if the frustration that I had carried over from the night before wasn’t enough, I’d had to keep my mind out of the gutter whilst enduring a whole day of what my body clearly considered softcore porn. I had practically convulsed when she had asked him to chop some wood for the fire and he had come inside an hour later, a light sheen of sweat on his skin and his hand holding an axe like some goddamn lumberjack. I was pretty sure she was doing it on purpose to goad me into action but I hadn’t managed to tell her that as of last night, the ball had been firmly smacked into his court.
Once I had sufficiently washed the smell of raw potatoes from my skin, I cocooned myself in two very large, fluffy towels and moved through from the en suite into my room to find Geillis sat crosslegged on my bed, fiddling with her phone.
“You are in my bad books, Mrs Fitzgibbons,” I glared at her causing her to roll her eyes as she threw her phone down.
“I always am, Beautiful Beauchamp but can ye blame me? You two are so into each other and yer both acting like brother and sister!”
I bent at the waist and put all my frustration into aggressively towel drying my hair, not responding to her comments.
“I ken that yer scared, Claire,” she said softly as I straightened up. She was looking at me with the face that she reserved for moments exactly like this one, earnest and trustworthy, a slightly furrowed brow. When she allowed her ferocity to drop, Geillis had a way about her that completely beguiled anyone she came into contact with, making her so easy to talk to. She could see what someone was feeling so clearly, sometimes even before the person could put a name on it themselves. It was what made her a strong friend and something I was extremely thankful for, that she could be a voice for me when I couldn’t find the words.
“I’m not just scared Geillis, I’m terrified,” I slumped onto the bed and she smoothed a piece of my hair away from my face, “I barely know him and I’m scared about how much I feel for him already.”
Her hand moved to my cheek and she fixed me with a stare, “He isn’t Frank, Claire. He hasnae given ye any reason not to trust him.”
Looking down at the bed, my fingers idly played with the seam of the towel that was wrapped around my body.
“I know that. I told him, y’know. Not the sordid details but I told him how much Frank hurt me, the night I spent at his.”
“And how did he respond?”
“He said ‘Come here and let me fix you’,” I admitted with a shiver running through my body as I remembered what had happened directly after those words. Geillis frowned at me.
“Fix you? Like ye cannae take care of yerself?”
“No, it wasn’t like that, it was-“ I halted, unsure of what would come out of my mouth next. It had been something that had been on my mind since it happened but now, putting it into words was difficult. “I told him that Frank broke me. And he did, Geillis.” The tears were starting to appear and Geillis shushed me gently.
“I know Claire, I know. When he slept with that bitch-”
“No, it was before that. I just mean that he, well he… chipped away at me every so often. For as long as we were together, he made me feel so small, so less than. I totally forgot who I was, like he snapped me into these pieces and tried to put me back together the way that he wanted them to fit. He wanted the dutiful partner who would greet him at the door, slippers in hand and my God, I was becoming her, Geil. And I couldn’t even see it was happening.”
The tears were fully flowing now and Geillis had started too.
“Claire, if I had known how bad it had gotten…” she started to say but I shook my head, refusing her attempt at taking some of the blame for what Frank had done to me.
“You could tell he wasn’t right even without knowing the full extent of it. I should’ve listened to you,” my head nodded as she smiled sadly at me.
“But Jamie? I ken ye don’t know him that well yet but Claire, he’s a good man. I’ve known him my whole life and I can attest to that. He’s an old soul, Claire, a man of honour.”
“I know. When I speak to him, I can feel that he’s a good person. When he held me, it felt like he did fix me that little bit, like the cracks weren’t as big anymore, his touch had dulled the edges on the broken parts so I wouldn’t cut myself on them. I don’t think he knows what that night meant to me,” I admitted with a small smile, sniffing back more tears.
“Then tell him,” Geillis said firmly, pressing her hand into mine. I blew out a shaky breath and nodded at her again. She immediately enveloped me in a hug, kissing the crown of my head as I laughed, having to grab at my towel as it shifted.
“Christ Geillis, you’ll be getting an eyeful if you’re not careful.”
“Nothing I haven’t seen before. But you’re right, what are ye wearing tonight anyway? Bearing in mind that the invitation did specify a dress code.” I looked up at her apologetically and she glared jokingly at me. “Just as I thought, completely unprepared.”
“Well where the hell was I supposed to find a kilt at such short notice? And I’m pretty sure Beauchamp doesn’t have a tartan,” I scoffed at her earning a roll of her bright green eyes.
“Ye dinna need to wear a kilt, ya daftie. And ye can wear whatever tartan ye want! I have the perfect thing, haud on!” She rushed out of the room and I used the opportunity to slip out of my towel and into a bra and some pants before she barrelled back in again holding a tartan dress at arm’s length out towards me. It was a beautiful navy and dark green tartan with thread of red running through it, a bardot neckline and a length that I guessed would stop just above my knees, hugging the lower half of my body. There was just one problem.
“There’s no way that’s fitting over my arse,” I stated, raising a dubious eyebrow at her. She burst out laughing and shut the door behind her, a determined haze descending over her eyes.
“Just need a wee bit of elbow grease and a prayer to St Andrew, ye bloody Sassenach.”
Geillis had been right, of course, the dress had fit without much issue. At her own admission, the fabric was fitted a little tighter over my rump than it had on hers but she assured me that it didn’t look ridiculous. I had borrowed a pair of black patent heels from her as well as a little bit of red lipstick to bring out the red in the tartan. Geillis had clapped excitedly when I’d given her a twirl and had finally left me to go and get ready herself, moaning about how I would upstaging her at her own party.
After giving myself a final once over in the mirror, I shut the door to my room behind me and noticed Jamie down the hallway, leaning against the bannister to the stairs. He straightened when he caught sight of me, a sober look on his face as his eyes trailed up my body, starting at my feet and finally reaching my eyes. He swallowed a lump in his throat and tapped his fingers against the material of his kilt which he’d paired with a dark grey cable knit jumper. He looked every bit the rugged Scot that would be featured in some advert for whisky and it gave me actual honest to god butterflies in my stomach.
“Ye look so beautiful, Claire,” he finally broke the silence, letting out a little breath that he had been holding in. I tried to give him my best demure smile and took a step towards him.
“You don’t look too bad yourself,” I put my hand on his upper arm and pressed a kiss to his cheek, his hand coming to the small of my back and keeping me from retreating to too far away.
“I just thought I’d maybe chaperone ye around tonight, make introductions and the like. I ken it’s a lot of folk to be meeting at once.”
My heart lifted that little bit more and I felt my shoulders relax slightly as I smiled up at him.
“I’d like that.”
I should’ve known to take Murtagh’s comment of a ‘wee gathering’ with a pinch of salt. Several cars had appeared in the driveway a little past 7pm and even more bodies started to appear over the moors as the sun was setting, those being the ones who stayed closer and couldn’t be bothered with having to stay sober in order to drive themselves home. I had been introduced to so many new people that I could barely keep track but Jamie had kept right by my side, his hand occasionally settling on my waist or my hip. It felt so easy that I had started to return the touches in kind, the top of his arms, the small of his back. Neither of us acknowledging it because it came so naturally. I had met his friends that he’d grown up with, my favourites of the night being Angus and Rupert who had both engulfed me in huge hugs whilst making some remarks to Jamie in Gaelic that had earned them both a punch to the arm. I had laughed it off, the alcohol in my system burning warmly in my belly and putting me at ease.
Geillis, ever the hostess, had ushered everyone through to the kitchen and the food that we’d spent hours preparing through the day was demolished in under thirty minutes. Jamie was ever present at my side, chastising me for not understanding the fundamental differences between stovies and mince and tatties and keeping my glass of wine topped up.
“Have ye left nothing for us, ye gannets?” A familiar voice asked and the kitchen erupted in greetings as Jenny appeared, still in her coat and with a man behind her. Jamie’s face split into a grin and he hurried towards them both, grabbing me by the hand. He bent to kiss his sister on the cheek and the man buried him in a hug.
“A charaid, it’s been too long!” The man said as Jamie let him go, nodding in agreement.
“Aye, it has. Ian, this is Claire Beauchamp. Claire, this is my best friend Ian Murray,” Jamie said with pride in his voice, the smile not faltering at all.
Ian looked at me with kind eyes and held out his hand which I shook firmly.
“A pleasure to meet ye Claire, we’ve heard lots about you.”
“We’ve managed to get a night away from the bairn and what, are we to stand here all night wi’out a drink?” Jenny looked between Ian and her brother. Jamie put his big arm around her and moved further into the kitchen, taking my almost empty wine glass away with him to refill.
“Ye’ll have to excuse my wife, she’s nae great with first impressions but she’ll warm up to ye soon. Yer important to Jamie after all,” Ian said quietly to me and I felt my heart beat that little bit faster.
“Aye, it’s why she’s being so prickly with ye. She loves her brother more than anything and she canna bide the thought of him being hurt. Stick around and ye’ll be in her good books before ye know it.” Ian winked at me and I chuckled slightly.
As the night moved on, the drink flowed more freely and the conversation followed suit. Some of Murtagh’s friends had had their arms twisted into bringing their guitar and violin with them and soon, music filled the house as people congregated to listen to the old songs.
“Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onwards the sailors cry
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye”
Jenny was sat beside me on a sofa, groaning as soon as the song began. A few glasses of wines had brought her guard down a little bit and we’d managed to relax into an easy flow of conversation.
“Not keen on this one?” I laughed as she shook her head.
“Lachlan plays a bonnie fiddle but I can assure ye, twelve year old Jenny Fraser did not,” she laughed, “Skye Boat Song is the first thing I learned to play in the ceilidh band at school and it was the bane of my life.”
“Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore did wield
When the night came
Dead on Culloden field”
“Kind of morbid,” I wrinkled my nose slightly as Jenny’s eyes darted to me.
“It’s an important song, Claire. About the atrocities that Scotland faced at the hands of the Redcoats,” she said sharply.
“Well, I think atrocities is a bit of a strong word-“
“For what they did to us? Took our lands, criminalised our language? Everyone in this room would be imprisoned for wearing their family tartans. They tried to wipe us out, Claire, our history was forever changed at Culloden.”
I could see thunder brewing behind her eyes and I looked away, smoothing my hands nervously along my dress.
“I suppose when you put it like that,” I said trying to diffuse the tension. Her shoulders dropped slightly and she leaned back into the sofa, taking a drink from her glass.
“There’s a spot on the wall at Lallybroch, our home, y’ken? Where the Redcoats took their swords to the panels, a warning to anyone who saw it. It’s never been fixed, not even to this day, as a reminder of what happened during the Risings.”
Not that anyone else in the room knew what we were speaking about but I immediately felt like there was a big flashing sign hanging over my head that read ‘ENGLISH’. I shifted away from Jenny slightly, not sure how to bridge the gap that had opened back up between us. Looking around the room, I caught Jamie’s eye and he grinned at me before noticing that I wasn’t smiling back. Worry crossed over his face as he moved across the space to me. The song ended and through the sound of the applause, Geillis called for a toast. Jenny kicked off her shoes and stood on the sofa, only just coming to the same height as Jamie as he reached us. She raised her glass above her head and said in her loudest voice,
“To the memory of Wallace and the Scots who hae wi’ Wallace bled.
We toast ye, the night, the hill and the heather,
The lad o’ the bonnet, the plaid and the feather,
The land o’ the mountain, the stream and the river,
The land o’ our ancestors, Scotland forever!”
Jamie shouted something in Gaelic and the room erupted in cheers, lifting their drinks to join brother and sister in their sentiment as I took a deep drink from my wine, almost draining the glass. The music started up playing what I recognised as The Flower of Scotland and as people started to sing, I got to my feet, stumbling slightly as I pushed past Jamie and made my way outside, the cold night air hitting me like a bus. The same place that had felt so warm and welcoming just minutes ago now felt hostile and part of me wanted to disappear into the vast fields in front of me. I walked around the side of the house and into the darkness of the garden, away from the noise and the lights of the party inside. The fresh air was mixing with the alcohol and I turned to the wall, placing my forehead against the cool stone, trying to centre myself.
“Ye alright Sassenach?” His soft voice shook me out of my trance.
“I don’t think many people inside would care about how the Sassenach of the party feels,” I mumbled.
I could barely make him out in the darkness and suddenly his arms were around me, turning my body to pull me closer, my face burying in his broad chest.
“I have spent all night listening to everyone tell me how brilliant ye are, Claire. Emotions are high, we’re a patriotic bunch,” he laughed. I wasn’t much in the mood for laughter and a sigh ripped through me.
“Jenny hates me.”
“Jenny is drunk, Sassenach. You’ve lived with Geillis, ye ken how the crazy nationalists get when they’ve had a few drinks.”
He had a point there. I had listened to Geillis speak at great length about an independent Scotland, decisions for Scotland being made by Scottish people rather than Westminster and so on. I’d always nodded along and tuned her out until she ran out of steam, agreeing with the ideas in principle but not really bothering to consider it seeing as how it didn’t effect me. But this side of the border, it was obvious that her sentiments were shared by others too, everyone inside the house had cheered in support of Jenny’s words and I felt their sincerity.
“And are you not a crazy nationalist then?” I asked him as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. I looked at him and he was smirking at me, as though he knew the question was coming before I’d asked it.
“I didnae say that, Sassenach,” he smiled and lowered his face to mine, “Alba gu brath.”
It was the Gaelic he’d said inside after Jenny’s speech, the words flowing out of his mouth like poetry. He smelled like whisky and the smoke from the fire, a heady combination that was making my head spin.
“What does that mean?” I asked, suddenly breathless as he took a step towards me, his hands on my waist as my back gently bumped against the wall.
His mouth descended on mine and I crumbled under his mouth. I felt like I’d been starved of his touch for years and I was desperate to reignite the chemistry that we had when we joined together. His hips ground against mine as he pushed himself impossibly closer, bruising my lips with the force of his need. His fingertips grazed down the side of my neck and across my collarbone, followed by light kisses as he tasted the swell of my breasts that the dress gave him access to.
“Do ye understand what this dress has been doing to me, Claire? I have been waiting to peel ye out of this thing all night,” he breathed as his hands ran themselves over my hips and behind, groaning as he grabbed my flesh through the tight fabric. “Christ, ye have the roundest arse I’ve ever seen.”
My giggles turned into gasps as he started to slide the dress up my thighs, inch by inch being hit by the cold November air. I could feel his arousal pressing against my belly and he shifted slightly, an uncomfortable look passing over his face.
“Kilts arena very soft, Sassenach, hell of a thing to get a hard-on in,” he admitted. I laughed quietly and my hands dropped to his front, urgently trying to find him underneath all the fabric.
“Let me help with that.”
I grabbed him as he pushed his forehead against mine, eyes closed and his mouth hanging open slightly. Excited by the untethered access of a true Scotsman, I started to move my hand, gripping and stroking him, I kept my eyes fixed firmly on his face, ardently watching what my movements were doing to him. His brow creased in pleasure and I almost moaned myself. Just seeing the effect I was having on him, the way he was panting as I sped up was enough to make me press my thighs together, all too conscious of my own need for his skin on mine.
“Claire, I have to have ye,” he whispered, screwing his eyes shut for a second before they snapped open, his mouth pleading with me, “Please.”
I nodded my head once and he instantly rucked the rest of my dress that was covering the tops of my thighs up to around my hips, his fingers immediately pushing my underwear to the side and finding my warm centre. I sank against his body and he held me up, firmly pushing me into the cold stone of the wall as his fingers tested and teased my flesh.
“Jamie,” I moaned urgently, my hands dropping from his neck and trying to find their way back to him.
“I don’t think I can be gentle, Claire,” he whispered as my hand closed around him again, both of us dedicated to reciprocating the pleasure that we were being gifted from the other.
“Then don’t be.”
In an instant, he grabbed my wrists and raised them above my head, causing me to arch my back and press my breasts into his chest. As he held me there with one hand, he grabbed himself with the other, his knee roughly pushing my legs further apart. His gaze found mine as he buried himself in me slowly and my eyes rolled back into my head with relief. He held himself still as he closed his eyes and caught his breath so I tilted my hips slightly, urging him to move. His piercing blue eyes found mine and with a growl emanating from deep in his throat, he began to mercilessly thrust into me. My whole body reeled from his movements, the small of my back being scratched along the cold stone of the house in the dark. I was desperate to touch him and I flexed my fingers, testing the strength of his grip but I was well and truly held in place. I could see his ragged breath in the dark, warming my shoulders as the delicious heat gathered between my legs. Almost as if he could read my mind, his fingers started to rub me where we joined and I moaned loudly, his mouth silencing me almost instantly.
“Christ, ye’ll get the whole house out with us if we’re no careful,” he laughed against my lips and I joined him, revelling in the hedonism of the moment. I banged my head against the wall behind me and tried to stay quiet but the delicious torture of his cock and his hand together was bringing me close to my release. “Claire, I dinna think I can-“
“I’m close too, just don’t stop. Don’t-“
Stars exploded behind my eyelids as I screwed them shut, my orgasm ripping through me unexpectedly, catching the both of us completely off guard. Jamie’s knees buckled as my walls squeezed around him, causing him to empty himself into me with two hard thrusts.
“Fuck,” he panted against my skin, letting go off my hands. I rolled my shoulders against the wall and my arms settled around his neck, holding my weight there as we disentangled from each other. Grinning, he sorted his kilt back into it’s plaits and plastered a sloppy kiss on my mouth, his tongue darting along my bottom lip. I sighed into his mouth as his hands started to push the fabric of my dress back into it’s rightful place.
“I’ve been wanting to do that since the second I watched ye drive away,” he spoke against my lips and I silenced him with my mouth.
“Me too,” I mumbled, his hand stroking down my neck.
“Christ Claire, ye must be freezing,” he laughed and I joined in, nodding my head. “Let’s get ye inside and get ye warm.”
He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and ushered me through the darkness until we came into the light of the house again. Rupert and Angus were stood by the door, each smoking a cigar and their faces immediately broke into smirks, Angus’ eyebrows wagging up and down.
“Well well well, what have ye two been doing then?”
“Haud yer wheesht,” Jamie chuckled as he pushed me past them and back into the warmth of the house, Rupert shouting after us.
“Claire, if yer still able to walk, he’s no doing his duty by ye!”