The sound of a smoke alarm was what she heard before she opened the door. Claire was tempted to just turn around and go run another errand. Whatever Jamie had gotten up to seemed to be causing chaos. He’d left the bakery earlier than usual that day and she wasn’t really sure why. With his bag over his shoulder, he’d claimed he had errands to run. She’d been busy, so she hadn’t felt the need to press further. She trusted whatever her husband needed to do was likely important.
But as she stood outside their door, listening to the chaos inside, she wasn’t so sure.
With a deep breath, she stuck her key in the door and turned it, bracing herself for whatever she might find. The beeping had finally stopped by the time she opened the door, but the destroyed kitchen was proof enough of the disaster that had occurred in the flat.
All the windows were open and Jamie stood, fanning the air with a pan, the oven standing open. Claire looked to the counters, covered in flour and sugar. A burned something sat in a pan on the stove while Jamie tried to clear the smoke from their flat.
“Need some help?” Claire asked, announcing her presence.
Jamie whipped his head over with an embarrassed look on his face. “Ye’re back early.”
Claire pointedly checked her watch. “I’m really not. Is this what your errand was?”
He stopped fanning and set the pan back on the messy counter. “Sort of. I wanted to test something out while ye werena here.”
He looked around the room and glared at her. “Obviously I ran into some issues.”
“So, were you trying to bake something?”
Jamie’s head hung, not meeting her eyes. “It’s rather clear who the baker is in this marriage.”
She scrunched her nose, nodding in reply. Jamie was the one who cooked for them most evenings and Claire loved it. Her strong suit was sweets. Jamie had many good qualities, but baking didn’t seem to fall into them. Of course, he’d never tried since she would bake for them when she felt the itch.
Since Jamie had started at the bakery a year before, she’d gotten more time to actually bake. They made a good team — unsurprisingly. Jamie ran everything by her, priding himself on doing so efficiently so that most of her time could be spent doing what she loved. When the London branch was in the process of opening, they’d worked through it together. Jamie ran conference calls from their hotel room/makeshift office, making sure everything was on track, as well as checking in with the other stores when Claire wanted to focus more on establishing the new store.
It worked well, just as she knew it would. They’d been working as a team for years, now they just got to do so professionally.
She looked around the kitchen and her flour covered husband and knew they’d have to work as a team to clean it all up too. Without saying a word, she walked toward the sink and wet a rag, throwing one to Jamie and wetting another for herself.
“Ye dinna need to help, Sassenach,” he said. “Tis my mess.”
She flashed him a smile in reply. “I know I don’t need to, but I’m going to.” Glancing at the pan, she raised one brow to him. “So what was this going to be?”
“I’d rather no’ say.”
Claire paused her cleaning and stared at her husband. She poked him in the side when he moved closer to her. “Tell me!”
Jamie looked at her and shook his head. “No.”
She watched him for a long moment as he continued to clean the counters. “Was it for me?”
“Ye might have gotten to enjoy it as well. Who’s to say?”
She was trying to figure out why he was being so cagey about what he’d been doing. It wasn’t like Jamie to be so purposefully vague. Suddenly the date popped in her mind. October 17th. Her birthday was quickly approaching. And in that moment, his secrets made sense. He’d never made her a cake for her birthday before, though.
“After you left,” she said, changing the subject, “I got a call from Alice.”
“Down in London?”
“Mmhmm. I’m heading down there tomorrow for a couple of days.”
Jamie looked over at her, seemingly confused with the information. “Why?”
“They have some new hires and are swamped so I said I’d train them.”
“That’s no’ the job of the owner. They should have people in that store who can do it.”
Claire shrugged. “I know, but I can do it and then they can have enough people to help run the store. It’s fine. I’ll still be baking, like I know you want me to get to do. This time, I’ll just be showing others how to. It’ll be fine.”
Jamie sighed, clearly unhappy with the news. “When will ye be back?”
Claire smiled, wrapping her arms around him. “If you’re worried about my birthday, I’ll be back by then. Actually, I think I’m coming back on my birthday. So it’ll be fine.”
He huffed slightly, his arms coming around her. “I dinna like when ye’re gone.”
“It won’t be for long. Just a couple of days.”
Jamie leaned down and met her for a kiss. “Fine.” He went back to cleaning up his mess. “I have a good amount of meetings in the next two days anyway.”
Claire grinned. “Exactly. So you won’t even miss me.”
He shook his head. “Nah, I still will.”
“I’ll be sure to call you in the evenings, how about that?”
Jamie smiled at her, kissing her cheek as he edged past her. “Sounds perfect.”
* * *
Three days later, Claire arrived back home to a noticeably quieter hallway. Her time in London had been an easy couple of days, though she had very much missed her husband. They’d talked both nights, just as she promised.
This time when she pushed her key in the door and opened it, there was no smoke wafting through the air, just the delightful scent of candles. Jamie wasn’t frantically trying to clear out the room, he was sitting on the couch reading something on his phone. And the counters weren’t destroyed, they were spotless with the exception of a gorgeous cake and a few gifts stacked next to it.
“There’s no way you made that,” was the first thing she said.
Jamie’s head snapped up as he put his phone down. “What? Ye dinna think I could?”
Claire shut the door behind her and left her suitcase in the entryway. “After what I saw the other day? I’m afraid not.”
He feigned being hurt as he walked over to her, wrapping his arms around her. Once he was right in front of her, he whispered the truth. “Well, ye’d be right. I asked Mary to make it.”
Claire laughed, leaning her head against his chest, wrapping her arms tighter around him. “That makes more sense. It’s beautiful.”
“I did design it, if that helps,” he offered. Claire smiled, leaning up to kiss him. “There are a couple presents for ye as well. Jenny said to tell ye we are expected at Lallybroch on Sunday so the Murrays can celebrate ye properly.”
Claire laughed, nodding her head. “We certainly don’t want to disagree with Jenny.” She walked over to the couch and sat down, putting her bag down by her feet. Jamie grabbed the presents from the counter and put them down on the coffee table in front of her.
Sitting down beside her, Jamie pressed a kiss to her temple. “Happy Birthday, mo nighean donn .” Claire leaned into him, closing her eyes. The past couple of days had been long, even if they weren’t long. She’d been counting down the time until she got to be back with Jamie.
Taking a deep breath, she sat up a bit straighter, turning to grab something from her bag. “I know it’s my birthday, but I actually have a present for you.”
“For me? That’s no’ how birthdays work,” Jamie said with a laugh.
Claire shrugged, smiling a bit. She pulled the small shop bag out and handed it to him.
Jamie looked at her skeptically before he reached in and pulled out his gift. As he unfolded the shirt, he got a curious look on his face as he read the front of it. Turning to her, his eyes were wide, glistening. “Are ye serious?” Claire nodded, a smile growing on her face. He turned it around and showed her the front as well. “World’s Best Dad?” His voice was full of emotion as he asked. Claire nodded again, feeling her eyes water.
“It’s true,” she said in a small voice, the only one she could manage. “Two of the girls I was training were talking about their cycles one day and it hit me. So I took a test and it was positive. I guess I should have waited for you, but I just couldn’t. I had to know.” She took his hand and laid it against her still flat stomach. “We’re having a baby, Jamie,” she whispered.
He leaned in and kissed her hard before wrapping his arms around her and holding her tight. “We’re having a baby,” he said in awe. Pulling back, he looked at her, cupping her cheek. “I canna believe it. A bairn of our own.” He laughed wetly, wiping the happy tears from her cheeks. “It’s no’ even my birthday and this is the best birthday ever.”
Claire laughed, leaning against him, wrapping an arm around his waist. “I have to agree. It really is.”
Jamie leaned forward, grabbing her gifts off the table. “These have obviously been overshadowed, but there here if ye want them.”
Claire took the boxes from him with a grin. “I do want them.” She opened them both. One was a sparkling diamond bracelet and the other was a box that held a hat and an apron. Printed on the apron was “Sassenach Sweets” and on the hat was printed “The Sassenach.” Claire laughed as she opened them, looking to her husband. She kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”
He nodded, his hand reaching out to touch her stomach again. She smiled, laying her hand against his. She watched him for a moment. “I can already see the wheels spinning dangerously in your head.”
Jamie looked at her for a moment, a small grin on his face. “Ye might be right about that.”
Claire jumped up off the couch, walking toward the kitchen. “Let’s at least eat cake while you spiral.”
“I’m no’ spiralling. Just thinking,” Jamie disagreed, following after her. “Ye ken we’ll have to move. A bairn needs more space.”
She simply shook her head in reply, an amused look on her face as she cut into the cake. “We’re going to have vastly different takes on things like money when it comes to this child, aren’t we?”
“Claire, I will make sure our child doesna want for anything,” Jamie insisted. She shook her head with a groan. “What was the point of saving all that money if I dinna spend it on our bairns?”
Claire kept shaking her head. It was a conversation for later. She already knew she didn’t want her kids to be spoiled brats. It was going to be a matter of convincing Jamie not to spoil them too much. He started talking about all the things he could buy them and Claire couldn’t take it. She scooped up a bite of cake and shoved it in his mouth.
He stared at her for a moment before she shrugged. “Just practicing,” she lied with a grin. She watched him, his eyes moving back and forth between her and the slice of cake. “You’re thinking of smashing that in my face right now.” He couldn’t fight the grin on his face. In the same moment, Jamie grabbed the cake in his hand and Claire ran around the island. Jamie was just a bit faster and cornered her against the stove. She squirmed as he smeared the cake against her face with a laugh. “This is a waste!” she yelled.
“Tis no’ the whole cake,” he reminded her. She glared up at him, the corner of her mouth tugging into a reluctant smirk. “Plus, then I can do this,” he said, leaning down and licking the cake off her face. She was reminded of the time on their first date when she’d done the same thing to him with his ice cream. It was amazing how far they’d come.
Swept up in that feeling, she pulled him close and kissed him fiercely. An indirect benefit was smearing some of the cake on his face too. He didn’t seem to mind as he kissed her back thoroughly.
When he pulled back, she laughed at the sight of his face, also covered in icing. They must look like quite the pair. He laid his forehead against hers and she sighed. In more ways than just the cake smeared on her face, she knew it was the sweetest birthday she’d ever had.