“I think he knows. I’m pretty sure he knows. Do you think he knows?” I asked nervously, chewing on my nails as John ordered our drinks from the clearly listening, and definitely judging me, waiter.
“He knows, I know, even the guy in the office next door with no idea who you are, knows. We all know.”
“Is it that obvious?” I groaned, burying my face into my lap and collapsing into a crumpled heap in my chair.
“Yes... yes, it really is. And all I can say is thank god you don’t have a penis. Your constant, massive erection would be very off-putting. I don’t know why you don’t just go up, introduce yourself, then climb onto his lap.”
“John!” I said, slapping his hand and trying with all my might not to laugh. I refused to give him the satisfaction. “I’m serious. You don’t get it. I would be judged differently for dating a co-worker than you or anyone else would.” He tilted his head and raised his brows, in a way that spared him the need to say, ‘really?’. “Well, maybe not you,” I continued, getting a nod of approval for my correction.
The waiter returned with our drinks—our weekly Monday Margaritas—and we slowly sipped and sighed as the smooth, fruity flavours hit the spot.
“All jokes aside, Claire, you deserve to be happy, and he’s a really nice guy, which you’d know if you would actually speak to him.”
“I have spoken to him!” I protested, almost spraying him with my drink.
“Asking him for the time, then running away faster than Usain Bolt is hardly talking. I’ve had longer conversations with that weird cat lady that lives next door.”
“Damn it, John! I promise I will talk to him at some point, but I have to build up my nerve. He’s just so gorgeous, totally out of my league, and I don’t know what to say. I mean, why would he be interested in someone like me?”
It was John’s turn to spray alcohol across the table, and he choked and spluttered, holding up his hand requesting silence while he recovered.
“Someone like you?” he scoffed once composed. “Beauchamp, you are fucking gorgeous, utterly brilliant and the sweetest, strongest person I have ever met. You are totally in his league. If anything, you are the higher-ranked and if I had the slightest interest in people with breasts, I’d be all over you like a rash.”
“I thought you liked breasts?” I teased, my tongue wedged firmly between my lips. “What about John Quincy?”
“Ha, ha, very funny. You know I’m a sucker for a bear, Claire.”
Controlled chaos greeted me the next morning when I arrived at the office. Our computer system had crashed and in a modern-day architecture firm, this was a disaster. With three pitches for high profile clients today and two later in the week, it was all hands on deck to try and recover what we could.
Luckily, I had backed up my work on the laptop I used at home, and since it wasn’t connected to our office network, I could access all of my work. It appeared at that point, I may have been the only one in this position, as there was more than one senior designer losing their tiny minds and bordering on tears.
Wanting to do what I could to help, I spoke to Ian, our long-haired, wise-cracking IT guy and offered my services.
“Can ye do any work, Claire?” he asked, sweat beading from his brow and his accent even thicker than normal.
“Yes, all my work is safe and backed up,” I replied, my head spinning watching people run around me.
“Then go do it. Ye and one other lad are the only ones who can. If ye can get a presentation together and present it amidst all this, ye’ll be the hero of the day and running the show in a week.” He nodded in the direction of my desk, whistled in a way not dissimilar to a farmer directing a sheepdog, but never once took his eyes from the PC he was working on.
Our senior partner happened to overhear and agreed. Currently, I was the only one anywhere close to being ready to present and so, was ordered to get it ready to go ASAP.
Moving to my desk, I sat and began my work, double and triple-checking that everything was ready to go. As soon as I knew where I stood, I alerted the team I was ready whenever the clients could come in.
Taking a sigh of relief and slightly patting myself on the back, I leaned back in my chair and took a well-earned sip of my coffee. It was then I saw him. Jamie Fraser himself, gliding through the room, cutting through the chaos like Moses parting the seas.
In a plaid shirt and cream chinos that fit him like a glove, he swaggered by me, completely oblivious to the effect he had on my brain, pulse and too many other body parts to mention.
Smiling gorgeously, and greeting those around him, he sat at his desk, leant forward and opened his plantation blinds, flooding his workstation with light.
An audible sigh escaped me as the light reflected his copper and auburn curls, and when he casually ran his hand through his hair, then rubbed his neck and twisted his head side to side, I almost began to drool.
It was at that moment he looked my way. His faultless lips—the top, a perfect heart shape, the bottom, plump and full—raised at one corner to a crooked smirk and he nodded, and mouthed ‘hi’.
Screaming internally, I jerked backwards, my eyes bulged and I think I smiled, then spun on my chair, coming face to face with a smug, headshaking John.
“That... was embarrassing.” He said dryly, then sat on my desk facing Jamie, and began elbowing my arm as he spoke.
“Apparently, you two are the only geniuses in this place who haven’t lost all their work. Everyone else is panicked and distracted. It’s perfect timing, Claire. Go and talk to him... now!” He grabbed the back of my chair and attempted to spin me around to face Jamie, but I grabbed hold of the desk and hung on to it for dear life. We must have looked like two kids playing grown-ups at a parent’s desk as we squabbled, slapped and swatted at the hands of each other.
After a few moments of trying, John gave up, calling me freakishly strong while maturely landing one last whack on my arm. Much to my horror, he walked straight over to Jamie, smirking at me over his shoulder every few steps, then pulled up a seat beside him and began to talk.
With my head buried into my screen and my back to them, I watched their conversation in the reflection of a mirrored photo frame on my desk—one that may or may not have been angled in such a way that I could watch him without anyone noticing. Yes, it was majorly creepy, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And clearly, I was desperate.
John was laughing and talking, then appeared to point straight at me, before Jamie’s head followed. The fact that I was spying on them in a photo frame meant I couldn’t react without giving up my pervy secret, and I wasn’t prepared to do that. I used it way too much to let it go.
So I sat in bated breath, hoping they weren’t talking about me, but also kind of praying that they were.
“Claire!” My boss's stern voice and hand slamming loudly on my desk snapped me back to reality. “Jocasta Cameron will be here in forty-five minutes. Have that presentation ready, sell it to the old bird, and you’ve all but sealed your promotion.”
I had to concentrate. The photo frame was laid upon the desk and my full attention went to my work...for about six and a half minutes.
“Okay, a status update on the king of men,” said John secretively, in an almost whisper as he resumed his seat on my desk. “Not married, no girlfriend, criminally straight. You better lock it down, Claire. He won’t stay single for long, the good ones never do.”
Another stern, disproving look aimed squarely at John and me, left me feeling like a naughty kid busted passing notes in school. Shushing John away despite his protests, I tried to refocus on what would be my priority; work.
Jocasta MacKenzie Cameron. Owner of River Run, one of the largest landowners and farmers in Scotland and a complete Boss. For generations, her late husband’s family had lived in an impressive homestead on Edinburgh’s outskirts. But with the city limits spreading, and no children of her own to take on the family business, Jocasta was downsizing. Much of her land had been sold off to land developers or mass growers, but the prime riverfront land she owned had been retained for her new home. A home I wanted to design.
It was a multi-million dollar project our small firm had somehow been asked to consult on—I and one other architect had been asked to submit designs. I didn’t know who the other was and I didn’t ask, though I did know it wasn’t John. I couldn’t worry about what anyone else was doing, how much experience they had or who they knew. All I could do was my best, and hope it was good enough.
Finishing my work just as she waltzed in the room, she approached my desk and I stood to greet her, my hand outstretched ready to shake her hand, but she walked straight by me and straight to Jamie’s desk.
“Auntie, ye made it,” he said, hugging her warmly and receiving multiple kisses to his cheeks the moment their embrace was over.
“Auntie?” said Ian, the IT guy, who had appeared from nowhere and was now standing oddly close by my side. “Ye’re fucked...Also, the conference room is set up, ye just have tae plug in yer laptop. Good luck though.”
On waking this morning, I had no idea I would be standing in front of three founding partners of my firm, a major, potentially career-changing client, and her nephew, the most beautiful man on the planet/ my constant obsession/ my coworker. If I had I may not have worn ruby red flats, and a cute but non-corporate Sunshine yellow dress. But I was and had to make the best of what was an extremely uncomfortable situation.
My presentation went perfectly; Jocasta seemed to love my designs, the partners were thrilled with her reaction, and I was thrilled with the fact I had managed to avoid Jamie’s devastatingly blue eyes the entire time. Though I did watch him, sneaking glances at every opportunity. He watched me silently, stroking the scruff on his chin as I spoke with a look I would almost call, quiet admiration.
I was invited to stay for his presentation, but by the time I had completed mine, it was three p.m. and time for me to leave for the day. Taking the chance to shake hands with everyone as I left, Jamie was the last hand I touched before I walked out the door.
From the outside, there may have been nothing remarkable, or noticeably different in this handshake to all those that preceded it. But to me, I felt like everything stopped the moment his skin made contact with mine. My heart raced, adrenaline surged and my knees buckled beneath me. It was just Jamie and me in that room. And when after three, maybe four heartbeats, the contact between us was broken, I knew my life may never be the same, and I instantly feared I would walk from that room and never feel the same way again.