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Memories of Love

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The plane descended towards Edinburgh, it was a grey driech day in Scotland the type of rain that never really fell, it just drizzled, it was enough to make it feel like winter had arrived, even though it was mid-September. Claire gazed out of the window, she could see the iconic forth rail bridge below her, its rust-coloured iron shining up at her, majestic on this dull Scottish day.

She was jittery, she felt anchorless, her stomach had not settled since she made the unusually impulsive decision to head back to the one place where she felt safe, warm and cherished. The place where she had felt at her happiest, her best. The place where she felt love and where she found love. She wearily closed her eyes and let her memories envelope her.

Henry Beauchamp moved to Fife with his wife, Julia and their six-year-old daughter Claire, to take up a position as Finance Director at a distillery owned by Brian and Ellen Fraser. The Fraser family had warmly welcomed the small family from Oxfordshire and had busied themselves to arrange both family accommodation and schooling for their daughter Claire.

Brian and Ellen were known and respected in the county, they employed almost 300 staff at their distillery in Markinch. It had been the site of the old Haig Whisky distillery before it went into receivership. Hundreds of jobs were lost, and the local community suffered significantly as families struggled to make ends meet. The Frasers had owned and run successful distilleries up in the Highlands but had not previously ventured into the lowlands of Fife.

Their intervention and philanthropy had been welcomed not only by the community but by the council and the Scottish government. Brian had reemployed many, if not all, of the workers and had set up an interest free loan scheme where workers could apply for loans to pay off debt they had incurred as a result of their job loss. Brian Fraser was a man who had earned the love and respect of his workforce and the county.

Henry, Julia and Claire, settled into a large, detached stone cottage on the High Street in Falkland which overlooked the famous Falkland Palace. The spacious cottage had a large open plan kitchen/diner with a family room at the very end. Julia loved this part of the house; she could busy herself in the kitchen whilst listening to Claire chattering excitedly to her father the moment he stepped through the door. They would sit by the wood burner with foaming cups of hot chocolate and entertain each other with their tales of the day. There was also a formal sitting room which when adorned with the Beauchamp’s stylish furniture looked chic but warm and welcoming. In the summer the outside of the house was crammed with window boxes spouting masses of red geraniums complimented by seas of violet lobelia. The house at various times of the year would have jasmine, honeysuckle and a wash of white roses tumbling down the front of the house delivering the sweetest of aromas.

Claire’s little room was decorated with fairy lights, shades of pink, purple and white everywhere, it overlooked the palace which when lit up was simply magical, a real-life fairy tale. The palace was inspired by the grand chateaux of France, and one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland. One of its most famous residents was Mary Queen of Scots, the history bewitched the young honey eyed Claire. Every evening at bedtime, Julia or Henry would create a fairy tale, one which always included the palace in some shape or form. The young Claire would nestle into her Mum or Dad ready for the tall tale ahead. Falkland for the Beauchamp family was home.

The plane grounded suddenly, and Claire was rudely jolted from her comforting memory.

When the plane finally ground to a halt, she rose to wrestle her small case from the overhead locker. She had another suitcase to be collected of course, she had packed for a long visit but in truth she had no idea how long she would remain in Fife.

She made her way across the tarmac to the airport terminal, cursing the Scottish rain as she went, this would send the thick mop of curly hair into a ball of frizz if she didn’t get a move on.

She stood at the carousel patiently waiting for her luggage, completely unaware of the stir she was causing.

She really had no idea how beautiful she was. She was tall and slim with long legs which were the envy of her fellow models. Her hair was the darkest richest brown and was a blaze of natural curls which she never tamed. Her alabaster skin, amber eyes and full lips were initially what got her noticed by Elite 1, however she soon moved from photographic to catwalk to TV advertising and the rest followed.

She often carried a pair of ugly framed glasses with her, with just clear glass. Whenever she thought that someone was about to recognise her from the Chanel commercial, she would stick them on. The member of the public would grimace and realise that it could not possibly be the world-famous model, Sass Alexander.

‘Excuse me, Miss? Are you Sass Alexander?’ A small voice asked

Claire turned to see a young girl of around 15 looking up at her with wide hopeful eyes.

‘Yes, I am. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?’

‘My name is Lesley, and I am your biggest fan, would it be okay if we take a wee selfie?’

Claire smiled and said of course, she pulled her arm around the young girl and took her phone from her hand.

‘Let me Lesley, my arm is longer, and we will manage a better angle’. Said Claire.

‘Now, Lesley, lift your chin up and stick it out slightly to give your face definition’ Leslie squealed at the advice from one of the world’s top models.

A few minutes later, a delighted and excited Lesley was on her way, no doubt posting her picture with Sass Alexander on her Instagram page. The cat would be out of the bag. She had landed in Scotland. Mind you, who would care? Falkland was in the back of beyond, no-one would put two and to together and stalk her from there.

She had not really kept in touch with anyone from Fife after she left. Her two best friends had moved from Fife, Nancy moved to Sydney, Australia and Carole’s family had moved to New York.. Neither of these friends kept in touch with anyone from the old town although the three of them were still as thick as thieves and thanks to Claire’s job, she did manage to see them quite often.

After collecting her luggage, she ventured outside for the long trek to the car hire building. She pulled her stylish woollen Louise Kennedy coat tighter and cursed herself for forgetting how biting the east coast wind could be.

She collected her car from Avis and made her way up to Falkland, over the new Queensberry Crossing. It was chilly outside, and the wind was blowing a right old hooley, but her hands felt warm and clammy on the steering wheel. It all felt so strange, but truth be told, the moment she landed on Scottish soil her soul felt nurtured.

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The Mercedes Claire had hired made good time, the traffic was on her side and in just under the hour she drove slowly into Falkland. Luck was shining on her as she managed to bag a parking space on the town square right outside the picturesque Covenanters Hotel, her home for the next few days, weeks or months. For as long as it took her to heal. Claire made a mental note to forward the car hire bill to the assistant that she shared with Jilly. Claire had a sponsorship deal with Mercedes, and they refunded the cost any time she hired a Mercedes worldwide.

Jilly!! Good grief, she had left in such a rush she had not thought to call her mother’s best friend to let her know of her plans. Later, once she was settled, she would make the call. Jilly would understand, Jilly always did.

As she stood in front of the Hotel, she would not allow herself to look left. Her heart ached at the thought of her precious family home being occupied by others. She knew she would have to walk past the Cottage at some point but right now she did not have the courage or the will to do it.

The house was rented to a young family, The Claytons. Claire had not wanted to sell when her parents died, that would have been too hard. She continued to spend time at the cottage for a wee while after their death, it brought her comfort, the memories were everywhere. She imagined them on holiday, they would scurry through the door smiling regaling tales of their travels. No, she had not wanted to sell then. Would she feel different now? After all, nearly 5 years had passed.

She thought about the Clayton family, there was now no-one on the planet that she could officially call family. How bloody sad was that?

At least she had good friends in Carole, Nancy and Jilly, these women were her rocks. All played a very different roles in her life, all critical and precious to Claire. Jilly was the one she could not live without though. If Claire ever lost Jilly, well it did not bear thinking about. It would be too much, just too much.

Claire took a deep breath, pulled her shoulders back and lifted her head up looking slightly defiant, she had to put her best foot forward and prepare herself to meet people from her ‘happy time’.

The hotel was run by the Baird family. Claire had known them throughout her childhood and at the time was friends with their daughter Mary, but they had not kept in touch. For a very good reason too. She prayed that Mary Baird would not be the first person she saw.

She had no sooner stepped through the door when she felt the wind being crushed out of her as two arms wrapped firmly around her.

‘My goodness lassie, you are a vision’ gushed Mrs Baird

‘Welcome back Claire, do you still answer to Claire?’ she asked a little shyly

‘Oh yes Mrs B, Sass is just a professional name. So lovely to see you after all this time' said Claire, who was speaking very rapidly and could feel her emotions rising and tears forming at the recognition and kindness of Mrs Baird.

Claire had been 17 when she left Falkland and she was now almost 23, of course she had transformed from an awkward teenager into a confident woman. Mrs Baird, on the other hand, had not aged at all. She was as Claire remembered, elegant and polished oozing kindness and genuine warmth.

‘I was so sorry to hear about your Uncle Claire. I know what he meant to you; it is a cruel blow after losing your Ma and Pa not so long ago.’

Any chance of Claire being able to suppress the tears that threatened to spill were completely redundant at the mention of Lamb and her parents. They came tumbling out, flowing freely.

Clare fumbled for a tissue, trying to pull herself together. Mrs Baird realising her insensitivity came to the rescue.

‘Right my love, I will have that case taken right up to your room. I want you to get yourself into the sitting room and dry out by the fire. Here’s a wee hanky to blow your nose. Have you other luggage? Give me your car key and registration and I will get Angus to get that too. Come on now, let’s get you a wee whisky to warm your bones’. There was a flurry of activity and people appeared from nowhere and leapt into action at the command of Mrs Baird.

A member of staff had scurried into the spacious sitting room before Claire and lit the fire, at least that would take the chill out of the air. The room was swathed in beige and burgundy, giving it an air of shabby chic opulence.

It had high ceilings and the surrounding walls housed books of all shapes and sizes, many of them had seen better days but it added to the mood of the room. Two fashionably faded leather sofas laid out in an L shape were complemented, with a sturdy low flat topped wooden chest placed between them supporting a stylish autumnal posy of purple and green fresh flowers, laced with golden leaves. The room was warmly lit and there were two heavenly scented Nostara candles flickering on the mantle. On the right side of the the fire was a winged back chair which was covered in what Claire thought to be the Baird modern tartan, this is new thought Claire as she cooried in to get warm and pulled a tartan plaid over her lap.

Glaring down on her from above the fireplace was good old Archie McNab, a highland chief. Mrs Baird had found the portrait in an antique shop years ago, brought him home and gave him prime spot in the sitting room. Archie was a dour looking chap, fierce and formidable looking. Claire, Jamie, Jenny and Mary became obsessed with finding out his story. She smiled to herself at the memory and then her gut ached, and she pushed the memory back inside her virtual box of special thoughts.

The room like Mrs B, felt kind, it soothed her.

She relaxed by the fire; whisky firmly in hand, her face now flushed as she warmed up. She wondered if the whisky was from the Fraser distillery. That made her tear up again, was it the memory of her father or the memory of Jamie? She would not ask about Jamie. She could not, not yet at least. She was here to heal though and reluctantly; she knew that closure with Jamie was all part of that process.

Mrs Baird observed Claire from the reception desk, kicking herself at her insensitivity. The girl had grown ever more beautiful, more so than she remembered. The lad will be beside himself when he sees her. Of course, she had let it slip to Jamie that Claire was visiting. She never quite knew what happened between the two and why they did not keep in touch. All she knew was that young Jamie had refused to return to the Highlands when his parents and siblings moved back. He wanted to stay here and make his way, working at the Distillery, which he would eventually take over. Mrs Baird fancied that he was waiting on a certain young lady to return. He had been a shadow of himself for the longest time and only in the last year had he started to move on with his life.

Claire’s parents died just after her 17th birthday. They were coming back from a wedding at a local stately home turned hotel called Balbirnie House, it was a cold dreary November night when a drunk driver came from nowhere and hit them head on. They died instantly. Lamb was in Egypt at the time and immediately rushed to Scotland to assume guardianship of Claire. His initial intention was to take her to Cairo to live until he could finish his tenure at a university there.

However, Brian and Ellen Fraser, sensing that Claire was too raw to handle any further trauma, persuaded him to let Claire live with them until she completed her exams the following summer. Ripping her from School to live in Egypt was an enormous upheaval at the best of times, never mind for a young girl whose world had totally fallen apart. Lamb agreed, he appreciated the time to organise his life to accommodate Claire. He wanted to return to the UK and resume living in London and, in time, he hoped Claire would join him there when she finished her exams. By then she would be thinking about university as well and perhaps as this was a change that she was expecting then it may not be as daunting for her.

That was settled then. Claire would live with Brian and Ellen and their three children. Jenny, Willie and Jamie who was Claire’s best friend in the whole world.
Claire and Jamie had been inseparable from the day they first met. They would scamper about the town on their bikes running messages for locals and the elderly. Claire’s mother ran PR campaigns for the Palace and as a result of her hard work had increased the visitors to the palace tenfold and so they had the freedom of the outside of the Palace and were able to run around the orchard, play hide and seek in the magnificent gardens. They played tennis, football, went swimming in the lake, hiking and camping up Falkland hill, life was one huge, varied adventure for the intrepid pair. Hide and seek turned into kiss chase as they entered their teens, squeals, blushes and mild protesting.

Where you saw Claire, you saw Jamie and vice versa. That was just the way of things.

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Claire unpacked and lay on her bed, just staring up at the ceiling.

She was devastated when only a few years after her parents were killed, her Uncle Lamb collapsed at home and died in hospital from heart failure. Claire had been on a modelling assignment in Milan when she took the call.

Stricken and desolate she found it impossible to focus on what needed to happen next. Steve, her favourite photographer had gathered her close, offered her comfort and sympathy when she needed it most and then taken control and booked her a flight back to London, sadly she was too late.

She was now woefully alone on the world, no cousins, aunts, or uncles. She had not really made close friends in the modelling world, often running from catwalk to catwalk and country to country, it was hard to sustain close friendships.

She had several casual good friends through work who she would link up with for cocktails and gigs but not a best friend, no-one she could tell her darkest deepest secrets with.

Clare’s mind wandered; she’d had an urge to come back for a few reasons. She was clearly traumatised by yet more grief, and she needed a happy place and frankly Falkland was it. Glorious memories of her parents, her town, her school, her friends, and Jamie.

She finally admitted that she owed it to herself to find out why Jamie had cheated on her when she was going through such a desperate time. Had he used her? Had it only been sex to him? It did not make sense. She needed to know if it was real, if even for such a short time. Had she confused friendship with something more? You don’t have sweet loving sex with your friends do you? At least Claire hadn’t back then or done so since.

Claire pulled out her phone to call Jilly, but it went straight to voicemail. Jilly was Claire’s mother, Julia’s best friend, she now was the closest thing to family that Claire now had. She loved Jilly and Jilly loved her, unconditionally.

Julia and Jilly met when they were in their early twenties and both working in media. Julia was a PR junior for a film company whilst Jilly worked in the music business. They ended up sharing a flat near Kensington High Street in West London. Between music gigs and film premiers they were living the dream, two single beautiful successful women making their way in life.

Jilly had built a successful music management company and personally handled 3 or 4 globally successful recording artists. Julia had been equally successful in her career, spearheading major public relation campaigns for award winning films but in truth was happy to take a step back from work when Claire was born. Being the best in the business she was still asked to manage major brand PR campaigns on a regular basis, some of this she could do from Scotland but occasionally she had to travel. She could pick and choose which had suited her down to the ground.

When Claire had been approached by Elite Models, it was Jilly who managed her affairs and negotiated her rate and would often harangue Elite if she felt they took advantage of Claire. Jilly was in her late 50’s, a petite, dynamic, energetic, attractive blond with an air of elegance and authority about her. She was divorced and childless so Claire, along with Jilly’s numerous nieces and nephews played a huge part in Jilly’s life.

You felt safe when Jilly was around, she was fiercely protective of those she loved, and she did not care who she stepped on in order keep them safe. It was Jilly who had stepped in and organised everything when Claire’s parents and Lamb died. When Claire’s parents died, Claire felt the love of the village but when Lamb died, she felt bereft with grief and if Jilly and her family had not been there.........well Claire dreaded to think what would have happened if Jilly had not been there. She loved this woman desperately.

When she was not working or travelling Claire spent many evenings and weekends at Jilly’s house just off Belsize Lane a very fashionable part of north London. They were special times, cooking, swopping clothes, listening to music, watching movies, making cocktails.

Occasionally they would venture out to Home House, a private members club in the heart of town. Three Georgian townhouses linked together fusing 18th century splendour with 21st century style. It encompassed a luxurious hotel, elegant drawing rooms to take tea or sip wine, a collection of intimate restaurants and a magical garden beautifully lit, to relax and have cocktails, all in the centre of Marylebone. A home from home, a discrete hub for the glitterati and colourful characters of London to dine, dance, revel and relax in private.

It gave Claire comfort to know that her mother had also experienced this life with Jilly, it gave both Jilly and Claire a sense of joy. For Jilly and Julia back in the day, it was a life lived to the full and in a way, Claire was reliving it with Jilly all over again.

Claire felt her tummy rumble, she had not eaten since the morning, and it was now almost 9pm. She wondered if the Stag Inn was still serving food. Her parents loved the food there, it was where they went on date nights. They would stagger home hand in hand, giggling and necking after too much wine. Claire would watch for them at the window and when she spotted them making their way across the Square, she would climb back into bed knowing that they were on their way home, all was good.

She decided that some space from Mrs B, might be needed, she was kindness personified but Claire felt a bit overwhelmed and emotional by the attention. She wanted a little space and time to herself.

Claire had a quick shower and applied some light make up and massaged a tiny bit of oil to her hair to separate and calm her unruly curls. The air was nippy for September, so she pulled on dark blue jeans, a crisp white soft cotton shirt and her favourite Max Mara cashmere cream jacket. One of the benefits of modelling is that you are always allowed to keep the designer clothes. She grabbed her cream Prada bag and made her way over to the Stag Inn, just a short walk from the Covenanters.

As soon as she opened the door the peaty smell of the fire hit her, and she smiled at the memory of winter Sunday lunches at the Stag. Huge plates of roast beef with the best roast tatties ever, roasted carrots, lashings of beef gravy, topped off with home-made Yorkshire puddings.

She quickly nabbed the seat by the fire and grabbed a menu praying that they were still serving food.

The place had not changed. The Stag Inn was compact, only around 6 tables in the snug part of the Inn. There was a bar, peppered with several tall bar stools, which was as long as the room itself.

It felt like stepping back in time, a huge imposing stag’s head, mounted on dark wood, was above the fireplace, the furniture was upholstered in various tartan cloth, there were several flickering LED candles positioned around the snug giving off a very romantic atmosphere.

The other parts of the Inn were more modern, they used to have music and sports blasted for locals. Claire was not ready to face anyone yet, she was happily ensconced in the snug.

Claire caught the eye of a young twenty something honey haired barmaid and before Claire could make her way over to the bar, the barmaid came bounding over with notepad at the ready.

‘Hello and welcome to the Stag Inn, I’m Mae. If it’s food you are after best be quick as chef is just about to close’ she said quickly, her accent was quite thick, and it took Claire a couple of seconds to register what she had said.

‘Oh gosh the pressure the pressure! I will take the Thai Chilli Noodles please with a glass of Cabalie, the red, not the white’.

Odd that the menu had not really changed, even odder that Claire remembered it, she had hardly glanced down before making her choice.

The Cabalie was the red wine that her parents always favoured, and it had become a firm favourite of Claire’s, Jilly’s, and Lamb.

Many a night the three of them would reminisce with their favourite glass in hand, playing music and looking at photographs of much happier times. Claire’s mind went to her sad place, a cruel twist of fate that just as she had accepted that her parents would never return and that she accepted the gap in her soul and the pain that went with it, she had lost her dear loved Uncle. She sat up and started to berate herself.

‘Every day I get out of bed, brush my teeth, have a shower, style my hair, get dressed and face the world. You can do this Beauchamp; you can do this. One foot in front of the other, there is no choice’. she muttered to herself.

You don’t ever accept the loss of the ones you love; you just get used to it. It sounds harsh saying it like that, but it’s true. The loss and the gaping hole in your being are now part of you. The aching pain that rests heavy on your chest every minute of every day, becomes normal for you. Claire knew that she was now at the start of another painful desolate journey. It’s a sadly familiar journey and the feeling of emptiness and isolation was indescribable. Friends trying to be helpful would say to her, ‘Life goes on Claire, life goes on’

Yes, indeed it does go on but it's not the same life. Not the same life at all.

The young barmaid bounced back with a large glass of red wine and some cutlery and placed them on the table, jolting Claire out of the little ‘conversation’ she was having with herself.

‘I don’t think I have seen you here before. Are you on holiday?’ asked Mae

Claire looked up at her. She was a beautiful fresh-faced girl, probably the same age as Claire. She reminded Claire of a young Billie Piper, she had that effervescent energy, one that was not forced but came naturally to some lucky people. She had a sweet attractive face, beautiful big brown eyes with sweeping natural lashes and a smile which was wider that the river forth itself. A warmth emanated from her, and Claire could not help but smile back.

Claire was trying to remember the last time she felt as carefree as Mae and not burdened by loss and grief. She experienced moments of happiness, of course she did, it would be a lie to say otherwise. However, there was always a black cloud hovering above her.

‘Oh, I used to live here many years ago as a girl, I haven’t been back here for several years. I am just reacquainting myself with some of my fond memories, and this place is one of them’ Claire returned Mae’s warm smile.

‘How long have you worked here?’ asked Claire

‘Oh, I don’t work here actually, my boyfriend bought this place a couple of years ago from the Murdoch’s. Said it held special memories for him too. I am a nurse but offered to cover a shift as a favour to the regular barmaid whose boyfriend came home early from the oil rigs. What a soft touch I am!’ bubbled Mae

‘I could have left him in the lurch but at least this way I can spend a wee bit of time with him. This isn’t his main job, he works so hard, and I think it’s important that we support each other’, Besides, I live over in Dunfermline so it’s not exactly around the corner. Mae was beaming from ear to ear just thinking and speaking about her boyfriend.

Lucky girl thought Claire.

The noodles were delicious, and Claire washed them down with a cold glass of water and the smooth red wine. It was so good to eat carbs and not worry. Claire had no intention of returning to work anytime soon and if that meant she could eat and drink as she pleased, she was going to savour every delicious moment. She was thin, probably too thin and she was aware that yes as a model that brought her more work but to be honest, as a woman her body left her wanting. She felt better with a little fat on her bones.

She had always associated food with social or family occasions. Every evening the Beauchamp’s would sit around the table and chatter about their day, her mother would always pack picnics for Claire and her friends for their biking expeditions, cookies, pears from the tree in the garden. In fact, Julia made it her life mission to use up every pear that fell from that tree.

They had pear tarts, sticky toffee pear pudding, pear, sage and hazelnut bread and of course the traditional homemade pear cordial. It was a running joke to see what new recipe Julia would conjure up to make the treat feel like it was the first time they had all tasted a pear.

Truly special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries always involved some fancy food of some sort. Claire’s mother encouraged them to try different dishes, from Lebanon, Argentina, Hong Kong to name a few and of course from around Europe, although the goose blood soup from Sweden was a step too far.

Claire was smiling to herself at the memory of ‘Operation Pear’ and could hear Mae busying herself behind the bar.

Suddenly Mae squealed with delight ‘Bubs! I thought you would not be home until well after closing!’

Turning, Claire witnessed the beautiful Mae jump into the arms of her very tall boyfriend. He looked equally happy to see her and bent down, wrapped her in a bear hug and kissed her sweetly on the lips.

Mae’s boyfriend realising they were being watched, looked up and his cool blue eyes locked with Claire’s.

The blood drained from her. You know that moment when you have had a lucky escape? When you are so shocked that your blood wants to burst out of your body, you become aware of the million nerve ends that are tingling all over your body, from head to toe, your heart hammering so hard that you feel you may pass out and wishing that someone would put out the fire that had engulfed you. A feeling of spiralling out of control, unable to stop the emotion or the panic.

Her mind working overtime transported her back to when she had experienced this feeling before, the moment when she saw Jamie kissing and declaring his love for Mary Baird.

After what seemed minutes, but was probably mere seconds, Claire chastised herself, come on, woman, you are not the same naïve gawky teenager you were 5 years ago. You are a woman of the world now, a strong independent woman in charge of your own destiny. Get a fucking grip.

Claire turned away and dredged her wine glass.

In a New York minute Jamie extricated himself from his adoring girlfriend and made his way over to her table.

‘Sassenach?’

‘Hi Jamie’ Jesus was that all she could say? How often had she thought of this moment? What she was going to say, how she was going to say it. She was now having trouble forming a bloody sentence.

Why had she not prepared for this? Bloody hell, why hadn’t she rehearsed all possibilities with Jilly?

‘Mrs Baird told me you were coming but she didn’t tell me when’ Jamie bent down to hug her and Claire pulled back. Jamie tried to disguise the hurt and moved to the other side of the table and pulled out a chair.

‘What’s that? No, let me guess Cabalie?’ Smirked Jamie.

‘Am I that obvious?’ Claire could not help but smile back.

‘Aye well you did say that when you were old enough to drink, the first thing you would do was to try that red wine and find out what all the fuss was about’.

He rose and went over to the bar and pulled the opened bottle of Cabalie wine from the shelf and picked up a spare glass. He turned to Mae and whispered something to her, Mae turned and looked over giving Claire a warm smile and made her way towards the table.

‘Claire! I can’t tell you how pleased I am to finally meet Jamie’s best friend! He never stops talking about you! I thought we had met before but now I realise that it’s the photographs that I recognise you from’ Claire smiled feebly, trying to prevent her lips from wobbling. Mae really was a sweetheart.

To be honest Claire was used to women locking up their boyfriends and husbands the moment she arrived on the scene. Being ostracised at dinner parties was the norm for her, a real-life Bridget fucking Jones.

Single models were always out to steal someone else’s man. It’s our life ambition don’t you know?

The beautiful Mae, on the other hand was just delighted that her boyfriend had been reunited with his childhood chum.

Mae continued to clear up leaving Jamie and Claire to ‘have a wee blether’ as she put it.

It was the same Jamie, he was broader, more rugged. He was merely a boy when she left and now there was a man sitting before her. The dark red hair, chiselled features and the beautiful ice blue eyes were the same though.

‘I must say, you were the last person I expected to see here. How are you?’ Claire could not be certain that the words had actually left her mouth as he just gazed at her saying nothing.

‘I am good Claire, thanks, hope you are too. It’s been a long time’

Claire could not read his mood; things had changed. She had known everything about this boy and here and now she could not tell what he was thinking.

One thing was clear though. Jamie Fraser, unlike Claire Beauchamp, had most definitely moved on with his life. He had found happiness with a gorgeous, warm-hearted, charming nurse and that confirmed the thoughts she had harboured over the last 5 years. She had loved him, but despite taking her virginity, he had not loved her back.

Jamie refilled Claire’s glass and poured a class for himself.

‘It’s very fine to see you Claire’ whispered Jamie softly.

Very fine? thought Claire, where are we? In the middle of the last century?

‘Well Jamie, it’s very fine to see you too’ Claire raised her glass to clink with his.

‘I was so very sorry to hear about Lamb. My Da told me. I know it’s a daft question but how are you doing? Are you looking after yourself?’ He looked straight into her eyes, not moving from his target.

Claire took a deep breath ‘Well it’s official, no mum, dad, uncle, auntie, brother, sister, niece, nephew or cousin. Oh and no granny or grandpa, just to make it a full sweep’ Her bottom lip trembled.

‘Sorry, don’t mean to sound like a bitter sad little victim, it’s all a bit overwhelming to be honest. To the outside world I have it all don’t I? The face of Chanel, trotting all over the globe, designer clothes, money in the bank. I would give it all up tomorrow to be the number one person in someone’s life’. Claire stopped and took a slow deep breath, steady Claire steady, she thought. She could not believe she had let the least sentence leave her lips and decided to go easy on the wine, she knew from bitter experience that alcohol and loss were not good partners. Seeing Jamie just reminded her of yet another thing that she had loved and lost.

Jamie glanced over at Mae who was engrossed in conversation with another customer, he gently covered his hand over Claire’s and stroked her knuckles. Claire’s heart lurched as she was transported back to her 17-year-old self with raging hormones.

‘Didn’t mean to get so emotional Jamie. This town brings back so many memories, so far, I have catapulted from happy to sad to confused and back again. All part of the process, right?’ Smiled Claire rather sadly.

‘Claire, are we friends?’ asked Jamie gently.

‘Yes, I suppose we were Jamie, we were friends’ she replied.

‘Are we friends now Claire? Can we be friends now? You left so suddenly and that last week you could barely look at me let alone speak to me? I was at a loss, I knew you were grieving but you let me in, you let me in to help you, we shared something unbelievably special and then all of a sudden, I was out in the cold. You left without so much as a cheerio and to this day I could not work out what had happened. We were close, more than close and you meant the world to me, you knew that right? You changed your number and did not respond to my letters, I was devastated when you left and shut me out Claire’

Claire sighed, ‘I thought I meant the world to you Jamie, until you proved otherwise’.

Jamie’s eyes shot up in surprise ‘what? I could never do or say anything to hurt you Sassenach’.

Mae called closing time and Claire signalled to Mae for the bill.

‘Look, Jamie, it’s late, I have been travelling all day and I am just exhausted. Besides, I know Mae is looking forward to spending some quality time with you’ those last few words stuck in Claire's throat and it surprised her.

Claire pulled out her credit card in anticipation of the bill, for the second time that evening, Jamie covered her hand ‘Keep your money Sassenach. Or should I say Sass?’

She chuckled loudly and Jamie laughed back at her.

‘Nice touch using my nickname and one of my middle names as your professional name. should I feel honoured?'.

‘Yes, you should you bloody Scot! Look, when you have time Jamie, let’s chat some more. There are a few things I need to say to clear the air but right now is truly not the time’

‘Okay Sassenach, I hear you, let me know when. I am working at the Distillery during the day and do the odd night here, so you know where to find me. I will take time off to suit you, there are things I need to get off my chest as well’.

He slipped his business card over the table to Claire. 'Just in case you deleted my number' he grinned.

Jamie stood and this time he did not falter, he stepped forward and wrapped his two strong arms around her, placing a soft lingering kiss to the top of her head.
,
Claire wanted to break down and weep.

Chapter Text

The next day Claire woke up late, feeling completely refreshed. It was such a treat to sleep in a place with no sirens, trucks or noisy street life. The autumn sun shone brightly into her bedroom. She pondered on her conversation with Jamie.
She could not quite reconcile why she was more than a bit disappointed that he had a girlfriend, she really did not know why? She had not seen or contacted him in almost 5 years. What did she expect? For him to live his life as a monk? She had been tempted to contact him many times, but she was just never sure what to say, or where to start?

To make it worse Mae was a lovely person, and she was clearly besotted with Jamie and he with her. Claire could not be unhappy for Jamie because deep down she still thought of him as her best friend.

Claire knew that she needed to come clean with him and tell him what she saw and heard between him and Mary Baird that fateful evening. When she thought about that night, the memory made her feel ill. Over the years she had created two boxes in her mind. A happy memory box where she went to when she needed comfort and love. To feel light and happy and wanted.

The sad memory box is where she never wanted to go, if she went there, her head could get stuck in that box, and she would gasp for air and light. When the sad memories came, her mind automatically grasped them and placed them quickly in the sad memory box. To stay and fester with no light or love to keep them strong or visible. The memory of Jamie and Mary was in the sad memory box and Claire needed to find the will to unlock that box and air that memory. However, lying in her room that morning she could not help but open that sad box and relive the sadness.

When Ellen and Brian had begged Lamb to let Claire remain in Scotland to finish her exams, Claire had moved in with the Fraser family. Claire and Jamie’s relationship progressed from friends to boyfriend and girlfriend. Well, they always had been really but now with hormones raging and battling for attention on both sides it was becoming impossible to control their teenage lustful urges.

One evening when Ellen and Brian were out at the Covenanters celebrating a neighbour’s wedding anniversary, Claire and Jamie were left alone in the rambling Fraser house. Claire had sneaked into Jamie’s bedroom, and they had kissed the face of each other for at least an hour, leaving their lips red raw. She could have cried with relief when Jamie’s hand slid inside her knickers. God she was aching for him and thought that he would never get there. Feeling bold (and haven taken instruction from Carole who had lost her virginity just after her 17th birthday) she cupped Jamie between his legs, hoping that it would lead to more. That, as they say, is what kicked it all off. Before they knew it, they were clawing at each other’s clothes and in no time, they were rolling underneath the covers. Jamie entered her gently though, asking all the time if she was okay, did it hurt? Did she want to carry on?

Claire felt that she had an unreachable itch that needed to be scratched! Truly, that’s what it felt like to be honest, nothing sexier than that. If she could have described in in a sexy way she would have but she couldn't. When Jamie entered her slowly and gently, she felt it sting a little, even though she was sopping wet, but after a minute or so when they got into a gentle thrusting rhythm she felt wonderfully stretched, and yes that itch was being scratched quite beautifully.

Claire had no expectation of sex really; however, she did recall the hilarious ‘sex’ talk that Julia had given her just after her 16th birthday. Smiling to herself, the thing she remembered most from that talk was Julia telling her to ‘join in! Just join in Claire, you will enjoy it so much more, just join in and have fun. So, Claire Beauchamp aged 17 ¾ joined in with vigour and as a result, after months of grieving and emptiness, she experienced unadulterated joy and happiness and a feeling of euphoria that she never wanted to end. Afterwards, they had cooried down, each peppering the other with gentle kisses.

It’s odd when you remember your first time. You don’t remember it step by step, but you do remember the feeling afterwards. Claire felt that EVERYONE would know. She ached from the welcome intrusion of Jamie inside her, but she was sure that when she walked into the anniversay party, everyone would say, Is that Claire? Why is she walking in that funny way? Has something happened? They would know for sure. She felt so utterly grown up and well, like a woman at last. No longer a child, she had made that leap from childhood to womanhood in just under two hours.

‘Sassenach, do you think we should make an appearance at the party? I don’t want anyone to think we are up to something! ‘murmured Jamie nuzzling into her neck.

‘We are up to something Jamie Fraser and if I go to the party with this little smug satisfied look and a red raw face glowing with happiness then everyone will know that Claire Beauchamp just lost her virginity to Jamie Fraser’. She kissed him on the tip of his nose and smiled sweetly up at him.

‘Why don’t you go? Just show your face and hurry back. I’ll have a bath and do some studying’ Claire suggested.

Reluctantly Jamie had a quick shower and dressed ready to head round the corner to the Covenanters to join the party. The sooner he was there, the sooner he could return to his girl.

Claire made her way back to her own room. For the first time in months, she felt some sort of peace. She had loved and adored this boy for so long and she now felt a sense of belonging and peace to combat the feeling of loss and desolation.

After half an hour Claire grew anxious to see Jamie, she was bloody aching for the boy. My god she thought, how did I live without sex for so long, I want to do it again already, she giggled to herself.

She took a quick shower and pulled on a tight fitting black woollen dress which accentuated her slim figure. How she wished she had curves like Nancy. She put a bit of light kohl around her large honey coloured eyes and applied mascara. She finished off with a bright red lipstick applied to full round lips. She tried to hide the redness with some foundation, she was fooling no-one. Hopefully the party room would be dimly lit and not a soul would notice. Claire left the Fraser house and made her way over the cobbled square towards the booming music.

Upon entering the function room, Claire could not see Jamie at first. Her eyes desperately scanned the room for the tall red headed scot. Eventually, her eyes landed upon him at the far end of the function room by the Bairn’s Den. He was deep in conversation with Mary Baird whose parents owned the hotel. Claire and Jamie knew Mary well as she was the best friend of Jamie’s older sister Jenny. In fact, the Baird’s were the reason that the Frasers visited Fife and discovered the redundant Distillery, Brian Fraser and Bob Baird had been school friends up in Inverness. Mary, Jenny, and Jamie had practically grown up together, spending their school holidays together almost every year.

Claire’s attention peaked when she saw Jamie slip his arm gently over Mary’s shoulder and slowly guide her out of the function room towards the Den.

The Den was a separate room at the back of the function room that the Baird’s had set up for the bairns, when boring functions were on, the bairns would head back there to watch telly, play table tennis, computer games. As the bairns became teenagers it was used to listen to pop music and watch movies. It was a place where the bairns could play and relax whilst their parents had a good time. The parents, or the teenagers, would take it in turns to supervise the Den.

Claire made her way through the throng of dancers; she was still uncomfortable being in a place where so many people felt happy. Come on Claire, head up, shoulders back, lippy on and look forward. She chastised herself, willing not to let unhappy memories cloud tonight of all nights.

As Claire reached the Bairn's Den she heard Mary sobbing, she was talking quietly to Jamie, Claire could not make out what she was saying. She was terribly upset though, her little heart seemed to be breaking.

She absolutely heard the next voice though, that was unmistakable. Jamie spoke loudly, so that Mary would hear him over her sobs.

‘I don’t care Mary. I don’t care. I love you, and I will always love you. Nobody can change that, and nobody will’. he said looking down at Mary.

Claire pushed her head forward to peek around the door, she had to check again that it was her Jamie.

It could not be her Jamie. It was impossible.

She continued to stare, she witnessed from a side angle Jamie taking Mary’s bonny face in his hands and kissing the top of her nose.

She pulled back frozen to the spot. Her heart and mind racing, she was convinced she could actually hear and not just feel her heart pounding. She was hot and nauseous and seriously thought she would crumble to the cold stone floor if she did not get out of there.

She ripped off her heels and pushed her way back through the dancers, and threw herself through the doors into the empty square. She took a huge gulp of autumn air and sobbed.

What an idiot Beauchamp. What a fucking first class clown you are girl. He just felt sorry for you, everyone feels sorry for you. What boy would turn down sex, you were so forward with him, don't you realise Claire, you offered it on a plate.

Claire chastised herself for visiting the sad box so early in the morning. It made her feel vulnerable and so she lay in bed a little later to try and gather herself.

It was just after 9.30am when she ventured down to breakfast to find Bob Baird in attendance. Giving her a huge bear hug, and planting a soppy kiss on her cheek, Bob declared that she needed fattening up and that a Bob’s Breakfast was on the menu.

Minutes later a full Scottish breakfast was staring up at her. Claire fought the urge to giggle. She imagined Jodie at Elite having a god unholy fit at the fried concoction in front of her. Bob’s breakfast contained Lorne sausage, crispy bacon, tattie scones, black pudding, a fried egg, and beans which had clearly been cooked in the fats of the bacon and sausage. What the heck Beauchamp, just go for it girl, get some meat on you, something that a man can grab hold of. How many times had she heard that?

Claire’s wee belly was so full she could hardly move. The breakfast was just scrummy. She's not had a Scottish breakfast since she had gone south. Henry always asked for a Scottish breakfast on his birthday. Claire smiled at the memory.

She decided that she could put it off no longer. Bracing herself she pulled on her woollen coat, left the hotel, and turned left. And made her way towards her childhood home.

Upon reaching the large attractive stone cottage, she chapped on the door and waited, heart in mouth hands clammy.

An attractive young woman with beautiful blue eyes, answered the door looking harassed, with a babe in arms.

Claire immediately felt guilty for not warning the young mother that she was dropping by.

‘Hi there, I am so sorry to bother you. I am Claire, Claire Beauchamp, your landlady. I just wanted to say hello and to ask if everything is okay?’

‘Miss Beauchamp, oh lass welcome. Please do come in for a cup of tea’ gushed the young mother.

‘No truly, I can see you have your hands full, it’s Mrs Clayton, isn’t it? Perhaps another time, I am here for a little while so there will be plenty of time for us to catch up when your hands are not so full and please do call me Claire'

‘Oh, that would be braw Claire, thank you and please call me Samantha’.

Samantha was in awe of the beautiful young woman standing in front of her. She knew that Claire was one of the world’s top models, she was front cover of every magazine known to woman, and Samantha had conjured up a ‘type’ in her mind. Claire Beauchamp was a type indeed. She was warm and friendly and Samantha had surmised that everything Claire said seemed to be wrapped in a blanket of warmth and comfort. Samantha wanted Claire as her new best friend.

‘Well then Samantha, that’s a date. Hope to see you soon. I am at the Covenanters so if you need anything just give me a shout’ smiled Claire with more than a tinge of relief that she had taken this important step.

Claire felt good that her family home was being enjoyed by another young family. She knew that she would not be selling this house any time soon, it was the only thing on this earth that held any good memories for her.

Right, it was only 11.00am am on a brisk Saturday morning. What next?

She donned her walking boots and headed past the Stag In towards Falkland hill. She borrowed a rucksack from Mrs B and filled it with water, energy snacks, her Bose headphones, a book, and a blanket.

It was another hour before she reached the top of the Hill, she stopped to chat to a couple of ramblers who were on their way down. Everyone in Scotland stopped for a chat, she realised that it was completely alien to do that in London. The autumn sun was strong, and she reached the top quite breathless. She turned her face to the sun and let it rest on her face. She took a deep breath and said, ‘Love you Lamb, thank you for loving and protecting me you sweet man. Claire then dropped some ashes into the ground. She wanted part of Lamb to remain in the Kingdom of Fife.

The top of Falkland Hill had always been Jamie and Claire’s place. It overlooked the beautiful countryside for miles and miles, it had its fair share of tourists, but Jamie and Claire had found a little secluded spot at the far end of the Hill where the view was not as beautiful, that was why it was more secluded. She headed over to their spot.

One summer Jamie and Claire had camped up there with their friends, they must have been 15 or 16 years old or so. There was Claire with her best chums, Nancy, and Carole. Jamie had invited his pals, Davie Murdoch, and Jim Stewart; Claire knew them from school. Davie was a little older and was designated the ‘grown up’ of the group. Falkland Hill was literally 10 minutes’ walk from where they lived but it was the first time that any of them had ever stayed out overnight on an adventure. Carole had brought her guitar; in the evening the boys got a campfire going and warmed up hot dogs on it. Hot dogs in a roll with HP sauce washed down with a bottle of Irn Bru and Julia’s freshly made pear tarts. Tasty food, laughter and a singsong around the campfire, how very grown up and independent they all felt.

Next day however, it lashed down with rain from the moment they opened their eyes. They were all ravenous and wanted their bacon rolls for breakfast. Jim had the grand idea to set the camp stove up in the tent to fry the bacon. To stay dry, they stayed in the boys’ tent, playing cards all morning before lighting up the stove again to warm baked beans for lunch.

Claire’s father nearly had a fit when he arrived to find them cooking beans on a lighted stove within the tent. The rain had battered the Kingdom all day, so Henry decided to go and rescue them before the tents subsided down the hill.

The bedraggled campers returned home less than 24 hours after they had left on their big adventure. Claire however, felt as if she had been on a gap year, she had never had such responsibility before and she had savoured every moment of their trip alone up Falkland Hill. She was quickly brought back down to earth when Henry reminded her that she had allowed a stove to be lit within a flammable tent! Rain or no rain that would have been a wee towering inferno and an adventure that none of them would have enjoyed. She still had a lot to learn about responsibility.

Claire laid out her blanket and lay down gazing up at the clear sky. The air was fresh on her skin, but she felt toasty and warm in her Barbour jacket and a part of Lamb had been scattered in her favourite place, Fresh air always lifted her spirits. Whenever she felt the sad box taking over, she would take herself out on a walk. No matter which city she was in. She would pull on a warm coat and her sketchers and take off on an adventure to lift her spirits. That with getting as much sleep as possible, thanks to herbal melatonin, eating well, spending time with her friends and family, all these things contributed to keeping Claire as resilient as possible.

Inevitably, her mind turned to Jamie. It dawned on Claire that she could not remember if Jamie had ever said that he loved her. Did he ever say those three words? No, if he had, she would have remembered. You remember your first time, right?

Her sad box burst open. He loved Mary though, she had heard that very clearly and had seen Jamie kissing her tenderly. In the way he had been kissing Claire only half an hour previously.

Claire’s mind was going ten to the dozen. Jamie loved Mary; she didn’t even know he was seeing Mary? Why did she not know? Did Jamie confess to Mary that he had cheated on her by sleeping with Claire? Was it just sex for Jamie and he now regretted it because he upset the woman that he loved? That was why Mary was crying.

Claire was mentally prepping herself for the conversation she needed to have with her childhood best friend. That had to be next on her list but she really needed to pull herself together.

Chapter Text

Claire logged Jamie’s number into her phone and looked at it periodically that morning, wondering when she would muster up the courage to be honest about what she had witnessed that fateful night. Whatever had happened Jamie and Mary were surely no longer together. So much for love’s young dream. To be honest the dream was still alive, it just involved Mae and not Mary Baird.

She lay her head back down onto the hard ground and closed her eyes, the fresh air whipped around her cheeks, the feeling of warmth on her face and the silence made her feel at peace. That feeling was not something she could claim often, if ever. Was this peaceful warm feeling because she had finally stepped off the treadmill and was for the first time in numerous years not planning three weeks ahead? Or was it because she had come back to the place where she had truly felt happy. Either way, Claire relished this wonderful feeling and was determined not to let it fall from her grasp.

Claire heard a slight rustle nearby and opened her eyes to see Jamie striding with purpose up to their 'special place', heather and bracken crunching underfoot.

‘Old habits die hard eh Sassenach?’ Jamie grinned at her, almost laughing

Claire could not help but flash a cheeky smile back. Jamie was still as handsome as ever. Whether she willed it or not her whole being rejoiced at the sight of this beautiful man. It had never been any other way. He was casually dressed in baggy blue jeans and a Barbour jacket with a white t shirt underneath.

‘We should call each other in the morning so that we avoid turning up at popular beauty spots dressed exactly the same way!’ Claire giggled looking up at him, the sun, blocked slightly by his large frame.

Jamie plonked himself down beside her his broad smile lighting up his face. They then sat in silence, neither quite knowing how to proceed. It hung in the air, this was their special place, where they played as children, kissed as teenagers. It’s a place that only they knew about.

Eventually Jamie broke the heavy silence.

‘I can't put into words how wonderful it is to be here with you again, Sassenach’ said Jamie, not looking directly at Claire but gazing at the East Lomond Hills across the vast glen.

He stopped, as if to compose himself. His voice was low, and so very earnest, Claire could tell that he was emotional.

‘You can’t imagine how many times I’ve sat here alone wishing that you were right here by my side. I could always share my worries and joys with you. I was desolate when you decided to go and live with Lamb so suddenly. For so long I wished you back here with me and I had frankly lost hope that you would ever return to Falkland.’

‘I’m sorry that I left so abruptly Jamie. I had no idea what to do when I witnessed what I did. My heart was broken, I was confused and not thinking straight. It’s hard for me to talk about it. It wasn’t only my heart that was broken, I was totally broken’.

‘Please Sassenach, tell me. I need to know what it was I did, or didn’t do, to drive you away’ pleaded Jamie.

Claire took a deep breath. She did not have time to plan how to tell this story, to relive it was so very painful. As if sensing her unease, Jamie tenderly took her hands in his.

‘It was always easier when we touched Claire. I am listening. Talk to me please'.

Before she knew what she was doing Claire was caressing Jamie’s knuckles with her thumb, deep in thought. Every nerve alive.

It all came tumbling out. What she had seen with him and Mary and what she had heard him say to her. How she had run back to the Fraser household, devastated, thinking that their lovemaking had meant nothing to Jamie. She decided to go to Lamb early and leave him to make his life with Mary.

Jamie’s hands squeezed hers tightly before looking up at her with tears threatening to spill from his beautiful blue eyes.

‘How Claire?’

‘How what?’ said Claire quizzically

‘How could you think I would play you false sweetheart? How could you think that I would make love to you and within the hour decide that I loved someone else? Is that how little you thought of me lass? We have known each other since we were bairns, and you think I would do that to you? The person I love most in the world?’

Jamie was still emotional, but his emotion was now intermingled with anger.

‘Well like I said, I was distraught and not thinking straight but I know what I saw, and I know what I heard. What was I supposed to think Jamie?’ replied Claire defiantly.

‘That may be so Sassenach, but sometimes what you see and hear in a moment can be taken out of context. I cannot believe this is why you left me! Holy mother Sassenach, I am so fucking angry right now’ Jamie’s voice had risen, and his face was now a shade of crimson.

‘Well, I was fucking angry then Jamie Fraser so that kind of makes us even stevens doesn’t it. Perhaps you would like to give me that ‘context’ you are talking about, and you can put me out of my wretchedness, and I can finally move on with my life instead of feeling like the world’s biggest failure in love’.

Claire was now fighting back tears, anger, frustration, hurt.

Jamie huffed loudly, ‘That night, the night of the anniversary party. Mary had declared her everlasting love and affection for Jenny. Mary asked that they be more than friends. Mary wanted her and Jenny to be girlfriends’

Claire’s head whipped round to Jamie.

‘What?’ she shrieked.

‘Aye, it was a right old stramash. Jenny did not know what to say and stormed off in embarrassment. Mrs B found Mary crying and asked her what was up. She came out there and then to her mother, in the middle of a party’

‘What did Mrs B say?’ asked Claire now totally intrigued.

‘Told her to dry her eyes and stop being so daft. Told her that she was unlikely to be the only gay person in the village and promptly got on with the party arrangements.’

‘That led to you telling you love her….how?’ questioned Claire sarcastically

‘Her mother ignored her all evening, Jenny ignored her all evening, she felt that everyone had turned against her. She tried to speak to Bob but he brushed her off saying he was too busy to talk. It was a momentous and meaningful moment for her Sassenach, and no-one took the time to talk to her. She felt unloved and cast aside. I have known her since she was a wean, she’s a gentle soul. It upset me to see her so forlorn so I gave her what friendship and comfort I could’.

Claire sat speechless. He did not love Mary; he had not betrayed her. He had not gone from her arms straight to another. Her emotions were somersaulting, and pinging off each other. She did not know if this was a happy box or a sad box moment, this moment could not fit into any compartment.

Of course, she was happy that Jamie had not cheated on her. On the other hand, she was devastated that she had let her emotions get the better of her and not trusted him enough to let him explain. The fact that Jamie had now moved on with another, sat squarely in the sad box.

‘So sorry Jamie’, said Claire reaching for his hand.

‘No! No! Sorry will not cut it Sassenach. You thought I would do that to you? After all we had been through, after we made love and I told you that I loved you! I can’t believe you thought so little of me Claire.’ Jamie was visibly angry, and his voice was trembling.

‘When?’ screamed Claire.

‘When what?’ screamed Jamie back.

‘When did you say that you loved me?’ tears now ran freely down her cheeks.

At the sight of Claire’s tears Jamie softened and took her hand.

‘What do you mean when Claire? I have loved you my whole life, well to be honest I cannot recall my life without you in it. Every plan I made was with you in mind, every step I took I considered you, you were my every thought, my every ambition, my every dream’ Jamie could not believe what he was hearing.

‘Why didn’t you say it?’ cried Claire ‘You fucking said it to Mary Baird!’

Jamie stopped. ‘What do you mean? I never said it? I must have said it, Claire. I thought it every minute of every day woman’

Claire sobbed. ‘You didn’t! You didn’t!! But I heard you say it to another woman, and it broke my heart. I thought you had found someone that you loved, and it was not me’.

Jamie gently took her by the shoulders and with one hand tenderly tilted her chin upwards.

‘Well, Sassenach, I am telling you now. I love you; I always have. I love nobody the way I love you'.

Chapter Text

‘Why did you not wait Claire? Why always so indignant and headstrong? I mean it is one of the things I love about you but how could you believe I would play you false like that? Did you think so little of me?’ huffed Jamie angrily.

‘I’m sorry, I truly am. I wished I had waited to hear you out, but I was so stunned to hear you speak those words to Mary when I had not even heard them from you. I hurt myself as much as I hurt you Jamie’ Claire pleaded with him.

‘Really? How do you make that one out Claire? Huh? You had control over your actions. I had no idea what was going on! You fled without a word at the crack of dawn without so much as a cheerio. My phone number was blocked. At least I presume it was blocked, no-one with a beating heart could have ignored my texts begging you to speak to me. I called you a thousand times or more, every day for 18 months. I prayed that one day I would miraculously get through. My weekly letters of course went unanswered, probably unopened too. The worst though was the number of times Lamb turned me away from your front door!! I would stand for hours by your house hoping to catch a glimpse of you. I felt such a fool when my Da told me that you and Lamb had moved. I was devastated Claire, broken hearted, lost and devastated. I had no fucking idea where you had gone! You vanished from my life completely with no explanation’ Jamie’s voice was rising now.

‘I wasn’t happy either, I promise you. My heart was broken too, and I went through indescribable loss’ Claire was now crying gently

‘YOU!’ raged Jamie!

‘It was your decision!’ He fumed, his face now red with rage.

‘It was not my decision to lose our child!’ sobbed Claire

Jamie stilled immediately, stunned by her words.

‘Our child? You lost our child?’ asked Jamie, anger replaced by shock and tenderness.

‘I’m so sorry Jamie. I should have told you’ She whispered, not quite believing how the words had tumbled out of her mouth.

‘You can tell me now’ he said, taking her soft hand into his and caressing it tenderly.

‘When I arrived in London, I was so distressed, I thought you had betrayed me. I wasn’t eating or doing much of anything really, except crying and feeling sorry for myself. I had dropped out of school and was in no rush to get back, I made no attempt to make friends, I just shut myself off completely from everyone I loved. Lamb and Jilly were at their wits end.

I was four and a half months pregnant before I realised. My periods had stopped when mum and dad died so it did not occur to me that because I did not have a period I could be pregnant. Thinking back, some of it made sense. I was constantly nauseous, and I had strange cravings, but I thought that was down to lack of food, and my body willing me to eat’ Claire’s voice was thick and heavy with emotion.

Jamie pulled Claire close and kissed the top of her head. ‘Oh Claire, my poor Sassenach, what am I to do with you? Whispered Jamie into her soft, sweet smelling brown curls.

‘When I found out I was pregnant, I was petrified. Jilly and Lamb said it would be fine though. Whatever I wanted or needed both emotionally and financially, they would help and support me. I needed a bit of time to get used to the idea myself and then I was going to let you know.

Whatever had happened between us I knew neither you nor your family would turn their back on a child of theirs. I knew everyone would love my, sorry I mean our, child. Despite what I had witnessed between you, and Mary I knew that our child would be enveloped in love and would be cherished by two loving families.

A week later, I started to bleed profusely. Luckily, I was at Jilly’s in Belsize Lane and there is a hospital nearby, she rushed me to A&E and that is where I lost our baby.

Claire took a deep breath as if to summon up courage. 'So, it happened all over again. The moment I felt love again, the moment I felt that someone was mine to love and be loved in return, whoosh, taken from me. No questions, no explanations, no nothing, had you fooled Beauchamp, nope not this time. Nothing going into your happy box, just another contribution to the big fat box of loss’ Claire laughed sarcastically to herself.

She turned to Jamie; his blue eyes were brimming with unshed tears.

‘I wish I had known. My heart aches at the thought of you going through that Claire. I am glad that you know I would have loved our child, with all my heart. It was a child made from love’ tears now ran freely down Jamie’s cheeks.

He stood up and pulled Claire up beside him. He took her in his arms pulling her tightly, flush against his body.

Claire felt crushed by this monumental squeeze but did not care. Jamie was full to the brim with emotion and hugging the life from her. He was crying softly but reassuring her at the same time, lovingly caressing her hair, and whispering softly to her.

‘You have always been a brave wee thing Sassenach. You are a survivor, and I am sorry that you feel alone in the world. Please tell me though, you know that you always have me. You do know that don’t you?’

Claire gazed up at him. Despite working in fashion surrounded by the most beautiful people on the planet, Jamie was the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes upon. There had never been any comparison in her mind, not now, not ever. This was a man who was beautiful both inside and out. How could she have doubted it? What a fool she had been, a young impetuous , hormonal teenager who was wracked with grief. She only had herself to blame for the lost years.

Was this the moment where she asked in what way he would always be there for her? Of course she could not. She could not hurt Mae, or face the alternative, which was rejection from Jamie.

Chapter Text

The rain started to drizzle, and a thick blanket of Scottish grey mist hovered over them. Jamie and Claire scurried over a mound and finally spotted a tiny makeshift shelter. It was not lost on either of them that they had built shelters just like this when they were young whilst out seeking their next adventure. The lopsided shelter was thatched with heavy branches and dried out heather, inside there was a sheet of tarpaulin weighed down by rocks at each corner, it was just enough to cover them both and shield them from the lazy Scottish rain.

They scooted down inside the shelter and at once became aware of how close they were to each other.

She felt like a raw open wound, her eyes red with crying, the redness matching her nose which she had been blowing incessantly. However, she felt lighter having shared the pregnancy and miscarriage with Jamie and felt soothed and reassured by his reaction. She had expected no less of course but the way she had blurted it out to him was not what she had planned. Well Beauchamp, it is out now she berated herself.

There was an air of trepidation, neither one knowing what to say or which direction to take. Claire desperately wanted to apologise for her lack of contact after she lost their baby. How could she explain that she had hit the floor again? It seemed that was all she seemed to do; at the time she was spiralling in a tycoon of constant despair. From her parents, to Jamie, to losing the baby. She was determined that losing Lamb would not pull her back down, to that dark place that she found impossible to navigate. No, she was going to face her innermost insecurities and ghosts and take control, even if it hurt. The one thing she was absolutely certain of was that she would cope, no matter what life threw at her. She owed it to Lamb to do whatever it took to move forward and be happy. It was a promise that she had made to him and one that she was determined to keep. She was a survivor; she knew it and she would prove it.

Claire nudged Jamie gently. ‘I am so sorry that I avoided you for so long, I had no right to hide the truth from you. Lamb was only trying to protect me; I was in no fit state to see anyone for several months to be honest. I went into hospital, a specialist hospital, called the Priory for a while to help me cope with life, loss, the universe, and all that was conspiring against me. It was intensive and emotionally very challenging, but it taught me essential coping mechanisms that I needed to perfect so that I could just exist in the real world.

I was working with Jilly, just as a runner at a video shoot, when the art director offered me a small modelling job. It was easy, mindless, I could switch off, just follow instructions, pretend to be someone else. Someone else dressed me, did my makeup, my hair. Turn left, right, sit down, stand up, smile, pout, laugh. I was just learning how to operate day to day without falling apart.

I began to build a good reputation as a model, I was easy to work with, didn’t complain or demand, or grouch about the hours, after all I had nowhere to be, neither did I have anyone waiting for me. Changing my name made it easier to play that role, the role of someone else. I was living the life of Sass Alexander, the hardworking model who smiled and was helpful and bought pain au chocolate for the crew when we worked at the weekend.

My first few jobs were so successful that Elite approached me, they are world class at what they do so I thought why not. I left the commercial detail.to Jilly and that’s when my modelling career took off.

For the last few years, I have acted at being someone else. Not exactly the career I hoped for but there you have it. When I became the face of Chanel it all catapulted to another level, I continued playing my role but to a wider audience. Sass Alexander, the famous model and closet actress. Only when I was with Lamb and Jilly was I Claire, the real me. The flawed creature with more baggage than Heathrow airport'.

Jamie listened intently to each and every word. That huge empty void he had struggled with for so long felt at least partly filled. His heart had healed a little and for that he was thankful, he knew that he had a journey of recovery ahead of him too. His heart ached for Claire, she had been through too much in her young life and deserved joy and happiness and he was determined that she would find it.

Jamie put his hand over hers and whispered to her,

‘And now here Claire, this is your home where you belong, we all know and love the real Claire Beauchamp. You are not flawed; life has just been unnecessarily cruel to you. Tell me, if Lamb had not died, would you still have come back?’ he asked.

‘Yes, Jilly and I had been talking about it. She knows that there were things left unsaid, questions unanswered and truths that had to be told. It was always the plan to come but the loss of Lamb just crushed me and suddenly, I felt in desperate need of something or someone to anchor me, so I decided on impulse just to hoof it north hoping I would find that something. I didn’t really have a plan to be honest. I am winging it'.

‘I’m so glad Claire. Just so happy you are here, of course not happy about the circumstances but you get my meaning.’ Jamie gave her a lop-sided smile.

The rain was now hammering down and seeping through the amateur shelter, so they decided to make a run for it down the hill, arriving ten minutes later at the Stag Inn soaked through to their skin.

‘Come Sassenach, I’ll light the fire and put the kettle on’ Jamie made his way upstairs to the living quarters and Claire followed him.

Since she had last been at the Stag Inn, the living area had been redecorated and modernised. She plonked herself in the sitting room.

The room was spacious with light thick oak wooden floors, a huge velvet royal blue sofa wrapped its way around one corner of the room and was complimented by crush velvet cream cushions. Claire was fascinated by the artwork, there were two large blue and red ‘Rothko’ type prints hanging on the widest wall and the smaller wall was decorated with Andy Warhol black and white photographs in black frames all different shapes and sizes. There was an expansive chimney breast painted the match the velvet sofas. Against it stood a large grey marble fireplace which hosted two cast iron candlesticks at one end. The chimney breast was offset by a huge round star shaped bevelled glass mirror, the contrast of the deep blue and the glass was simply breath-taking. The windows had white wooden slatted blinds fitted which gave the room an open airy feeling.

At the other end of the room there was a slim iron console table which supported three photographs in thick chunky silver frames, one photograph looked like a recent one of Jamie and his siblings, Jenny, and Willie, all three of them dressed up. The lads in their Fraser kilts and Jenny in a slinky black evening gown with her Fraser tartan sash draped over her shoulder. The second photograph was a stunning black and white one of Ellen and Brian, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, it was the third photograph however that stunned Claire. It was of their two families, the Frasers and the Beauchamps. The photograph was a wonderfully happy one. It was taken at the Markinch Highland games, an annual event which included highland dancing, tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, and a variety of other things like cake stalls, art, crafts, competitions for best vegetables, face painting and of course the most popular tent of all, The Fraser Whisky tasting tent!

Both sets of parents, with wee drams in hand, were sitting on a high grassy bank with the four children sitting further down. Claire and Jenny had taken part in the highland dancing competition and were decked out head to toe in cute tartan skirts with matching waistcoats, long tartan socks and white frilly shirts, the two boys were in kilts, fresh from their attempt to win the sword dancing competition, sadly they were knocked out in the first round, much to their joint relief. Claire was of course next to Jamie in the photograph, and he had put his two fingers behind Claire’s head to pretend that she had bunny rabbit ears. Every single person in the photograph was laughing, great big wild smiles with eyes disappearing into their faces in a moment of pure and utter joyfulness. Claire felt herself well up at the cherished memory of the happy times that they all had. She realised that the tears were happy ones.

Jamie strolled into the sitting room carrying a tray with two large mugs of hot tea and a plate of highland shortbread.

‘Wow, Jamie, what great taste. This is such a beautiful room.’ Gushed Claire

‘Thanks Sassenach, I have to confess that my mother had a hand in it. When they family left to go back up to the Highlands, she made sure I was in a comfortable home and not existing with a table, chair, and telly.

‘It’s changed since the Murdoch family lived here,’ said Claire.

‘Aye it has, mind you it was difficult for Kath to keep beautiful things with those rowdy unruly lads. Her and Rab have a beautiful house just up the road now that the lads have flown the nest. They have an online craft beer business. They set it up when they sold the Stag Inn to me and Da. You’ll see Davie Murdoch tonight, he’s coming in for a quick drink, come by and say hello. He will be chuffed to bits to see you.’

Claire looked up and took the steaming cup of tea from Jamie, their hands brushing slightly and Claire shivered.

‘Thanks, I will drop by. Will be lovely to see him’

They settled into the large comfortable sofas, sipping their tea, nibbling on the mouth-watering shortbread, whilst drying out.

Looking around Claire could see no obvious signs of Mae in the flat. She recalled when she met Mae that first evening, she had said that she lived in Dunfermline which was several miles from Falkland. However, when she went to the loo earlier, she did spot a washbag which could have belonged to a woman.

Claire finally plucked up some dutch courage, ‘So, how long have you and Mae been together?

Jaime startled slightly and blushed at the unexpected question, ‘Och, not long, 5 or 6 months perhaps, we don’t live together, it’s not overly serious, although I suspect her friends would have one arm up my back and marching me to the Kirk! I can state quite categorically Sassenach that there is no danger that Jamie Fraser will marry any time soon’ he chuckled.

‘I am glad to see you happy, really I am’ said Claire with warmth in her voice, she meant it as well but was secretly relieved that the relationship with Mae was not serious. She thought that Mae felt differently though, Mae's feelings for Jamie were obvious for all to see.

Jamie looked over at her, his eyes full of genuine concern, ‘I wish the same for you Claire, your happiness is so very important to me, truly’.
Claire thanked Jamie for the tea and biscuits and made her excuses as she had a masseur coming to her hotel that afternoon. She arranged to meet Jamie back at the Stag Inn that evening to surprise Davie.

She was looking forward to seeing Davie, he was slightly older than the rest of the gang and had always seemed so grown up, even though he was only older by a couple of years. Jamie told her that he had taken a loan from his father and had bought a music venue in the neighbouring town of Kirkcaldy where he promoted local music artists but also spotted new talent and had ended up managing three or four bands. He would have a lot in common with Jilly mused Claire. According to Jamie, Davie had become very successful, his music venue was packed to capacity most nights, he was becoming a bit of a local celebrity and heart throb with no shortage of admirers.

Claire decided to make more of an effort that night, what the heck, you are the face of Chanel, why not look like it for a change.

As a model, experts had taught her how to apply her makeup and she had honed her craft over the years, how to accentuate, shade and hide. Her makeup was applied to perfection. The eyes were dark and smokey, the darkness of the makeup accentuating their unique honey colour. Every curve of her flawless creamy skin had definition and purpose, cheekbones, jaw, nose, forehead, everything had something to say. Her lips were last, the shape of the cupid bow defined and enhanced, she applied a nude lip gloss which gave off a natural glow to the overall effect.

Her hair was dark, curly, and wild, the curls defined and separated with a hint of oil to avoid any frizz.

It was all trickery of course but it was her trickery and it had been a while since she had looked forward to going out. She remembered Davie so fondly, it would be another step in the journey to rediscover the real Claire Beauchamp.

With make up at full tilt and diamond earrings in place, she decided to downplay her outfit. She opted for black palazzo trousers and jewelled Manolo Blahnik black flats, a luxurious N.Peal champagne coloured cashmere sweater cascaded over her very slight curves. She draped her Max Mara cream cashmere jacket over her shoulder and made her way over to the Stag Inn. Casual chic.

Davie Murdoch had arrived at the Stag Inn and was chatting to the barman. He was tall, over 6ft, slim, short cropped black hair, cute dimples that went along with his equally cute smile, his piercing bluey green eyes could give Jamie Fraser’s eyes a run for their money any day of the week.

Davie was leaning lazily across the bar, when he felt a wave of fresh air from the doorway, he glanced sideways out of idle curiosity.
‘In the name of the wee man and his dog’ he muttered in disbelief just as Jamie entered the bar.

‘Who the absolute fuck is that?’ Davie could not take his eyes of the honey eyed curly haired elegant beauty standing, looking slightly nervous, in the doorway.
‘Davie, you must remember Claire?’ Said Jamie who felt a little uncomfortable at Davie’s reaction.

Davie, still drooling, was speechless, which to be frank was unusual for him. He walked over to Claire and without waiting for an invitation, pulled her into his arms and whispered softly into her right ear, ‘What the hell took you so long to come home Beauchamp?’

Chapter Text

Davie’s warm breath caressed Claire’s ear sending a million shivers down to the very tip of her toes.

‘Jesus H Roosevelt Christ’ she thought when the fuck did he grow so handsome?

Davie was tall and slim, still quite gangly to be honest, but it suited him. He was not as tall or as broad as Jamie. God he was firm though, his lithe body felt fit under Claire’s touch.
His hair was cropped and jet black which contrasted with his pale skin, he had an impish smile and the way he smiled gave the impression that he knew most women were a sucker for dimples. Davie possessed an air of confidence that immediately put Claire at ease, she felt protected. There was no awkwardness or a feeling of questions unanswered hanging in the air, just an abundance of joy and pleasure to see her, and for that, she was grateful.

Davie continued to hold Claire for a moment too long, but she did not feel uncomfortable, after all they were childhood friends.

Davie pulled back gently and took Claire’s shoulders between his big soft hands his kind eyes boring into Claire’s honey gold.

‘You were always a desperately bonnie lass but now, Claire, you’re the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. You are just ravishing’ Davie gushed whilst Claire developed a patchy red nervous rash on her neck out of sheer embarrassment.

‘Why thank you kind sir, you haven’t turned out too badly yourself’ retorted Claire, attempting to be calm, cool, and collected. She tried not to dwell on the way Davie had uttered the word ‘ravishing’ to her in his Fife accent as it was doing all sorts of things to her. Oh, it was so good to be back in Scotland and back in her home town.

A nearby cough interrupted their cosy reunion.

‘Well, if you two are quite finished perhaps I can get the lady a drink? Your usual Claire?’ Jamie was trying not to sound annoyed, but truth be told, he was not hiding it very well at all.

Claire turned to look at him, Jamie still took her breath away. The tips of his russet curls were still slightly wet, he wore a slight shadow of facial hair which made him look more rugged than he had a right to look, he wore baggy jeans, Ralph Lauren if Claire was not mistaken, which lay fashionably on his hip, with a tight black tee shirt which accentuated his physique. He is a bloody god thought Claire to herself and feeling suddenly quite warm.

She snapped herself out of her little day dream.

‘My usual?’ thought Claire, slightly irritated at the attempt by Jamie to make it sound as though they had had weeks to get reacquainted and that he already knew her. She arrived two days ago and had been in the pub once, why was Jamie waving a bottle of Cabalie red wine asking her if she wanted ‘her usual’. What was he playing at?

‘Thanks Jamie, I don’t actually have a usual, an Aperol Spritz would go down a treat right now though’ Claire smiled sweetly, right back at you Fraser, she thought.

Davie wrapped his arm protectively around Claire’s tiny waist and guided her slowly to a table by the roaring fire.

‘Right, Sassenach, I want to hear all your news, every last detail, I am not moving from this spot until I have a detailed history of your exact comings and goings since you left this one-horse town,’ laughed Davie.

A crash came from behind the bar and a sheepish Jamie looked over.

‘Sorry folks, soapy glass, I’m an amateur behind the bar, I should leave it to the professionals’ laughed Jamie, not convincingly.

Claire was also surprised when Davie used her nickname of Sassenach, only Jamie had ever called her that. She glanced over to Jamie and saw that he had a look of pure thunder on his face.

Jamie eventually came over to the table with the drinks and was clearly put out that Davie was sitting next to Claire with his arm casually draped across the back of her chair. Jamie sat opposite and took in the sight before him.

Claire and Davie chattered for the next half an hour, Davie never taking his eyes off her.. He stroked her arm affectionately every now and then, he was clearly captivated by her.

Claire seemed equally enamoured with Davie, although she did her very best to include Jamie in the conversation, he was uncharacteristically quiet and made little attempt to contribute to the excited chatter emanating from Claire and Davie..

‘Right then Davie, are you off then pal? I promised Claire some supper and I know you have some lassie waiting for you’ Jamie asked rather curtly.

Davie laughed, ‘are you mad man? I have the most beautiful woman on the planet at my side, who also happens to be one of my best friends, I have not laid eyes on her for 5 years and you think I am leaving here to spend time with anyone else? Nah, a quick text and I am free. You can be so glaikit at times Jamie’.

Davie trotted off to make a phone call leaving Claire and Jamie alone at the table.

‘Nice to see Davie after so long’ said Claire, trying to break the invisible sheet of thick ice that had suddenly appeared between them.

‘Aye, quite the player is our Davie’ muttered Jamie.

‘Is everything okay Jamie? You seem a little out of sorts’ whispered Claire.

‘I’m fine Sassenach, to be honest, I was not expecting to be sharing you this evening, I was hoping to carry on our conversation from earlier’ Jamie seemed nervous, and Claire could not quite work out why.

His hand was tapping against his thigh, always a sure sign that he was anxious about something. He was smiling slightly as he was speaking, this was another trick he used to mask his worry.

Davie Murdoch bounced back to the table. ‘All done, I am yours for the night doll! He planted a playful kiss on top of Claire’s head’
‘Jamie, why don’t you give Mae a call and ask her to come over? Would be good to see her’ chirped Davie.

‘Nah, she’s out with her pals tonight and I was hoping to catch up with Claire a wee bit more. Mae didn’t want to be a wee gooseberry’ Jamie huffed, wishing that Davie would take the hint and just do one.

Davie Murdoch was a music man, a promoter, a hustler, he had the face of an angel and the hide of a rhino. He had his sights set on Claire Beauchamp and Jamie Fraser was not going to elbow him out of the way. He had allowed that to happen when they were bairns, and he was determined that history was not going to repeat itself. Jamie Fraser had his chance and he had blown it. Davie had no idea how Jamie had blown it, but he had. This was Davie time, and he was going nowhere.

Claire had a wonderful evening, the three of them took a trip down memory lane, laughing at the capers and scrapes they had got themselves into. None of them had talked about their lives now, there would be time enough for all of that. This was healing time, the restoration of friendships, and the reconnecting of souls.
Jamie, seeing Claire so relaxed and happy, had relaxed a little too, it warmed his heart to see her smile and laugh. That was in abundance this evening.

He had decided not to let this be the Davie Murdoch show. Claire was his best friend, his Sassenach, and he was not going to sit idly back and let Davie Murdoch winch his Claire, he eventually joined in with gusto.

The food was incredible, Jamie told Chef that Claire loved seafood, so they feasted on chilled tomato, gazpacho with crispy basil Scottish langoustines and avocado followed by Cannelloni of scallop and sea trout with crème fraiche & seaweed sauce with pink grapefruit, all washed down with a few chilled bottles of Lobster Shack white wine.

The bell sounded for last orders and Claire declared that she’d had enough food and alcohol and needed to go home and lie down. As a model, she rarely feasted on tasty food lathered with butter with lashings of alcohol, she was feeling incredibly decadent.

Davie leapt up offered his arm and insisted on walking her the few hundred yards back to the Covenanters Hotel.

‘Och, Davie no bother, you order your taxi back to Kirkcaldy, and we will wait here with you, then I can walk Claire back to the Baird’s’ insisted Jamie.

‘Ah yes Jamie but then I wouldn’t be able to make a date with this beauty for tomorrow.’

Davie turned to Claire and playfully took her hand.

‘Claire, how do you fancy a trip to the beach at St Andrews? We’ll hop on the Harley Davidson, take a long leisurely walk along the sands and then we can book a table at that seafood restaurant that overlooks the ocean, we can snuggle down and have seafood by the seashore. What do you say?’ Davie, the promoter, had a way of making everything sound so alluring.

Claire glanced at Jamie who looked as though he was about to combust. Claire felt a giggle starting, she did not know why. Well deep down she did. Deep, deep down she knew that Jamie was jealous, and she was glad of it.

‘Oh Davie Murdoch, you utter charmer, Harley Davidson, speed, excitement, the beach, good food and great company, count me in lad. I am yours for the day’ said Claire giving Davie the most bewitching smile.

Chapter Text

I remember the day that I woke, and realised she had gone. I ran from room to room, my heart racing, gripped with panic, refusing to believe what my Ma had told me.

Gone? It made no sense to me at all. We love each other.

Claire had been quiet in the days leading up to her departure but to be honest I thought she was expecting her period. She was always a bit short tempered and withdrawn for a few days prior to that.

On my bended knees, I pleaded with my Da to go after her and stop her before she could board that flight. They looked at me with such pity, it made me feel even more wretched and pathetic.

I called her mobile phone constantly. At first it would ring out and flip to voicemail, so I left countless messages pleading, nay begging, her to speak to me. Was she sick? Was she grieving? was Lamb sick? Was she having a breakdown? I was desperate, for anything that resembled an explanation. Of course, she never responded, eventually the line would just go dead. No connection, nothing. I did not have Lamb’s number so I could not call him and there seem to be no number listed in the directory.

Ma and Pa claimed not to have his number, not sure I believed either of them. Neither did I have Jilly’s number, I had met her a few times but there was never any reason for me to be in contact directly with her., I didn’t even know her surname or the name of her Company which made tracking her down impossible. I did have Lamb’s address though, so I penned Claire love letters every week for the next 24 months, just hoping and praying that one letter, sentence or a word would get through to her.

Neither Claire nor I were a fan of social media, our friends were here in Fife. We did follow a few bands on Instagram but the day she left she deleted her account. Another route closed.

I was bereft, I could not eat, I could not sleep, I was a shell of my former self. Of course, I failed my exams so did not make it to university. If Ma and Da were upset, they did not show it. Da eventually sat me down and gently probed me on what my plan b was. I could not think straight to formulate any kind of meaningful plan. My heart was aching and my life shattered.

Claire occupied every waking part of me. She was the last thing I thought about at night and the first thing that entered my waking mind ever morning. I craved the evenings because I could go to bed early and just lie and think about her. I would close my eyes and my mind would wander to our last night together. The closeness, the warmth, the laughter, and the overwhelming feeling of pure love. I had never felt anything like it and have not since. You see, I could not remember a time without this beautiful creature in my life, this was such unfamiliar territory, it scared me because I could not, and frankly did not want, to see a way forward out of this thick dark fog that enveloped me.

I decided to take action. I took a job at the Covenanters waiting tables, shifting beer barrels, anything the Baird’s needed doing I would do it. I needed every single Scottish pound so that I could save up and go after her. It took about three months, but I persevered, and I would not be deterred.

I did go to London to look for her, I tracked down Lamb to a townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush. He was shocked to see me; we had only met once or twice but he knew exactly who I was.

He explained that Claire was not there, she was away but he was not at liberty to tell me where she had gone. He was kindly and he looked at me with a mixture of pity and grief when I pleaded with him to tell me. That surprised me, looking back I can understand why.

I went back every day for two weeks and every day Lamb told me the same thing, he never wavered from his script. I felt like such a sap, a sad sap.

I returned home to Falkland to earn more money and from then on returned to London every weekend I could.

I continued to knock on Lamb’s door but got no response and spent two whole days standing in MacFarlane Road, Shepherd’s Bush, waiting for Lamb to return. Little did I know that they had moved house and I was standing outside the wrong house, in the relentless lashing rain. No forwarding address. Another route closed dead.

Life went on after Claire left but it was not the same. I wanted my old life not some second-rate imitation, I wanted to be with the woman I loved and have always loved, and that woman was Claire.

I had knuckled down workwise though. Da encouraged me to start an apprenticeship in Marketing at the Distillery. It was a good way to get a qualification, having let myself down badly with my Highers. I started at the bottom and worked my way around the various departments getting acquainted with the business. I found a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Slowly but surely, I got back on my feet. My heart was still broken but my mind was co-operating with life.
I still missed her dreadfully, but I had taken a step back into the real world. When my parents and siblings relocated back to the highlands, I refused to go with them. Of course, I said it was my apprenticeship, but we all knew the real reason I would not move. If she ever came back, I need to be here.

Davie’s parents were selling the Stag Inn, I had a nice inheritance from my grandparents which had been put in trust until I was 21, that was more than enough to buy the pub and even after hiring staff to run it, it would provide a tidy regular income which would supplement my meagre salary at the Distillery. I was junior management and still very much learning the ropes. Of course, the main reason for buying it was that if Claire ever returned to Falkland, she would surely visit a place that held such happy memories.

 

My third lonely year was coming to an end, I was in the newsagent on the High Street when I saw her. The lass in front of me had picked up a copy of Elle Magazine and there she was. I thought I would pass out on the spot at the sight of her. She was shining from the front cover, dressed in a scarlet red halter neck top which amplified her breasts. Her long chocolate brown locks had been styled into generous waves. She was not smiling which only enhanced her cupid bow and made her lips look even plumper. Her mesmerising eyes, smoked with grey glittery kohl, the large pools of liquid gold were recognisable anywhere and they stared deep into my very being.

Well then, at least I knew what her occupation was and after a wee bit of detective work, I knew her name, Sass Alexander. No wonder I could not find her. Not only had she changed her phone number, address but also her fucking name! I still had no way of contacting her, she was an enigma, no social media presence, no Wikipedia, nothing. My heart warmed at her choice of professional name though. I allowed myself to feel a little happier that day. I was still part of her.
I had also finally accepted that she did not want me to find her, and I had to respect that no matter how much it hurt.

6 months ago, Davie introduced me to Mae. Davie was dating Mae’s sister Maggie. Aye parents with a sense of humour and obviously big Rod Stewart fans.
Maggie had been lucky enough to last for 3 or 4 dates with Davie before he moved on. To be honest, I was not keen at first, we went out on a few double dates with Davie and Maggie, and I eventually found myself having fun.

When Davie finally moved on, I continued to see Mae. We live miles apart and as a Nurse she works shifts so we don’t see each other often but we do see each other regularly. I have told Mae I am not looking for a serious relationship. Like Davie, I was very open and honest to Mae about that.

Mae is fun, a great girl and a good laugh, she has an amazing appetite for life which I really admire. I do not love her though and I know I never will. You cannot force love. You can love to be with someone but not be in love them. We don’t make love either, we have sex, it’s fun but completely devoid of all emotion. It is an act of expression, release, and enjoyment, not an act of love. It’s two 23-year-old youngsters doing what comes naturally. Love does not enter the equation, well not for me anyway.

I think she may have some feeling that the relationship has run its course, she wanted sex the night I saw Claire again for the first time. I just could not, my mind was too sad, joyous, confused and brimming with hope. It would not have been right, I would not have been thinking of Mae and I would rather disappoint her than use her.

She got the right hump though, telling me that the only reason she had worked the shift was to get her ‘reward’ at the end of it.

To be honest, I have been lacking in that department for a wee while. Ever since Claire appeared on the telly in the Chanel advertisement. Luckily, I was on my own, so my tears of frustration, loneliness and love were witnessed only by me. Seeing her on my HD tv brought her back into my life, m sitting room, my home, her smile, her walk, her magnificence. From that moment on it felt wrong to have sex with Mae as my mind was so infatuated with Claire.

Mae deserves someone who will love her, unconditionally and that person will never be me. It would have come to a head sooner or later because I can feel that she wants more, much more than I am able or willing to give. As much as I do not want to hurt Mae, I will hurt her more by staying with her.

When I saw Claire on Friday, I genuinely thought I would pass out at the sight of her. She was as I had always remembered. Her hair was an abundance of wayward dark curls which framed her flushed creamy skin. Her large amber eyes sparkled as she smiled softly at me, looking as nervous and emotional as I felt.

When I got close to her, I could hear her breathing anxiously, it took every ounce of will I possessed not to draw her into my arms and weep. When I moved forward to touch her, she suddenly recoiled. I almost crumbled right there and then. I don’t know how I kept it together.

I cannot express how I felt after seeing her and talking to her.

It was like the sun had come out on a dreich day, my body feels lighter, every nerve I have is alive and hammering for attention, I have more energy, more energy than I have had in years, I can’t stop grinning, I have been running on a diet of love and adrenalin, I didn’t want to sleep that Friday night in case I woke up and discovered it was all a dream.

When Claire told me about our bairn, I felt a tsunami of raw emotion. The happiness we lost is crushing my soul, but more heart-breaking is that she experienced another death. She has had too much to bear in her short life. The extreme highs and low's of emotion I felt was staggering, the deep yearning to protect her was overwhelming.

I am determined to give her space, to let her decide her next step, I want her more than the air I breathe but she stayed away for a reason and that reason was because she did not want to be with me. I must respect that, as much as it feels like my limbs are being torn from my body, I must respect her choices and give her space but also all my support and love. As long as I am walking this planet, she will never be alone.

But now, I was raging, fucking raging.

She will not be a notch in Davie’s belt, over my head body. Don’t get me wrong, Davie is always up front with the lassies, letting them know he is only out for a good time. Some hear the message, but 80% do not and think they convince themselves that they will be the one to tame him. They always fail and inevitably get hurt or angry, sometimes both. I know that Claire has probably met men like Davie before, she’s travelled the world and is wise to men like Davie. How can I be sure though?

Now, more than ever I needed a solid plan. My plan is pure and simple, first protect Claire, second let Mae know that our relationship has run its course.

Chapter Text

As it happened, I did not meet Davie that Sunday, his Nan, Hannah (Han the Nan we used to call her) took a bit of a turn and ended up in Victoria Hospital, quite rightly Davie was concerned and wanted to see her straight away.

Hannah was a feisty wee Scottish lady, in her 70's, barely 5-foot tall, grey coiffured hair and never without her lipstick. She had ruled us all with an iron rod when we were little. I hoped that as soon as she was on the mend I could go and see her too. Davie would let her know I was back. I looked forward to a good telling off, it meant that Han the Nan was on the mend.

I was up and about around 10am on Sunday and had decided to have a late breakfast and fit a run in first as the Scottish weather was so fresh.

I had never joined a gym; Mum could never understand why people would spend well earned money to join a gym just to take in the smell of stale sweat whilst running on the spot!

‘For goodness sake Claire, just run around the park and save your money’ Julia would chide. It had always stuck with me and so I had never joined a gym and never would.

However, for the sake of my spirits more than health, wherever I was in the world, I would try to get out into the fresh air for a run. It’s a great way to see a city, particularly if there is a river or a lake you run along. Even hotel gyms were a 'no go' zone for reasons I had never quite fathomed.

I donned my earphones and set off, the fresh morning air whipping harshly across my make-up free cheeks. I realised as I ran that morning, nothing could ever compared with the rugged breath-taking beauty of Scotland and the lush Lomond Hills

I was humming along to Harry Styles, Watermelon Sugar High, when I suddenly felt a sharp tap on my shoulder, I stopped totally startled.

‘Claire, so sorry but I was shouting on you!’ gasped Jamie looking extremely apologetic.

I looked at him, a wave of joy swept over me and I could not help but smile, even though he had scared the shit out of me.

‘Well hard to tear me away from Harry Styles’ I giggled.

I suggested to Jamie that we run together and he readily agreed. We took our usual route, one that we had not run together in almost 5 years, it was comfortable and easy and both of us remembered the way.

A cool 7km later we arrived back at the Stag Inn, crimson faced, huffing, and puffing.

‘Sassenach, I need to talk to you about something important, how about I rustle us up some breakfast and we can chat? Suggested Jamie, who had come over very serious all of a sudden.

‘Sure, give me 10 minutes to shower and change and I will be right over, my date with Davie has been postponed because Han the Nan is in the Vic’ quipped Claire.

Freshly showered, an aroma of Chanel No 5 wafting seductively in the air, her curly mop of dark hair still damp, cheeks flushed and pink with the heat of the shower. Dressed in black jersey palazzo pants with a matching baggy black sweatshirt with ‘HAPPY’ emblazoned across the front, in a pink that matched her rosy cheeks. She rapped firmly on the door to Jamie’s apartment.

She stood on his doorstep, barefaced and beautiful. Claire Beauchamp was still the most breath-taking woman Jamie had ever laid eyes on. His heart pounded and his face flushed at the thought of what his was about to confess.

Jamie dished up breakfast and Claire munched approvingly into her tangy smashed avocado with coriander lime and chilli, flavours catapulting around her mouth.

‘So, Fraser, what is so important? I am intrigued’ she asked in between mouthfuls.

Jamie took a deep breath, he had to be honest, it may backfire spectacularly, but he had to express what was deep in his heart. They had already wasted too much time on miscommunication.

‘I wanted to let you know that when I see Mae at the end of this week, I will be ending my relationship with her’.

Claire went to say something, but Jamie slowly raised his hand to silence her.

‘Please Claire, just let me finish, I need to say this Sassenach, truly I do, whilst I still have some courage.

Things had started to change with Mae after I saw you in the magazines and your bonny face appeared on TV, right in my sitting room, I couldn't escape you, I didn't want to.

Don't get me wrong, I never ever forgot you, you were always in my heart. I tried so hard to move forward, and I convinced myself and everyone else that I was living a normal life. I was doing a good job at pretending as well, quite the actor. Then, I caught you staring down at me from the newsagent’s shelf. I knew I was kidding myself. I was merely existing, playing a role, being the Jamie that everyone expected me to be. I never felt whole though, I was not me. I was outside just peering in at someone else playing at life. Does that make sense?

Clair, dumfounded, nodded silently, yes; she knew only too well how that felt. To live with half a heart and to bury the rest, just to put it somewhere safe, knowing that one day, you will come back for it.

Jamie gently took her warm hands in his and squeezed gently. ‘What I want to say to you Claire, is that I still love you, with all my heart. I have loved you from the moment I set eyes on you, and I am vexed to my very soul that I could ever lead you to believe that I didn’t.’

Jamie looked deep into her eyes and sighed deeply, trying to contain his emotions. Claire could feel his hands trembling.

‘I do love you, with every fibre of my being. You see I thought it every single day and I thought I told you every day, or at least showed you every day. I am so sorry I let you down Claire. I hope in time you can forgive me.

I don’t expect anything from you Sassenach. You have built a successful career and you have a glamourous life, jetting from city to city. If you have come back here though it’s because you are looking for something, friendship, history, memories or perhaps love? I can offer you all of those things Claire if you will let me.

I realise that you may not feel the same way but at the very least I hope you know that I love you more than words can say. If friendship is all you can offer then I will accept that, I will accept any part of you that I can. I want you in my life, no matter what.’ He seemed to lose his courage and dropped her hands. taking a step back towards the bay window.

Claire gazed up at him, her bright amber eyes brimming with big fat tears.

‘Oh Jamie, you don’t know how long I have waited to hear those words come from your lips’ she stood up and walked over to him and slipped easily into his arms.

He wrapped them around her and they both sighed. Her body flush against his, she felt protected for the first time in years, she was home, safe, she felt at peace. Claire could not find any more words. She was overwhelmed by a tide of sensations, regret, happiness, grief, anger. An atlantic wave of passions rushing through her veins.

Jamie stroked her hair gently and pressed his lips softly against the crown of her head. His relief was palpable.

‘Oh god Claire’ he gasped, his voice quivering and pulling her closer, never wanting to let her go. Hold it together Fraser you great big bairn, hold it together. He chastised himself.

Claire sniffed, ‘So Fraser, when you are a single man, you give me a call huh?’

‘Aye Sassenach, I will.’ replied to Jamie, his voice thick with emotion.

Claire, safe in his arms gazed up at Jamie.

‘Let us take it slowly, start over. Forget the past, we can’t change that but we can create a new future. We are different people now Jamie, we need to take time to get to know each other, learn about each other. For all you know I could be a horrible person’.

Jamie grinned ‘Aye, you might be at that Sassenach, but frankly, I don’t think I care’.

She giggled and punched his arm playfully, ‘Right’ Claire said brightly, 'so the first thing I have learned about the grown up Jamie is you can now cook! Lets finish the banquet, shall we?'

Jamie laughed, a deep throaty genuine laugh. ‘As you wish Sassenach. As you wish’.

Chapter Text

That week, come rain or shine, Jamie and Claire met every morning at 7.45 am for a brisk run before Jamie went off to work, nothing more than a jog, taking their usual route, no time for breakfast afterwards, no public displays of affection.

However, they could not help themselves seeing each other. Jamie dropped by the Covenanters to see Jackie about something or other and just ‘happened’ to bump into Claire, so he stayed for a coffee. Jackie Baird smirked to herself, don’t know who they think they are fooling. She gave them privacy in the drawing room, gently closing the door as she left as if to ward off the other guests.

They had agreed that before they took the next step Jamie should speak to Mae first. They did not want any local gossips to reach Mae first and of course with Falkland being such a small town that was highly likely as both Jamie and Claire were easily recognisable. They were simply two friends running, then on the Wednesday they were joined by Liam who rented Claire’s parents’ house with his wife Samantha. A wee running club had formed, perfectly respectable.

Mae was due at Jamie’s on Friday night. He was dreading the conversation, he knew she would be devastated, this was his future though and it was best for both him and Mae.

Mae arrived at the Stag Inn around 7pm on Friday evening, Jamie was already in the bar and signalled to her as she entered, to carry on up to the flat above. Mae looked beautiful, her silky strawberry blonde locks were blow dried to perfection, her big soft brown eyes were complimented with chocolate brown eye shadow. She was dressed casually in jeans and a dark chocolate brown v necked sweater, which highlighted her eyes, she skipped upstairs in her leopard skin converse trainers.

Aye she was bonnie thought Jamie but for the life of him he could feel nothing, she deserved so much more.

Mae beamed at Jamie, assuming that the invitation upstairs was an opportunity to immediately get a wee bit cosy. She bounced upstairs taking two at a time, readying her dark plumb coloured lips for a passionate kiss from her handsome sexy man.

Jamie came in behind her and gently closed the door. He turned and looked at her, not making any move towards her. Mae felt the atmosphere change immediately.

She sat down nervously. ‘What’s the matter darlin’ you look upset?’ She prompted.

Jamie rubbed his hands nervously, his voice quiet ‘Mae, I don’t know how to tell you this, it’s not easy’ he faltered slightly. He looked at her bonnie face, full of worry and concern but there was no turning back.

‘I can’t go on seeing you. I am sorry lass’ said Jamie, softly but firmly, finding some courage.

Mae’s big brown eyes widened in shock and dismay ‘Why Jamie? Why?’

‘Mae, I don’t feel for you the way that I should, the way a man should feel about his girlfriend, I am sorry. You are a braw lass, and any lad would be lucky to have you. It’s just that I don’t feel that way. I’m sorry, truly.’ Said Jamie gently, who was now standing by the bay window as far away from her as he could manage.

Mae put her pretty head in her hands and sobbed loudly. So hard that Jamie could already see what was either mascara or dark eye shadow seeping through her damp fingers.

Jamie felt like a wretch, he hated to see her hurt. However, he loved Claire more. You cannot force yourself to feel what you do not. Life didn’t work that way.

Mae looked up at him, her mascara now running freely down her cheeks.

‘Jamie, you can’t leave me. You can’t leave me, not now’ She cried even harder.

Jamie looked at her quizzically, something in the way she said it made him freeze.

‘I’m pregnant’ she sobbed, ‘We are going to have a baby’

Jamie’s face stilled. He pursed his lips and looked at the sobbing mess in front of him.

‘Oh aye? How do you make that out then lass??’ Said Jamie with zero emotion in his voice.

Mae stopped suddenly. ‘What do you mean? I am having your baby Jamie Fraser; you know full well how that happens’ she snapped.

‘Lass I ken how bairns are made. I am just not quite sure how this bairn was made unless it was the immaculate conception.’

Jamie was trying not to be cruel, but this was a low desperate blow. He had not had sex with Mae since Claire had appeared on his telly, in his sitting room and that was over 8 weeks ago.

‘You utter bastard’ spat Mae

‘You ken fine well that it happened the night of Minnie and Andy’s engagement party or were you too drunk to remember!’ she was standing now, hands clenched by her side, her bonnie face now contorted with rage, she was spitting nails at Jamie.

‘I remember well Mae, but I also remember that you have had a period since then. Now I might not know much about these things, but I am pretty sure that when a woman has a period that makes her not pregnant’ Jamie was beginning to get irritated, and his voice was rising.

Mae was livid and had started to sob again, ‘How would YOU know! You bastard! You never come near me so how the hell would you even ken!’

‘For fucks sake Mae, I am not daft, I see things in the bin when you stay over. Jesus, I can’t believe you would make something like this up, in fact I think you’ve had two periods since that engagement party. What’s more, you claimed to be on the pill, in fact I’ve seen you take the bloody pill, and I always used protection, so sorry lass. This is an elaborate tale. If you are having a bairn, and I 100% doubt that you are, then the bairn belongs to someone else not me. If there is a bairn, it is the responsibility of the father, not me. That is the end of it, and I refuse to take part in your pathetic drama any further’. Said Jamie without emotion.

‘Fuck you Jamie Fraser, I am having your baby and you will take responsibility’ she shrieked.

‘No, I won’t’ said Jamie calmly. ‘I don’t want to have a bairn with you. Not now, not ever’

Jamie knew that last comment was needlessly cruel, but it was true. He was incensed that Mae was trying to pull a stunt like this.

Mae leapt forward and slapped Jamie hard across the face with such force he almost stumbled.

‘I think that’s us done don’t you think Mae? Said Jamie desperately trying not to lose his temper.

Mae grabbed her bag and coat, not bothering to fix the brown mess all over her face and stormed out of the room. She creamed over her shoulder, ‘You have not heard the last of this you bastard’ and the door slammed behind her.

Claire had just left the Covenanter’s to walk over to the Stag. She had dressed up a little, donning her favourite Vampire’s Wife green velvet dress with black heeled boots. She was feeling slightly apprehensive about what Jamie had to do this evening but that was superseded by the aching she had just to see him. He occupied her every thought, she had to have him back and she just hoped that this evening would not be too heart breaking. There was never an easy way to break up with someone. Claire felt wretched for Mae.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a sobbing Mae running out of the Stag pub at speed. Mae stopped in her tracks when she saw Claire. Pulling herself quickly together she walked towards her. Claire stilled, trying desperately for her face not to give anything away, like sympathy. She did not want Mae to know that she was aware that Jamie was going to break up with her.

Mae still looked like a chocolate mess, but she was hell bent in saying something.

‘Oh Claire, nice to see you. Sorry I can’t stop; I am not feeling so good so am heading home. That’s what happens when your hormones are all over the place. This baby is draining the energy from me.’

Claire felt as though she had received a hard punch in the gut.

‘Sorry to hear that Mae, don’t let me keep you’ Claire answered flatly.

It was fight or flight time. Claire recalled what had happened last time when she had run. She would not let history repeat itself.

Claire tried to remain calm, at least on the outside. Inside she was shaking from head to foot, and she had started to feel clammy.

There was no sign of Jamie when she entered the Stag, so she made her way up to the flat above. She knocked gently and Jamie answered, he looked drained but grinned widely when he saw her.

‘So how did it go?’ asked Claire.

‘The bloody cheek of the woman! Said she was having my bairn. I can tell you right now Claire that it is not true. I have not slept with her in 2 months, and she has had periods since then. Not to mention that she is on the pill, and I always used protection, I would never leave the contraception to anyone else. If she is pregnant, I’m sorry for the lass but I ken that it’s not mine and I will not be responsible for someone else’s bairn, she must think I am a total muppet’.

Claire let go of a breath that she did not know she was holding.

He looked at her quizzically, ‘You knew?’

‘Yes, I bumped into her outside. She told me.’ Said Claire

‘Wee besom. Yet, you came up here to speak with me Sassenach. You did not take her word for it and that makes my heart want to explode. Come here my wee green vision, get those boots off and get cosy. I want to kiss you until your lips are red raw.

Chapter Text

The lights in Jamie’s flat were low, the wood burner was cracking gently and radiating heat. The voice of Richard Hawley was soothing in the background, a musky woody smell wafted in the air, mingled with the heavenly scented diptyque vanilla candles that Jamie had lit and placed around the flat. Mid-week, he had called his mother and shyly asked her to remind him which candles were Julia’s favourites. He had skipped off work and driven all the way to Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh and bought every candle in stock. Ellen Fraser had parked that thought for later.

If, and when, the time came when he and Claire reunited, he wanted her to feel safe, warm, loved and be reminded that this was home.
They had kissed. Frantically at first and then tenderly, followed by a tidal wave of emotion. They had laughed, cried, hugged, touched, and had totally exhausted themselves, making up for 5 years of separation. There was not one moment when they were not touching each other.

They were now sitting on the sofa, Jamie had grabbed Claire’s legs and placed them over his lap, he wanted to look at her. Her face was flushed, her perfectly applied make-up was non-existent as Jamie had kissed it away with her tears, her dark chestnut curls were messy and fell softly around her face.

Jamie looked at her and was overcome with love, hope and nostalgia ‘Sassenach, I can’t believe you are here, in my arms. I have missed you so much.’ choked Jamie
‘I am so sorry Jamie, I feel like such a fool, I robbed us of so much, but I was young and grieving and my emotions were going haywire.’ Whispered Claire, still sniffing slightly.

Mae’s allegation was still there, however, hanging in the air between them.

‘Jamie, what if it’s true? What if Mae is having your baby?’ Asked Claire softly.

Jamie sat up straighter as if to assert himself, ‘Sassenach, there are many things that might and might not be true. What I can truthfully say is that I remember the last time I was with Mae, and I am telling you that she has had two periods since then. I’m not worried and you should not be either.’ Jamie was firm.

‘But…just hypothetically speaking Jamie. What would you do?’ Claire was not letting this drop.

‘Well, if it was proved beyond doubt that the bairn was my responsibility, I would of course accept that and provide in the right way. I always took precautions though Claire and I know that she was on the pill. It’s not true but I will stand up and be a father if it is proved. I would be there for the bairn, but I will not play happy families with Mae. I only want to raise bairns with you. No-one else. After what you went through, it breaks my heart that you had to hear that from her. It couldn’t be easy, and I am so sorry.’ He leaned towards her, gathered her gently in his arms drawing her towards him. She moved like soft putty in his embrace and positioned herself on his lap.

Jamie stared at her, his hand fondling the side of her cheek. ‘You are my priority. You and only you. I will not let anyone ruin what we are about to create Sassenach, this is our time.’ His thumb delicately sweeping over the top of her cheek whilst his cornflower blue eyes bore into hers.

‘I love you, always have, always will. It’s you and me now.’ Said Jamie, his gaze never wavering from her.

Claire, nestled further into him and smiled, closing her teary red rimmed amber eyes. She was home, she was safe, more importantly, she felt loved.
It was 10pm when they reluctantly tore themselves away from the flat and each other and made their way downstairs to the bar.

Jamie had insisted they come up for air, claiming he could not trust himself to keep his hands from ravishing her. Truth be told, both Jamie and Claire wanted to tumble into bed, make sweet love and never get up. However, they wanted to take this slowly, everything had happened so quickly, they needed to catch their breath.

She had tamed her hair and reapplied her makeup, her green velvet Vampire’s dress was still slightly crumpled but it was passable. Both sets of lips were looking slightly swollen, at least Claire’s lips could be masked with some make-up. The state of their lips however was eclipsed by the wide smile on their faces.

Claire grabbed a seat by the fire and Jamie sauntered over with a bottle of Cabalie and two large fishbowl glasses. After filling both, he looked lovingly at Claire.
‘A toast Sassenach. To the two of us, and a bright future’ grinned Jamie.

Claire beamed back at him, his wide smile, chiselled features with a light shadow of scruff, those russet curls just turning at his collar. Could she love him any more at this moment? She thought not.

‘To love, to trust, to home, to the Beauchamp-Frasers’ chimed Claire as she raised her glass to his, their eyes locking.

Tanya the bartender was calling last orders as Davie breezed into the bar.

He strode over to their table and stood glaring down at them, his attractive blue-green eyes looking much more green than blue.

‘You okay Davie pal? You look a wee bit peely wally’ smiled Jamie smugly, like a cat with the cream.

‘For fucks sake!’ glared Davie.

I was away for a fucking week, and you have swooped in on her again!’

Jamie laughed ‘oh come on Davie, all is fair in love and war man. It’s not as if you will be on your tod for long. The lassie’s love you.’

‘Aye but I fancied dating a super model, for fucks sake Jamie give someone else a look in man!’ fumed Davie.

Claire laughed ‘Excuse me! I am actually here you know! Davie, how is Han the Nan? On the mend I hope.’ She elegantly brushed aside the adolescent tiff that Jamie and Davie were having.

‘Nae pressure Claire but you will be sending her back into the Vic when I tell her you have chosen Jamie over me, yet again. She had her dear old heart set on the two of us taking her out for a posh afternoon tea!’

Claire laughed again, ‘Well I am sure we can arrange a posh afternoon tea Davie. Steal a chair and join us, won’t you?’

Davie looked around for a spare chair, finding one he dragged it over to the table, gesturing to Tanya for another glass.

After helping himself to a generous glug of red wine, Davie looked thoughtfully at Jamie.

‘So, I hear you ended things with Mae.’

‘News travels fast. How did you hear?’ asked Jamie.

She was down at the Club, caused a bit of a stramash. She was shooting her mouth off to anyone that would listen, that she was having your bairn, but you had dumped her when you heard.’

Jamie stiffened, ‘Tis not true Davie, she is trying to trap me. If she is having a bairn, then some other chief is the father. I broke up with her and then she told me about the alleged pregnancy.’

Davie smiled ‘Dinny worry, I believe you. If she is having a bairn, then she shouldn’t be necking as much lager as she was. She was absolutely steamin’ when I saw her.
She did herself no favours, bleating about being pregnant as she downed pint after pint of the amber nectar. One of her pals pointed out that alcohol was not good for the bairn and that’s when it all kicked off, she started lashing out at anyone and everyone. I had to call over the bouncers, she was absolutely blootered and totally out of control.’

‘Poor Mae, she must have been terribly upset’ said Claire, did someone see her home?'

Jamie’s heart swelled, could his Sassenach be any more perfect?

‘Aye, I called her sister Maggie and she drove over to collect her. Nice girl Maggie.

He sighed ‘now that you have made the terrible decision to run about the doors with himself, I might give Maggie another wee call and rekindle things’ pondered Davie deep in thought but thinking aloud.

Despite Claire having a huge sympathetic heart, Jamie was having none of it, there was no pity in his voice, ‘Frankly I don’t care how upset she is, I don’t take kindly to being lied to, if she is out there getting hammered then there is no bairn, what kind of woman does that if she is pregnant?’

The door to the bar slammed and, in the doorway, looking worse for wear, swaying from side to side and finding it difficult to stay upright was a very inebriated Mae MacKay.

Chapter Text

Mae faltered in the doorway of the snug. She looked like she had been dragged through a hedge backwards. She had clearly fallen at some point as the front of her thick black tights were ripped and her leather jacket skewed and torn at the cuff. Her hair looked like a burst couch and her face tearstained and contorted as she squinted angrily into the bar. It was a sad sight.

Davie looked beyond her to see if Maggie was with her, but she was very much alone. Davie sensing a scene, leapt up out of his chair and made his way towards her, he took her gingerly by the arm and gently but firmly led her out of the bar before she could lay eyes on Jamie.

Claire sat there open mouthed whilst Jamie seemed frozen to the spot with embarrassment. He reached over to Claire and grabbed her hand.
‘Come Sassenach, I don’t want you subjected to unnecessary upset.’

Claire stood and Jamie draped a protective arm around her shoulders which made her slightly emotional. She was so used to fending for herself, it was an unusual feeling to have someone looking out for her, protecting her. Claire had taught herself to be independent and had never wanted to rely on anything or anyone. This was unfamiliar territory, but she enjoyed the feeling that it opened up.

She leaned gently into him and was pleasantly surprised at how they moulded into one another so naturally. They left the bar and made their way back upstairs to Jamie’s flat.

The soft lights in the flat were still on, the log burner almost out. Jamie rushed to resurrected the fire and it roared into life again instantly warming the room.
Jamie stood with his back to Claire staring into the fire. He was thinking back to the moment that Claire knocked on his door, just after Mae had left.

She stood there, breath-taking in her log elegant dark green dress, it curved around her bust and nipped her waist and fell to the floor, it flared at the elbows with a little ruffle. The colour was a beautiful contrast to her dark curls. She was right in front of him, and he was a free man, free to love her, free to pledge everything he was, and everything he had.

Even after Mae’s bombshell, he was still feeling hopeful, he knew deep in his heart it would be okay. He had not fully registered that fact that Mae had told Claire about the pregnancy and yet no matter how much that must have hurt, she still came to him, to listen. He stood staring into the fire trying to make sense of all that had happened in the last few hours.

‘Care to share what is on your mind?’ asked Claire

Jamie turned and looked at the beauty before him, running his hand nervously through his hair.

‘Och, Sassenach, you don’t deserve all this hassle. I am just grateful that you didn’t bolt after her first outburst. I was hoping that as she and I had not been together for too long she would take it in her stride. I mean I know she might be upset but no-one wants to be on a one-sided relationship, right?
I know she likes a drink, but I don’t think I have seen her in that state before. Goes to show that she isn’t pregnant though. She’s a nurse and knows the dangers, what a daft lassie.’

Claire got up from the armchair she had settled in and made her way across to him. She wrapped her arms around his middle and squeezed.

‘Do you have any holiday left to take this year?’

‘Aye, why?’ answered Jamie.

‘Well, I have been asked to do a photo shoot for a Whisky brand. I was going to say no but it’s only a couple of hours away at Gleneagles in Perthshire. I thought you might want to come along, save me from lecherous photographers, see me in action, get an insight into my world? We could then take some time to explore the countryside, the accommodation is paid for, good food, good wine, fresh air. What do you think? A few days rest and relaxation?’

Jamie visibly relaxed, grinning. ‘Sass Alexander that is a bloody brilliant idea and the answer is yes! When do we leave? Jamie beamed.

Jamie’s phone buzzed; it was Davie.

'Mae hammered and crabbit. She is sleeping it off in my spare room. Called my wee Sister, she will stay at mine tonight, canny trust Mae. You owe me big time.' D

Jamie read out the text to Claire. She sighed. She won’t go quietly Jamie, she will not give up until she proves something, anything.’

Claire looked up at him, tears starting to swell.

‘I’ve tried not to think ahead Jamie, tried not to imagine if you are the father to her child before we have a chance to rebuild. It will make it so hard. A child with another woman will massive obstacle between us. I feel such an utter cow for even contemplating that a child could be a barrier to my happiness but that’s how I feel. I am so sorry.’

‘I know Sassenach, I know. I ken in my heart that she isn’t pregnant and frankly I hate myself for wishing that a life didn’t exist, but I know that if there is a bairn, it’s not mine and I don’t want it to be mine. That makes us equal if we are bad then we are both bad.

I know what I know Sassenach. Let’s not worry about what we can’t control right now. What was it you told me about your happy and sad box? Let’s start planning things to go into your happy box. I know some fine places around Gleneagles that we can explore. Let’s start planning and live according to us and no-one else. This is our life, and we will create our own big box of happiness full of our memories.

They spent the next couple of hours in each other’s arms, kissing sweetly, telling stories, reliving yet more memories but filling each other in on those lost years.
Jamie explained the Distillery business to Claire. How it was important to him to earn his position and to work his way up the ranks through merit and not just because he was Brian Fraser’s son. He described his vision to expand the brand internationally and put Markinch on the map once more.

Jamie listened intently as Claire shared experiences from her modelling career, it felt therapeutic to share her new world with her old world. Of course, she only gave him the good parts, travelling the world, making good money, and keeping the designer clothes. She did not share the lecherous photographers, the sexual predators, of both sexes, the long boring days, and the repetitive nature of the work, being recognised, adored, and vilified, in equal measure as the face of Chanel.

Claire eventually made her way back to the Covenantors, as much as she wanted to stay cooried deep in Jamie’s arms all night, she had reluctantly pulled herself away. It was important that they took this this slowly. Neither of them wanted this relationship to be about memories or merely physical attraction. It had to be real, something that could be sustained and that meant taking it slow.

The next morning Jamie woke feeling hopeful for the first time in years, he felt refreshed. peaceful, invincible. He smiled to himself, dreamlike, knowing he would be seeing her soon.

As he lay in slumber, a warm pair of familiar arms wrapped gently around his middle and he sighed pleasurably, all was good with the world.
He suddenly realised that the hands wrapped around his torso were rough in texture and not the smooth hands he had been dreaming of. He shot up in bed to find Mae lying completely naked beside him, her clothes in a heap on the floor at the far side of the room.

‘Mae what the fuck are you doing here?’ fumed Jamie.

‘I know you love me, and I know you won’t turn your back on me Jamie’ She was half screaming and half sobbing. He glared at her wondering if she was still under the influence of drink.

Jamie was too angry to feel sympathy. She can’t just wander into his bed for fucks sake, it’s just not right.

A second later he heard the front door to the flat slam shut and a familiar voice sweetly filled the air.

‘Jamie, are you there? I have bacon rolls and fresh coffee from Campbells!’ Claire shouted through to the bedroom.

Jamie’s blood ran cold as he pulled on his jeans. He had no idea how to explain this one to Claire. Fuck.

Jamie rushed bare chested into the sitting room ‘Claire, before you say anything, I have to let you know…….’

Before Jamie could utter one more word Mae appeared behind him, wearing Jamie’s shirt from the previous evening and obviously totally naked underneath. She smiled at Claire.

Mae looked like she was the proverbial fat cat with the double cream.

‘Good morning, Mae, glad to see you looking better than you were last night’ chirped Claire staring directly at her, completely unfazed.

Mae visibly bristled at the slight from Claire. Clearly that blow had not landed.

Jamie, mortified, looked behind him. ‘Mae what are you doing? I’ve told you once, you can’t just sneak in here whenever you like and climb into my bed, I won’t stand for it, do you hear me? You don’t live here, you never have!’ Jamie felt that he had to repeat himself once more just so Claire could hear it.

Jamie was panicking wildly, and he had broken out into a horrible clammy sweat. He knew how this must sound to Claire right now.
‘You didn’t say that to me earlier this morning Jamie’ said Mae cattily ‘When you told me you were glad that your bairn was in my belly, and you made love to me again’

‘What? Are you mad woman? I didn’t even ken you were there! Out now, if you don’t dress right now, I will dump on the street with your clothes in your arms, I am warning you Mae’

Mae, huffed and stormed back into the bedroom slamming the door behind her.

Jamie rushed to Claire, ‘Sassenach, it’s not what you think, I swear to you sweetheart, on my life and on the lives of those I love and hold dear’ begged Jamie.

Claire stepped towards him and laid her soft hand gently on his cheek.

‘I know’ she smiled up at him.

‘I saw her let herself in to the flat though the side door, she got the key from the key box. I would have come earlier but I am ravenous and thought that if we were going to have a scene we might as well have something to sustain us’ Claire turned the oven on low, wrapped the bacon rolls in tin foil and placed them inside the oven, to be enjoyed when Mae had left.

The bedroom door opened, and Mae came storming out. ‘You bastard, this is not the end and don’t think it is’ spat Mae as she went to leave. However, before she reached the door Claire shouted out to her.

‘Mae wait.’ Mae turned round in surprise, and she watched cautiously as Claire move towards her.

Claire reached into Mae’s coat pocket and fished out the key to Jamie’s flat.

If looks could kill Claire would have been several thousand feet under the fine Scottish peaty earth.

‘I don’t think you will be needing this. Sorry Mae, but you can’t just let yourself into Jamie’s flat whenever you like. I am so sorry for what you are going through but there are boundaries. You know what boundaries are don’t you Mae?
I don’t have to want to call on our local police constable, do I? Unlawful entry for starters. Goodness knows what else you tried to do in there without Jamie’s consent. You are supposed to be a pillar of the community Mae, it would not look good if you were carried off to the klink for breaking and entering or touching someone without consent. Take some time to think about it dear Mae.’ Said Claire firmly.

Mae’s worried ashen face glared at Claire as Jamie stood by mesmerized by the new fierce Claire.

‘This is not the end,’ she huffed, ‘he will pay for the bairn’

Chapter Text

For the next few days Claire and Jamie resumed their routine, early morning jogs in the autumn sunshine, sometimes accompanied by Liam, Samantha Clayton’s husband. He was a police detective based out of Dunfermline and he and Jamie had become friendly over the last couple of years. Towards the end of the week Samantha’s mother Janey, arrived for a visit so Samantha joined them on their run. It was becoming quite the little running club and a firm friendship was beginning to develop between all four. This secretly pleased both Jamie and Claire as it would be the first time they had made friends with a couple as grown-ups.

Mae had not been seen or heard of since the weekend and neither of them wanted to break their happy mood by bringing her up. She lingered in the background though.

Both desperately focused on making memories to deposit into the happy box.

Saturday morning came and the pair of them dumped a holdall into the back of Jamie’s Range Rover, if they were to be scampering around the countryside, they would need something sturdier than a Mercedes. Gleneagles was less than an hour from Falkland, even taking the backroads. It was a leisurely trip, taking in Loch Leven and the Glen Devon reservoir.

The Gleneagles Estate never failed to take Claire’s breath away. This majestic 5* country hotel with the Scottish flag billowing high above the entrance was the ultimate in luxury, it sat in over 800 acres of lush green hilly countryside decorated with hundreds of shades of purple heathers, it was an adventure for the taking.

Claire recalled as a child horse riding, fishing, and riding her bike until she exhausted herself, it was not an uncommon sight back then for Claire to be dozing gently in her mother’s arm as she valiantly tried to eat her supper.

As they drove up the gravelled drive, they were delighted to see a vintage Silver Shadow Rolls Royce sitting to the side of the hotel entrance, it just added to the magic of it all. Claire hoped that the car was part of the photo shoot, her father adored vintage cars, if she remembered what he had taught her it would be around late 1949 or 1950. Thinking of Henry made her wobble slightly, she took a deep breath and put on her professional face.

As Jamie swung round and brought the car to a halt, an older man, not much shorter than Jamie, adorned in full Scottish regalia, kilt gently swaying in the wind, whisked forward to open the door for Claire.

‘Welcome to Gleneagles madam, I am Stuart, and I will be watching out for you whist you are here as our guest’ he said in a soft Scottish brogue.
Gosh I have missed this thought Claire; the chivalry and the warmth of the Scottish people is just unrivalled.

She dismounted like a gymnast from the high seat of the huge green Range Rover, she was tall but even she had to practice descending elegantly from this giant of a motor. Luckily, she had opted for comfortable trainers with flared blue jeans and a bright pink, tight fitting Ralph Lauren woollen sweater. Her hair was its usual wild self and her face almost free of makeup, save for a bit of mascara and some lip gloss.

Before Jamie could make it round to Claire’s side of the car there was a loud shriek……’SASS!!!!!! Babe, I was so happy to see that you would be the model on this shoot! I thought you had disappeared off the face of the earth darlin.’ A tall thin man had appeared out of nowhere and pulled Claire into a bear hug.

‘Steve, gosh I had no idea you were here either, to be honest I did not think to ask. I just thought as I was in Scotland, I would take the booking. How the devil are you doing? Beamed Claire.

Steve was very easy on the eye, light scruffy brown hair which was not in any particular style, dark brown eyes and a strong cockney accent. He possessed a roguish charm which was very endearing to those who got to know him.

Jamie seeing this man crush his love into his arms was around the side of the car quicker than a whippet.

Realising that Jamie was there, Steve stepped back and offered his hand to Jamie.

‘All right mate? Steve Douglas, photographer to beautiful gals and to this one in particular. Made my day to see this vision today.’

Jamie smiled, accepted his hand and shook it firmly.

‘Jamie Fraser, also spent a fair amount of time photographing this lassie in particular but I don’t think she would appreciate me sharing photos of her aged 9, having just fallen into a burn’. Steve grinned.

Claire jumped in, so sorry where are my manners. ‘Jamie, Steve one of my favourite photographers, mainly because he does not have wandering hands but really because he does sneak us chocolate when we work late, totally not allowed but we will take that secret to the grave with us! Steve, this is Jamie, my boyfriend.’

There it was, it was out. She had said it, he had heard it. It felt so good to have him occupy that space. She was looking at Jamie as the words came tumbling out of her mouth and she saw a huge grin appear right across his beautiful face. Clearly this declaration made him as happy as it made her.

Take it slowly though Claire, take it slowly she chided herself.

They walked into the hotel together, opulent luxury as far as the eye could see. An open fire roaring on the left hand side, surrounded by plump cream sofas and red velvet cushions, bespoke light cherry furniture and an abundance of fresh autumnal flowers peppered with purple thistles.

Claire popped her head into a room on the right. A huge space with high ceilings and a large square bar in the middle decorated by sleek art deco lamps strategically placed around it to give a warm inviting glow. In the centre of the bar was a glass column, which almost reached the ceiling and lit up from inside. It housed a thousand spirits, the bottles sparking under the glow.

The rest of the room was also art deco, it was simply stunning, there were plush bright red sofas scattered around which contrasted beautifully with the geometric style.

‘A wee dram in there later, I think’ gushed Claire.

Chapter Text

Having surveyed and admired her surroundings Claire made her way to the reception desk. Switching straight into professional mode.

‘Hello, how are you? I am Sass Alexander; I believe there is a room reserved in my name?’

Hello Ms Alexander, my name is Drew, welcome to Gleneagles. Is this your first stay with us?’

Sass smiled warmly ‘I was here many years ago with my parents but yes, this is the first for many a year Drew’

Steve and Jamie were chatting amiably in the background, she glanced back and smiled, her heart warmed at this meshing of her two lives. Perhaps her world and Jamie’s world could exist together?

‘Okay Ms Alexander we have a double executive suite booked in your name in the main house. Will that suit?’

At this point Steve pipped up, ‘You lucky mare Sass, I was desperate for a room in the main house. We thought Caroline was coming with the kids, so we asked for a self-catering lodge at Glenmore. One of the kids got sick so Caroline had to stay behind. Looks like I will be self-catering anyway.’

‘Steve you must swop with me! I stayed at Glenmore with my parents and would love to take a trip down memory lane, Jamie, is that okay with you?’

Aye, whatever makes you happy’ smiled Jamie, he would sleep in the Gleneagles dog kennels if it meant he could be with her.

‘You sure darlin? Asked Steve

‘Room service will be a bugger out at Glenmore and the walk to the hotel is at least 5 minutes and not great if it’s pissing down with Scottish rain’. Turning to Jamie he smiled. ‘No offence mate, but jeez how do you stand it?’

‘No offence Steve, we are made from girders, no like you softy southerners’ he laughed.

So, swop completed, Jamie and Claire armed with key card jumped back in their car and drove a short way across to the main road to the oasis that was Glenmore.

A hamlet of cream and wooden lodges nestled in the Glen, set around small lochans, a village green and a homely café. The village was an explosion of purple calluna heather, projecting an aura of calm and tranquillity.

Their lodge was Ross, two bedrooms, three bathrooms with a view of the babbling stream and the majestic Ochil Hills as far as the eye could see.
The entrance to the lodge was a huge hall with a drying cupboard and a boot rack, clearly to accommodate those days and nights when guests would arrive home soaking wet, caked in Scottish sludge.

Off the hall were two double bedrooms with bathrooms both stylishly decorated with Scottish tweeds and tartans. The crisp white bed linen was the finest thread of Egyptian cotton with the softest goose down feather pillows.

The bathrooms were fresh with white brick tiles, a huge shower cubicle, complete with a rainforest shower head. The fragranced toiletries were from the White Company which epitomised luxury.

The rest of the lodge did not disappoint. In between the two bedrooms there was a huge bathroom complete with circular bath which frankly could have accommodated a family of 5 children. The bathroom was scattered with eucalyptus candles. Hmm thought Claire, the heat rushing to her face at the though of sharing this with Jamie,

Upstairs, the sitting room was stylishly decorated with neutral plump sofas, soft lamps, an open fire, prints of traditional Scottish scenes adorned the walls, tartan throws scattered across the room.

From the sitting room you could walk to the well-appointed modern kitchen and dining room. Everything you needed to be hunkered down in the highlands (ish) of Scotland.

Claire took a deep breath; this would be a deposit into the happy box.

They decided that the first thing they needed was food so when they had unpacked, in separate rooms, they decided to venture into the local village of Auchterarder. Claire headed straight to Simon Howie’s, the local butcher. She recalled visiting there with her mother when they stocked up on scotch pies, tattie scones and the like. She did the same before nipping next door to the Co-Op for essentials like bread, eggs, butter and milk.
Before heading home, they stopped off at the deli to buy cheese, crackers, Parma ham, olives and some fine wine.

That evening they lit the vanilla scented candles that Claire had picked up earlier, stoked the fire and made their feast. They snuggled up on the expansive sofa listening to the music of their youth. Jamie had made up many Spotify playlists to remind himself of their past, it had brought comfort over the years, and he relished sharing his choices with Claire. The slow list included Ellie Goulding, Adele and James Bay. The gentle music added to the romantic ambiance and feeling of utter happiness.

The shared umpteen stories, each trying to fill in the 5 years apart. Claire telling Jamie about the first time she met Steve and what a good guy he was, unlike some of the other photographers. The shoot was for a Japanese whisky company which was only being advertised in Japan. This was partly the reason why Chanel had agreed that Claire could take the assignment. Jilly, as usual had negotiated the shoot, knowing that Claire wanted to stay in Scotland as long as she could.

Gosh she missed Jilly, they spent at least an hour on the phone each day each updating the other on relevant news, but it was not the same as feeling the arms of reassurance. Jilly made her feel safe.

Claire smiled to herself, It took every ounce of persuasion that Claire had to prevent Jilly from flying up to Scotland and booting Mae into touch. Claire was absolutely convinced that Mae was lying just to keep Jamie, but of course she had no proof. She did not however think that Mae was cruel enough to harm an unborn child by drinking herself into oblivion.

Their evening was perfect. After hours of kissing and exploring each other’s bodies, they staggered downstairs to the master bedroom. Claire felt her legs shake, she felt like a modern-day Bambi.

‘Jamie’, gasped Claire, I am not ready for this, also, I am not on the pill. She stopped short of saying that the last thing he needed was two pregnant women in his life.
Jamie looked at her and cupped his hand gently around her cheek.

‘Claire, I will wait, you know that. I didn’t exactly come armed with a case full of condoms anyway. Let’s get ‘she who shall not be mentioned’ sorted out first shall we? Then we can concentrate on our future. When I come together with you, I want it to be free of outside factors. I want it to be as perfect as the first time I loved you’.

They slept in the same bed, clasping each other as if their lives depended on it, safe in the knowledge that there was a truth between them and a respect for what obstacles were potentially in the way of their future happiness.

The pressure was off, but the sexual tension was still intense. Over the weekend, Jamie and Claire could simply not keep their hands or their lips from touching and spent hours tenderly, and sometimes, not so tenderly, exploring every inch of each other relishing every touch and sensation.

In the end, lips red raw, they forced themselves to leave the lodge and they spent the next two days walking and cycling around the Gleneagles Estate, stopping at the golf course halfway house for a Lorne sausage roll and a cup of tea. They could have joined the rest of the photographic team at the Strathearn Restaurant, which would have been a treat, but they were content to stay in the lodge in the evening, reading to each other, listening to music, cooking and making whisky cocktails, compliments of the Fraser Distillery. Just getting to know each other and making up for lost time.

Monday morning and the photographic shoot came too soon. Claire was devastated to learn that Steve had to leave Gleneagles as his sick daughter had been taken to hospital. She felt guilty that she had spent no time with him, neither had she enquired after his poorly child, she made a mental note to call him after the shoot and then she wondered fleetingly who would replace him.

As the weather was fine on Monday morning, Jamie had taken himself off fishing with the local Ghillie and in the afternoon he planned to visit some local distilleries to introduce himself to those he did not already know.

Sass, feeling light, happy and loved, walked into the expansive room where the photo shoot was happening. Music was blaring, Liane Foley, if she was not mistaken. That was the first warning sign There was a make-up artist in one corner, a stylist with a privacy screen in another corner and a wind machine placed at the left-hand side of a huge tartan sofa.

Her heart plummeted as she saw him emerge from behind the privacy screen, Jean Pierre du Buretel. French father and an English mother. JP to his friends, squiddly diddly to the models he worked with, male and female.

Fuck, she thought, I knew it was too good to last.

Trying to ignore him she ventured towards the make-up station and introduced herself. She saw in the mirror that he was leaving the room. She could breathe, at least for now and prepare herself for the showdown that would ultimately happen.

An hour and a half later, horribly late, JP sauntered back through the door like a rock star. He was small, slight with dark hair, he was charming enough of course in that French kind of way, at least he did have a certain charm until he started groping you.

He made a point of kissing everyone in the room and charming the crew which irritated Sass, he was such a sleaze. Arriving late and then going on an ego trip whist everyone stood there bored witless.

Sass fumed inside, he should have arrived early and welcomed everyone if he wanted to get up close and personal with the whole crew.

She just wanted to get this shoot over with and get back to her man.

He finally approached her smiling,

‘Sass, my darling, it has been too long’ he crowed. in a fake french accent.

Her skin crawled as he kissed her on both cheeks, his hand the wrong side of her hip bone.

Sass suggested that some highland music may be appropriate to get everyone in the Scottish mood, but JP just scoffed and insisted that she acted the part.

Sass, gritted her teeth. This meant that the fake French accent would continue all day, along with the French music. He was born and brought up in England for fucks sake.

The shoot started, Sass held the glass to her lips, turning this way and that way, standing, sitting, head up, head down, hair up, hair down, jacket on, jacket off and the wind machine blowing most of the time. JP barking orders from behind his camera and sometimes leaving another to take the pictures whilst he delighted in screaming instructions at her.

After a couple of hours, costume changes and thousands of clicks and resets, JP was flapping his arms around about something, and marched up to Sass.

‘Your body is wooden woman, let yourself go!’ JP leaned forward and took hold of her upper arms and pulled them slightly together, his thumbs gently caressing each nipple as he did so. Before a startled Sass could say anything, a voice came from the side.

‘Take your mucky mitts off my goddaughter before I dim your lights you fucking pervert’

Sass whipped her head round to see Jilly standing there with her hands on her hips, and a look of pure thunder on her face, this woman was serious.

‘Madam, who do you think you are talking to? You cannot barge in here insulting me, who do you think you are? Screaming like some hysterical witch’.

Jilly walked towards him, she was only 5ft, but she seemed taller. She had an air of authority about her which people rarely challenged.

‘I will tell you who I am Monsieur Pervert with your fake French accent. I am your worst fucking nightmare. I did some research on you the last time Sass came home and told me that you sexually assaulted her. I have been doing some homework on you my little fake French friend. I think..ooh let me think, about 8 models have also been groped by you? Just getting my wee dossier ready’.

‘You are a crazy old woman’ spat JP, the agency would never believe you!'

The crew had stopped working and were tuned in to the conversation.

‘Agency? Agency?? Oh no Monsieur Pervert, I won’t go to the Agency so that they can cover it up to avoid a scandal. I will leak it to the press. You will be finished my little fake French friend, you have had your last grope, you filthy wee man’. Jilly's voice was cool and authoritative.

JP visibly paled.

‘Break, take a break everyone’ he screamed as he stormed out of the room.

‘You have not heard the last of this Madam!’ he hissed at Jilly as he stormed out.

‘I bloody hope not!’ retorted Jilly.

Sass squealed with delight and threw herself into Jilly’s arms.

Chapter Text

In truth, it had not actually been that long since Claire had seen Jilly, but their reunion was emotional. So much had happened since Lamb’s death, in particular since Claire had fled north of the border back to her home town. Although they had spoken each and every day, Jilly needed to see the truth in Claire's eyes.

Jilly’s arms were firmly wrapped around her god-daughter, as they happily swayed from side to side. Both taking comfort from the other.

Claire breathed in Jilly’s perfume, Allure by Chanel. Jilly had been wearing it for years and was delighted that she now had an unlimited supply. Jilly was immaculately dressed in a navy Louise Kennedy jewelled coat with a crisp white shirt and blue jeans underneath. Her thick blonde hair curled up into a stylish knot, highlighting her diamond drop earrings. How this woman evoked such a feeling of safety, Claire would never know.

Claire recalled the days and nights after she had arrived in London, crying buckets over Jamie’s betrayal and then again when she had lost their child, so sure that her heart would never heal.

Jilly’s tender embrace, comforting words, and fragrant smell had warmed and soothed her. This was the Jilly she knew best. Although she also loved to see Tiger Jilly in action. That was really something, Claire had never known Jilly to take something on and not conquer it.

Jilly pulled away and looked deeply into Claire’s eyes.

‘Yes, yes, you are happy, I can see it in your eyes darling’ smiled Jilly as she took Claire’s hand and led them to one of the luxurious drawing rooms for traditional afternoon tea.

For the next hour Jilly and Claire chatted excitedly over multiple pots of Earl Grey and warm scones with lashings of cream topped with blackcurrant jam. They were rudely stopped in their tracks when Jilly’s phone rang, it was Elite, the model agency.

She smiled at Claire, stood up and walked away to give them hell. When she returned ten minutes later, she told Claire that JP would be leaving within the hour and another photographer was on the way. Claire and the rest of the team would have the rest of the day and following morning off on full pay.

‘I don’t know how you do it Jilly’ giggled Claire.

‘What keep dirty pervs off the streets and away from young models? I had plenty of help where he was concerned darling, I can assure you. Besides, now that I have proved it, Elite had to take action. They will be making a very generous donation to a children’s charity to keep this out of the press. Everyone wins’ she clapped her hands in delight.

Out of nowhere, a young woman with long wavy caramel hair bounced towards them. She was around 25, tall although not as tall as Claire, a voluptuous figure and bright green eyes.

‘Auntie Jilly, I wondered where you were’ she squealed in a thick Scottish accent.

‘Ah Heather, there you are, please meet my god daughter, Claire. Claire, meet Heather, she is the niece of my ex-husband, Douglas. Sadly, she and I don’t see each other much these days’ explained Jilly.

‘Claire beamed ‘So pleased to meet you Heather'.

‘Oh, I cannot believe I am sitting here with a famous model. Auntie Jilly told me that it was you on the telly, but I didn’t believe her! Gushed Heather.

The three women sipped tea and exchanged stories and memories, all of them involving Jilly who clearly had been a huge influence on both these young women.

Claire looked up and noticed a commanding figure in the doorway of the drawing room, she quietly gasped. She would never get used to the sight of Jamie and the fact that he was hers, at last.

Before Claire could raise her hand to wave Jamie over, Heather spoke.

‘Holy cow would you look at him? I am definitely having some of that’ she muttered under her breath but not so quietly that Claire and Jilly did not hear.

Claire’s cheeks flushed in embarrassment as she raised her hand and waved him over. Heather, however, did not flinch.

Jamie made his way over to the group of women, Claire stood up as he approached. He enveloped her, lowered his head and kissed Claire lovingly on the lips.

Jamie turned to the other women and realised that one of them was familiar, but he could not work out why.

‘Jamie, this is Jilly. She is in Glasgow on business and drove over to see us. This is her niece, Heather’.

Jilly rose and shook Jamie’s hand firmly but warmly. ‘

Pleased to meet you again Jamie, it’s been a very long time and I am glad to see that you are taking care of my girl’ she smiled.

Jamie was slightly flustered, he had not expected to meet Jilly today and a thousand questions ran through his head, all related to Claire and their child.

Heather had also leapt to her feet at this point, her eyes quickly scouring both Jamie and Claire’s hands to see if there was any marital connection. She moved closer to Jamie and gazed up at him, seductively wetting her lips as she smiled, taking both of his hands into hers.

‘Hi Jamie, I am Heather, total joy to meet you. Are you staying in the main hotel? How long will you be around for? It would be nice to catch up if you have the time.’

Her words wafted towards him like a cloud.

Claire and Jilly sat there with mouths open in shock.

Jamie, at a loss to know what to say replied ‘Aye that would be nice lass.’

Heather quick as a flash said ‘right, that’s a date. Shall we say 7pm this evening?’

There was a very long awkward pause. Claire willing Jamie to say something. Nothing came.

Claire stood up, fuming.

‘Sorry about that Heather but my boyfriend and I have plans this evening’ Claire tried not to sound like a possessive girlfriend.

This shocked Jamie out of his stupor. ‘Aye that’s right, Claire has been working all day so we like to spend as much time as we can together’.

The smitten Heather was not to be put off.

‘Well, if Claire is working tomorrow then perhaps we can meet then? Shall we say 10am, we can go for a walk?’

Jamie was quicker this time.

‘Sorry lass, I have business to attend to and will be on the road’ he was trying to let her down lightly, but Claire was really not sure why.

‘Oh, I love a car trip, I can come along if you don’t mind’ mithered Heather.

‘Ah no, business is business, and I don’t like to mix business and pleasure,’ said Jamie.

Heather’s eyes lit up at the word ‘pleasure’ and she opened her mouth to move the conversation forward…..

At this point Jilly pipped up.

‘Right Heather, that’s enough. Time you were going’ the tone of her voice left no room for discussion.

Heather huffed loudly and threw her head back, eyeing Jamie seductively over her shoulder as she sashayed out of the room silently mouthing 'game on'.

Claire watched Heather's attempted 'sexy' exit walk. What an amateur, she laughed to herself.

Jilly turned to them both, her eyes moved to Claire in silent apology.

‘So lovely to see you again Jamie, you clearly make my girl very happy and that makes me happy too. Claire, you take some time to spend with your man. I have calls with LA this evening so will not be around. I am in the main hotel though and will pop in and see you tomorrow afternoon. We can make some plans to get to know each other properly Jamie’.

‘Without the pariah Heather I hope’ murmured Claire to Jilly.

‘Indeed, my lovely, indeed, she is as lecherous as her bloody Uncle Douglas. I will have a word’ smiled Jilly wryly as she followed a stomping indignant Heather out of the drawing room.

Chapter Text

Jamie and Claire left the hotel and made their way back to the comfort of their lodge at Glenmore. They quietly went about their business, each instinctively knowing what needed to be done, roar up the fire, switching on the soft lamps, lighting the candles ready for another cosy night in.

Claire was unnervingly quiet.

‘Is everything okay Sassenach?’ asked Jamie.

‘Oh, I don’t know Jamie, you tell me? First, I am sexually assaulted by a creepy photographer and then I have to watch a brazen hussy hit on my boyfriend and furthermore I had to remind him that he was with me! Should I be okay?’

‘What???’ exclaimed Jamie ‘Sexually assaulted? For fucks sake Claire what happened?’

Jamie had crossed the room and put his two hands gently on her shoulder.

The tender touch had taken the wind from Claire’s sail, and she huffed gently and dropped her shoulders.

‘Sorry, I was going to tell you all about it when you arrived but then Heather the Hottie took over, throwing herself at you and you doing a fine job of not exactly putting her in her place. Yes, quite a day when you think about it’.

Jamie took her hand and brought it to his lips kissing it tenderly. He cupped her jaw.

‘Claire, you cannot think for one second after all that we have been through that I would do or say anything that would jeopardise what I have with you? You are all I have ever wanted or need’.

‘Well, you didn’t exactly make your status clear Jamie, it irritated me. All I seem to do is protect you from unwanted attention’

‘Sassenach, I had just met Jilly again for the first time in years. My mind was full of you and our bairn and gratitude to Jilly for caring for you. I was thinking of the lost years that you spent with her, and my head was full of a thousand thoughts. I truly was not focused on that lass. Seeing Jilly just threw me a bit. I know how important she is to you’.

Claire was having none of it.

‘For goodness sake Jamie, I will not make it a habit to keep women away from you. If you don’t want their attention you have to be more explicit and to the point. I will not make it my life’s work keeping the likes of Mae and Heather from you. You need to man up and grow a pair!’

To Claire’s utter surprise Jamie laughed out loud.

‘Aye, you are not wrong Sassenach. I didn’t want to make a bad impression on Jilly by telling her niece to do one and stop disrespecting you, and me for that matter. I suppose I have just gone through life ignoring anyone who showed an interest. Didn’t matter how direct they were, I would just walk away at the end of the night, no phone numbers, no promises, nothing. This is new territory for me, but I promise to be a quick study’. Jamie pulled her closer and tipped up Claire’s chin for a kiss.

Well that went well thought Claire, smiling to herself, she had not expected that reaction from Jamie at all.

Jamie and Claire spent the next half hour preparing supper, they feasted on filet steak with a red wine jus and garlic buttered asparagus. As Claire did not have work first thing, she allowed herself a glass or two of Merlot. She relaxed as she recounted the event of the day to Jamie, not missing out any detail, it was important that Jamie knew the pitfalls of her job as well as the glamour.

She explained that Jilly’s arrival was a surprise to her too and that she had never met Heather but could say with confidence that Jilly would not condone Jamie for putting Heather in her place. ' Jilly places loyalty very high on her list of qualities she expects from the people in her life' explained Claire. 'I have seen her cut people lose for disloyalty, no questions asked, no second chances'.

After hearing Claire's tale of JP, Jamie understandably was furious, even more so that the agency knew that JP had a history of inappropriate behaviour with models. His admiration for Jilly only grew, he was glad that Claire had Jilly as her protector. Elite would surely send someone with a stellar reputation for fear of further reprisal from the well connected Jilly.

Claire also told Jamie to story of Jilly’s ex-husband, Douglas Ross. A famous rugby player in his day played for the London Irish Rugby club and was capped by Scotland for a couple of years. They cut quite the couple in their heyday. Successful glamorous music manager and a handsome rich sportsman.

Unfortunately, Douglas was a target for the type of woman who wanted to be seen on the arm of a handsome rich sports star. He was besotted with Jilly so of course for the longest time he ignored the attention.

According to Jilly, as he reached his early 30’s he got less attention from the media and was not always being picked for the London Scottish first team as there were younger fitter rugby players coming through the Academy. That’s when the female attention went to his head, and he was unfaithful to Jilly. I guess he needed that additional adoration from somewhere, he needed to fill the void that was left when he was not a media darling or the London Scottish golden boy any more.

Claire went on ‘She only found out when his 'girlfriend' turned up at their London home one evening confronting Jilly, demanding to know why she would not give Douglas the divorce he wanted. Apparently, it was an awful scene as rather embarrassingly, Douglas was home at the time. Jilly got the pair of them together and had it out with them, there was no place for the devious rat to hide’.

'Jilly travelled so much with her bands, it left had plenty of opportunity if he wanted to deceive her and get away with it. Jilly and Douglas had been together since they were students at Newcastle University, and they came from nearby towns in Scotland totally. Jilly had trusted him totally and this was a total shock to her' said Claire sadly.

‘What did Douglas have to say for himself?’ asked Jamie.

‘Called the girl stupid, said that she had never meant anything, claimed she had thrown herself at him. Douglas said it was a drunken mistake and that he certainly did not want a divorce from Jilly. The girl became hysterical, so Jilly insisted that Douglas take her home. He didn’t want to; he was not sure what Jilly would do whilst he was gone. Hell hath no fury and all that’.

Jamie was intrigued ‘and what did she do?’

‘When he was gone, she packed a case and left. She booked into the Halcyon Hotel in Holland Park, Douglas didn’t know that hotel, it’s small and discrete. Mum's place was the first place he would look, she could not go there. In the morning Jilly called her solicitor and started divorce proceedings. According to Mum, she did not speak to him alone again, unless it was about the divorce. Despite him frantically trying’.

She must have said something to him Claire, surely? Quizzed Jamie.

‘Yes, actually she did. I remember mum telling me when I was much older, and it always stuck with me. Actually, it was at the back of my mind when I left Scotland'. sighed Claire deeply.

'Jilly told Douglas that in her relationship, she had to be the leading lady and she would not play the understudy to any other woman. Particularly a woman who meant nothing to him. He could not really argue with that’. Claire said forlornly, she had never had this conversation with anyone other than Julia and Jilly's suffering made her sad, even though it was a lifetime ago.

‘Did he stay with this other woman?’ prompted Jamie who was now quite fascinated by the story and not just because he was a huge rugby fan.

‘Gosh no, according to mum she was dropped by Douglas the minute Jilly left. He spent the next 18 months trying to win Jilly back, but she was having none of it. He gave up eventually, Jilly was not for turning. As I said, she is a very loyal person and when she is betrayed it cuts deep and there is never a way back'.

Claire continued, ‘He hurt her very badly, the history that they had together, their families had known each other for years, when their relationship ended so did a lot of others. According to mum these strong bonds broke and were never repaired'.

‘So why does she keep in touch with ‘Hottie Heather?’ as you put it'. Laughed Jamie.

‘I have no idea; I have met all of Jilly’s family but never a member of the Ross family. I never met him; I am sure the divorce happened before I was born so I am surprised that Jilly is still in touch with any member of his family. I have told Jilly I don’t want her near me, she is persona non gratis as far as I am concerned’ said Claire firmly and making a mental note to get the low down on her ex-husband’s side of the family.

After supper, Jamie disappeared for 15 minutes nipping downstairs to run the huge circular bath and fill it with aromatic relaxing Aromatherapy Associates oil, the relaxing ambiance completed by the dozen lit candles scattered around the bathroom.

Stepping into the bathroom Claire’s eyes widened in amazement. The room was hot and steamy and fragrant. The soothing smell of clary sage and geranium was wafting under her nostrils, it was overwhelming romantic and Claire's heart clenched with happiness.

Jamie, not taking his eyes from her stepped towards Claire and started to slowly undress her. She slowly gasped, as he took her sweater and motioned for her to raise her arms which she did. Lifting it over her curly head, he discarded her sweater on the floor. He reached behind her and unclasped her back skimpy lacy bra which joined her sweater. She physically shivered as he gently removed her skirt, his warm oil coated hands caressing her backside as the skirt slipped to the floor. Jamie then hooked his little finger into her black thong and tantalisingly slowly slid it over her hips, Claire helped by wiggling the garment to the floor and stepping out of it.

There she was, naked in front of the man she loved. She had never felt more vulnerable. Oddly enough though she had never felt safer. The way Jamie stared at her melted her heart, the look had never altered in all the years she had known him. It had only deepened.

She took a deep breath, smiled seductively at him and whispered, 'my turn'.

Keeping contact with his beautiful blue eyes Claire slowly unbuttoned his shirt and slid it over his shoulders. Jamie’s smile widened as she undid his belt buckle and pushed his jeans down over his hips. Her huge amber eyes lit up as she felt him beneath his boxer shorts. She pulled them down bending all the way with them. Jamie was frozen to the spot with excitement as he watched her head go lower. He thought he would explode with joy as he felt her sweet lips upon him.

‘Come Sassenach, your knees will be stiff, and the water will be cold.’ He kissed her, tasting himself on her lips and then lifted her gently into the bath, relishing the feeling of her soft naked body against his.

They lay there luxuriating in the oil and heat feeling soothed by the hot water and each other. She lay in between his legs, her back pressed firmly into his chest, his hands softly caressing her oil slicked breasts and then his fingers wandered tantalisingly between her legs.

When the water went cold, they dragged themselves out and wrapped each other up in white fluffy bath robes. The deep relaxing oil in the bath had totally knocked them out and they flopped into bed, falling asleep, arms wrapped around each other in love and comfort.

The next day, sun shining over the Ochil Hills, Claire and Jamie enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of smashed avocado, mixed with coriander, freshly squeezed lime and chilli flakes on sourdough bread, before heading out for a brisk woodland walk with a flask of freshly brewed coffee. Now that she was working the full Scottish breakfast would have to take a back seat.

Strolling around the Estate hand in hand, they marvelled at the lush greenery, the Gleneagles Estate Forrest hosted pine silver birches alongside rowan trees, some with berries still in place, large oak trees were already turning it’s leaves glorious shades of rust and golden. Everywhere they looked they saw multiple hardy plants still in bloom, despite the season.

Making their way back to the lodge, feeling fresh and happy, they startled slightly at a car horn sounding. A taxi stopped alongside them, and a red headed tall, skinny man jumped out.

‘SASS!!!!!!! Oh my god, the one that got away! How are you darling??’ he yelled.

‘Declan!!!’ It’s you!’ squealed Sass wrapping her arms around him excitedly.

‘We will have the very best time!’ she flashed her beautiful smile.

Suddenly aware of Jamie behind her, she added ‘Oh Declan this is Jamie. Jamie this is Declan our replacement photographer.’ Claire was brimming with happiness.

Declan reached out to Jamie, and they shook hands, smiling to each other. Jamie wondering why she had not introduced him as her boyfriend as she had previously.

‘Listen sweetie, I will see you later, 2pm okay? It will give you some time to get checked into the Hotel and set up your equipment. I can let the crew know via the team WhatsApp’ offered Sass.

‘Perfect darling girl, see you then.’ Declan got back into the taxi for the remainder of the short drive to the hotel.

Claire was totally joyous at the arrival of Declan, they seemed to like each other, it warmed Jamie’s heart.

‘So good to see you happy Claire, he seems like a good guy, and you obviously know him well,’ said Jamie.

‘Yes, I do’ replied Sass, ‘He’s my ex.’

Chapter Text

Claire skipped merrily back to the lodge kicking off her boots and Barbour jacket and dumping them into the drying cupboard in the hallway, Jamie followed suite.
She had yakked non-stop on the way back, elated that Declan had replaced JP as the shoot photographer. Jamie didn’t want to spoil the mood by starting the interrogation he was desperate to have. He acknowledged that it lifted his heart to see her so blissfully happy, he was not about to spoil it.

Claire bounded upstairs two at a time to the sitting room, and flicked on the sound system, the dulcet tone of Adele wafted throughout the lodge.

As she was working in a couple of hours and needed to keep a flat stomach, Claire mixed a goat’s cheese salad and warmed up an enormous chunk of garlic bread and several large stuffed mushrooms for Jamie. He would be gnawing at his elbow within two hours if salad was the only thing on offer!

Jamie laid the table and made a pot of fresh mint tea to accompany lunch, all the time, Claire chattering about how wonderful it was to collaborate with like-minded people and how the shoot would be so much fun, and everyone would relax.

Finally, they were seated at the dining table and Claire had to stop talking to eat. As she was munching her food, Jamie could see her mind whirling.

‘I’m sorry Jamie’ said Claire quietly.

The comment came from nowhere and Jamie was a little surprised by it.

Jamie furrowed his eyebrows, ‘Sorry for what Sassenach?’ he asked.

‘Sorry for just blurting out that Declan was my ex. I wasn’t expecting him, and I wasn’t therefore prepared to answer any questions about him. I should have told you; I am so sorry.’

‘Sassenach, you have nothing to be sorry for. I was surprised, aye’ he replied.

Just as Claire was about to continue, he raised his hand to stop her.
‘I am the one who should be apologising to you’ he confessed.

Claire looked confused. ‘You?’

‘Sassenach, I knew that you had this other life, living a celebrity lifestyle in London, working as a top model, travelling the world, mixing with the bright and the beautiful. I knew that more than likely you had relationships. I was just too terrified to ask. I buried my head in the sand’ he smiled weakly.

Claire’s soft manicured hand reached over and covered his. ‘Well, I am not sure I would have been brave enough to ask you about your love life if the lovely Mae had not been standing right in front of me.’ She chimed.

‘Can we not talk about her now? The very thought of her makes me sweat.’ Muttered Jamie.

‘Listen’ said Claire. ‘Later, after the shoot, we will grab an early supper at the Strathearn Restaurant, just you and me. I will tell you everything that you want to know, I promise.’ She beamed at him, her amber eyes imploring, her face full of devotion. She always could melt his heart.

Jamie returned her smile; however, his rabid curiosity did not melt along with his heart. He was not sure what to say next so sat quietly.

He was desperate to know what this Declan had meant to her. Did she love him? Him her? How long were they together? Did they sleep together? Was it a loving relationship or a bit of fun like him and Mae? How long ago did they split up? Did she end it? Did he? Was she broken hearted? Is this why she really came to Scotland? Was she on the rebound? Why had she not introduced him as her boyfriend? He pondered the obvious similarities, Declan was Irish versus Jamie being Scottish, both were tall, although Declan a good 4 inches shorter than Jamie, Declan was the skinnier of the two, Jamie packing more muscle, but more important that all of that they both had a full head of red hair and blue eyes.

Claire either did not notice the silence or the fact that Jamie’s mind was working overtime, or perhaps it suited her to ignore it.

She bubbled on ‘Then after supper we can join Jilly and Declan for drinks’ she said flippantly.

Another noise joined the throng in Jamie’s head. Had Declan met Jilly and Lamb? Exactly. how serious was this relationship?

Claire oblivious to the thousand emotions Jamie was feeling continued. ‘Perhaps we can introduce Declan to Heather the Hottie!! That would solve one problem at least’ she giggled.

He smiled weakly, that was good right? She was trying to set Declan up with Heather.

Jamie went off to visit his whisky distributor and Sass made her way over to the hotel and back to the room where the shoot was happening. The crew having received Claire’s WhatsApp message were already there and ready for work, there was a happy buzz in the air, Scottish music was blasting from the blue tooth speaker, a beautiful melodic sound that was familiar to Sass, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ by the Silencers, a favourite of Julia’s. Jilly had worked with the band and Julia had seen them live often. Julia would always play this at New Year, and it took Claire back to a happy time in her life.
Back at the hotel, Declan was peering over some photos, his dark red hair covering his face, he raised his head as Sass approached.

‘Darling girl, so good to see you!’ he flashed a seductive smile. ‘We are going to have such fun dear Sass; this will be just like old times. Let me know when you are changed and ready darling.’ Declan affectionately stroked his hand up and down her arm as he spoke.

Ever the professionals, for the next two hours Declan, Sass and the team worked hard to bring the product to life. The Japanese people would definitely feel the essence of Scotland through these photographs.

The music had progressed to the Proclaimers, the team singing along to ‘500 miles’ and when ‘I’m on my way’ came over the speakers the whole room broke into dance. There was spinning, clapping, and marching, everyone seemed to know the chorus but soon managed to learn the other verses.

Jamie walked into the room as the whole crew belted out ‘We’re on our way from misery to happiness today aha! aha!’ The atmosphere was joyful and happy, Sass being swung around by the arms by Declan and others.

Bloody hell thought Jamie, they all get paid for this. He stood in the background, smiling at the activity and the delight that was emanating from everyone.

With all the noise, he did not hear the door open behind him, the first thing he knew of another person in the room was when he felt a feminine arm snake around his waist.

At that very moment Sass looked over to witness Jamie stepping out of Heather’s embrace.

Jamie glared at Heather, ‘Okay, let’s get one thing straight here. You see that beautiful lass? Aye the gorgeous one, the woman who has had my heart my whole life, the one who is beautiful inside and out? I belong to her and she to me. Please do not touch me, I didn’t ask for it and I don’t welcome it.’ Said Jamie firmly.

‘Are you married?’ asked Heather, clearly undeterred.

‘I don’t see that is any of your concern but no we are not’ said Jamie, now half ignoring her and gazing over at Sass.

‘Well, that’s fair game in my book’ quipped Heather.

Jamie was now livid ‘Listen Helen or whatever your name is. I am nobody’s game. Do you understand? I am a grown man, in love with that woman over there, I have loved her from the age of 6 and will love her until I take my last breath. I am not interested in you, or anyone else on god’s earth. Do I make myself clear?’ fumed Jamie.

Heather was outraged both at the obvious rejection and the fact that Jamie could not even remember her name. She started to well up, big fat juicy tears gathered in the corner of her green eyes.

Jamie was having none of it. He grabbed a paper tissue from the make up artist, handed it to Heather and rather roughly moved her out of the room, pointing her in the direction of the ladies’ loo, closing the door firmly behind her.

Heather, abandoned outside of the room was stunned for the second time in a matter of minutes. Tears always generated sympathy with men, she was obviously losing her touch, she berated herself. She needed a new plan and soon.

Jilly must have passed Heather on the way out as within seconds she entered the room. Declan immediately, extricated himself from dancing with an assistant and strode over to Jilly, embracing her, kissing her warmly on both cheeks.

Jilly, responded with a ‘darling Declan, how are you?’

Jilly, not realising that Jamie and Declan had already met turned to Jamie.

‘Declan let me introduce you to Jamie’ He’s Sass’s…….

Before Jilly could finish the sentence Sass bounded over, her face flushed pink with the exertion of singing and dancing.

‘Jilly, Declan, just the ticket. Jamie and I are having a little romantic early supper but would love you to join us for drinks in the American bar later this evening? Declan, that’s if this is a wrap now?’

Jamie was feeling totally unnerved at the obvious connection between Jilly and Declan. This was very unfamiliar territory for him.

‘Jilly, any chance you could ditch Heather? Sorry and all that but my patience is wearing thin. She was all over Jamie like a rash only 5 minutes ago. He had to remove her forcibly from the room. It’s bloody harassment’ grumped Sass.

‘It’s fine Sassenach, sorry Jilly but I had to be very blunt with your niece, she thinks I am fair game for her attention, which I am not, and I had to let her down but not gently I’m afraid. I very much doubt if she will ever speak to me again.’ Jamie slipped his arm across Sass’s shoulders and drew her closer to him. She melted into his body, as if she were made to measure.

‘Good for you Jamie, I am at my wits end with the girl, I don’t see her often and so it’s hard to keep her in check to be honest, she is so blatant in her intention that she stuns men into doing what she wants. If there is a male fragile ego, she homes in like a heat seeking missile and there is no stopping her. You offend her as much as you need to sweetheart, she needs to learn and frankly to have some self-respect’ said Jilly decisively, smiling warmly at Jamie.

Jilly went on, ‘I for one would be delighted to join you beautiful kids for a cocktail later this evening, and of course to get to know you a wee bit better Jamie.’

‘Me too’ said Declan, ‘Sass text me the time and I will be there, I have to finish up here and do some touching up, but I will only be a couple of hours.’

Declan turned to Sass, took her hand, and kissed it gently, his eyes not wavering from hers.

‘Then darling girl, I am all yours.’

Declan turned and forced a smile at Jamie, then left the room.

Chapter Text

Jamie and Claire made their way from their Lodge over to the Hotel, stopping off at the Gleneagles Whisky shop on the way. Jamie was bursting with pride when he spotted Fraser’s Whisky taking prime place in the window display. His usual charm had persuaded the young shop assistant Duncan to place it there. It was not just women who fell under the spell of the highlander Jamie Fraser.

Ready for their evening, Jamie was dressed immaculately in black Ralph Lauren jeans and a soft white cotton Armani shirt. Claire had chosen one of her embroidered A line dresses from Chanel, an elegant little number. It was cream with long sleeves, a high neck and embroidered all over in white black and gold. Her curls were piled high with curly wisps coming free at the side. Her make up subtle and fresh.

Jamie and Claire cut quite the couple strolling through the plush carpeted winding corridor which led to the Strathearn Restaurant.

Several of the hotel guests had recognised her as the face of Chanel, some had admired her from afar, but several had asked for selfies and autographs. Even if they hadn’t known she was one of the world’s leading fashion models, it would be impossible not to turn your head and admire this beautiful couple.

The Maître d’ seated them at a romantic candlelit table, in front of a stunning fireplace whose mantlepiece was decorated with a blaze of flowers, it was impossible to identify all of them but there were saffron hydrangeas, copper ruscus, and eryngium thistles and cream roses to name but a few.

They enjoyed a beautiful supper of whisky barrelled smoked salmon accompanied by a glass of Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, English sparkling wine (better than Champagne promised Jamie).

Jamie then opted for the wild Venison with savoy cabbage and truffle granola whilst Claire wanted something light so chose the Orkney Scallops with pea puree, bacon jam, lemon, and thyme.

They were relaxed and happy, but Claire could put it off no longer.

‘So?’ She asked.

‘What would you like to know?’

Even though Jamie had been thinking about nothing else all afternoon, he really did have no idea where to start.

Jamie’s eyes shifted with embarrassment, he didn’t want to know, but he did, jeez where to begin?

‘How long were you together?’ he blurted quickly as if just to get some word out of his jumbled head.

Claire paused, looked up at the ceiling as if deep in thought and replied, ‘About 6 months, maybe longer’.

‘We were not always in the same city or the same country, but we saw each other when we could,’ said Claire.

Jamie could feel his face heating up, he wanted to hear about Claire’s life, all of it. Truth be known though he would be happy to remain in ignorant bliss when it came to Claire’s love life.

‘Did you love him?’ Jamie’s belly was somersaulting as he asked the question, fearing the reply.

‘No’ replied Claire quickly, for that Jamie was grateful and he let out a breath that he did not realise he had been holding.

‘Were you… did you… I mean…. were you intimate with him?’

Claire hesitated, although she was not quite sure why.

‘Yes,’ she sighed gently ‘We were.’

Jamie closed his eyes and tried to push back the image that was threatening to cloud his mind.

‘When did it end Claire?’

‘About 3 months ago, we have worked together since and it’s been fine I promise you. He no longer holds feelings for me nor I him.’
She reached over and gently caressed his cheek, seeking to reassure him.

Jamie continued ‘How did it end?’

‘Well, truth be known, I could not forget a certain red headed Scot’ Claire smiled.

‘I know you and I have not seen each other for years but I compared every single man I met to you. Deep down I always knew my emotions were in constant turmoil, I was convinced that you had cheated on me, so to be honest it was years before I could or would trust another man.

Looking back now, I think I only connected with Declan because he reminded me so much of you’. She smiled weakly and raised her glass to her lips to take a sip of wine.

‘I wanted something, anything that would replace the huge void I was managing to hide from everyone, including myself, I was tired of feeling empty Jamie.’
Claire continued, leaving her hand caressing his cheek.

‘When I left Scotland, I still had so many questions and I desperately wanted answers. Eventually, I realised I needed to see your face as you told me you did not love me.

That’s the only reason I could give Declan when I told him I could no longer see him as a boyfriend. I knew then that I had to return to Scotland to see you and find some sort of closure. There was something missing, there has been something missing since I left Scotland. I don’t just mean my parents, although that was a big part of it.

I just didn’t have the courage to visit until Lamb died and I felt anchorless and to be truthful, I was sinking.’

Jamie’s eyes were misting. He reached for his cheek and removed her hand. He brought her small hand to his lips and peppered it with small feather kisses.
‘Sassenach, I wish with all my heart you had come sooner. I have never loved another lass, you know that. You have always been the one for me Claire and I am beyond happy that you are here with me now.’

‘Sassenach, why did you not introduce me as your boyfriend when we met Declan?’

Claire smiled sweetly,

‘Jamie, Declan knows exactly who you are. He knows you are the reason I could not go on seeing him. I didn’t exactly want to twist the knife and introduce you so blatantly, that would just be mean, and I would never want to be cruel or mean to anyone. Well perhaps Heather the Hottie’ she smirked.

‘Talking of Heather the Hottie, what the hell are we going to do with her?’ Claire huffed,

Jamie smiled, ‘Oh, have no fear Sassenach, I have a plan, and it’s a good one’ His teary blue eyes twinkled with mischief.

‘Did Declan meet Lamb? He seems to be well acquainted with Jilly’ asked Jamie.

‘Goodness no, that was never an option, there was no need for him to ever meet my family.’

‘But he clearly knows Jilly, they seem like best mates? Jamie was confused.

‘Jilly knows Declan professionally. He has photographed a few of her artists, it was Jilly who introduced Declan to Elite. They have known each other forever’ Claire explained, realising how it probably looked like happy families to Jamie.

Another little piece of Jamie’s heart healed.

‘It’s bloody hard, isn’t it?’ It was more of a statement than a question.

‘What is?’ Jamie’s eyes narrowed in confusion.

‘Being together. I mean it should be simple but it’s not. Is it?

First, you are with someone and then when you are not, then she may be carrying your child.

Then Heather the Hottie made you the object of her desire with no thought to anyone or anything, just to make things equal, the fluke of my ex-boyfriend arriving on the scene to manage the photo shoot.

I mean you couldn’t make this shit up. Coronation Street has less drama!’ Claire was laughing out loud now.

‘Aye and not helped by the fact that I suspect your ex-boyfriend wishes he wasn’t your ex!’ Jamie smiled wryly.

‘Hmm I thought that was just my imagination, but I guess he was not very subtle’. Claire shook her head bewildered. ‘I really thought he was over our relationship.’

‘We need a plan to protect ourselves Sassenach. We need to bolster our defences and not take any crap from any of them. We need to stand up to these invaders!’

Claire giggled ‘Okay soldier, what do you suggest?’

‘We need a secret password, one that only you and I know, one that means HELP! or LOOK AT WHAT SHIT I AM HAVING TO DEAL WITH!

It would be our private password Sassenach to protect us’ Jamie’s brows were knitted together in thought.

‘I know the perfect password Sassenach!

Do you remember that song we smooched to non-stop at your 16th birthday party? The one by Maroon 5?’

‘Of course, ‘She will be loved’ hummed Claire, ‘I adored that song, and Adam Levine’

‘Maroon 5 is our secret password Sassenach. When we feel that we, or our relationship is being disrespected, we holler, MAROON 5! At the top of our lungs.’

The pair of them tittered at their fool proof plan.

After supper was over, bolstered by their plan of action, Jamie and Claire giggled all the way to the American Bar to find, Jilly and Declan already seated at the bar.

The bar was small and intimate with an air of decadence, Sass had chosen it on purpose as it was dark and romantic with less chance of her being recognised and bothered for selfies or autographs.

Jamie beckoned to the waiter to set a table for them, and they all made their way towards it. Declan pulled out a chair next to him for Sass, but Jamie was quicker. He slid his arm around her waist and guided her towards the small couch for two, whispering Maroon 5 in her ear as he did it. Claire snickered knowing that they had launched their little plan into action. At the same time, she shivered with excitement at the closeness of his breath near her ear and snuggled down happily next to him.

Jamie decided to break the ice.

‘So, Declan, are you enjoying Scotland?’ Jamie mustered up his best smile.

‘I am Jamie, I am’ his Irish lilt exuded confidence, bordering on arrogance.

‘So much so that I thought I might extend the shoot to include a day outside. The weather is fair, the colours of the glen and the gardens are incredible, and I think the client will love it’ he gazed adoringly at Sass and then leaned over and rubbed her arm affectionately.

‘What do you say sweet girl? Roaming in the gloaming for an extra day?’ Pressed Declan.

‘Maroon 5’ Claire pipped.

Smooth as clockwork, Jamie interjected, ‘Aye that sounds grand, Sass I think that would be wonderful. I can spend the day watching you at work. You ken how proud I am of you, but to see you being photographed in the Scottish heather would be braw’ Jamie then placed his index finger under her chin, tipped it up slightly and leaned forward ever so slightly to kiss the tip of her cute nose.

Claire, completely ignoring Declan, looked tenderly up at Jamie.

‘I want you with me always. Don’t you know that by now?’ she kissed him gently on the lips and Jamie inadvertently groaned and then pulled back with embarrassment, realising that everyone could hear his utter sexual contentment.

Jilly smirked to herself. Jamie 1 – Declan 0. Good to see the lad finding his balls and fighting for her goddaughter.

They all settled into small talk, Jilly expertly navigating the obvious tension between Declan and Jamie, Sass oblivious to it all. Did she not notice or not care? wondered Jilly.

It was almost a relief when half an hour later, Heather burst through the door of the bar.

Possessing the hide of a Rhino, Heather had put Jamie’s behaviour earlier that afternoon completely behind her. She made a beeline for the table, never taking her eyes off him.

Jamie however, totally ignored Heather, never taking his eyes from Sass. Heather foolishly tried to squeeze next to Jamie on the two-seater sofa.

Jamie and Jilly spoke at the same time.

‘Maroon 5!’ shouted Jamie, looking at Sass laughing, she erupted in laughter too.

Jilly had to raise her usually cool, calm voice to be heard over the laughter of Jamie and Sass.

‘For the love of God girl, just stop it! Stand up!’ she barked sharply.

Heather stood up abruptly, flushing from head to toe.

Jilly beckoned to the waiter to provide another chair and asked him to place the chair at the other end of the sofa next to Sass. The wee besom would have to climb over Sass to get to Jamie. Jilly was furious.

Jilly and Sass held the conversation whilst Heather sulked, and Declan fumed. Jamie was happy to watch Sass relax and spend time with Jilly, who she clearly adored.
Sass noticed that Jamie kept glancing at his watch, and she wondered what he was up to. He had that secretive look on his face. She knew he was up to something.

Around fifteen minutes later a thick Scottish voice bellowed across the small room.

‘Jamie Fraser, ma china!! Fancy seeing you here!!’

Every head in the intimate bar turned to see Davie Murdoch standing in the doorway. Tall, dark, and handsome with the cheekiest grin on his face. The women’s gazes lingering much longer than most of the men. Davie was in his element.

Thank fuck, thought Jamie to himself. The cavalry has arrived.

Jamie stood, walked towards his best pal and gave him a hearty hug.