One year later
“Christ, he needs a fresh nappy!”
“So? Do it yourself!”
“Oh, dinna give me that. I changed him last time!” I held the baby away from me, cringing at the pungent smell emanating from the nappy. “He went number two!”
Young Jamie gurgled happily, oblivious to my discomfort. His wee legs pumped in the air excitedly as he tried to stuff his fists into his mouth. He was adorable in the extreme, which was why Claire and I had agreed to watch him for a few hours and give Jenny and Ian some respite from their growing brood.
“Number two? What are you, five? Give him to me,” Claire said, rolling her eyes. She took my nephew, cradling him gently, and pulled a fresh nappy from the diaper bag. “Go watch Young Ian and Maggie, I’ll do it.” She swatted me playfully upside the head with the nappy as she made her way to the guest bathroom.
“I dinna ken how you manage to weasel yer way out of changing Young Jamie’s nappies, a bhalaich,” my da chimed, leaning against the doorframe and wiping his hands on a tea towel. “’Tis good practice for when ye have bairns of yer own.”
“Da!” I hissed, hoping that Claire hadn’t heard. I settled on the floor to help Young Ian and Maggie with a puzzle.
“His own? When will that be? Anytime soon?” Jenny chose that moment to saunter in as well, arm around Ian’s waist. “I’m sure you and Claire are practicing plenty!” I looked around for something to chuck at her head while she, Ian, and Da laughed fit to burst.
“Jamie? Are you all in here?” Claire returned to the living room, Young Jamie nestled in the crook of her neck, eyes drifting closed. Something tugged at my heart to see her so, with a bairn in her arms, the soft smile that played in the corners of her mouth. I threw a meaningful glance at Da, who took the hint.
“Here, I’ll take him, lass,” he said, carefully extricating the baby from Claire’s grasp. “I’ll go fetch William and Mary, and then we can eat.”
I sent Young Ian and Maggie after their parents and I rose from my spot on the floor, grabbing Claire’s helping hand as we made our way to the dining room. She nudged my shoulder with hers, a big smile on her face. The light caught her eyes, making their whiskey depths seem fathomless. I kissed her, catching her by surprise. Sudden inspiration flashed, and I pulled her away from the dining room.
“Och, Sassenach, I would like to, um, step outside for a moment. In Da’s garden, there’s something I’d like to show ye. Do ye mind?”
“Alright. Let me get my coat first, it’s quite cold.” I waited for her in the hall, fidgeting until she reappeared with a dark blue trench coat I’d gotten her last Christmas. She was so lovely; I felt my heart racing and feared she might hear it.
I closed the door behind us, stepping out into the December cold. Our breath trailed away in little white puffs, and Claire’s cheeks turned pink almost immediately. We walked across the yard, gravel crunching under our feet until we reached my father’s wee garden. Despite the cold, the remaining perennials like geraniums and heather dotted the green with color. While I had grown more proficient in identifying certain plants, I was still no expert, unlike my Sassenach lass. She stopped to admire some bright red blooms, before I touched her cheek gently, caressing. She leaned into my hand, smiling.
“What is it, Jamie?”
“Aye, weel… I just wanted to get ye alone for a bit. Before ye’re swamped by the Frasers in there.”
“I’m all yours.” Claire tangled our fingers together, cuddling against my side. We stood in comfortable silence, my arm around her, tracing wee patterns on her shoulder. I could still feel my heart pounding furiously. I thought about her words—she was mine.
I thought back to the year we had shared. Like every relationship, it had its ups and downs, but mostly ups. I remembered that day in the castle car park, where we had finally found each other (again). The first time we made love (many, many times). The day she took me to get a tattoo (a Celtic knot). The night the distillery debuted the new whisky (an event she and Jenny put together, cementing their own relationship). Our first argument (then the riotous making-up). The time we went to Oxford so I could meet her uncle Lamb (the surviving link to her family whom I loved like my own). Each of those events a way to say I love you.
I took a deep breath.
“Just so ye ken, I mean to propose tonight.” I swallowed hard and felt my arm tense around her.
Claire gave a little gasp and turned to look at me. “What?”
“I plan to ask ye to marry me. During lunch. Maybe make a toast, give a speech, I dinna ken exactly. I’m even considering going down on one knee.” My hands were trembling something awful.
Claire gaped for a moment, before seemingly recovering her powers of speech. “Why are you telling me this now?”
“Och, weel, I thought I’d give ye a fair warning. In case ye wanted to leave before we ate, and save me a really embarrassing anecdote for future family reunions.” I shrugged, trying hard to seem nonchalant about it, but actually feeling my heart drop in the vicinity of my wame. What if she said no?
“Oh.” Claire bit her lip, a deep flush coloring her petal-smooth skin.
“What do ye think?” I took her left hand in mine, squeezing gently.
She was quiet for a few moments. I think my heart was dangerously close to stopping when she turned to me with a beautiful smile.
“If it helps, I’ll say yes.”
“Ye will?” I felt relief and love—an overwhelming, all-encompassing love for this woman—wash over me. I grinned like an idiot and pressed kisses all over her face.
“Well,” Claire managed between my onslaught of affection and our hands roving everywhere, “I can’t in good conscience just leave you there kneeling, and I certainly can’t go without tasting Ellen’s cooking. I just couldn’t.” Her smile turned playful and she gave my hand a squeeze in return. “Besides, I’m completely in love with you.”
“Aye, that helps.” I kissed her once more, before pulling a velvet box from my coat pocket. I opened it, showing her the ring nestled inside. Claire smiled, tears glistening in her eyes. She traced the delicate carvings on the white gold ring, Scottish thistles and English roses intertwined. No diamond—I knew my Sassenach lass would prefer simple blooms to extravagant stones. I slipped the ring onto her finger.
“I love ye, Claire—Sassenach. I have loved ye from the first moment I saw ye, I think. I will love ye ‘til time itself is done, and so long as ye are by my side, I am well pleased wi’ the world.”
Her arms came around me, and I drew her even closer, my face burrowing in the mad collieshangie of her hair. The chill December wind blew around us, tugging at our coats but we refused to budge, standing fiercely to face whatever might come.
“Do ye trust me, Sassenach?” I asked, pulling away briefly to meet her gaze. Her nose pressed against mine, but her eyes didn’t blink. Neither did mine.
“With my life,” she said softly, and I knew it to be true.
“And with your heart?”
I felt the object in question skip a beat, and knew my answer as well.
“Always,” Claire whispered, as I closed my eyes, and kissed her.