“Hmm, I’m sorry sir, this is a fake. I know that’s hard to hear. I will speak to the police if you want to make a report.”
“You bloody well look again. That vase is Ming so that means you are an idiot.”
Jamie walked to the appraisal room at Christie’s where Claire was working today. His fists balled up listening to the man yell at the Sassenach.
“I assure you it’s a fake sir and I’ve decided not to help you with a report, you can go.”
“If you move one step, I will stop you until you prove why it’s a fake.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, fine.”
Claire picked up the vase and threw it against the wall making the man gasp, red-faced, while Claire pushed past him and picked up a shard. Jamie’s eyebrows went up and he tried not to laugh, completely spellbound by her.
“The only true test of a Ming is the blue color of the clay after it’s fired. See, this is white. Oh all right you big baby, I’ll pay for it, I’m sure I have a dollar bill in my purse.”
The man screamed like a banshee and lunged for her, feeling his feet leave the ground, his face changed to shock as he reached behind him trying to open the hand that held him. Jamie shook his head when the man started yelling for help. He dragged the man to the door and whispered in his ear.
“Get near the lady again and I’ll rip your throat out, okay?”
The man bolted out the door and spun around to look at Jamie who smiled and thanked him for coming before closing the door. There were only two more people waiting for Claire to appraise their art and both looked nervous, clutching their prized paintings and looking at the shattered mess on the floor. One lady left, and the other was thrilled she had an authenticated treasure. Claire was a popular appraiser and seemed to know exactly where to find proof of her valuation. She would spin her laptop and there it was, selling price and picture of a comparable piece from the same artist.
Christie’s was very good at locking the doors at six o’clock, even when people pounded to get in. The room was suddenly empty except for Jamie and Claire. He helped her pack up and though she seemed normal in every way he could feel a disturbance in her energy.
“Sassenach, we have been up late every night this week. If you’re as tired as I am, maybe you should rest tonight and not be pestered by me.”
“Did you just suggest room service and a movie before early shut-eye? If so, then I accept!”
Jamie smiled and exhaled gratefully. It would have been a supreme sacrifice to lose a night with the Sassenach and he loved her suggestion.
“It’s our last night together, so we can celebrate the holiday a day early in our pajamas okay?”
Jamie’s palm itched as he thought about running his hand up the satin nightgown. He would miss her when they both went home and he wondered what promises they would make, if any.
“Javier has invited you to dinner tomorrow night. He throws a lavish party on Christmas eve at his restaurant and wants to meet you. What do you say?” She wrapped her arms around his middle for a hug.
“Of course, it would be my honor.”
Claire laughed seeing Jamie load his arms up with all her belongings, “you are super hot and so darn useful Jamie.”
That made him laugh but truth be told, like it or not, he was living for her next statement of endearment, whatever that might be. He just wanted to matter to her because that was the first step in building something that would change their lives. As long as there was a chance he might catch Casper, there was a chance at a life with the Sassenach.
“Jamie, I want to hire you to show me some exercises to build up my upper body strength, what do you say? There’s a gym at the hotel and I am worried because I can barely do three pull-ups anymore.”
“It would be a pleasure to assist you Sassenach,” he smiled realizing they would have the entire day tomorrow. No work for either of them, but such a strange request from one so fair.
When Jamie knocked later that evening, Claire felt the now familiar butterflies take flight in her stomach. She was convinced he had no idea she was Casper so she could just be herself, a professor with a crush on a cop. She asked several questions over the last few days about which agency he worked for but he was vague with the answers, saying the task force he led was a multi-agency effort. She didn’t want to pry and assumed his partial answers were a testament to an underlying boredom or unhappiness with the job. She might overthink her way right out of these hot nights with him, so she stopped analyzing him and just looked forward to the next time his hungry eyes devoured her.
Jamie had shamelessly taken possession of her body and mind every night this week and tried to calm himself down as he walked to her door. Even if he needed handcuffs it was the Sassenach’s turn at seduction and he just had to wait. He groaned inwardly trying to think of anything except her long legs, tiny waist, long hair, perky breasts, and her sweet kisses. He felt defeated already.
After a delicious meal brought by room service, Claire curled up in Jamie’s arms for a new movie they both enjoyed. Halfway through Claire turned toward him and unbuttoned his shirt pushing it off his shoulders. She moved her hand down the arm that was wrapped around her waist and tried to concentrate on the movie. She twisted to face him ten minutes later and kissed his neck and chest, pulling his face to hers she kissed him deeply and touched him everywhere.
The movie ended and Claire got up to lite the candles and hand Jamie another beer. She pulled him to the side of the bed and straddled his lap, kissing him slowly and then sinking to the floor. Jamie was fascinated with her moves, feeling like she was trying them for the first time, but that was ridiculous.
Getting his jeans off seemed to take an eternity while Jamie studied her. Keeping his hands to himself allowed him to experience Claire’s world and it was so different he was astounded. When she put him in her mouth, he could see this act pushed her arousal and she lost herself until Jamie pulled her away. Her mouth was open and eyes half-closed when he pulled her face to him for a deep kiss. I promise to try again to let you lead Sassenach, but I’m taking over, he thought.
Later, in the dark, Jamie ran his fingers through her hair and marveled at the mystery of Claire Beauchamp.
“Sassenach, how does one so tender throw a vase against the wall in front of the owner?”
“It really got his attention,” she giggled in her sleepiness. “He’s an opportunist that got hustled is what he is. I have no respect for people like that. He knew nothing of its providence or even which dynasty and had the audacity to challenge my authority on the subject. He deserved it.”
Jamie cataloged her answer in his brain and smiled to himself when she asked him to come closer. He wrapped her up in his arms and listened to the human equivalent of purring. A low soft moan that came from a happy place deep within her. He slept and dreamed of Lallybroch feeling her shift position through the night and reach for him. His sweet Sassenach.
Jamie was up and dressed early to conclude some new hire business. He gently pushed the hair out of Claire’s face, and she smiled trying to pull him in for a hug. He kissed her cheeks and whispered he would meet her in the hotel gym at noon and then left her to her dreams.
The morning blew past as Claire wrote reports, made phone calls, and returned email. She was feeling happy like sparklers were going off inside of her. It was Christmas eve, a holy holiday, and Jamie would be with her to celebrate tonight. She bounced into the hotel gym and saw Jamie sitting on a bench, red-faced and sweating. A long bar was racked behind him with three large weights at both ends. Impressive, she thought, as she walked to him. He carefully kissed her cheek trying to avoid sweating all over her.
“Ah, my Sassenach, what is your goal with this workout?”
“I want to do at least five pull-ups, underhanded and over-handed, without effort please.”
Jamie walked around her and listed the muscle groups she needed to work, touching each while he circled her.
“You need specific strength building for biceps, triceps, pectorals, deltoids, trapezius, Rhomboideus major, and teres major. Are you joining the circus Sassenach?”
“Certainly not, but I carry heavy canvases that are getting more difficult to manage and it’s required to be a decent cat burglar.” She gave her best ‘I am a professor smile’ and giggled.
“Uncle” was muttered after an hour and she clung to Jamie. He walked her back to her room and gently massaged her tired muscles. He could feel them shaking under the skin and hoped he hadn’t pushed her too hard.
“You need to soak in a tub of hot water mo chridhe. I will watch the game and guard you. Okay?”
Jamie was asleep when she got out of the tub. He looked like a handsome angel, so serene in his rest. He was relaxed, unguarded, and he looked ten years younger. Something about Jamie made her feel hopeful and happy for some reason. She tried to imagine going back to Chicago, getting Frank out of her life, starting another semester, and the big decision about stealing art. That was the reality of her life, and this week was a sweet tryst with an incredible man, and that was all.
“Sassenach, come lass.”
He held his hand out to her and pulled her to him so he could make her forget whatever made her look so sad.
In late afternoon, Claire straightened her hair and lined her eyes putting two coats of mascara on her lashes, powder on her cheeks that shimmered, and red lipstick. She wore a silver sparkling wrap-around dress and thigh-high boots that stopped an inch from the hem. When she opened the door for Jamie, she was shocked. He wore a dark blue suit, white shirt and a paisley blue tie. He looked scrubbed with his hair slicked back. His eyes looked like blue diamonds.
“Wow, you clean up nicely,” she said wrapping her arms around him.
He had a gorgeous bottle of Italian Merlot in a gift box for Javier and Claire was very impressed. Rubbing her lipstick on a tissue she reached for him and kissed until his toes curled. He looked closely at her face and hair and she knew he loved the way she looked. What a fine way to start the evening, she thought.
Javier opened the door to greet them and was quite happy about the snow falling outside. He shook Jamie’s hand with a warm smile and kissed Claire’s cheeks. They were brought into the dining room of the restaurant where a huge table was set with finery. Javier made the introductions and Jamie sat down next to the host while Claire made her way around the table, hugging and kissing the people in Javier’s inner circle. When she came back to Jamie he was in a lively conversation with Javier and another man about the European football leagues. The men were laughing and Javier told the other man in French, “this kid knows his football.” Jamie thanked him in French making them all laugh.
Course after course was placed in front of Claire. Soup, salad, a sumptuous duck and roasted vegetables, followed by coffee, and a delightful chocolate mousse with fresh whipped cream. Claire would take two or three bites of each in order to finish the meal. Jamie ate every bite with a smile on his face and Javier almost cried. She watched Jamie engage any conversation that was offered, with the appropriate grace, humor, or sympathy. She was so grateful he came. When he was bantering with another guest, Claire watched is face until he turned his head and smiled at her. She could feel the blush spread across her cheeks as she quickly looked away. Two old women snickered to each other and talked behind their napkins.
Jamie shook hands with Javier who handed him a business card and asked him to call when he was in town. The blush on Jamie’s cheeks showed how much he appreciated the gesture. They piled into the back of the Rolls Royce and Joseph took them back to the hotel. He watched them kissing and was happy they were going to separate ends of the earth tomorrow. He could see no good coming from this relationship.
Joseph hugged Claire and when she turned around his smile disappeared and the look he gave Jamie made his blood run cold. The older man got behind the wheel and drove away without a backward glance. Jamie wasn’t sure what to make of that but he looked up and saw his pretty girl beckoning him out of the snow.
“Merry Christmas Jamie.”
“Merry Christmas Sassenach. Come here.”
At three in the morning, Claire’s cell phone started ringing and didn’t stop. Jamie whispered that her phone was ringing and it could be an emergency of some kind. Claire sat up and grabbed her phone, suddenly afraid that something bad had happened.
“Claire darling you come home tomorrow right? Yes, well I am making sure because it’s Christmas and you have been gone.”
“Frank why are you calling me in the middle of the night you scared the shit out of me!”
“If I wasn’t so drunk I would think you were yelling at me. That’s ridiculous because I’m a fuckin Senator and you are a measly teacher. Now listen Claire, this is your last trip to wherever, from now on you are here or at the school. Got that?”
Frank was so drunk she could hardly understand him, and she was getting mad. “Now tell me how to unlock your computer.”
“Why are you in my house, Frank?”
She heard a loud bang, the sound of glass breaking, and Frank in the background yelling profanities.
“You fucking computer!”
Claire clicked off and ran to her laptop to look up the police precinct closest to her. She gave a report that her ex-boyfriend broke into her apartment and was destroying everything. She explained she was in Paris and told them his name.
“His name is Frank Randall.”
“Is it spelled like the Senator Frank Randall?”
“It is Senator Frank Randall.”
The cop who was taking the report smiled to himself. Senator Randall had voted to defund the Chicago police and they hated him for being a ball-less politician parrot. He wouldn’t enjoy his time with them tonight.
Claire was fuming and slipped her nightgown over her head, filling a glass with bottled water.
“What can I do to help Claire?”
“Nothing Jamie, I’m fine, I’m just going to wait for the police to call. Go back to sleep.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, honestly, it’s taken care of. A rather unpleasant episode with my soon to be ex.”
Jamie could not believe she was shutting him out of this incident with Frank like he didn’t matter and had no business in her real world. He was being respectful when he didn’t ask her about after they leave Paris or maybe he just didn’t want to know.
“Claire, were you going to call me when you go back to Chicago?”
He could see it in her eyes, confusion about a question that seemed so simple to him. She never planned to see him again, or even call. He was nothing to her. He dressed quickly and left her room. He couldn’t think of anything to say to her so he said nothing. He went to his room and changed into jeans for a long walk through the city while he worked this out in his head.
Claire couldn’t stop crying as she watched him out her window. He walked away hunched into his coat against the cold. She sobbed, realizing she had lost herself in the arms and charm of Jamie Fraser. She never told him she would call, she never said she had feelings for him. She would never forget his face as he figured out what this week was to her. She laid on his pillow with his wonderful smell and cried herself to sleep.
In the morning, Claire called Jamie’s room, and looked for him in the dining room and gym. She asked at the front desk and was told he checked out. It felt like an emotional bomb going off inside her and she struggled to get to her room before falling apart. She looked at his name in her contacts and wrote him a text about how sorry she was, then deleted it. She was dreadfully sorry she hurt him but knew all along they would go separate ways. She didn’t think it would feel so bad.
Claire boarded her plane with puffy red eyes and a pounding headache. About every ten minutes she felt the tears start again and finally ordered whisky so she could sleep. Her life stretched out before her and never seemed so bleak. Jamie Fraser showed her a fresh new day where anything was possible, and he held her like a precious treasure. Now she was going back to her life in a dirty, crime-ridden city, with a drunk Frank telling her what to do, and she could not find a ray of light in all that. She raised her hand for another whisky.
Claire walked toward the baggage claim and could hardly put one foot in front of the other. Geillis hugged her gushing questions about Paris and going on about her new man. The doorman at her building helped carry her suitcases to the elevator asking if she needed help to her apartment. She tipped him and said she would be fine. Her key slid into her door lock and she bent to take the first case inside. A large fist came out of nowhere and cold-cocked her. The assailant left her on the floor with her door open and suitcases in the hall. She was unconscious.
Jamie walked through Paris for hours, but the decorations and lights were not noticed this time. His brain crunched the facts that were heartily ignored for the last four days realizing he believed what he wanted. She was an enigma with an enchanting personality that drew him to her, she was mysterious because she shared little about who she was inside. He didn’t believe she wanted to hurt him, but it hurt nonetheless.
Jamie flew back to Scotland pounding whisky and sleeping to avoid thinking about the Sassenach. He retrieved his car and drove the country roads to Lollybrach, feeling better with each passing minute. He would hurt and miss her, but he truly hoped to forget her in time.
Claire’s face was swelling badly when the paramedics arrived, she was asking for Jamie, completely disoriented. When she saw only strangers around her, she started to cry like her soul was dying. The EMT’s brought her suitcases into the apartment and tested her for a concussion, asking her to come to the hospital but she refused. When they left, she turned in a circle and saw destruction everywhere. The glass-top computer desk was shattered on the floor, cables yanked out, monitor smashed, furniture was in pieces, and the kitchen floor was inches deep with shattered glass, crystal, and dishes.
Two officers were lifting prints in the bedroom and walked out to see a young woman looking as shattered as the apartment. They knew this was done by someone she knew, this was personal and laced with violent hatred. Both were afraid for her and asked where they could take her for the night.
Claire looked up at the officers taking a moment to understand the question. She shook her head and opened the door for them. Other than have a cruiser drive by her building during the night, there was little they could do without her cooperation. They left reluctantly, both fearing he would come again, this time for her life.
Claire recognized she was in shock. All she could see was Jamie’s face, at dinner when he smiled at her, sleepy and hugging her, laughing at her banter, and crumbling from the truth. If there was whisky and a remaining chair she would have stayed right there, but there wasn’t. She took her suitcase and left to stay in a hotel where she sat in the darkness staring at nothing until Paris woke up.
Javier listened to his goddaughter cry and explain being knocked out and the destruction of everything she owned, even her clothes had a knife taken to them. Javier took the call in his office and accepted a glass of water and a baby aspirin from Joseph who recognized a dangerous tone of voice in his employer, and lifelong friend. Joseph closed his door so Javier would not be disturbed and took a position nearby to stop anyone from knocking. Javier called his name, and Joseph, not liking where the dominos were falling, prepared for the worst.
“The bear is in trouble, he’s going to kill her!” Javier ranted the story out as Joseph felt the magma rising in his soul. They knew she might go to jail someday until they could get her out, but being struck and terrorized by that perverted piece of shit had Joseph on the edge of reason. Javier was packing up his briefcase and told Joseph to get packed, they were going to Chicago.
Claire clicked off her phone and sat still. She had not stood up since coming to this room in the middle of the night. She dialed Frank.
“Hello darling, Merry Christmas! What time will you be ready for dinner?”
“Come anytime, Frank.” She disconnected.
She had not intended to confront him, but he would have to start pretending, shock, concern, anger, protectiveness, all the emotions a real fiancé would have when he stumbles into her wrecked apartment. She expected her phone to start ringing in about twenty minutes.
“Hello Frank, did you get a good look at the mess you made last night. Shut your mouth or I will..” He kept sputtering a string of words and talking louder. She clicked off and waited. This happened three more times before he remained quiet on the phone so she could talk.
“If you want to stay alive to pursue whatever it is you’re pursuing you only have one rule, never speak to me or see me again for as long as you live. Even if you see me by accident…bye-bye baby. I’m not the meek teacher you think I am, and you have fucked with the wrong person. Don’t believe me? Try it Frank, and I’ll be more than happy to order your life extinguished.”
Claire felt some weird kind of closure with that and stumbled to the bed where she passed out from exhaustion. She dreamed of Jamie whispering in her ear and felt the happiness bubble up inside her. The ringing of her cell phone pulled her out of sleep. She didn’t know where she was or how long she slept and Javier’s worried voice on the phone was asking where she was. Her face hurt so badly she couldn’t remember the name of the hotel until she looked at the branding all around her.
Javier almost fainted when he saw Claire’s face. He was no stranger to violence, but the Bear’s face was beyond recognition, black and swollen with one eye puffy and closed. He hugged her gingerly and walked her to the bed. Claire was telling him she was fine, but she was very much not fine. Joseph had turned away from her to hide his tears and get control of himself. Javier handed her a pill and a glass of water. Once she was asleep, Joseph stayed in the room and Javier went looking for a new residence for her. He was gone all day and she slept peacefully.
Joseph looked down at her, deep in sleep. He saw the fifteen-year-old, fresh from the jungle, quiet and self-protective, completely vulnerable. He remembered her locked in the bathroom for hours, showering, flushing the toilet, showering again. Her fingers were puckered for the first several weeks from so much washing. Joseph and Javier bent over backwards to make her welcome and finally, after two weeks, she smiled, and then laughed at something said and Joseph thought his heart would explode with happiness. They were devoted to her happiness, and when she grew up, she returned their kindness by becoming the most extraordinary woman. Now here she was, beaten and broken. He took a deep breath and went back to his seat to pull himself together.
Javier arranged for a medical doctor to examine Claire at the hotel because she refused to leave the room. He gave her antibiotics and pain medication and ordered rest for a week as the swelling came down in her face. He was happy to say her eye was not damaged, and her sight would clear up in time. Claire took the medicine as directed and slept like the dead. Javier would go out each day making arrangements for her apartment and filling it with furniture, dishes, crystal, flat wear, pots and pans, linens, towels, shower gels, shampoo, even some makeup. He had impeccable taste, but he was not a thirty-year-old female in Chicago, so he hired a decorator to make the selections. All of it was the best quality money could buy and Javier was in heaven to be spoiling his Bear.
Claire had put the brakes on Javier’s extravagance at age eighteen. She allowed him to finance school and a simple wardrobe and saved her money for anything else she wanted. Joseph would drive her to her job each afternoon at a nearby printer. She sat on plastic for the ride home because she was covered in ink smears and dirt from crawling into the machines. Javier would wince seeing her filthy and exhausted but could never convince her to quit.
Everything changed for Claire when she was hired by Christie’s auction house to be a runner during auctions. Every other day she assisted the appraiser, the decorator, or anyone else that needed help. She was exposed to the great artists of the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo , Neoclassicism, and Romanticism periods and she was hooked. During dinner one evening, she laid out her plan; what schools she would attend, what graduate school she would choose for her PHD, and her choice of career, teaching fine art at a respected University. She apologized for not knowing which University yet and Joseph shot a few peas across the table before he could raise the napkin to his mouth. The original plan never wavered, she did exactly what she said she would do.
After two weeks of rest, Javier checked them all out of the hotel and brought Claire to her new home, a high security, luxury apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. It was extravagant and huge, filled with high-end furniture and decorations. Claire found beautiful crystal stemware, glasses, mugs, plates and everything in between. Her closet was filled with basic clothing, drawers filled with undergarments, sweaters, belts and socks. She pressed her fingers against her mouth and couldn’t stop the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. She hugged her godfather, and then Joseph, shaking with emotion, so grateful for all their help.
Claire utilized the gourmet kitchen to cook an American favorite for Javier and Joseph, filet mignon, lobster tail with butter for dipping, baked potato and herb-roasted carrots. Javier hovered in case she needed help and Joseph laughed and told him to sit down and enjoy the sun setting on the Chicago skyline. Javier planned to rave over this simple, no sauce meal until the beef melted in his mouth and the lobster exploded with flavor. He lost himself in the unusual and primitive meal and Claire mentally high-fived herself. The meal was symbolic. She was a grownup who could manage life on her own, thanks to their help.
Claire hugged them goodbye at the elevator and promised to visit at Christmas next year. When the elevator doors closed, she took her first steps in independence, free of Frank, free to pursue her career, free to choose her every next step. The only thing still missing was color. The apartment building was opulent and surely full of beautiful colors, but she only saw shades of gray in the objects she passed.
Geillis made arrangements for Claire’s senior graduate student to start her classes when the new semester started. The administration was told her face was heeling after a car accident and they were too happy to help. The first day she walked into her lecture hall there was only sympathy on the faces watching her. She was grateful and soon her love of teaching took over and life returned to normal, albeit colorless.