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Finding my way

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It was the first Thursday of May when Brian Fraser received the last call.

“Alright, I promise we will manage, do not worry yourself miss Beauchamp. I will see you tomorrow then. Don’t hesitate to call if you need any directions and drive safely.” He wrote down her information and hung up the phone.

He turned to his son. “We have our last worker for the season! I’m relieved. She arrives tomorrow and you’ll have to train her, because she doesn’t know a thing about horses nor camps.”

His son rolled his eyes. “Then why the hell would you recruit her dad? Don’t you think we’ll have enough work as it is?”

“Yes. But she’ll work hard Jamie she really needs this; everyone deserves a chance. Please be flexible.”

Jamie sighed and nodded. “Alright, you’re right... I just hope she’ll learn fast.”

“I’m going to go and set up the last cabin then.” He smiled to his father and left the main building.

 

Jamie Fraser had had a peculiar upbringing. Instead of being raised in a house in the city, going to school and going out with his friends, he and his siblings had grown up in Tennessee, on a ranch turned into a summer camp during the summer season. They’d learn to care for horses, to garden, as well as managing a business with their mother and father. Taking reservations, setting up the place, helping with organizing the activities and obviously enjoying them as well when they were little... It was their parents’ dream, to live on a big land, work with the animals they loved, and open this land to the kids who didn’t have anywhere else to go during their vacation, trying to bring them some happiness and good memories.

Jamie’s brother and sister had eventually moved on, gone to university, got married and had created their own professional paths. But Jamie had returned after university, he loved this place and couldn’t imagine doing anything else than working there and taking the reins once the time came.

Throughout the years, the ranch had expended. At the beginning the kids would sleep in tents, but then they had created the dormitories, little cabins spread all over the land. Then they had created the main building, where there was the cafeteria, the lounge spaces where the kids would watch movies, play boardgames, and hold other indoor activities. And in time when they had grown even more, they had created the master cabins in order to hire workers for the season, they usually started to arrive during May, to get trained, acquainted and to prepare the camp that would start in late June.

Jamie was now living full time in one of the master cabins, which he had worked on all year to turn it into his house. He went to set up the last cabin for the lady arriving tomorrow. He made the bed, left fresh towels, and turned on the AC to make sure that it would be running without weird smells once she got there. It was already painfully hot, and he thought she would gladly welcome the attention. He couldn’t have been more right.

 


 

The next morning, miss Beauchamp pulled up in the beautiful Fraser Family Ranch. She had been driving all night but tried to take in all the beauty in front of her. This would be their home for the next five months. Five months to figure out what to do next, and where to go. She turned off her car and turned toward the backseats. She smiled fondly at her adorable little girl, who was still in a deep sleep. It was just 9 in the morning after all, and she had been fussy most of the night. She needed the rest, and so did she herself.  

She took out her cellphone and dialed Brian Fraser’s number.

 

“Hello Mister Fraser? It’s Claire Beauchamp. I just parked in front of your house I believe. Where should I go?”

“Oh hi Claire! You’re there early, I wasn’t expecting you until this afternoon. Please wait for me I’ll be there in a second.”

She didn’t have time to reply, he had already hung up. She breathed out heavily and got out of her car. Finally stretching her legs was a blessing after all this driving.

The front door of the house opened and a man in his late fifties came out. Tall and very fit, with beautiful piercing blue eyes. He was a handsome man she thought.

 

“Hi Claire, it’s very nice to meet you.” He greeted her with a big smile and extended his hand for her to shake.

“Very nice to meet you as well. I’m so sorry I’m here so early, my daughter kept waking up every time I stopped to rest, so I just ended up driving all night.”

“It’s absolutely fine Claire, your cabin is ready for you to get settled in, I’m glad you’ve arrived safe and sound. We were just in the middle of breakfast with my family, you must be starving. Would you care to join us before I show you to your cabin?”

Just at the mention of food, Claire’s stomach growled. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, she nodded yes and opened the backseat door.

“Please let me, you must be exhausted.” Brian said while gently pushing her on the side to get the baby’s car seat out, which he did like a pro without waking her up.

“Thank you so much.”

 

She was indeed exhausted, not just from the ride, but from her life. She was really hoping that this would be a new start for them.

She followed Brian into the house and to the terrasse where his family was having breakfast. The woman stood up as soon as she spotted them.

 

“Hello Claire, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m Ellen. And this is my son, James. Please take a seat.”

James turned around and gave her a nod with a sweet smile to which she replied shyly “Thank you. It’s nice to meet you both”.

 

Claire was instantly struck by the beauty of this man. He was wearing a simple T-shirt that left nothing to the imagination, she could see the well-defined muscles of his torso and his arms and was sure his legs were as toned as the rest of his body. But really, it was his eyes that struck her, an intense ocean blue that surely anyone could get lost in for hours.

Claire sat down at the table, and Brian put the car seat on the chair next to her. She reached out to caress her baby’s cheek and looked back at the family.

 

“Thank you so much for hiring me this way, it’s so last minute, you really are life savers.”

“It’s totally alright. We’re happy to have you. And who do we have here?” Ellen asked with enthusiasm.

“This is Maisie, my daughter.” She smiled to them but lost it quickly when she saw the look on James’ face. She didn’t know if he wasn’t aware of her child, or if he didn’t like children, but it was clear that he wasn’t happy to see her.

“I’m sorry, you’re here to work the season and you have a baby?” He asked, emphasizing the word baby.

“Well yes Jamie and this is not a problem, as I already told her yesterday. We’ll manage perfectly. Now mind your manners.” Brian dismissed him and Jamie didn’t say anything else, but she could see in his eyes he was thinking a lot of things anyway. “Claire what would you like to eat? Everything is fresh.”

 

The sound of voices started to wake Maisie up quietly.

 

“Hi sweet pea. Did you sleep well?” Claire said to her while getting her out of the car seat. She gave her a long kiss and brought her to her chest to rock her until she was fully awake.

“I’d like anything you have really. Some toast with jam and a coffee sounds perfect.”

“Coming right up!” Brian winked at her and served her what she’d asked.

“She’s adorable Claire. How old is she?”

 

It was evident that Ellen loved babies and Claire felt herself relax a little bit, Maisie was everything to her and she had the feeling that she wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, Brian had already told her so, but now that she was there and could see it for herself, she felt much better. Obviously, James wasn’t happy about it, but he wasn’t the one who had hired her after all.

 

“She is nine months old. I promise she’s a very quiet baby, she rarely cries. She won’t be a bother.” Her gaze was directed to James when she spoke, and she could see he felt embarrassed. He nodded.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mind your baby really. It’s just we have so much work to do, we’ve never had workers with children before. But we’ll adapt.”

 

Claire smiled shyly at him but didn’t respond. She took a bite of her toast while holding Maisie on her lap.

 

“She’s beautiful. Do you want me to hold her while you have your breakfast?” Ellen replied.

“That’s very nice of you. Are you sure you don’t mind?” She fought the urge to say no as she felt Ellen wanted to hold her.

“I really don’t” She reached out and took the little girl “it takes a village. I would know, I’ve raised three.” She grinned at her and started bouncing the little girl gently. “Hello beautiful. My name is Ellen.” The baby smiled at her and reached for the sunglasses that were sitting on Ellen’s t-shirt. “You want to play with the sunglasses? Here you go my darling.” She handed Maisie the sunglasses and the little girl made a delighted sound.

 

Claire was watching the scene silently, her heart warm. Maisie wasn’t really used to strangers, but Ellen seemed to have won her over in an instant. She sighed as she didn’t have this “village” that everyone talked about. But she could already tell that at least for the next few months, she would have Ellen.

 

“Do you have everything you need Claire? For you and for Maisie? I can take you into town to do some shopping if you wish.” Brian asked, still a big smile on his face.

These people are awfully nice – she thought.

“No, I’ve only got the bare minimum really. First and foremost, I need to find a crib for this little one. And to buy baby food and things like that. For me, I’ll manage.”

“Don’t bother, I’ll set up a crib in your cabin. We’ve got several grandchildren, so we have enough here.”

“Oh. Thank you so much, that would be great.” She was more than grateful indeed. That was a good hundred dollars she wouldn’t have to spend, and that made a huge difference. “And don’t worry I’ll go into town later this morning, I crossed it earlier to come here so I should find my way around.” She didn’t want to take advantage of their kindness. Brian smiled and nodded.

“And for the baby food, we have a garden here where we grow our own fruits and vegetables, all organic. As Brian said we have grandchildren and the babycook is in our garage waiting to be used. If you want, we can lend it to you while you’re here? And as Brian must have explained it to you, you are allowed to help yourself as much as you want with all the products we grow at the ranch, so you’ve got everything you need to cook this little lady fancy meals if you wish. You can also help yourself in our garage for all the baby things, the grandkids are more toddlers now, so we really don’t have a use for a lot of things. We keep them around though, for when Jamie will have his own.” Jamie rolled his eyes which made Claire smile.

“I really don’t know how to thank you.” She didn’t know what else to say. It had been a long time since she had felt this welcomed and supported, and she hadn’t been there ten minutes.

James stood up “I’m going to set up the crib in the cabin. Do you also want a changing table?”

Claire nodded “That would be fantastic. I don’t know what to say. Thank you, all of you.”

 

She ate her breakfast in silence, watching Brian and Ellen playing with her daughter and feeding her breakfast like two doting grandparents. Their grandkids are very lucky to have them – she thought. And by the time she was finished, James had come back.

 

Brian handed her Maisie back “Jamie will show you around Claire and take you to your cabin. You are free to do as you like today and this weekend, just relax, rest, and get settled in alright? We will start working on Monday. Maybe come back for dinner tonight? This way we can tell you a little bit more about the ranch and get to know you? The other workers won’t start arriving before the mid-May.”

“That sounds perfect. Thank you Brian, thank you Ellen.”

“You’re very welcome my dear. Don’t hesitate if you need anything.” Ellen gave her a genuine smile.

 

James took the car seat as Claire had Maisie in her arms, and they went back to her car.

“We’ll drive to the cabin so you can get all your things out more easily. But you can park right in front of the house the rest of the time if you’d prefer.” He explained. “It’s just a minute away, you can keep her in your arms if you want, I’ll drive.”

 

She handed him the keys and they drove to the cabin in a comfortable silence. She was taking in her surroundings, that place was so beautiful. She followed Jamie into the cabin number nine. He gave her a quick tour of it.

 

“So here is the living room and kitchen, there you have the bathroom, and up the stairs you have the bedroom. Not very spacious but should be enough for the two of you. I’ve already got the AC running and the remote is right there, works in both the living room and bedroom. And I’ve set up the crib in your bedroom, and the changing table in the bathroom. You’ve got free wifi all over the ranch. And… that’s about it.”

He smiled at her, a true genuine smile, for the first time. And she felt her knees go weak a little, that man was incredibly handsome. But as soon as the thought reached her mind, she felt ashamed of herself.

“If it works for you, I’ll let you get settled in and you can go shop this morning? This way I can give you a tour of the ranch this afternoon after lunch?”

“Works for me.”

“Great. I live in cabin ten, well as you’ll see it more a house than a cabin now as I’ve literally spent the entire year re-building it. But feel free to reach out if you need anything ok? I’ll come get you around 3pm.”

“Alright then, I’ll see you later. Thank you, James.”

“Please, call me Jamie.”

He gave her that sweet smile of his again and left.

 

She closed the door and collapsed on the sofa, whispering into her baby’s ear.

“Welcome home, Maise.”

 

Chapter Text

Jamie went back to his parents’ house as soon as he had left Claire at her cabin. He sat back at the table with them and sighed.

“Really dad? A baby?”

“Jamie, she called me yesterday with so much distress in her voice. She needed a job and a place to stay, and we were able to offer her both. It’s not my place to tell you her story, but believe me when I say that she desperately needed this, and also this is still my business and your mother's, and therefore our decision to make, not yours. We will manage perfectly, this is just another child to watch, maybe a bit more closely than the others but I know it will be fine, and deep down so do you.”

“Well she really did a number on you that’s for sure.” Jamie laughed, impressed by how this complete stranger already had her dad wrapped around her finger. “Okay I trust your judgement dad. But I’m not babysitting, I have enough with Jenny and Willie’s kids!”

His parents laughed at that and nodded.

“I got her settled in her cabin and will take her on a tour of the property this afternoon. As you’re so eager to babysit, maybe you can take her kid in the meantime? I was thinking we could take the horses out for a walk, see how they behave around her and if she’s comfortable?”

“That’s a great idea, just drop Maisie off before you go, we’ll watch her.” Ellen was very excited to have a baby in the house, and it didn’t escape Jamie the way she was sending him a silent message.

“Okay thanks, I’ll see you later guys.” He kissed his mother’s cheek and took off to do his morning chores.

 

He spent the entire morning working and thinking about what his father had told him. It's not my place to tell you her story. What did he mean by that? What kind of story did she have? It’s true that she had showed up so quickly, with basically nothing but her car and her baby.

He did wonder then, where was the father? Didn’t she have to like, check in with him, before moving hours away from her previous place? Well that wasn’t his business really, but curiosity had sparked and he found himself going back to wondering about her many times while doing his work.

Was she in danger? Was her ex violent and she had runaway? Did Maisie even have a father? Obviously, she did, but… maybe he wasn’t involved at all? It's true that Claire seemed quite yound, he didn't know how old she was but she couldn't have been older than 25.

 

As he started thinking about Claire, he remembered how his heart had skipped a beat a little when he saw her. He wanted to slap himself to think something as cheesy as that, but it’s true that she was breathtaking. It was clear that she was exhausted when she had arrived in the middle of breakfast, but it didn’t stop him to notice her big blue eyes, her heartwarming smile, not to mention her tall, toned body.

“Stop it right there Fraser, no fraternizing with the employees that’s rule number one.” He growled at himself.

 

He had to learn that one the hard way when he was 18. One of the girls working that season was the same age as him, and she had been all over him for weeks before he finally caved. She was very attractive, and he was single so why not? But that encounter didn’t mean very much to him as he had no feelings for her, and she didn’t like that. She spent the remaining of the season being cold and annoying to him and casted a really bad atmosphere among the workers on the ranch. Ever since then, he had vowed to himself that he would never get involved with another season worker, ever.

So Claire, as lovely as she was, was off limits. Not to mention that she had a baby, and that came with its own set of problems… At least she seemed nice enough, and that he could work with. He promised himself that he would be nicer to her, he had to admit he'd been a bit cold to her this morning when he'd realized she had a child. Plus with what his father had told him, maybe she needed kindness above anything else right now. And he wanted her to feel at ease and happy here, this was how the Fraser family wanted all the workers to feel during their time on the ranch.

He was excited to welcome the other workers, some were regulars, and some were new, but usually everyone was cheerful and happy to be there. Good team cohesion was very important when you had to manage that many kids for an entire summer, and the preparation before welcoming them was the most important part. May and June would be crucial for everyone, as this is when everyone would get to know each other, take time to bond and feel at ease enough to start working long hours together, sometimes under pressure and stress and with less sleep than he cared to admit.

 

Once he finished his morning chores, he went home to have lunch and a quick nap, and when the clock rang 2 PM, he was knocking on Claire’s cabin door.

It took her at least two minutes to open the door, and when she finally did, she welcomed him with the face of someone who had just woken up.

He chuckled. “I’m sorry, did I wake you?”

“Please don’t apologize. I’m sorry! I put Maisie down for her nap and I must have dozed off on the couch. Please come in.”

“It’s no problem. Do you want me to come back a bit later?” He said while coming inside.

“No no, if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes, I just have to get changed, wake the little one and probably change her, and we can go.”

“Of course, take your time.”

 

She went up to her bedroom to wake Maisie and came down a few minutes later with a very cheerful baby in her arms.

“Well, turns out she was awake before me.” She told him, laughing. “You stink baby, you need a change.”

“I can do it, if you want to get changed?” He politely asked. “I mean change her, not you.” He rectified and she laughed.

“I got it. Well, it’s not every day a man proposes to change a diaper. So please be my guest. You’ve got everything you need in the bathroom.”

She handed him Maisie and went back to her bedroom to get changed.

He went to the bathroom and laid her down on the changing table. He was quite surprised that she didn’t make a sound when he took her in his arms, usually, his nieces or nephews started crying when he took them as babies because they weren’t accustomed to him.

She was looking at him, smiling, and making adorable baby sounds that made him smile in return.

“Well you certainly are cute miss Maisie. Now let’s get you all cleaned up before going out shall we?”

He got her clothes out of the way and tickled her on her bare belly, which made her laugh uncontrollably, before getting down to business. Once he was done, he took her back in his arms and they waited for Claire in the living room. He was holding her above his head and bringing her down quickly, which made her laugh again and he heard Claire laughing from upstairs. 

“What are you doing to her?” She asked.

“I’ve been running my jokes on her and she seems to like them.”

“Oh, I see.” She got out of the room and joined them downstairs. “I wouldn't sign up to a comedy club just yet, she's an easy crowd.”

They both laughed. “I was thinking that I’d like for you to get acquainted with the horses and all, so if you’re ok with it, my mom has agreed to watch her while we’re touring the ranch. And it’s very warm outside I think she’ll be better in the house where it’s fresh.”

Claire lost her smile suddenly.

“Is there a problem?” He asked again.

“Well, it’s just… I’ve never left her before, not to strangers. I’m not used to it.”

He could see she felt ashamed of admitting this and he didn’t want her to.

“Look, it’s ok I completely understand. We’re total strangers and leaving your child must be very difficult. But we won’t be far if anything happens, we can be back there in a heartbeat. Plus I think it’s important that she gets familiar with my parents because when we’re going to start working, there are times when we won’t be able to take her with us, so they’ll probably be the ones babysitting. I do understand if you’d prefer getting to know them a bit better before actually leaving her with them though.” He smiled encouragingly at her.

“No, you’re right Jamie. Honestly, I don’t think she will mind, look at how sociable she is.” She pointed her chin at them, Jamie still holding Maisie. “I’m pretty sure it will be harder on me than her. Ok let’s do it. Let me just get her some snacks and changing bag.” She got everything ready, and then they left.

 

Maisie seemed quite comfortable with Jamie, so he kept her in his arms until they reached the house. It was a five minutes’ walk from the cabins to the main house, and Claire thought that the surroundings were so beautiful, so green. In the distance she could see more buildings and the stables, which is where they were heading afterwards apparently.

"Claire I wanted to apologize for my reaction this morning. It was very impolite of me, I was raised better than this. It took me by surprise that you had a baby, not because I don't like babies I think we've established that I like them" he grinned at Maisie who was currently pulling his hair "but because as I explained, we're going to be working a lot. But my father's right, I'm sure we will manage just fine." 

"Thank you Jamie, I appreciate it. And yes, I can see you've made a friend here." Claire felt a small weight being lifted from her shoulders. If Jamie was ok with them being here, things would be much easier.

 

They both smiled and kept walking to the house. Ellen was reading in the living room when they arrived.

Jamie handing Maisie back to Claire who hugged her tightly.

“Hi Claire. How is the cabin? Did you get settled in ok? Do you have everything you need?” She asked while coming to them.

“I did, thank you so much. I would like to take you up on your offer of checking out your garage though, if you don’t mind? Just to get her some toys and all, I don’t have that many that are fit for her age anymore.

“Of course, when you come back, we’ll go check it out.”

“Ok baby, mommy’s going to leave you for a little while and you’re going to stay with Ellen. I promise I won’t be far, and I’ll be back before you know it alright? I love you.” Claire hugged her baby tighter and kissed her head. She took a deep breath in, inhaling the baby smell that she loved so much, and handed her to Ellen who gladly welcomed her.

“I promise I’ll take good care of her. Enjoy being outside, we will be right there when you get back.” Ellen said in a reassuring tone.

“Thank you, Ellen. And thank you for watching her. You’ve got everything you need for an afternoon snack and to change her in the bag.” She said while handing her the said bag.

“Thanks mom, see you later.” Jamie said.

“Bye bye” Ellen replied while waiving Maisie’s tiny hand goodbye with her own.

 

The little girl laughed, and that’s the last thing Claire and Jamie heard before closing the front door.

They started walking towards what Claire assumed were the stables, in a comfortable silence, until Jamie decided to break it.

“You don’t speak much, do you?” He asked, grinning.

Claire blushed instantly and he laughed nicely.

“I don’t. Well, I do, but not with strangers I guess.” She smiled and he saw instantly the sadness in her eyes, it took everything in him to not ask what she was thinking about.

“Guess I’ll discover that soon enough then, because we’re going to spend a lot of time together, to a point where you will probably not want to see my face anymore.” He laughed and she joined him.

“I’ll let you know when I can’t stand you, by then you won’t be a stranger anymore so I’ll be a lot more vocal, don’t worry.”

“Oh, I see.” He laughed again and thought that past the shyness she seemed nice and maybe fun. Good. The better they got along; the better things would go. “So where are you from?” He thought getting to know her better with simple questions would be a good ice breaker.

“I’m from California, originally. I grew up in San Francisco, but recently I was living in North Carolina, that’s where Maisie was born. What about you? Did you grow up on this ranch?”

He could feel she didn’t like talking about herself so much, so he didn’t press.

“I did. My parents bought the ranch when they got married. And my brother, sister and myself were all born and raised here. I never left this place, except when I went to college.”

“Wow, that must be incredible to have roots like that. It’s such a lovely place Jamie, you’re very lucky.” She gave him a genuine smile. “Your brother and sister work for the ranch too?”

“No, my sister Jenny doesn’t live far from here though, but she’s a lawyer so there wasn’t much she could do at the ranch with her skills. She does help whenever we need legal advice, or contracts drafted and things like that, but that’s about it. And my brother William lives in New York. I think he would have liked to stay the way I did, maybe not to work at the ranch but at least be close by, but his wife got the job of her dreams, so he followed her there. He’s an architect, he did help me quite a lot with turning my cabin into a house I’ll give him that!” They had almost reached the stables. “How about you, do you have any siblings?”

“Sadly no, I’m an only child.” She said.

Again, she wasn’t keen on opening up, so he didn’t press and they had arrived at the stables anyway.

 

“Ok so you’re in luck, I’ve groomed the horses this morning already. But next week I’ll show you what to do. Right now, we’re going to get the horses ready, and then we’ll go.” He told her and she nodded in reply.

“Can you refill their buckets with water while I get the saddles and saddle pads, please? It’s really hot and I want to make sure they drink before we leave.”

“Of course!” She took the buckets from the different boxes and filled them from the water tap.

Jamie went to a backroom and came back with what they needed.

“So this one is Buddy, you’ll take him. He’s very gentle and doesn’t get startled easily. Have you ever ridden a horse before?”

“I have once or twice, I should be able to manage a walking pace or trotting, but don’t ask me to gallop please.” She laughed nervously.

“Alright, I’ll make sure you know how to gallop before the kids get there don’t worry, I’ll teach you.” He winked at her but she didn’t look convinced. “I promise you’ll be fine. We teach kids to ride all year round on the ranch, it’s part of the business.”

“Alright.”

“So yeah, Buddy will be perfect for you. And mine is Popsicle.”

“Popsicle?” She giggled.

“Don’t ask. My four-year-old nephew named him when we got him. I’ll let you guess what his favorite treat was at the time.” He rolled his eyes and Claire laughed some more. “I’ll get you acquainted with the rest of the bunch later.”

 

Then he proceeded to show her the way to saddle a horse, where and how to attach the different things.

Once everything was ready, Jamie offered her a cap to cover her head while he put his own cowboy hat on and then they left.

She felt quite at ease on the horse, he was indeed gentle, and she enjoyed that nice walk under the sun. She was doing her best to not think too much about Maisie, but they had been gone for more than hour already and the only thing she wanted to do was to ask Jamie to text her mom and ask her how Maisie was doing.

When they reached the first spot that he wanted to show her, they stopped and unmounted their horses. Jamie took his phone out.

“Looks like your girl is having fun, look.”

He handed her his phone and she saw Ellen’s text:

Thought Claire might be missing her, we are currently having a lot of water fun (do not worry she’s covered in SPF 50+ and we’re under the sunshade).

She opened the video and found a fully naked Maisie, playing in an inflatable baby pool.

Claire laughed and handed Jamie the phone back.

“I’m glad she likes your mother, and that you mother likes her, too.”

“My mom loves babies. If it were up to her, my siblings and I should all be having a child every year. Didn’t you catch the look she gave me at breakfast this morning?”

“Oh yes, I sure did!” They both laughed together for a good minute while they were walking toward the door of a building.

“So, this is the main building of the camp. It’s where we have the cafeteria, it’s also a giant playroom where the kids can come and relax, play boardgames and stuff. We usually hold game nights here too, especially when the weather isn’t in our favor. It’s also where we have the “welcome desk” when the kids arrive. You must not have seen it because it was closed when you arrived but there’s another entrance for cars and buses over there” he pointed throughout the window “it’s the entrance they’ll be using to get here”.

 

He gave her a tour of the place, and then they got back on their horses. Trotting towards another part of the ranch. They left the horses again and entered what looked like her cabin, but a bit bigger and on one floor only. He opened the door and they went inside.

“So, this is one of the dormitories. As you see it is larger than your cabin, but in there you have six beds and two bathrooms. All the dormitories look the same, so I’ll spare you visiting all of them, although you’ll probably end up doing it once the kids are there. We have in total 15 cabins like that, we can welcome up to 90 people.”

“That’s a lot of kids.” She replied.

Jamie laughed at that and nodded. “Yeah, you better get your mind ready that this place will be crawling with them soon.”

“Duly noted.”

 

They left and got back on the horses, everything was at a walking distance really, but it was quicker with them. Claire noted that the cabins and the dormitories were quite close to each other, which made sense, and that there was a clear path that went from one to the other so the kids could find their way easily to the adults if needed.

They went a bit further this time, crossing a big space of grass and trees.

“Here we usually organize a lot of sports activities with the kids, there’s enough room to hold several games at the same time.” Jamie explained while they were crossing it.

A few minutes later they arrived at a lake and she noticed a shed next to it. They got closed to the water and came down of the horses, letting them drink and rest a little.

“This is my favorite part of the ranch. This little lake is great, especially for days like this. We can bathe in it; we’ve got canoes in the shed and the kids always love to come here. We have a campfire night over here too. We sing songs, eat smores and tell horror stories. Typical campfire night.” He smiled dreamily thinking about it and she thought he looked adorable, then she felt bad for thinking something of the sort again.

“Let’s give these two guys a few minutes rest.” He lied down on the grass, right next to the water and took his hat off. His bright red hair was reflecting the sun and he was still smiling, eyes closed, taking deep breaths. Claire did her best to push away her thoughts at the sight.

“You really love your ranch, don’t you?” She asked and sat next to him, playing with the grass grazing her fingers.

“It’s my favorite place in the whole world. When I went away to college in Knoxville, I was glad to get this true student experience because even when I was in high school, I’d go out with my friends, but I would still spend so much time working on the ranch. I really tried to make this experience as fun as possible, even though I also worked my ass off because I wanted to succeed. I got an MBA in Business Management to be able to run the ranch when the time came. Everything in my life has always been about this place, and once I finished college, yes, I had a lot of fun, but never once did I think of doing something else or going anywhere else. I couldn’t wait to get back here and be with my family and my horses again. I also have a lot of ambition for the place, I have so many plans of things I want to do to expand it. So, to answer your question, yes… I love my ranch and I’m so glad my parents brought me up here my whole life.”

“It’s pretty amazing.” She smiled at him, she loved how passionate he seemed about it. She had had that passion once, but then life had happened, and her priorities had changed with it.

 

They enjoyed a nice moment in the sun before going back to the big house, where Jamie showed her where the garden was and all the different fruits and vegetables they were cultivating.

 

“It’s my mom’s passion, besides babies. She loves to grow things; she is very patient.”

“I can imagine, this garden is huge. It’s impressive!” Claire said, truly stunned.

“Please don’t forget to tell her that. You’ll be in her good graces forever.” He winked at her.

 

They left the garden and headed for the house; Claire was excited to get back to her baby. They had been gone almost three hours and that was more than enough. But she had to admit that she had had a nice time and that Jamie wasn’t so bad after all…

Chapter Text

Claire had ended up staying at the house with Ellen as they had returned at 5 PM. It was now 7 PM and the two women were chatting on the terrasse, Jamie having gone to help his father somewhere on the ranch.

 

Ellen was a beautiful woman – thought Claire. She had bright red hair like Jamie and high cheek bones that gave her this very distinguished look. She must have been nearing her sixties, but had barely a wrinkle, except around her eyes which shown how much she must have smiled in her life. She was currently telling her about all her grandkids.

 

“Jenny has two children, a six-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. And Willie has two sons who are seven and three. They’re adorable, but for the life of me two boys are a lot more work than what I remembered.” She made an outraged face and it made Claire chuckle. “They came over for a week on Christmas, I think I slept for an entire week when they left.”

“I understand, I already have my hands full with this one and I know I’m very lucky she isn’t a monster.” Claire pointed at Maisie who was playing on the ground with one of the hundreds of toys Ellen had generously offered her from the garage.

“Are you kidding? This little girl is an angel. She’s so peaceful it’s crazy, none of my kids, nor grandkids, was ever like that! You’re a great mom Claire, that’s not a question.”

“Well thanks, I don’t know if I can take the credit for now, she’s still too young. But thank you it’s nice to hear it once in a while.” She felt her heart squeeze in her chest. It was maybe the second time she had heard a compliment on her parenting skills since giving birth to Maisie, and it felt incredible.

Ellen must have seen the tears filling her eyes because she moved from her seat to sit next to Claire on the bench and put her arm around her shoulders, giving her a side hug.

“I promise Claire, Maisie is in good health and is such a happy baby it radiates through her. You’re doing great, I know it’s important to hear it from time to time. You get all the credit. Look at her.”

Claire nodded. “Thank you. I’m sorry, it’s ridiculous to get teary but I have been raising her all by myself, so this isn’t the kind of thing I have been hearing a lot.” She admitted.

“Your family, they didn’t help at all?”

“I… I don’t have a family. Maisie’s my family.” She whispered, clearly heartbroken over this topic.

 

Ellen thought it best not to get into this now, she wanted Claire to feel happy and comfortable and didn’t want her to start her first days on the ranch reminiscing about what she lacked, but rather have her see all the things that she was getting by being here. And the first was having a support system to help her with Maisie when she needed it.

 

“Well while you’re here on this ranch, you are family to us. So, you don’t have to worry, if you need anything, if you need a time out, please reach out to us, ok?”

“Are you a family of saints or something? Is this a religious place?” They both laughed. “Thank you so much Ellen, honestly, I haven’t been there a full day that you’ve fed me, taken care of my daughter, have gifted us many things and above all else hired me and gave us a place to live. I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”

“Oh, wait until all the kids are there, you’ll be rethinking that you’ll see.” She grinned at her and went back to her previous seat. “It’s a pleasure to have the both of you here, Claire.”

 

Maisie started to fuss, it was dinner time, and she was letting them know. She crawled to Claire and grabbed her calves.

“Someone is hungry over here…” She took the little girl in her arms.

“I have some mashed potatoes left in the fridge. I can heat that up for her if you want? This way, you don’t have to go back to your cabin before dinner.”

“I feel like I’m repeating myself a lot here but thank you Ellen, that would be great.”

 

Claire fed Maisie and luckily, she had a spare pajama for her in the changing bag so she changed her before going back to the terrasse.

 

“You can lay her down to sleep in our guest bedroom while we’re having dinner if you want. There’s a crib there for Maggie, Jenny’s youngest, as they come to sleep over quite often.”

“Yes, it would be best, she needs a good night’s rest after last night on the road. I’m sorry but I need to breastfeed her, she won’t go to sleep if I don’t. Do you want me to do it in the bedroom? I know some people aren’t comfortable with it and I don’t have anything to cover myself.” Claire said shyly.

“Claire, please, make yourself at home, seriously. There’s nothing more natural than this. I’ve had three children, and my kids have children, there’s nothing that will shock us around this house. It shouldn’t even shock anybody, this is a beautiful thing, there’s nothing to hide.”

They smiled at each other, and Claire proceeded to take off half of her shirt and put Maisie to her breast. She hadn’t really planned on staying here so late, so her outfit wasn’t optimal for this particular task. Once Maisie was settled, they resumed talking.

 


 

Jamie had gone to the garden to help his father collect what they needed for dinner. And truth be told, Brian was curious to know what Jamie had thought of Claire after their afternoon tour of the ranch.

 

“So, what do you think of Claire? Do you believe she will be a good fit for the season?” he asked his son.

“To be honest, I’m still a bit worried about how we will manage with her child. But apart from that she seems nice enough. She’s funny and a bit shy, but I think once she’ll have warmed up to us it will be fine. And she was a natural with the horses too, she’ll be ready when the kids get there, I’m sure of it.”

They were collecting tomatoes to make a salad, and strawberries for dessert.

“I’m glad to hear it. And I forgot to mention it, but she has some training as a nurse. She didn’t get to graduate but still, her knowledge will come handy with the many cuts and bruises we will get.”

“That’s great. We will definitely have a use of her skills in that department, glad to know there are some people who don’t faint at the sight of blood.” He rolled his eyes and they both started laughing like children.

 

Jamie was referring to Paul, one of their workers from last year who had a terrible fear of blood and fainted every time a child ended up with some blood on him. As this was a recurring situation on the camp, the months had been very long for Paul.

 

“He’s not coming back, is he?” Jamie panicked suddenly.

“Are you kidding? I’m sure he vowed to never work with children again after his experience.” They burst out laughing again. “Ok I think we have enough for dinner, let’s go. You start the grill and I’ll wash all of this and make the salad?”

“Sure dad.”

 

They went into the house and washed their hands. Then Jamie headed for the terrasse where the grill was located.

Holy mother of God! – were his exact thoughts. He wasn’t religious but, in this situation, weirdly, these were the only words that sprang to his mind. He had arrived on the terrasse and directly spotted Claire, breastfeeding Maisie in such a revealing way that he had to turn around and take a deep breath.

Don’t let this go to your head. And do not let this go to your cock! – He pep-talked himself mentally before…

 

“You alright Jamie?” Brian interrupted his train of thoughts.

“Yeah. I’m. Huh. Yeah. Going to start the grill, now.” He mumbled and went back to the terrasse, looking straight at the grill and not letting his eyes wander to Claire once more.

He started the grill, keeping his eyes on it. He felt like a horny teenager and so ridiculous for getting turned on by a woman breastfeeding.

“She’s asleep. I’ll go put her down, can you show me the room?” He heard Claire say to Ellen.

They both went inside the house and Jamie let out a sigh of relief. Feeling relaxed enough a few minutes later, he went back inside to prepare the meat.

When Ellen and Claire came back, both men were sitting at the table, drinking a beer. They handed one to each of them and the girls joined them happily.

 

“So, Claire, what did you think of our little ranch?” Brian asked.

“For starters, it is everything but little.” She laughed.

“That is true.”

“It’s beautiful. Everything you have built here is incredible, I’m sure the kids must have an amazing time every summer. I’m very happy I get to be here.”

“Dad said you have some experience as a nurse? It will be very handy to have you there.” Jamie smiled at her.

“Yes, I did two years of nursing school. I’m glad if I can be of any help. Although I hope we won’t get anything more than scraped knees.”

“Fingers crossed. I wish I could say this is what we get every summer, but it would be a lie. Kids tend to break bones on the oddest of occasions.” Ellen told her and the men nodded in agreement.

Claire frowned. “Well, I’ll be there whatever happens. Can you tell me a bit more about how things work on the ranch? What will I be required to do and what I should expect?”

“Of course. We usually have between 60 and 90 kids full-time during the summer, who stay at least 10 days up to a full month. We open on the last weekend of June and stay open until the last weekend of August. We welcome kids aged 11 to 17, and we have 16 people, including you and Jamie, that are here every day to supervise them, 10 of them being onsite all the time. We also have two cooks who come every morning to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner. Regarding how things will work for you well, usually, before they arrive, you’ll all get to prepare the weekly activities and see who will supervise what. One day you can be supervising the sports activities, or taking a group out on a visit, or you can be on cleaning duty, or just surveilling the lake, but know that you will always be working in pairs. It really depends what you will all decide, but everyone gets his turn on everything throughout the two months. Of course, we have backup plans for unexpected things like rainy days too!  At night, it’s the same. Oh also just so you know, everybody gets two nights off every week and one day off per week, that you will decide in advance as well. So overall, your main job is to entertain the kids, watch them to make sure everything is going fine and they’re having a good time, and ideally, it’s good if you have a good time, too.” Brian explained to her.

“I want to say it sounds like fun, but I know 90 kids is a lot, so I’ll just wait and see.” Claire said, laughing, and made everyone laugh in return.

“It’s draining, but it’s great. We have groups of kids who come from the foster system for 10 days each, and they’re just so happy to be there and to experience an actual vacation. And generally, all the kids are happy to be there and crying at the end because they don’t want to leave. It’s so cute and makes it all worthwhile.” Jamie said, and you could see how happy he genuinely was thinking of it. “Of course, we also have some brats, but usually we manage to keep them in line.” He chuckled and then got up to go pick up the meat that was finally ready.

“You have foster care kids staying here? How do they pay?” Claire was profoundly touched by this and felt she had to say something.

 

All three Frasers eyed her oddly, not knowing if she was condescending or just curious.

 

“Well, they don’t, we have an agreement with the state. They give us a small contribution but that’s it, we welcome them for free really. Why, is this a problem for you? I promise you they’re usually the sweetest kids.”

Claire could feel them rethinking everything they thought about her personality entirely and she felt the need to explain.

“Don’t think I’m judging or anything. It’s quite the contrary. I think it’s amazing that you’re doing this. I… I was in the foster system, growing up. Never in a million years did I have the chance to go on a vacation. So, the fact that you’re doing this, out of the kindness of your hearts… It means more to me than you can imagine.” She said shyly.

She didn’t want to meet their eyes, because she knew the pity that she would see in them, she’d seen it so many times before. They were all very quiet suddenly.

“Oh, Claire.” Ellen took her hand on the table and squeezed it hard. She had told her earlier that Maisie was her only family; but she hadn’t realized for how long Claire might have been on her own.

 

Claire looked up at her and Ellen was smiling, eyes full of love and compassion and understanding, but not pity. Brian and Jamie were looking at her pretty much the same way.

It was so odd to her; she had never been surrounded by people like them before, a nice, loving, gentle family.

Wanting to lighten the mood, she asked “So do you have any recommendations of things to do around here? If I have a free weekend, I should probably enjoy it.”

 

Jamie served food to everybody, and they all started eating.

 

“I wish I could tell you there’s a lot to do around here, but really there isn’t. You’ve got the Cedars of Lebanon State Park that’s great for a hike, but we’ll be going there quite a lot with the kids. Then you’ve got Nashville that’s an hour away, obviously you’ll find much to do there.” Jamie admitted.

“There’s no way I’m putting Maisie through two more hours of driving again. Then we’ll just stay here, I’ll take her to see the horse, if that’s ok with you of course.”

“Claire you’re here at home. You can do anything you want.” Brian replied.

“Yeah, just don’t go taking one of the horses on your own for now, ok? You’re not bad, but you’re not that good either yet.” Jamie added, a cocky smile on his face again.

“Alright, alright. I wasn’t planning to put her on a horse you know, just to pet them.” They both laughed at that. “But thanks for your lack of confidence in my skills with horses. I’m hurt.”

“You’ll get there, don’t worry.”

 

She stuck out her tongue to him and Jamie grinned at her like a child.

Focused on each other, they didn’t notice Brian and Ellen, looking at them and giving each other a knowing look.

Chapter Text

Saturday morning had flown by, Claire and Maisie had slept in, both exhausted from their long journey the night before. They had played and ate their lunch on the tiny porch in front of the cabin, and Claire had put her down for a nap.

 

She was currently seating on the couch reading a book, or rather, trying to read a book, because her mind kept wandering. She loved this place, she had been here for only a day, but it was so appeasing, and the Frasers were such lovely people… How couldn’t she feel good here? She had always lived in busy cities, with so many people that when there was silence, it felt oppressing. But here, between the trees and the animals, she felt at peace maybe for the first time in her life.

 

Her phone started buzzing and she sighed when she realized who was calling her.

“Hi Matt.” She said with a cold voice.

“Hey… Did you get there alright? You didn’t text me yesterday.” She could hear the reluctance in his voice.

“We’re fine, we’ve made it there ok. It’s great.”

“Ok... I’m glad.” There was a long pause between them. “Maybe I could come visit you some time?” He finally said, hopeful.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea Matt.” She replied.

“Look Claire, about the other night…” He started saying but she cut him right off.

“There’s nothing to talk about Matt. It was a terrible mistake, and it should never have happened. If Frank had…” She chocked on the last words, not even able to finish her sentence. Feeling so guilty and ashamed.

“Claire, Frank isn’t here anymore, is he? But I am. I can take care of you and Maisie.” He replied, pain audible in his voice.

“I don’t want you to take care of us Matt. Please, leave me alone.” She hung up.

 

She started crying violently, shaking. He had burst her bubble of peace and she hated him for it. She knew he only had good intentions, but she just wasn’t interested in receiving them.

However, she didn't have time to dwell on the past because Maisie had just woken up from her nap and was crying upstairs. She got her out from her crib, and they sat on Claire’s bed. She hugged Maisie tight against her, but the little girl felt the tears on her mother’s face. Claire kissed her cheek and smiled at her.

“I’m fine baby. Mom was thinking about daddy, it’s ok to be sad about it sometimes. You know your daddy loves you so much.” But voicing it just made her cry some more.

They stayed there together for a few minutes, rocking, until Claire felt strong enough again to go on.

“How about we go see the horsies? You’re going to love them. They’re so big!”

Maisie smiled making bubbles with her mouth, having probably no idea what Claire was talking about. She prepared a bag with some snacks and water so they could go out for a while, put her in the baby carrier, and they left for the stables. 

When they arrived, the horses were quiet, drinking. There wasn’t a sound anywhere really, and it helped soothe Claire’s mind. She got Maisie out of the carrier and turned her forward so she could pet the animals.

 

“This is Buddy. Mommy went on a trail ride on his back yesterday. He’s very nice.”

Maisie eyed the horse questioningly, his big eyes looking straight back at her. She raised her hand to him shyly, but right at this moment Buddy sneezed and she got frightened. She started whining and Claire bounced her gently, trying to calm her down.

“It’s ok honey, he just sneezed like you do, he’s very nice.” She said.

 

At the same time, Jamie had just appeared behind them and had witnessed the funny scene. Claire saw him and smiled.

 

“She got scared.”

“Yes, I saw. Hi Maisie.” He smiled at the little girl and started petting Buddy’s head gently. “You see he’s very big, but he’s like a giant teddy bear.” The horse was loving all this attention.

“May I?” He asked Claire, holding his arms out to Maisie.

“Of course.” She handed him her daughter who was still shaking a little.

“You see, he’s not so scary.”

He took Maisie’s little hand and raised it slowly to the horse in a petting motion. Once she realized the horse wasn’t moving, she did it on her own for a few seconds, then threw her arms around Buddy’s head to hug him. Catching them by surprise, Claire and Jamie burst out laughing.

“Well, that was fast.” He said, bringing her back to his chest.

“She’s never seen anything bigger than a sheep, I’m very surprised.”

“Little kids usually aren’t afraid except if we give them a reason to. She is very affectionate to the horse though, that isn’t always the case.”

He took his eyes away from the horse and faced Claire. Now that he was truly looking at her, he realized she had been crying.

“Are you ok?” He asked, concerned but with a gentle voice.

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine don’t worry.” She smiled at him and started petting another horse.

 

As he had already understood, she wasn’t keen on sharing, and he didn’t want to pry. He nodded and just played with Maisie’s hands.

 

“What are you girls up to this afternoon?”

“Not much really, I thought I would take her to see the horses and the ranch. Maybe have a snack in the grass, you can join us if you don’t have anything planned.”

“I would love to, but I’m meeting friends in about twenty minutes, sorry. Tomorrow though, if you’re not planning anything, we can go to the lake? We have many baby buoys for Maisie in the shed.”

“That’s a great idea. I can call you when she’s woken up from her nap?” They all had exchanged numbers after last night’s dinner.

“Perfect. I’ll see you tomorrow then. By Maisie.” He kissed the baby’s cheek and handed her back to Claire. “Bye Claire.”

They smiled at each other, then he took off.

 


 

Jamie stopped by his house to collect his things; he was bothered. Claire had been crying, and after what she had told them yesterday, that she had no family… Not to mention that his dad said she had “a story” that apparently was bad enough for Brian to decide not to tell him… Seeing her sad didn’t sit well with him. He wanted to help her but didn’t want to push her to open up to him either. He would just have to be nice and available if she ever needed him.

 

He drove to his friend Andrew’s place where he was hosting an afternoon pool party. It was very hot these days, everybody needed to cool down and what better way to do that than enjoy his amazing pool. He had known Andrew almost his entire life. Him, Jamie and Ian, who was now married to his sister, had been friends since childhood.

Fortunately, Andrew had come back after college. Ian had stayed around too; Jenny and him were living in Nashville, so it was close enough.

He parked in front of his friend’s house and went straight to the garden where the party was being held. It was a men only party and the wives and girlfriends were nowhere to be seen today.

 

“The Fraser has arrived.” Ian shouted from the pool.

Jamie laughed and took off his clothes, staying in his swimming trunks. He got himself a drink and joined his friends in the pool.

“Heard you’ve got a new tenant.” Ian wiggled his eyebrows playfully. “Your mom spoke to Jenny this morning. She can’t wait for us to meet the amaaaazing Claire.” He laughed, emphasizing his voice.

“Tenants actually, she has a baby. Dude, a baby! I mean don’t get me wrong, her daughter is adorable and Claire is very nice. But I'm having trouble seeing the big picture here, I have no idea how we’re going to manage once the season starts.”

“Wow yeah, I get it. I didn’t stay for that part of the conversation so I didn’t know. Well, I guess you’ll have to figure it out if your parents hired her anyway.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Is she hot?” Andrew pitched in, grinning.

“God, you can’t stop thinking about your dick for one second, can you?” Jamie laughed. “As a matter of fact, yes, she is. But she does have a 10 months-old baby, so I’m not sure that’s your scene. Crying, diapers, and all.” He raised his eyebrows at him.

Andrew grimaced. “Ugh, you’re right, not my thing. I could just fuck her, though?” He said as if he had had a revelation.

 

Jamie slapped him on the back of the head.

 

“Don’t even think about it. I don’t know what she’s been through, but I can tell she’s very fragile right now. It's not happening dude.” He said sternly.

“Ohhh, Jamie has a crush, Jamie has a crush.” Andrew sang while laughing at him.

 

Jamie rolled his eyes, clearly annoyed by his friend’s immaturity.

 

“I don’t have a crush. But she is my employee, and I am interested in her welfare while she’s living on my land.” He explained.

“Yeah, you’re right, he’s totally hot for her.” Ian replied very seriously.

 

Jamie had to admit he wasn’t unaffected by her charm, but that was it. Again, workers were off limits, and his friends knew it.

 

“Guys, even if I did, you know I would never let anything happen.”

“Why, because she might actually… like you back? You know you will eventually end up meeting someone Jamie, and in most cases, you meet your other half at work. This would make sense.”

“Alright, whatever.” He sighed, still annoyed. “What’s new with you? How are my niece and nephew?”

“They’re good. You’ll get to see it for yourself soon actually, we’re coming over for the weekend next week. Before you’ve got all the workers arriving.”

“That’s a great idea. Mom and dad will be happy to have you all home.”

“Maybe we’ll get to meet Claire.” He raised his eyebrows at him, teasing.

“Knowing mom, you probably will.”

Ian chuckled but didn’t insist.

 

“So how is your cabin project doing?” He asked him, moving on to another subject. 

“It’s doing great. William is finishing up the plans and should send them back to me before the end of the month.” Jamie said.

“What are you guys talking about? What are you going to do with the cabins?” Andrew asked.

“I’m renovating them after the season ends. I want them to be cozier, so that when we’re off season, they can be rented and be profitable. Now once the plans are done, we’re going to have to find who to employ to do all the work. We’re not modifying many things really, it’s a lot of interior design like changing the painting, replacing the furniture with more modern ones, re-do the bathrooms…”

“Dude, that is such a good idea!” Andrew clapped his shoulder.

“Thanks. Once this is set up, I’d like to sell packages with maybe horse rides and horse-riding lessons. I still have to think about what exactly we’ll sell, but yes, I’m really trying to capitalize on the ranch’s potential. There’s so much more we can do with everything we have that my parents haven’t thought about exploiting yet.”

“That’s very true. I’m proud of you Jamie, I think this project will be a success. People are suckers for short trips like that nowadays.” Ian told him.

“Thank you. I’ve done my research and there are no places like this in the area, so there’s a real market opportunity.”

“Good for you Jamie.” Andrew replied. They all took a sip of their drinks, falling into silence. “Ok guys. All jokes aside… I’ve met someone, and I think she might the one.” Andrew said a few minutes later.

 

Ian and Jamie looked at each other for a second and then burst into laughter.

 

“What are you laughing at? I’m very serious.”

“Andy, just a few minutes ago you were asking if you could bang Jamie’s employee.” Ian said.

“I didn’t say I’m getting married tomorrow. I said I met someone.”

“Alright… but does she know you exist?” Jamie said this time.

“Duh, of course she does. She just moved here; her name is Lauren, she works at The Glade Diner. I don’t know. I like her, we haven’t done anything yet we just… talked.”

Jamie put his hands up in a prayer. “Oh, thank you heavenly father for this day.”

Ian looked at Jamie, completely ignoring Andrew. “I didn’t think he had it in him.”

“Neither did I!”

“What the fuck are you guys talking about?!” Andrew got slightly offended, and Jamie and Ian just laughed some more.

“You’re a fuck boy, is what we’re saying Andy. We were wondering when you would finally start growing up, and it seems that day has finally arrived.” Ian explained.

Andrew rolled his eyes.

“I’m going to get myself another drink.” He said and got out of the pool.

“I think we’ve upset him.” Jamie said loud enough to be heard by Andrew.

“Oh, don’t worry, he can just talk about it later with Lauren!” Ian screamed, emphasizing the end of his phrase. And the two resumed laughing.

 


 

Jamie had gone home around midnight; he had spent the entire afternoon and night with his friends. As women weren't present, most conversations had revolved around sex, guys talking about their fantasies and latest sex conquests. All this talk had him craving company.

Sarah and him had been on and off for two years, he liked her a lot, but it was clear to the both of them that they weren’t a good match to envision a future together.

However, they had great sex and so long as the other wasn’t seeing anyone, they did enjoy an occasional night together. He’d called her while he was leaving Andrew’s place, and she was waiting for him on his porch by the time he’d arrived home. He couldn't help but admire her lovely figure before reaching her. With her long blond hair, full round lips and green almond shaped eyes, she was beautiful and would definitely find someone sooner rather than later.

He let her inside his house and they had barely shared a drink and a conversation before their clothes were thrown off and he was taking her on his kitchen counter.

 

What Jamie hadn’t realized though, being so used to being alone on this part of the ranch, is that in another cabin someone had woken up with a terrible thirst. Claire had gotten down to the kitchen and served herself a drink of water from the tap.

The window above the sink was facing straight to Jamie’s kitchen, where the shutters were wide open, and the lights were all turned on. It took her a second to realize what she was witnessing, but once the information reached her brain, she almost spit out her water and felt her cheeks warming up from blushing.

Although it was very intimate, she found herself glancing back once or twice. It wasn’t that she was some weird voyeur or anything, but this man was so beautiful she was sort of fascinated by the sight of him. She did stop however, letting them have their privacy and went back to bed, aching for the same attentions.

Chapter Text

Sunday morning had been quiet on the ranch, Ellen and Brian had cleaned their house, Jamie had slept in, and Claire had been reading books with Maisie, still trying to teach her to say “Mama”. Her efforts were in vain, Maisie was sticking to gibberish for now, making her mother laugh with her intelligible conversations.

The afternoon had come quickly. Once Maisie had woken up from her nap, Claire had put on her bathing suit, had changed her daughter into one as well, and she had texted Jamie to come and get them when he was ready. They were playing on the porch when he showed up, smiling and whistling.

 

“Good afternoon to you ladies! Ready to go?”

“Indeed, we are. Let’s go baby.” She kept Maisie in her arms, and they started walking towards the lake.

 

They had at least ten minutes to walk to get there. Claire was looking straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with Jamie at all costs.

 

“How was the rest of your day yesterday? What did you do?” He asked.

“Oh, nothing much. We walked around the ranch and then went home. I’ve been reading to her and training her to say mama, but no luck for now.” She laughed. “And I watched a show when she went to sleep last night. Nothing very interesting. What about you? Did you have fun with your friends?” She asked, still not looking at him, knowing full well how his night had ended.

“Yes, it was a pool party for guys only. No women allowed. Let’s just say guys tend to become a little stupid when women aren’t around.” He chuckled. “But it was nice to be with my two best friends, I’ve known them since we were six years old so it’s always great to spend time with them.”

“Wow, that’s a long time! Well actually, I don’t know how old you are, but I would imagine it’s been a long time.”

“I’m twenty-seven. So, we’ve known each other for… twenty-one years now. Oh god, our friendship has reached the legal majority.” He said that in a desperate voice that made Claire laugh some more. “How about you, how old are you? I’m so bad at guessing ages please don’t ask me to.”

“I’m twenty-three.”

 

He nodded at her reply.

She’s so young to have a child – he thought. At twenty-three, he was still in college, his only responsibility was getting good grades. He suddenly was filled with deep awe and respect for her, and understood better why his father had hired her. Whether Maisie had a father or not, Claire was so determined to offer the best life possible to her daughter and she didn't need anyone to do it, even if it meant working endless hours on the ranch over the summer.

His mind started to wander to all the questions he’d been asking himself since meeting her, he didn’t realize he had stopped the conversation for a few minutes and apologized to her.

 

“That’s alright, I’m a deep thinker too. I get lost in my thoughts, sometimes at the worst possible moments. I know it can be annoying, but I can’t help it, I just start thinking of something and then it’s like what’s around me turns quiet and I forget where I am.” She laughed, thinking how Frank used to tease her about it.

“I hear you, it got me into a lot of trouble, especially at school.”

They laughed together, having clearly experienced similar situations because of this shared personality trait.

 

“My god, child, what do I feed you? You’re getting very heavy.” She said to Maisie, switching her on her other hip.

“Give her to me.” Jamie said, clearly eager.

 

She handed him Maisie and he put her on his shoulders, keeping a hand on her back. He started trotting and jumping and the little girl laughed happily. The sight warmed Claire’s heart, her daughter was happy and carefree, and she loved their new neighbor.

 

“I think she’s ready for horse-riding lessons, Claire.”

“Sure. Just give her some time to start walking first, would you?” She laughed. “I’m glad she’s got all that space to move, she’s definitely going to start walking while we’re here.”

“There’s no better place to do that than the ranch, that’s for sure. I can’t tell you how many times my dad had to chase me around, I would just take off silently and he would find me here at the lake. Thankfully I never jumped in the water.”

“Oh no can you imagine? I would freak out if I couldn’t find her! I’ll make sure not to leave any doors open when she starts walking.”

“I think you’ll be fine.” He smiled.

 

They had arrived at the lake, and it seemed that Jamie had come by earlier because there were two long chairs and a sunshade opened before the lake.

 

“I came this morning to set it up and to inflate Maisie’s buoy.” He explained.

“That’s so great, thank you!”

 

She dropped the bag from her shoulder on the floor, and Jamie put Maisie on one of the long chairs.

“Do you need a towel?” He asked while going into the shed.

“No, I have one thanks. Ok come here sweet pea, let’s put some sunscreen on you!”

 

She spread the towel on one of the long chairs and then started applying the cream on Maisie’s body. Jamie came back with the buoy and a towel for himself. He took off his shirt and jeans, put on his sunglasses and sat down on the other chair.

She was still avoiding looking at him, and he finally took notice.

 

“Ok, what’s wrong Claire? You haven’t looked at me once since I arrived at your cabin.” He asked gently.

 

Claire felt her cheeks turn red just like last night, and a vivid image of him in his full glory doing ungodly things to this blonde lady sprang to her mind.

 

Finally she looked at him. Dear God in heaven, he is so hot! - She thought, seing his muscular body right in front of her. “I’ll just say this. Don’t forget that your kitchen directly faces mine.” 

 

It took him a minute to understand what she meant, and she saw instantly when he did. His smile disappeared and his eyes went big. He didn’t blush, but she could feel his embarrassment.

 

“Oh. My god. I’m so sorry Claire. I live alone on this ranch most of the year, I just didn’t think about it at all. Please forgive me.”

“It’s ok, glad you were having a good time. Just close your shutters next time, please.” She laughed, relaxing now that he knew. She was as embarrassed as he was but at least they were in it together.

“I can promise you there’s no way this will happen again. Oh god I can’t believe you saw… that.” He put his face in his hands. “I am mortified.”

“So am I, so it does make me feel better.”

 

They both laughed and Jamie lied down on his chair. Claire got some toys out for Maisie and started playing with her.

 

“So… Is she your girlfriend?” She asked, curious, and regretted it instantly. He had been nothing but a gentleman and hadn’t asked any personal questions to her, she knew he’d sensed she wasn’t ready to talk about it. And there she was, totally prying about his relationships.

He laughed. “Who, Sarah? No, she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Oh, I see.” She raised her eyebrows, incapable of hiding what she was thinking. It’s like that then – she thought.

“Don’t judge me, it’s totally consensual.” He said with a crooked smile.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Your face was saying it for you.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve never experienced this type of relationship, so I have trouble imagining what you get out of it. But if it suits you both, then great.” She blushed some more, not wanting to discuss his sex life further.

“Thank you for your blessing I’ll make sure to pass it along.” He chuckled. “We were together for a while but it didn't work out, we had different expectations of life and we decided to stop dating." He explained quickly, not wanting Claire to think he did that with everybody. He had great respect and affection for Sarah, she wasn't just any girl.

Not wanting to speak of this further he spoke again. "Shall we take this little girl for a swim?” He stood up and squeezed Maisie’s chubby leg. Surprisingly, she raised her arms to him.

 

The movement both pleased and broke Claire’s heart a little. It was the first time Maisie had done that to anyone else other than her, her baby was growing up and trusting someone else. She smiled at Jamie though, giving him a silent agreement. He took her and headed for the water.

 

“Don’t worry, the water is always warm when it’s so hot outside.” He told Claire. “Are you coming?”

“Yes, in a minute. I must put sunscreen on first.”

 

He went in the water slowly, letting Maisie adapt. She wiggled her legs once they were fully submerged and clapped the water with her hands, splashing Jamie in the process. He laughed and tickled her, making her wiggle some more. It was clear she loved water. He held her at arms’ length and started moving her from side to side, gently humming a song at the same time.

Hidden by his sunglasses, he glanced at Claire and took in the view. She had undressed and was in a red bikini, he could see her entire body and it was as beautiful as he thought it would be. She was lean and fit, there was barely a mark from her pregnancy. She had legs for days, a fair skin that in all honesty he craved to touch, and round breasts that he did his best not to stare at. He took a deep breath and refocused his attention on Maisie, who was enjoying herself and trying to break free from Jamie’s hold.

 

“Come here little turtle. Already trying to do it on your own, huh?” He held her against him, kissed her cheek and she cooed. He had to admit she was adorable and a very easy baby.

Wanting to make her laugh some more, he raised her out of the water, then brought her back down with a big splash which made her scream with laughter and made him laugh too.

“Wait! Stop having fun without me!” Claire screamed while coming toward them, smiling from ear to ear to see Maisie so elated.

She started swimming toward them, and Maisie stretched her arms out to her.

“Mamamamama!!!!” She said, still laughing.

Claire stood up, eyes wide. “Oh my god! Baby you spoke! You’re so smart!” She clapped her hands to congratulate her, she felt so proud. She took two more steps and caught up to them, then took Maisie from Jamie and kissed her while pulling her into a bear hug.

Jamie clapped for her too, laughing from this outburst of energy. Maisie started clapping too, just replicating the adults.

“You see, your efforts weren’t in vain, mama.” He smiled at Claire. “So, FYI, she’s ready for horse-riding and swimming lessons apparently.”

“Ah, yes. She looooves water. You have no idea how I struggle during bath time; I end up with a pool in the bathroom almost every time. Splashing water is her favorite past time.”

“Well seeing what she just did there, I can only imagine.” He splashed them gently. This got Maisie all riled up and she started clapping the water like crazy, sending some in Claire’s face and hair and making everybody laugh.

Jamie took a few steps back. “Throw her to me.” He said.

“Are you crazy?!”

“No, don’t worry I’ll catch her, she’s going to love it. I’m just three steps away, you know.”

And there he was again with his charming, crooked smile. She rolled her eyes.

“Fine. Ready? One. Two. Three!” And she sent Maisie flying above the water and into Jamie’s arms, landing with a big splash that made her giggle. It was the purest sound.

They did that a few times until they realized Maisie’s lips were turning blue and it was time to come out.

 

Claire put her to her chest, rolled the towel around them and laid down on the chair bathing in the sun, rubbing the towel to warm Maisie up. It took maybe two minutes before she fell asleep. Claire closed her eyes too, savoring the sun, the silence, and her baby’s breath on her neck. She fell asleep a few minutes later.

Jamie took some time to gaze at them, mother and daughter. Maisie was her exact replica, although she had a cherubic face because of her age, you could see that in time, she would look just like Claire. With her tiny black curls, the shape of her face, nose and mouth, her big blue eyes, and her tiny freckles. Then he stared at Claire, her pale skin had turned pink with the sun and heat of the day, her wild wet curls framing her face and her mouth forming a pout in her sleep. She was truly one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen, but he wasn't about to reveal that to her.

He thought the sight was too sweet not to immortalize it and took a picture with his phone. When he felt they were dry enough, he put the sunshade back on them, then sat on his chair and read a book.

 

It was forty-five minutes later that Claire woke up suddenly, having had that falling feeling that wakes you in a jump. Luckily, Maisie didn’t budge and slept right through it.

 

“Are you ok?” Jamie asked.

“Yes, I think I was having a nightmare. I’ve forgotten already.” She smiled and stretched slowly underneath her daughter’s tiny body. “Did I sleep for long?”

“Around forty-five minutes. You looked adorable wrapped up against each other, I took a picture and sent it to you.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Thank you.”

 

He closed his book and stood up.

 

“I’m going to get an ice cream. Do you want one? We have a freezer in the shed.”

“That is such a good idea, I’d love one.”

 

Jamie went to the shed while Maisie started waking up. She opened her sleepy eyes, and being positioned where she was, didn’t miss the opportunity to pull Claire’s bikini top and started latching onto her left breast, sucking to get her own snack.

Caught by surprise, Claire gasped.

“What are you doing you little monster. No boobies for you. We’ve talked about this, it’s only before bedtime now.” She sighed but let her do it anyway.

She was trying to wean her slowly, but she had to admit she was missing those unique moments with her. Breastfeeding was hard, but so worth it, creating a bond like she had never experienced before. She knew it was time that her daughter stopped though, first because she wouldn’t be as available for it as before, and second, because she was growing up and that it had to stop eventually.

 

Of course, Jamie hadn’t miss anything from the scene and felt his dick twitch in reaction. What was it with this woman that turned him on instantly, when he had seen so many others do the exact same thing and just thought it was beautiful and felt perfectly normal when taking a look? Maybe it was because the others were mostly women from his family or friends, none of them he had found attractive contrary to Claire.

 

Get a hold of yourself, Fraser.

 

He came back and sat down next to her, handing her the ice cream.

“Oh yes, I love Magnums! Thanks Jamie.” She opened it and broke the top of the ice cream, chewing it. Then she started sucking on the tip of it, and Jamie’s eyes went wide, filling his mind with images of her doing this particular thing with something else entirely.

Thanking himself mentally for wearing sunglasses right now, he turned his gaze toward the lake.

Grandma. Dead puppies. Grandma. Dead puppies. Grandma. Dead puppies... – He repeated mentally, doing his best to turn himself off and forget this wonderful yet very inappropriate image of Claire.

 

Maisie caught sight of the ice cream and released her breast, eager to eat something else.

Claire put her bikini top back on correctly and took off the towel that was still wrapped tightly around them.

 

“You’re a walking stomach Maise. You really are your father’s daughter.” She laughed and sat her down on her legs.

 

That comment didn’t escape Jamie, who didn’t say anything. So there is a father.

 

Claire brought the ice cream slowly toward Maisie’s mouth, and of course, Maisie opened it wide and bit on the ice cream. Jamie and Claire burst out laughing, thankfully Claire had already eaten the hard part around the ice cream, so Maisie just had to suck on whatever was left. She finished the entire thing under the eyes of two bemused adults.

 

The rest of the afternoon flew by, they went back into the water and spent a good hour playing with Maisie. It was easy and joyful, and Claire just felt… peaceful. She suddenly realized that today had probably been the happiest day of her life since Maisie was born.

Chapter Text

When her first week of work started, Claire was excited. She knew that it would start slow, at least for the next two weeks, before the other workers started to arrive. Jamie had explained to her that for now, she would help him tend to the horses and maintain the stables in order, help Ellen in the garden and Brian on the ranch where it was needed, and start tidying and preparing the other cabins for the coming workers. She had signed her contract and was now employed by the Frasers until the end of September.

 

On Monday morning, Claire and Jamie met at the stables so he could show her what needed to be done daily for the horses, as well as how to maintain the stables clean. They had 25 stalls in total which were all occupied by a horse and they also had 3 horses who were put out to pasture that needed some checking-in every day to ensure they still had enough to drink and eat. She understood that the faster she learned, the better, as this would help Jamie tremendously especially in the coming weeks.

They spent the entire morning together, him showing her the ropes and her learning eagerly. They kept teasing each other nicely and both felt more at ease with one another, especially after the great afternoon they had shared the day before. She could feel they were slowly becoming friends, and god knew she needed one. Being the thoughtful man he was, he had set up a playpen in the small office for Maisie so she could play while Claire was working. Being the perfect little girl she was, she hadn’t made a peep except when a loud noise had echoed in the stables when Claire had accidentally let an empty bucket fall on the floor and Maisie, being startled, had started crying.

 

When lunch time arrived, they agreed to meet after Maisie’s nap. Jamie had decided to give her her first riding lesson in the riding arena which she had seen from the outside, but they hadn’t been inside yet. Another place on the ranch she was about to discover.

They met in front of her cabin after she had texted him that Maisie was awake. She took the stroller this time, not knowing what she would do with her while being on a horse.

 

“Did you have a good lunch?” He asked while they were walking toward the stables.

“Oh yeah. But I got frustrated because I spent the entire time looking for something to watch on Netflix, and once I finally did, Maisie woke up 2 minutes later.”

“Oh, I see. I’m very bad at choosing something to watch, too.” He chuckled. “So, what did you settle on?”

“I wanted to start a new show, Suits. Do you know it?”

“Oh yes, the fraudulent lawyer, right? Yes, I’ve heard good things about it actually but haven’t watched it. Maybe I should.”

“Well, if you want to come and watch it with me after this one” she pointed at Maisie “is asleep, be my guest. I’d rather have someone to debate about it with later.”

“That’s a nice idea, thanks! I’ll come.”

 

They smiled and kept walking in silence, enjoying the cool breeze of the afternoon that had settled today. They went to the stalls to retrieve Buddy, Jamie showed Claire how to groom a horse before starting exercising him. Then they went to the riding arena, which Claire noted was almost brand new and modern.

 

“We had it built last summer, before the school year started.” He explained. “This is the other part of our business. We have horses for jumping lessons, there’s a teacher who comes every day and we have 16 students for now. But I’m hoping to grow this number, and our number of stalls. The idea in the long run is to have more stalls that the students can rent to train with their own horse, I’d like to start doing dressage lessons too, and I’d really like to get more trail ride horses. The other part of the business is breeding and breaking new horses to sell them. This is mostly what my father does, and I try to help as much as I can. But all of this is a lot of work and I think we’re going to need to start hiring workers all year round for this, especially if we expand.”

 

She found it fascinating, she didn’t know anything about life on a ranch and how it all worked so she was drinking Jamie’s words, even more so because he spoke with such passion that she wanted to love it as much as he did. He noticed she was staring at him with curiosity and interest with what he was explaining and he smiled at her, blushing slightly too. He suddenly felt important, people rarely paid attention when he was speaking about his dreams for the ranch but Claire seemed genuinely impressed and interested in what he had to say.

 

“I think it’s amazing all that you do here. It’s so… pure. You live with nature and animals, and occasionally, kids. It’s pretty great.” She told him with honesty.

“I’m glad you think so, too. A lot of people think it’s not worth it, not modern enough. You should have seen the reactions of some of my college classmates and friends when I told them my plan. I mean, I love technology so much as the next person, but there’s nothing that beats being outdoors all day, working with the most genuine and loyal animals. I never understood their criticism.”

“I think some people can’t understand because they’ve never lived the way you do. But I completely agree. In my own way that’s why I chose to be a nurse, too. To tend to people, make sure they are ok, because I think contact with others in person is worth so much more than virtually. All in all, it all comes down to working in the reality of the world, with tangible things. Me with people, and you with nature and animals.”

 

He nodded, agreeing with her.

She left Maisie in her stroller on one side of the arena, occupied with a few toys. Jamie had already prepared everything and saddled Buddy for Claire. Once he was done, she climbed on the back of the horse and Jamie made her walk around the arena, letting her and the horse be in sync. When he felt they were comfortable enough with each other, he made Claire move up to trotting, telling her to be less stiff, straighten her back, loosen her grip on the reigns…

 

“Mama!! Mama!!” Maisie started calling twenty minutes into the lesson, clearly bored of being by herself.

Claire came to a halt and hugged the horse gently, about to dismount him.

“Hold on, stay on the horse. I’ll get her, keep going.” He said.

 

He went to Maisie and took her in his arms, settling her on his left hip, and went back in the middle of the arena. Maisie cradled his neck and rested her head on his shoulder, her nose grazing his neck. She was hugging him and he melted on the spot. He made a cute pout and stared at Claire, his gaze conveying his surprise and appreciation.

 

“Hey, don’t go stealing my daughter!” She laughed. “What did you give her for her to like you so much?”

“I’m that charming. Ladies love me.” He smirked and she laughed. “You’re doing great by the way. Can’t you feel it? Now that you’ve relaxed you grip?”

“Yes, it’s going more smoothly I agree. Thanks Jamie!”

“That’s what I’m here for.” He winked and rubbed Maisie’s little back. He could feel her breathing turning to a slow, steady rhythm. “Is she falling asleep?”

“I believe she is. You can put her back in the stroller if you want.”

“Nah I’m fine. It’s sweet.” He grinned.

 

Claire kept doing the different exercises Jamie gave her for a half hour more and then he said that they had to stop. It was 5 PM and the young horse riders would be there soon for their lesson. He put Maisie in her stroller and they went back to the stalls where Jamie showed Claire how to groom the horse after an exercise. She had learnt so much in just one day, she really enjoyed being with horses and was glad that this was going to be part of her weekly routine.

 

“You did good today, Claire. You’re a natural with horses.” He told her while they were heading back to their homes.

“Thank you. You’re a natural with kids.” She teased him.

“Oh please, don’t tell my mom.” They looked at each other and broke out in laughter, thinking of their previous conversation about his mom always thinking of him having children.

“I think she knows already; don’t you have nieces and nephews? Surely you must take care of them.”

“Yes, these little buggers are what got me into this mess in the first place. They’re a handful but I adore them. By the way speaking of them, my sister Jenny is coming this weekend with the kids and her husband. Mom wanted to know if you would join us for lunch on Saturday?”

“That’s very thoughtful of her, thank you so much. But I don’t want to impose, it’s a family thing.”

“You’re not imposing, Claire, we’re offering. And don’t say that to my parents, they’ve told you so long as you live here, you’re like family.”

“Alright then, we will come. Thanks Jamie.” She smiled at him, and he returned it eagerly.

 

Before going their separate ways, they agreed to meet later to watch the show once Maisie was asleep, and they went home.

 


 

It was around 7 PM, Claire was giving dinner to Maisie, when she received a Facetime call from her friend Gillian.

 

“Hey Gill. It’s so good to see you. How are you?” Claire asked, smiling.

“Hey C, it’s so nice to hear your voice, and to see your smile! It’s been a while since I saw it. I’ve received your text messages when I landed this morning, you’re in Tennessee? What the hell?”

“Yes, I took a job at a ranch in Victoria, near Nashville. Look, they were willing to pay me, give me a place to live, all the while enabling me to keep Maisie with me as much as possible, so I took it. I didn't receive any replies to the nursing jobs I had applied to, obviously due to my lack of diploma, and I only had until the end of the month to find something… And I’m glad I did. It’s great over here, we’re surrounded by nature and horses, and the family who owns the ranch is… I can’t even describe it Gill. They’re so nice and welcoming, they’ve made me feel at home right away.”

“I’m glad Claire. If you’re feeling good, and feel like living again, it’s all I wish for you and Maise. How is my girl by the way?!” She asked, clapping her hands.

“Oh, she’s doing great.” Claire turned her computer so the camera would face Maisie. “Say hi to auntie Gill baby.” Maisie couldn’t care less about the virtual interaction and kept on eating messily, making Gillian laugh.

“Sorry, you know Facetime is probably weird for her.”

“I know, don’t worry. So big news, I’m coming home from Cambodia in two weeks! And I leave again at the end of July for India.” She grinned, happy to know they were going to see each other again.

“Oh, Gill that’s amazing! You have to come visit! Before the end of June if you can, after that the kids will start arriving for summer camp and I’m not sur I’ll have enough time.”

“Sure, I have a few things to sort out while I’m home, but I will find a weekend to come, there’s no way I’m leaving again before seeing you two. I’ll send you a text with the dates when I know, alright?”

“That sounds perfect.”

“Ok so now tell me. Any nice-looking cowboys I should know about on this ranch?” She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively and Claire rolled her eyes, sighing.

“Even if there were, you know I can’t.”

“Come on Claire, it’s been a year and a half… It’s time to move on, you know it is.” Gillian said, with understanding but also encouragement in her voice.

“I don’t know if I feel ready yet.”

“I don’t think you can ever feel ready to get back out there. You just… have to do it, I guess.”

“Yeah, well speaking of… I must tell you something about Matt.” Claire said with a stern voice.

“Uh-oh. Do tell.”

“A few days before we left, he came to visit… Gill he basically jumped on me one night, saying that he loved me, that he knew it was fate that we were finding ourselves in this moment, that it was meant to be … I freaked out. I locked myself in the bathroom and almost had a panic attack, I asked him to leave. The next day I got the job and took off, just letting him know by text that I’d gotten a professional opportunity in another state and that I had to leave right away with Maise to start. He wasn’t too pleased about it… He called me yesterday, asked me if he could visit, I said no and hung up on him.”

“What in the world has gotten into him?! I always suspected he had a thing for you, but never thought he would actually act on it. You did well Claire. As much as I want you to move on, I don’t think your husband’s best friend is the right fit for that.” Gillian frowned on the screen, clearly not approving of what had happened.  “Honey, I have to go, my break is almost over. Look, trust yourself and try to get back out there, just not with Matt, ok? At least tip a toe! I’ll send you a text as soon as I know when I can come visit you.”

“Sounds good. Love you, Gill, take care of yourself.”

“Love you too Claire, kiss my godchild for me, will you? Bye!” She grinned at the camera and hung up.

 

Claire sighed of relief to have spoken to the woman whom she considered her best friend. They had met on their first day of nursing school and had become friends instantly. Gillian always showed love and compassion to her patients, and she was the same toward her colleagues. She had been the only person there for Claire for the past two years, and she was grateful to have her in her life. However, she had gotten an opportunity six months ago to work for an NGO, and she had been in Cambodia ever since. They only had time to baptize Maisie before she left, and who better than her to be her child’s godmother?

 

Once Maisie was finished with dinner, they played together for a while before Claire put her to bed. It was 8:30 PM when she texted Jamie to come over.

Luckily, the Frasers were generous, and the cabins were equipped with Smart TVs which enabled Claire to set up her Netflix account on it. She prepared the first episode of the show and paused it, and Jamie knocked on the door right at this moment.

 

“Hey, please come inside.” She let him in, and he settled on the couch, clearly feeling as drained from the day as she felt.

“Did you have dinner already?”

“I had a quick bite before leaving, I didn’t know if you’d have eaten already. But I’m down for eating some more.” Smirking, he rubbed his stomach eagerly.

“Men and their stomachs.” She rolled her eyes, chuckling. “Alright, can we get pizzas delivered here?”

“Of course, I have the number on my phone. What do you want? They have all the basics.”

 

She told him what she liked, and he ordered the food for them both. They sat comfortably on the couch next to each other, and both sighed, letting their tiredness wash over them.

 

“We may be asleep before the food gets there.” Claire pointed out, turning her head to look at him, yawning.

“Yes, that’s very probable. Let’s just put on the show then, if it’s any good I may be able to hold on until the delivery guy gets here.” He laughed and she nodded.

 

She clicked play on the remote and walked to the kitchen to get herself a beer. Offering one to him as well, they sat close to each other, arms touching.

They were both very conscious of their closeness and Claire felt her arm shiver from the contact. Eyes locked on the screen, not letting anything transpire, she was having an inner battle with herself, annoyed to let just a simple touch make her feel this way. It was ridiculous and uncalled for.

Jamie on his side was also extremely aware of her. Maybe she was off limits, but his body was not agreeing with his reason, and quite frankly, neither was his mind. He found himself thinking of her more than he would have liked to admit and being so close to her right now, touching her even so chastely and smelling her sweet flowery perfume, didn't help.

However, remaining friendly and platonic, no one said anything and the rest of the night went by. They ate in front of the show, commenting some scenes and laughing together.

Chapter Text

It had been a week since Claire had arrived on the ranch, and she felt great. It had been so long since she felt this way, as if everything was going to be alright. But she knew it wouldn’t last, she must find another job after the season ended and counted on those five months to make that happen. Whether it was in Tennessee or anywhere else, she had to take care of Maisie and in order to do that, money was required.

 

The week had flown by, Jamie may have been reluctant that she had a child at first, but he was making up for it now as he had been extremely accommodating and did everything possible so that Maisie wasn’t bored while they were working, or when he was giving Claire horse-riding lessons. He thought she was improving quickly with horse-riding and on Friday, he had made her start galloping. Much to her surprise, she had loved it.

The two had continued watching the TV show every night after Maisie was asleep, appreciating each other’s company and having fun debating on the episodes they were watching. Friday night had been quiet though, Jamie hadn’t come as he was going out with his friends, and she had enjoyed a silent night reading on the porch of the cabin, surrounded by the lovely noises of the woods.

 

Saturday came quickly, Ellen and Brian had invited her and Maisie to join them for lunch so they would meet another part of the Fraser clan, Jamie’s sister and her family. As they were all so lovely, she didn’t doubt Jenny would be just as well. Feeling grateful for everything the Frasers had already done for her, she went into town in the morning to buy Ellen flowers and Brian a bottle of wine, and after feeding Maisie lunch, Claire left for the main house with her daughter attached to her hip.

She was greeted at the door by Jamie and could hear the whole family in the background, the house was bursting with life. Jamie hugged her awkwardly and Maisie took full advantage of the situation, hooking her arms around Jamie’s neck and making them both laugh, relaxing instantly.

 

“Well, I’m happy to see you too, miss Maisie.” He said, taking her in his arms and tickling her. “Please come in.”

He let Claire go through and closed the door behind her. Everybody was in the kitchen, which opened on the living-room.

“Claire, it’s so good to see you.” Ellen greeted her with a hug as well, and Claire handed her the fresh bouquet of flowers.

“For all you’ve done for me and inviting me, again, for lunch today.” She explained with a smile.

“That's very sweet, you shouldn’t have.” Said Brian while rubbing a hand on Claire’s back.

“And this is for you!” She said while getting the bottle of wine out from her bag and into his hands.

“Thank you, Claire!” Brian and Ellen said in unison.

“It’s the least I could do after your warm welcome.”

“Claire this is my sister, Jenny, and Ian her husband.” Jamie said behind her, Maisie was still clinging to him like a koala.

 

Claire turned around and was greeted by a lovely couple. Jenny looked a lot like Brian, the Fraser gene was indeed unmistakable. She was tall but smaller than Jamie, had dark hair and plumped red lips. She was beautiful.

 

“It’s nice to meet you Claire, glad you could join us for lunch.” Jenny said to her wih a smile that didn't reach her eyes, while glancing at Jamie oddly.

“We’ve heard great things about you!” Ian said with a cheery tone.

Ian’s comment made Claire blush, which made Jamie smile. She really doesn’t like being the center of attention – he thought.

“And this one is Maisie.” Claire said, pointing at her daughter. “My daughter, who seems to have taken a liking to you brother and completely forgotten about me.”

 

Everyone laughed and Jamie didn’t miss his mother’s pride and hopeful gaze. He rolled his eyes in annoyance. Jenny called the two kids who were playing in the living-room, and they came running.

 

“This is Maggie, and this is Robbie. Kids, say hello to Claire.” Jenny told them.

“Hello Claire.” They said in a bothered tone at the same time, making Claire smile.

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you both.”

“Why don’t you all go sit down at the table while I put the flowers in a vase?” Ellen suggested, her kitchen too crowded.

 

Everyone agreed and went to sit around the table. It was yet another beautiful day, the sun was shining and the temperature was bearable, the perfect setting for a lunch outside.

Jamie sat next to Claire with Maisie on his lap, making funny sounds against her little hands to make her laugh. Claire couldn’t help but feel her heart beat a little faster at the sight.

She remained quiet, listening to the family discuss, her shyness taking over as always in the presence of strangers. Ellen and Brian came to sit at the table and wine was served for everyone.

 

“To a new season starting.” Brian said.

And everyone clinked their glasses together, celebrating yet another summer season ahead. Conversations flowed between the family, Claire reacted once in a while but mostly kept quiet and enjoyed observing this beautiful family dynamic they had, something she had never known and had craved for her entire life.

 

“Claire and I have started the show Suits!” Jamie told Jenny at some point. “But I was incapable of telling her if what you do is anything like it.”

Jenny made a weird face, sharing a look with Ian. She had been looking intensely at Claire since she had arrived and Claire had the feeling Jenny had a problem with her, although they didn't even know each other.

“No, not really, they do corporate law. I’m assistant to the district attorney and we work mostly criminal cases. It’s a good show though, we watched it with Ian too.” She gave a knowing look to Jamie, which Claire didn’t miss, and she felt her cheeks turn pink.

 

Looking at Jamie, Claire realized that Maisie had dozed off on his shoulder.

“I think it’s time for her nap. Ellen, can I put her down in the crib like last time?”

“Of course you can.”

 

She stood up and was about to take Maisie, but Jamie stood too and told her he would come with her to avoid waking the baby. They went to the bedroom quietly, Jamie laid Maisie in the crib and Claire left her favorite toy bunny next to her.

Before exiting the room, Jamie grabbed her arm.

“Don’t pay attention to my sister’s looks, she already has it in her head that something is going on between us because she doesn’t believe in men and women being friends.”

In the dark, Claire blushed again. If she was being honest, whilst she wouldn’t let anything happen, her thoughts hadn’t all been friendly toward him. However, she wasn’t about to share this with Jenny.

“Don’t worry, she’s a protective sister. I wish I had that.” She smiled shyly and they went back to the table.

 

Food was served and everybody ate eagerly. Around dessert, Jenny had finally started being more relaxed toward Claire and asked her nicely “So Claire, my parents told me you arrived a week ago. Where are you from?”

Claire really didn’t feel like talking about herself, but with all eyes on her, she felt compelled to reply.

“I was born in California. But before coming here, I was living in Fort Briggs.”

“Oh, in North Carolina, right?”

“Yes, exactly.”

Claire hoped this would be a satisfying answer and that she wouldn’t ask further questions. Jamie seeing her distress, opened his mouth to speak but Jenny was faster.

“Is that where Maisie’s father is, then?”

Claire’s blood left her face, and she felt her heart thumping in her chest and temples. It wasn’t a subject she discussed; she only had told Brian in confidence. But she knew Jamie wondered too, he had been polite enough not to ask because he’d sensed her discomfort. Nevertheless, if she was going to live with them for a few months, maybe it was better they knew now to avoid discussing it again.

“Jenny, stop the interrogation please. Let’s change the subject.” Brian said.

“It’s ok Brian.” Claire said past the lump in her throat, looking into Jenny’s eyes. “Unfortunately, no, Jenny. Maisie’s father passed away. I’m… I’m a widow.”

 

Saying it took her right back to grief therapy, voicing out loud that she was a widow because it made things real. She bit the inside of her mouth, doing her best not to let her eyes fill with water.

Jamie looked at her tenderly rather than pity, which was how most people had been looking at her after Frank was gone. He took her hand under the table, squeezing hard to show his support, and Claire’s sorrow suddenly felt more bearable. Jenny’s face on the other hand decomposed, her shame was visible.

 

“Oh Claire. I am so sorry… I should never have brought this up. Me and my endless curiosity never seem to know when to shut up.” Jenny said with sincerity.

“It’s alright, you couldn’t have known.”

“I’m sorry, Claire.” Jamie whispered.

So he had been right before, the father was gone, just not willingly… Jamie’s heart ached for Claire and Maisie. Being a widow at 23 and being a little girl about to grow up without a dad wasn’t the happy story anyone wished to have. He could see Claire’s sadness in her eyes and wished he could do something to take the pain away, but all he could find to do was squeeze her hand tighter in support.

“Thank you. It happened sometime ago. I’m doing better now, as much as anyone can be in this situation... At least now you all know and can stop wondering.” She forced a smile.

“Thank you for telling us, honey.” Ellen squeezed her other hand which was on the table.

Ellen knew, because Brian had told her, they told each other everything. But hearing it from Claire’s mouth and seeing the pain, she felt the maternal impulse to hold her and tell her everything would be alright.

 

“Mommy, can we go see the horses now?” Robbie asked, not paying attention at all to the adults’ conversation.

“Yeah, horses eat carrots! I wanna give them carrots!” Maggie said proudly.

“Sure, Robbie, but look after your sister please!”

“Yes mom, thank you!”

 

The two left the table and ran through the field until they could no longer be seen from the terrace.

 

“Maybe I should follow them?” Jenny asked, frowning.

“Jen, no. Leave them be. They’ll be alright, the horses are in the stalls and Robbie would never open them without us present.” Ian sighed.

“If I want to worry about my kids, it’s my prerogative, Murray.”

“And here we go…” Jamie chuckled.

“Shut up James. This is between me and my husband so zip it.”

 

This stupid feud lightened the mood of the table, and Claire giggled silently. Realizing she was still holding Jamie’s hand; she released it and finished her dessert.

 

“Ian, I don't think I caught what you do for a living?” Claire asked, winking at Jenny because she was happy to change the subject, she understood the fear that came with being a mother.

Jenny beamed at her, definitely appreciating Claire some more.

“I’m a copywriter. Basically, all I have are my words. Thank god for that because it’s the only reason this hard headed woman agreed to marry me.” He smirked at Jenny and kissed her cheek.

“Yeah, he’s annoying as hell, but he knows how to speak to a lady when he wishes.” She said, rolling her eyes but smiling nonetheless. Ian grabbed her and kissed her hard, making Jenny laugh.

“Ugh, get a room.” Jamie said, faking disgust.

“And get yourself a woman, Fraser.” Ian said, winking.

“Touché.” Jenny added.

 

Claire did her best not to laugh out loud and kept eating silently.

 

“Children, settle down.” Brian said, Claire couldn’t keep it inside any longer and giggled.

“Don’t laugh or I’ll watch the next Suits episode without you.” Jamie said with a crooked smile.

“You wouldn’t dare.” She replied with a fake offended tone.

“Watch me!”

 

They both laughed, teasing each other in their own little bubble while everyone watched them silently. Just like last week, Brian and Ellen shared a looked. These two had undeniable chemistry that didn’t go unnoticed to the outside world.

 

“So, I spoke to Andrew last night… He wants us to meet Lauren tonight. I said I’d check with you both, but once the kids are tucked into bed, maybe we can join them? If Brian and Ellen don’t mind, of course.” Ian said to Jenny and Jamie.

“You know we don’t, go out, have fun.” Ellen said, happy to watch after the kids. “We’ll be happy to take care of them tomorrow morning too, while you all cry with a hangover.” She laughed.

“Amazing, thanks mom! Claire, you should come, too.” Jenny said, smiling. She was trying to make amends for her stupidity earlier, but Claire wasn't someone who held grudges.

“It’s very nice of you to invite me, but I can’t, I have Maisie.” She explained, returning her smile.

“We can watch her too Claire, the crib is there, and our bedroom is in the same hallway. Go out and have fun a little, you deserve it. We can take care of her until morning, and you’ll pick her up when you wake up.”

“I can’t possibly let you do that. You’ve been so kind already; I don’t want to take advantage of you nor your kindness.” She was genuinely touched by the offer but couldn’t fathom the idea of letting them babysit for free for an entire night.

 

Ellen took her hands in hers and faced her.

 

“Honey listen to me, if it’s leaving Maisie an entire night that troubles you, I understand. We all do, it’s never easy the first time. But if it’s because you feel you’re taking advantage of us, trust me, you are not. Maisie is adorable and it would be a pleasure to have her stay here while you think of yourself for a while. You deserve it, and you know it.”

 

Both Jenny and Ellen understood the hardships of being a mother. Losing yourself in this wonderful job because the children were your everything. They couldn’t begin to imagine how it was for Claire, who had no partner to support her and was the only person on whom Maisie could rely on. She never had a minute off, and they both knew how important it was for Claire to unwind, spend a night having fun and not worrying about her child.

Claire felt tears stinging her eyes. Indeed, she had never left Maisie for an entire night. Before next week, she had never left her to anyone but Gillian and Matt. But Ellen and Brian were absolute gems whom she knew would take great care of her daughter. She could only trust them, the result of their benevolence, kindness and good parenting was sitting right at this table.

 

“I don’t know what to say. I’m scared to death to part with her for an entire night, definitely. But I mostly feel that it’s too much to ask you to watch over her until morning. Are you sure it’s ok? Please don’t feel like you have to do it, you don’t owe me anything. And I don’t want to impose on your night as well, Ian, Jenny and Jamie. You’re meeting with friends.”

“Oh come on, it will be nice to have you there too. We lack women in this group.” Jenny replied.

“She’s right, plus we will need your opinion on Lauren.” Jamie added.

“It’s settled then. Claire, I promise it's with great pleasure that we offer to babysit. So, you’re going then?” Ellen asked happily.

“I guess I am. Thank you so much, Ellen and Brian." She said shyly. "You’ll have to give me a bit of a background on this Lauren though.” She then said to Ian, Jamie and Jenny.

“Yes, who is that?” Brian asked, very interested in his kids’ business.

“Well, our friend Andrew, let’s just say he’s never been romantically involved with anyone before, he didn’t see the point. But apparently, he’s met this Lauren, whom he thinks may be the one – his words, not mine – and wants us to meet her to tell him what we think.” Ian explained, mostly to Claire.

 

Claire nodded, laughing along Jenny, Brian and Ellen.

 

“I’ve known this boy his entire life and he has never spoken of a girl once. She must be very special.” Ellen clapped her hands, excited for Andrew.

“Hopefully.” Jamie sighed, already resigned to meet somebody who would likely not be as great as Andrew thought.

 


 

Later, Maisie woke up and the whole group found Jenny’s children and went out for a walk. Claire felt more and more at ease with everyone and had a great time.

When evening came, she went back to her cabin to get what she needed and prepare to go out later, then went to the main house as the whole Fraser family had invited her again for dinner. This way, they could put the kids to sleep, have a bite to eat, and leave all together for the bar.

 

Claire took some time to breastfeed Maisie and rock her to sleep that night, leaving her was going to be hard and painful. She did her best to explain that she was just going away for a few hours, and that she would be back in the morning. Claire knew that Maisie could sense something was different than usual so although she was still a baby, she felt it was important to explain things to her.

Once Maisie was asleep, Claire put her in the crib but stayed a good ten minutes looking at her, caressing her tiny face with the tips of her fingers. She marveled at how beautiful and perfect her daughter was, speechless that she and Frank had made her. She was a gift, and even though grief sometimes choked Claire to tears, Maisie was what she held onto to pull her out of her pain and keep her going.

 

Afterwards, everybody had dinner in a great atmosphere. It had been decided that Brian would drop them off at the bar, and they would go home together later with a taxi. Ian kept making jokes and everyone was laughing, alcohol already well running through their veins. The night was looking good.

Chapter Text

Brian had dropped the little group off at the bar at 9:30 PM, promising Jamie he would take care of the horses in the morning so he could sleep.

Already giddy from the wine they had had during dinner; the group made its entrance laughing. Their friends were sitting in a big booth. There were two men and three women already, one of them Claire was pretty sure she recognized as Sarah, the girl she had a vivid memory of stark naked, which she so wished to forget. She blushed instantly thinking about it.

They all sat down while greeting each other, Claire squeezed between Ian and Jamie. As introductions were in order, Jamie took the lead, pointing at every person.

 

“Claire, this is Andrew and Finn, and this is Sarah, Mary and I presume you must be Lauren?” He asked at the end to the sandy blond-haired girl who smiled at him and nodded yes. “Everybody, this is Claire.” He added.

“Nice to meet you all.” She replied with a smile, clearly more comfortable than usual with some alcohol in her veins.

“And Lauren, these two are Jamie and Ian, my best buds, and that’s Jenny, Ian’s wife and also Jamie’s sister.” Andrew said, putting his arm around her.

“Nice to meet you.” She said with a small voice, she seemed as shy as Claire was.

 

“So, Lauren, where did our guy find you?” Ian asked with a grin.

“I work at The Glade Diner. I’m the new manager there. He asked to speak to me because he wasn’t happy with the way he had been treated, rightfully so.”

“And now I’m even getting special treatment.” Andrew kissed her cheek with a smack sound which made her laugh.

 

It appeared that things had moved along for these two, Jamie noticed. Well, Lauren was beautiful and apparently smart too, because The Glade may have been just a diner, but it was a big deal in town and everybody ate there, so they wouldn’t let just anybody manage it.

 

“The Glade is the diner in Victoria. We’ll have to take you there for dinner some time. Or breakfast, they make the most delicious pancakes.” Jamie told Claire, knowing she probably wouldn’t know the place yet.

“You and your stomach.” She laughed. “Sure, I’d love to go some time.”

 

She couldn’t help but notice Sarah’s glare from across the table, she was clearly jealous. Of what though, Claire had no idea. Maybe she was thinking that Jamie had just asked her on a date?

 

“A round of shots please!” Andrew screamed to the waiter, waking up Claire from her thoughts.

 

Everybody laughed and a few minutes later, shots were taken, and a few others followed behind. The group divided into several discussions and for a while they all had fun, talking, and laughing. As the music got louder and people got drunker, everybody started standing up next to their table to speak more easily.  

Claire spoke with Finn, who knew the other three men from high school and had been friends with them ever since. He was lovely and explained to her that he worked remotely for an IT company based in Nashville, which meant he had been able to settle back in Victoria and occasionally went to Nashville if required. She couldn’t help but notice how handsome he was, too, with is chocolate skin, blue eyes, and a body who seemed to be maintained in shape daily. The discussion drifted and he started flirting with her openly, which she didn’t mind so long as it was innocent. It had been a long time since a man had shown her interest this way and it felt nice and harmless. Of course, there was Matt, but he was Frank’s best friend and she could never have envisioned anything with him, even once she would consider herself ready to try with someone new.

However, at some point, he leaned down to kiss her and she backed away.

 

“I’m sorry. I’m not ready for this.” She said with a small smile. “I’m going to go outside and get some air.”

 

He nodded and she went outside. Jenny, who hadn’t lost a second of that scene, followed Claire in her path. She found her sitting on the sidewalk a bit away from the drunken crowd that had gathered outside. Jenny sat beside her and rubbed her back; she could see Claire felt lost.

 

“I wanted to apologize to you. I know I tend to be a bit pushy and sometimes a little cold too, around women who seem to like my brother. He’s been through some hardships in terms of relationship before, so I can be quite protective of him, you see.”

“It’s alright Jenny.” Claire started saying, but Jenny cut her off.

“No, it’s not. As far as I know there’s nothing going on between you two. Plus, my parents made my ears ring with how nice you are the other day on the phone, which is clearly true, so I really shouldn’t have behaved this way. I’m sorry Claire.” She said with a remorseful tone.

“I swear Jenny it’s fine. I didn’t take it personally. I do think your brother is amazing, it’s good to have a friend when you arrive somewhere new like this, and my kid loves him which is great and kind of weird to me also because it’s the first time I’ve seen her take a liking to someone else but me. But that’s it, I promise.” She smiled at Jenny then put her head between her knees.

“Are you alright? I saw what happened with Finn. I’ll go yell at him later I promise.”

 

Claire laughed at that and brought her head back up.

 

“It’s alright, he didn’t do anything wrong, and I let him flirt with me anyway I shouldn’t have. It’s weird you know. My husband is dead and yet I still feel that I belong to him, and that kissing someone else would be like cheating on him. I’m ridiculous.” She said with a fake laugh and a desperate tone.

“You’re not ridiculous at all. I can’t imagine what it must be like for you, I think you’re extremely brave. Mom told me, how you’re doing all of this on your own, without family? I don’t know how you do it, and you have my utmost respect for it, truly. But Claire you’re so young, you’re allowed to move on with your life, and experiment. And if along the way you manage to find someone who is the right fit, well then even better. You deserve to be happy, everyone does.”

 

Claire felt a bit better after Jenny’s speech.

 

“Thank you, Jenny.” She squeezed her arm to show that it meant more than words could say. “My best friend Gill keeps telling me the same. But it’s not easy. Maybe I’m just not ready yet…”

Sighing, she looked up at the sky. Maybe you could give me a sign, Frank – she thought, and laughed at her stupidity. It had been a while since she had so much to drink, it dated back to before she was pregnant with Maisie.

“When you feel ready, I’m sure you’ll know it.” Jenny said with a reassuring smile and stood up, holding her hand out to Claire. “Shall we go and dance? The shots are starting to go to my head.” She laughed and Claire did too.

 

Taking her hand, she stood up and almost fell, and the two women giggled like schoolgirls. They went back to the bar and an impromptu dance floor had started in the middle of it. They joined the crowd and danced to the beats of Britney Spears’ music; the sound so loud they were practically yelling the lyrics.

The others noticed them, and they were soon joined by Lauren, Ian, Andrew, and Jamie. The group danced together for hours, Jamie and Claire sharing some funny moments singing stupid songs together, back-to-back like an old duet and making their friends laugh. Claire was having so much fun and feeling so free in this moment, of course she was thinking of Maisie, but she knew she was safe with Brian and Ellen, and it gave her the leeway to enjoy herself and be just Claire, not the mother, not the caregiver, just 23-year-old happy drunk Claire.

 

At one end of the bar, Sarah and Mary were looking at the group. Sarah was clearly unhappy that Jamie wasn’t especially spending time with her. He seemed more interested with Claire, whom he’d already talked enough about last night when they were having dinner just the four of them with Mary and Finn. Jamie saw in the corner of his vision that she was fuming, sending death glares to him and Claire. Having had enough of her behavior, he walked toward her, grabbed her hand, and dragged her outside and out of earshot.

 

“What is your problem, Sarah?” He sighed.

“Nothing Jamie. I have no problems at all.”

“Then why have you been trying to murder me and Claire with your eyes ever since we got here?”

“Maybe because you have only been paying attention to her the entire night.” She retorted, holding his gaze defiantly.

 

Jamie rolled his eyes, clearly losing his patience.

 

“Look, Sarah. We broke up a year and a half ago, we are not together. We both agreed that we are not a good match and weren’t going anywhere... I think the world of you, and you know it, but I’m not the right person for you, we’ve proven that multiple times. If occasionally having sex together is what holds you back and makes you maintain some romantic feelings about me, then I’m sorry. Maybe we shouldn’t do it anymore.” His tone grew slowly tender while he was speaking, realizing that indeed, she may still have feelings for him on some level and that their blurry sex friends relationship may be the problem. “Now as for Claire, not that it is any of your business, but there is nothing going on here. She has just arrived; I barely know her. We thought it would be fun for her to go out with us and have fun as she doesn't know anybody around here, that’s it. She’s really nice, and if you had made an effort to get to know her, you may have realized it on your own.”

“I’m sorry, Jamie. I know I’m not your girlfriend anymore but it’s easy to fall back into old habits. She may be new, and you may barely know her, but even a blind person could sense your chemistry, you know. Don’t try and fool yourself.” She sighed.

 

Jamie gulped, in fact, he didn’t know. Was there chemistry here? He hadn’t really thought about it. Sure, he had had some thoughts about Claire, but didn’t over analyze the way they were acting around each other. Now that he was thinking on it though, he did notice how easy it was when he was around her, their banter, the way he could speak freely and felt heard and seen by her when he did. But that was just the beginning of a good friendship. Or was it? He shook his head, way too drunk to have this internal conversation right now.

 

“Well, you’re wrong.” He simply told her off.

“Whatever you say... Regarding what you said about us though, I think you’re right. I don’t think we should keep seeing each other this way. I’d rather we try and maintain what friendship we have left, if that’s alright with you.”

“It’s more than alright, Sarah. I don’t want to lose you as a friend, either." He pulled her into his arms and hugged her. "Now come on, let’s go dance. You’ve been sitting for so long I hope your body remembers how!” He teased her and she rolled her eyes, smiling.

 

While they were joining the group, the song finished and a new one started. Jenny, Lauren and Claire, out of breath, decided to grab another drink and go sit for a while. Lauren had finally loosened up with some alcohol, just like Claire had, and the three women had danced together and laughed a lot.

 

“I had forgotten how much I liked 90s pop songs.” Jenny said, took a sip and chuckled.

“Me too! I hadn’t danced like that in so long.” Claire added.

“Come on girls, you’re talking as if you were grannies.” Lauren said.

“Wait until you have kids, your night life will be a distant memory.” Claire sighed.

“Well, no, Claire’s wrong. Your night life will still exist, it will only have a brand new meaning.”

 

Jenny and Claire looked at each other and burst out laughing, as if they were in on the joke of the century and Lauren simply couldn’t understand.

 

“Sorry Lauren, night feedings, diaper changes, and so many more disgusting things that you do not wish to hear about are the nightly struggles moms face. For your sake, hold on to your freedom a little longer if you can.” Jenny said, panting from all the laughing.

“No, don’t listen to her Lauren. I had my daughter when I was 22, which was totally unplanned. But I have never regretted it, not for one second. She’s the best part of my life.” Claire added, slapping Jenny on her arm for trying to frighten Lauren about motherhood.

“Ah, she’s right. Those little buggers of mine may drive me mad, but they’re my everything.” Jenny smiled.

“You girls are so wasted.” Lauren laughed. “I think I’ll wait a little before having kids, but good to know, thanks.” She grinned and took a sip of her drink.

 

The discussion had made Claire miss Maisie, and she took out her phone to see her little face on her lock screen. Instead, there was a text from Ellen.

She’s sleeping like an angel, hasn’t woke up once since you put her to bed. Relax and have fun!

Claire smiled and put her phone back in her purse.

 

The three women were looking at people dancing, some were good, and some were terrible.

“Look at my man. Dance is not his thing, he’s so bad. God, I love him.” Jenny said, sighing, more to herself than to Claire and Lauren. But the girls burst out laughing anyway.

“And my brother, look at him. When is he finally going to stop seeing Sarah? That girl is so hung up on him and the poor boy can’t even see it.” She sighed some more, watching him dancing with Sarah.

“Oh, so you know about them then?” Claire asked, curious.

 

If she had been in a normal state, she would have never dared to inquire on such a subject, but she was drunk and curious right now.

 

“Everybody knows. She looks at him with puppy-dog eyes all the time. They’ve been on and off for a few years, and it’s getting old if you ask me.” She told Claire.

 

A minute passed, and Jenny seemed to have a realization because she sat straight up on her chair, starting Claire.

 

“Wait, how do you know they’re a thing?” Jenny exclaimed.

 

Claire blushed instantly, becoming as red as her cocktail.

 

“I saw them at the ranch one night. I… I figured they might be a thing.” She replied, lying so badly Lauren started laughing.

“Oh Claire, you would make a terrible actress.” Lauren said.

“Spill it, Claire.” Jenny said, waiting for the dirt.

“You cannot tell him this alright?! I went down last week to get some water in the middle of the night. And when I looked at the window… They were going at it in his kitchen, all lights turned on and all. I had quite the view.” She admitted, hiding behind both of her hands. “That image is marked in my brain and oh how I wish I could forget it.”

 

They broke into another uncontrollable giggle fit that lasted a few minutes.

 

“Oh god, I sympathize with your situation. I would not have liked to see that.” Jenny told her.

“I couldn’t look at him the next day, I kept blushing. He totally noticed and asked me why… And I had to tell him!” Claire added, and the giggles started again.

“What is going on here? You three seem to be having fun?” Jamie said, arriving with Sarah to sit down.

 

Lauren, Jenny and Claire all looked at each other and all hell broke loose. They started crying as they were laughing so hard, and every time they caught the eyes of either one of them, it started again. Panting from all the laughter, Jenny finally acknowledged her brother.

 

“Sorry brother, a little joke between us. We couldn’t seem to stop it.”

 

He smiled at her; glad she was having a good night. Usually, Jenny didn’t care much for those nights out, as she didn’t get along so well with Mary and Sarah. But it seemed that with Claire and Lauren, she got along more than well.

 

“We’re going to head out, Jen, Claire. I’ll let you know when the taxi is here.” Jamie told them.

“What? Already?” Claire replied, obviously not ready to leave.

“Claire, it’s 3 AM. The bar is going to close.” He laughed when he saw her reaction, finding her quite adorable when she pouted like a 4-year-old.

“Alright. Cheers girls, let’s finish up.” Claire said, clinking her drink with Lauren’s and Jenny’s.

 

They downed the rest of their cocktails in a few gulps and headed out, meeting the rest of the group. Jenny, Claire and Lauren exchanged numbers and promised to organize a girls’ night or something like it in the near future. Then they all said their goodbyes and got into different taxis to bring them home.

 

“So, what did you girls think of Lauren?” Ian asked.

“She’s awesome, super funny.” Claire replied straight away.

“Yeah, she’s great. So innocent, no kids in her life yet.” Jenny added, sighing, and Claire and her started laughing again at their earlier remarks.

“These two are so drunk, I don’t know how we aren’t going to wake your parents up when we get home. And I don’t know if Claire will manage to even get home at all.” Ian said to Jamie who chuckled.

“Good luck. And if you wake the kids, oh well… Have fun! Regarding Claire, don’t worry, I’ll take care of her.”

“I’m fine, I can go home by myself.” She said, raising her thumb up.

 

She rested her head on Jenny’s shoulder, who rested her head on Claire’s, and within a few minutes they drifted off to sleep, making Ian and Jamie laugh. They took a picture of them, needing to memorize Jenny in this state as she rarely let herself unwind so much.

They woke the girls up once they arrived and said their goodbyes in front of the main house. Then Jamie took Claire’s hand and directed her toward the cabins. She was honestly fine to walk on her own but didn’t mind the sweet gesture and kept her hand in his.

 

“I’m so hungry.” She said, voicing her thoughts out loud.

“You know what? Me too. Care for some late-night pasta?”

“That sounds heavenly.” She said in a happy tone.

 

He led her to his house, opened the door and turned on the lights, and she followed him inside. The house was beautiful, very modern and decorated with taste. He had extended the size of the living room and had now one big room regrouping kitchen, living room and dining room, but they were all separated with decoration techniques that she found very clever.

 

“Woah Jamie, you have great taste. Your house is beautiful.” She told him, impressed.

“Why thank you very much, Miss Beauchamp.” He replied, already starting to prepare the pastas. “Turn on the TV, would you? We can watch an episode while we eat?”

“Great idea.” She turned it on and prepared the episode they were supposed to watch next. “Do you need any help?”

“No, I’m good thank you, just sit back and relax.”

She walked to the big bookshelves he had in the living-room, many photos were displayed on it, and she looked at them all.

“Is this you as a baby?” She pointed at a picture of a baby on Ellen’s lap, sticking out his tongue and obviously laughing at the camera. He wasn’t older than 2 there.

“Yes, it is.”

“You were so cute.” She said.

Jamie smiled and while he was waiting for the water to boil, he took a few minutes to serve them both a big glass of water.

“Here, drink this.” He said, handing her one.

 

She thanked him and he went back to his cooking. A few minutes later, he put down two huge plates of pasta Bolognese in front of them and they ate on his coffee table, seating on the floor. They were ravenous and ate it all, then sat back on the sofa to watch the rest of the episode.

She sat near him, and let her head fall on his shoulder, tired from this long day.

 

“Thanks for bringing me along tonight, Jamie. I hadn’t had so much fun in a very long time.” She said, almost in a whisper.

“You’re very welcome.” He said, resting his head against hers.

 

They fell asleep a few minutes later against each other, more comfortable than either of them cared to admit.

Chapter Text

Her head was pounding, and her eyes felt heavy. Claire had a massive hangover even though Jamie had given her plenty of water to drink last night. It took her a few seconds to realize that she had never left his place and had slept over. She was actually half lying on top of him, her head on his chest and her left leg on his own. They must have drifted to sleep together, too drunk and tired to keep their focus on the show. As foreign as it felt to be in this position with him, she felt comfortable and didn’t feel like moving. Not to mention that his arm was pressing her tight against him and judging by the morning greeting she could feel behind his jeans, she didn’t feel like waking him up and putting them both in yet another awkward situation. She closed her eyes and went back to sleep, engulfed in the warmth and woody smell of James Fraser.

 

Two hours later, it was Jamie who woke up with his head hurting from all the alcohol he had drank. He took a big breath in and realized he was holding Claire, or rather, she was laying on top of him and he was keeping her in place. He smiled, having rarely been so comfortable with a woman. Looking down at her face, she was sleeping soundly, her lips were partly open like a child and he found himself surprised by how much he wanted to taste them.

He looked at the time and realizing it was noon already, he thought she may want to get Maisie back.

 

“Claire, wake-up. Claire.” He was whispering and caressing her hair gently with his fingertips to tear her out of sleep.

She frowned, and then relaxed, enjoying the sweet feeling of his fingers in her hair. She opened an eye, then a second.

“Good morning.” He said and his face broke into a smile.

“Hi.” She sat up as best she could on the couch, her legs still entwined with his. “Sorry for taking you as my mattress, I hope I didn’t break your back.” She smiled shyly.

“No worries, I slept like the dead. How are you feeling?”

“My head hurts, and I’m starving. Otherwise, good. You?”

“Same here.” He yawned. “I tell you what, how about we both get ready and get Maisie at my parents’, then I take you to the Glade Diner? ‘Told you their pancakes are to die for.”

 

Claire’s stomach made a loud growl at the mention of pancakes, which made Jamie chuckle.

 

“I think my stomach has spoken for me. What time is it?”

“A little after 12, but they do Sunday brunch.” He smiled.

“That sounds like a plan. I should be ready in about 30 minutes.”

 

She untangled her legs from his and got up, her head spinning a little.

 

“Wait up, take this.” He reached for the glass of water on the coffee table, grabbed a paracetamol in a drawer and handed them to her, which she took gladly.

 

She kissed him on the cheek to thank him, then left for her cabin to get ready.

Under the stream of the shower, she started looking back at the night. She had loved being able to unwind and enjoy, and although Jenny had seemed cold and distant throughout lunch yesterday, last night had been another story. They had had so much fun together, and she was looking forward to spending more time with her and Lauren if they indeed organized another outing. Thinking back at what Jenny had told her when she’d apologized, she realized that she had said Jamie had been through some hardships in his love life… Curiosity compelled her to wonder why, and if this had anything to do with Sarah, or with someone else.

 


 

It was almost 1 PM when Jamie and Claire entered the main house, everyone was seated and in the middle of eating lunch.

 

“Well good morning sleepy heads.” Ellen said and her face broke into a smile. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been ran over by a truck.” Jamie sighed and kissed his mother’s cheek.

 

Ian chuckled and nudged Jenny in the ribs. “You can’t be worse than your sister. The kids have been instructed not to scream or they might regret it.”

 

Jenny was wearing big sunglasses and evidently wasn’t doing so good after all the alcohol she had had.

 

“Not so loud, Ian.” She growled, making Claire and Jamie chuckle.

“Mommy is gunhover.” Maggie whispered seriously to them, and everybody laughed at the cute word.

“The word is hungover, sweety.” Jamie rectified her.

“James Fraser.” Jenny said with a threatening tone. “Don’t go teaching those things to my daughter.”

“What?” He said innocently. “She obviously already knows about it; she may as well say it properly.” He giggled, Jenny’s expression making him laugh even more.

 

Jenny put her head on the table, giving in to resignation and exhaustion.

 

“Where is my baby? I’ve missed her! How did it go?” Claire asked with anticipation.

“Oh, I actually fed her lunch and put her down for a nap about 10 minutes ago, she’s asleep.” Ellen said, looking sorry.

“Are you kidding? Thank you so much for everything. I had a great time last night and that’s all thanks to you. How did it go? I hope there wasn’t any problem?”

“Not at all! She’s an angel. She didn’t wake up once through the night, and this morning when we came to get her, she cried a few minutes asking for you but then got distracted with breakfast and all was well.” She said grinning.

“Yes, you’re welcome to leave her here whenever you need a night out Claire, she is a sweetheart!” Brian added.

“Thank you so very much.” She told them. “I’m sorry Jamie, we’re going to have to take a raincheck on those pancakes after all.” He pouted like a toddler.

“What do you mean? Were you planning on going somewhere?” Ellen asked them.

“Yes, to the Glade. Andrew’s girlfriend Lauren is the manager there and I told Claire that the pancakes were amazing, so I thought I would take her there for brunch as we are both starving.”

“What a lovely idea! Then go on! We can watch Maisie for a few more hours, she’s asleep right now anyway.” Ellen assured them, smiling.

 

Not letting time for Claire to argue, Jamie grabbed her hand and dragged her to the front door.

 

“Thanks guys, see you later!” He screamed, making Jenny grind her teeth.

“Thank you!” Claire was barely able to say before he closed the door. “Damn, you really want those pancakes, don’t you?”

Laughing, he opened the passenger door of his car for her. “Yes, ever since we spoke about it last night.”

 

She got into the car and thanked him for his gallantry, then he closed her door and got into the car on the other side. They both put on their sunglasses and headed to the diner, country music filling the car. Jamie started singing Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire at the top of his lungs, and Claire couldn’t stop laughing.

 

“Stop mocking me.” He gently slapped her arm. “I love that song!” He kept going, not a care in the world.  

 

They eventually made it to the diner about ten minutes later and went inside. They were greeted by a young waitress who gave them a small booth for two, and they both ordered a fresh iced tea and the brunch who came with unlimited pancakes, much to Jamie’s delight.

They fell into a comfortable silence until their food arrived, still a little fazed from the night before. The girl came a few minutes later, deposing in front of them two plates of bacon, eggs, avocado toasts, and vegetables, and a third plate on which there was a mountain of pancakes. They dug in right away, Claire trying the pancakes first with some maple syrup.

 

“Oh god, it’s even better than what I’d imagined.” She made a satisfied noise that Jamie felt reverberate into his own body, making him shiver. What the hell is she doing to me – he thought, realizing she was affecting him in more ways than one, and often.

 

Her face broke into a beautiful smile, which he couldn’t help but return.

 

“I told you you’d love them!” He closed his eyes in pleasure. “My god, I was so hungry. You’d think we didn’t have those pastas last night.”

Chuckling, she took a sip of her iced tea. “Honestly, I barely remember eating them. I was so tired.”

 

Now that she was feeling more grounded with some food in her stomach, she looked more closely at the diner. It was lovely, all pink and yellow, and the staff was friendly and looked happy to work there. Not to mention all the customers who seemed to be enjoying their food as much as Jamie and her were. Lauren had a great work environment then, which was always better.

 

“It’s a lovely place Jamie. Glad you took me there.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

“So… Sarah. Lovely girl.” She teased him, raising an eyebrow.

“Ugh, I’m sorry about last night. She was jealous because apparently, I was only paying attention to you.” He rolled his eyes and Claire blushed slightly, it was true he was paying her extra attention, but she had put that on the fact that she was new and didn’t know anyone, nothing more. “You really aren’t the problem, and I believe, or at least I hope; I’ve sorted it out with her anyway.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” She asked gently, not pressuring him.

“There’s nothing to talk about really. We met in high school, she was my girlfriend throughout senior year and at the time I believed I loved her. We broke up anyway because we went to different colleges, and both agreed it wouldn’t be easy to leave and maintain our relationship. We lost contact, and when we came back after graduating, Finn hadn’t lost touch with her and we all started hanging out. We dated again, I thought my feelings would eventually resurface but they didn’t, I believe she said I am emotionally unavailable. And above everything else, we really have different expectations of what we want in life, I wish to develop the family ranch and remain there, and she wants a big career in a big city. I want marriage and kids, and she doesn’t… So, to me it felt like this wasn’t going anywhere. We stayed together for a year and a half, and broke up many times in between, but at some point, I put my foot down. Because she’s a great girl, I promise you, and I didn’t want to keep her from meeting someone who would love her the way she deserves and wants the same things she does. But yesterday I realized that our little arrangement wasn’t working for her and that she couldn’t get completely over me if we kept going like this. So, we’ve agreed we’re done and will maintain a friendly relationship from now on.”

 

He blurted out the entire story before he could even realize it. He was surprised he hadn’t even hesitated to tell her, he usually bore his thoughts and stories to Jenny only, so to do it with someone else, someone he barely knew, was surprising. But again, he felt an ease with Claire that he had never felt with anyone before, especially in the way they were communicating. It was simple, without pretention, and he liked discussing with her.

 

“I think it’s good you’ve put an end to it if for you, there aren’t any feelings involved. Girls rarely know how to separate sex and feelings… And indeed, to find the right person she must not be hung up on you. So, it was a wise decision.” She smiled.

“Of course, I have feelings for her, but it’s more… Nostalgia, for what we used to have when we were younger, rather than what I feel for her now. I admire her, she is very smart and works her ass off. I adore her too, but yes, only as my friend. Honestly if I didn’t have any feelings for her, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep with her at all. I don’t know how some people do it with complete strangers.” He frowned, genuinely wondering what was the point.

“Yeah, you like to know the other person. I agree, I don’t think I’d be able to do it with anybody. But well, I was only with one guy in my life, and it was my husband, so what do I know.” She shrugged, eating a potato, and saw Jamie blush from what she had just said. She did her best not to laugh, finding it cute that just the mention of her only sexual partner could make him blush this way.

“Andrew is that way. Banging everything that moves, I never got it. Well, used to be that way, I hope it’s going to work out with Lauren, she seems lovely.”

“She is, we had a great time with her and Jenny last night. We exchanged numbers so we can organize something together.”

 

His face broke into a smile. “I didn’t realize you’d discussed hanging out together again. I’m glad.” She eyed him questioningly. “Jenny doesn’t have many girlfriends; so I think it’s great if you all get along.”

“I see. I had so much fun with your sister last night. She apologized for her behavior during the day and then offered to go yell at Finn for trying to kiss me, so I think we’re friends now.” She laughed.

 

Jamie stiffened when she mentioned Finn and she could see his muscles tensing under his shirt.

 

“Finn did what?” He asked, fuming.

“He tried to kiss me.” She shrugged; she had moved on about two minutes after talking about it with Jenny.

“I’m sorry Claire. I’ll have a little chat with him when I see him.” He was clearly mad his friend had acted this way.

 

Putting her hand on his, she squeezed it and smiled at him.

 

“Jamie, it’s alright. I pushed him away and that was it. Nothing happened, you don’t have to talk about anything. Don’t go arguing with your friends over me, especially about that. We were both drunk and he was really nice to me. I’m the one who led him on to be honest, and I shouldn’t have.”

 

He nodded and squeezed her hand back. He was bothered by it but didn’t try to over analyze why. But then he started thinking about what Sarah had told him yesterday. So, was he mad at Finn because he didn’t want him to take advantage of Claire? Or was he mad because he didn’t want Claire to be kissing his friends, or any man for that matter? The thought left him uneasy, and he tried to shut down his brain. Not ready to go into deep thinking about what he felt for Claire ever since she had appeared in his life.

 

“So, you come from Fort Briggs, huh? How long did you live there?” He asked, trying to do small talk instead.

“I moved there when I was 18. I went to college there as well, as you know I was studying to be a nurse.”

“Yes, my dad told me. How come you didn’t graduate?”  

“I got pregnant with Maisie, I had to drop out. I stayed for as long as I could but once she was there, I couldn’t keep studying.” She explained, the sadness visible in her eyes.

“Your husband couldn’t take care of her?”

“Frank, that was his name. He… He died before I even knew I was expecting.”

“Oh Claire.” He reached for her hand again, this time holding it firmly in his. “I’m such an idiot. I apologize, I shouldn’t have mentioned him.” He sighed, feeling guilty.

“It’s alright, it’s been almost two years now. At some point I have to be able to speak about him without falling apart. And I like talking to you, so in time I hope I’ll manage to discuss him this way without feeling sad or awkward or anything, really.” She meant it, it felt natural to speak with Jamie, and this subject which was usually so hard for her to open up about, felt a little less difficult when it was with him. “So no, I had no one to help me. I’ve never been one to have many friends, and as you’ve understood, I don’t have any family. I couldn’t turn to anyone for help, so I did what I had to do to take care of my daughter, even if it meant to never be able to do the job I dreamed of doing one day.” She explained to him.

“I think you’re amazing.” He told her. He had been thinking it a lot, more and more every time she had revealed a bit of herself and the predicaments that she had found herself in. But it was the first time he was telling her, and she blushed furiously.

 

She pinched the bridge of her nose, and shook her head no.

 

“I think you’re still drunk.” She chuckled, trying to mask her embarrassment.

“I’m not. The more I get to know you, and the more you impress me, Claire. I am sure in time, if you truly want to, you will finish your studies and become what you are meant to be. Mark my words.” He told her, and he was convinced of it.

“Thank you, Jamie.” A small smile appeared on her lips.

 

She felt her heart do back flips at his praises. No one had ever told her something like this before, not even Frank.

Chapter Text

Three weeks had passed since Claire had arrived at the ranch. The second week had gone by quickly, they had tended to the horses, prepared the cabins for the upcoming workers, and kept their horse-riding lessons in the afternoon. Jamie thought Claire was doing good, so they had gone on another trail ride, a longer one this time, while Maisie had stayed with Ellen. Claire had done great, and Jamie considered she was more than ready and didn’t need any more lessons from him. At night, they had kept on watching their show together, their friendship blossoming every day.

Claire had also helped Ellen with the garden. Ellen had shown her what vegetables and fruits was where, how to nurture them and when it was the right time to take and eat them. She really enjoyed her time with Ellen, when they were together, they mostly spoke about their experiences as mothers and Ellen had plenty of advice to offer that Claire would probably cherish for the rest of her life.

 

The third week, workers had all started to arrive gradually, and by Friday, all the cabins were filled. It was now Friday, and the Frasers had organized a small party at the lake tonight to celebrate the staff being complete. It was also today that Claire’s best friend, Gillian, was arriving to spend the weekend with her and Maisie. She was thrilled to see her friend after months apart, and Brian and Ellen being the best, had offered to babysit again on Saturday night so she could go out with her friend.

 

Around 6 PM, there was a loud knock on the door of the cabin, which Jamie heard from his house.  Peering through the window, he saw a tall ginger woman standing on Claire’s porch.

 

“Shit, I don’t have any battery left.” Gillian said, looking down at her phone.

Coming out of his house, Jamie walked toward her. “Hi! If you’re looking for Claire she’s not there. She went to the stables to see the horses with Maisie.” He explained. “You must be Gillian, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Oh, I see.” She extended her hand, which he shook. “Nice to meet you too. Who are you, exactly?” She was confused, he seemed to know her, but she had no idea who he was. Is that Claire’s neighbor? He looks mighty fine!

“Oh sorry, I’m James Fraser. I work with Claire. Welcome to the ranch.” He smiled.

“I see. Fraser as in Fraser Family Ranch?”

“That would be correct.” He winked. “If you want, I can take you to the stables? It’s not far, I can let you in first so you can leave your luggage.”

“That would be perfect, thank you James.”

 

Gillian dropped her suitcase inside Claire’s cabin, and then they walked to the stables.

 

“So how did you come to know Claire?” He asked, curious.

“We were in nursing school together. Been friends ever since! I’ve been living in Cambodia for the past six months though, so we haven’t seen each other in a while. I’m so excited to spend the weekend with her and Maisie!” She explained to him.

“Wow, Cambodia. That must be amazing. I’d love to visit Asia someday.”

 

It’s true he was attached to his roots and had no intention of leaving the ranch but travelling the world would be nice. He just didn’t want to do it alone.

They arrived at the stables, Claire was holding Maisie next to Buddy, and she was caressing his head with her tiny hands.

 

“Oh my god C! Hi!” Gillian ran to them and engulfed them in the biggest hug.

“Gil!” Claire exclaimed, surprised to see her friend here already. “Hi!” She hugged her with one arm, the other still holding Maisie. “It’s so good to see you. Let me look at you.”

 

They broke their embrace and Claire glared at her friend, smiling from ear to ear.

 

“You look amazing, as always.”

“Look who’s talking.” She rolled her eyes. “Oh god Maise, you’re so big! The last time I saw you, you were a teeny tiny thing. Come give a hug to your godmomma?” She pleaded with a pout.

 

Claire handed her Maisie, who didn’t shriek away but wasn’t enjoying being in the arms of a total stranger either. Although once she took notice of Gillian’s long red hair, she stopped fussing and played with it.

Claire noticed Jamie in the background, smiling from the lovely reunion scene he had just witnessed. He approached the three ladies quietly.

 

“Hey, how are you?” Claire asked, she had seen him in the morning.

“Oh yes, thanks for taking me, James!” Gillian turned to him, having forgotten he was there.

“I’m good, thank you. And please call me Jamie, James is so formal.” He said.  

 

Gillian nodded and kissed Maisie’s head loudly. The little girl had lost interest in her hair though and having spotted Jamie, extended her arms to him while making bubbly sounds. Jamie scooped her up in his arms and kissed her cheek.

 

“Hi Maise. How are our horses today? Did you give them big hugs?” He asked, not paying attention to the two women staring at him.

“What the hell?” Gillian muttured, turning to Claire. She felt robbed of her moment with Maisie.

“What can I say. She’s been in love with him ever since we arrived.” She shrugged, laughing.

 

Gillian made big knowing eyes at her, and Claire rolled her own in annoyance. Jamie brought Maisie to Buddy again, and she put her arms around his head for a big hug.

 

“Yes, I think he needed that too. You’re very kind to him.” Jamie told her. She was so small in comparison, but she loved the horses.

 

When she detached herself from the horse, Jamie gave a carrot to Buddy then turned back to Claire and Gillian.

 

“If you want some adult time over the weekend let me know, I can keep her with me for a while if you want?” He asked them with a smile.

“Oh well that would be great actually. I’d love to go to Nashville, but I don’t want to put her through the two hours of driving back and forth. Are you sure you’d be ok watching her?”

“Are you kidding? We’re best buds already. Aren’t we?” He brushed his nose against Maisie in an eskimo hug that made her giggle, and she threw her arms around him, her mouth wide open, eating his cheek. He burst out laughing “What are you doing you little crazy monster?” He tickled her and she stopped, interrupted by her laugh.

 

Claire’s heart fluttered, as it always did when she saw these two share moments like this one. If there was one person she knew Maisie would be fine staying with, it was Jamie.

 

“Alright then, I think we’ll leave in the morning and be back in the afternoon so we can play with her for a while. Then she’s sleeping over at your parents. You’re still coming tomorrow night, right?” She asked.

“What are we doing tomorrow night?” Gillian asked, intrigued.

“We’re going to a bar with some people, essentially Jamie’s friends and family.” She laughed.

“Yes, of course I’m coming. Wouldn’t want to miss another occasion to sing duets with you.” He wiggled his eyebrows, making them both laugh.

“I’m excited to see that!” Gillian said.

 

He handed Maisie back to Claire after giving her a kiss.

 

“Well, ladies, I shall see you later at the party.” He turned around and exited the stables, going back to his home.

“Oh my god. You failed to mention the really hot guy living in the house next door!” Gillian exclaimed once he was out of earshot.

“He is really hot. Isn’t he?” Claire sighed, letting her friend in on her thoughts.

“Claire. Do you like him?”

“I like spending time with him and he’s obviously very attractive. But I don’t feel ready for a relationship yet, and he’s my employer so there’s that too. You know I wouldn’t jeopardize my position here, it’s too good to be taken away.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. Well maybe not a relationship, but a little fling could be good, no?” Gillian raised an eyebrow.

“Maybe. I’m starting to feel more open to the idea at least. But not with him though. Jamie is my friend and that’s how I want it to stay.”

 

Gillian nodded, and they walked back to Claire’s cabin together.

 

“How about you? Did you meet anyone special during your trip?” Claire asked, intrigued.

“Oh, you know me, a fling here and there, nothing serious. My job requires me to travel for long periods of time so I don’t see how I could fit a relationship into that. But I’m good for now, not looking to settle down.” She winked at Claire. “Maisie is so beautiful C. She’s grown up so much.”

“I know, she’s so big. And so smart, like her dad.” She smiled sadly and Gillian put her arm around her shoulder.

“He will always live in her, that’s for sure. You seem good Claire, better than ever, in fact.” Gillian pointed out.

“I feel great, Gill. Like I can breathe again, like I can actually go on with my life and things will eventually work out. I don’t know why, I think it’s this place, and Jamie and Brian and Ellen, his parents. Everything is so peaceful, and everyone is so nice. It’s a good change of pace from Fort Briggs, where everyone was just looking at me with sad eyes all the time, and I saw Frank everywhere I went. Here, it’s a clean slate.”

“If you’re happy again, it’s all I wish for you hun. I’m glad you came here.”

“So am I.”

 


 

Jamie was sipping a beer with his dad when Claire arrived with her friend at the lake. The sun was setting and lighting up the sky in the most wonderful colors, and Claire stepped into the last rays of the sun, her hair shining dark and auburn colors, and her eyes becoming almost translucid. She was breathtaking, in a long flower dress that reached her ankles and a pair of sandals. Maisie strapped around her chest in the baby carrier. She was beaming, and he didn’t miss a second of it.

 

“Close your mouth son, you’re going to catch flies.” Brian laughed, clasping his hand on Jamie’s shoulder.

Jamie looked at his dad, feeling like a fool for being so obvious.

“Oh boy, Jamie you’re in so much trouble.” He laughed again, he squeezed his shoulder and left him to go greet Claire and Gillian.

 

A few minutes later, Brian placed himself in the middle of the crowd and called everyone’s attention. Ellen and Jamie joined him.

 

“Everyone, as you all know, we are the Frasers. We are glad that you’re all here to be working with us this summer season. We’ve been running this camp for 20 years now, and every year that passes fills us with more beautiful memories, and great encounters in the people that come work at the ranch. While you are here, you are a member of our family. Please remember that. What we ask in return, is that you respect our ranch, your co-workers, and the children you’ll be working with. Now, what we like to do is to have everyone give a quick introduction of themselves. You probably won’t remember everyone’s names in one go, that’s ok, just keep asking until it sticks. So, I’ll let my son start the introductions, and welcome everybody!”

 

Everyone applauded Brian, and Jamie stepped forward.

 

“Hi everybody! I think you all know me by now but I’m Jamie, I’m the referent for all the people overseeing the kids. I’ll be overseeing them with you throughout the entire season, but I also have other duties on the ranch as I live here. By the way, for everyone working with me as I have your attention, we will all be meeting in the cafeteria on Monday at 10.” He said, smiling to all the new and old faces he saw.

 

Once he had started, everyone followed. In their team overseeing the kids, there were 8 men and 6 women. All between the age of 18 and 26. Claire had been introduced to everybody, and they all had spent the evening speaking and getting to know each other better. Gillian and Claire left a little before midnight knowing Maisie wouldn’t let them sleep the next morning, after telling Jamie they would drop her off at 10.

 

The next day, Jamie welcomed Maisie with open arms and a big kiss. He promised Claire to feed her well, put her down right after for a nap, and told her he would probably take her to see the horses for a while.

Claire left, her heart hurting a little as her daughter hadn’t even looked back when she had left her with Jamie.

 

Once in Nashville, Gillian and Claire visited some famous places like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum. They strolled around the city, Gillian offering a lovely dress to her friend as she knew she always spending her money on her daughter, and never on herself. They finally sat down for lunch in the sun around 2 in the afternoon, spent from all their walking. They were finally in the right setting to discuss, and Claire finally filled her in on everything that had happened ever since she had arrived at the ranch. Gillian laughed and gasped and laughed some more. Finally, her friend was living her life again. Things were happening, and she was enjoying herself. It reassured Gillian to know that she was finally in a good place, it made it easier for her to leave again without worrying Claire wasn’t strong enough to hold it together. Getting away from Fort Briggs had been the best decision she could have made.

 

“So you had fail to mention that you spend basically every moment of every day with Jamie ever since you arrived.” She pointed out.

“Well, yeah, we spend a lot of time together. As I told you, he’s a great friend. I feel at ease with him, I don’t have to pretend or think about what I say. It’s just nice to hang out with him. And he makes me laugh.” She explained, and Gillian couldn’t help but point out the obvious to her.

“You know that if you throw in sex in the mix, that’s what most people commonly refer to as a relationship, right?”

“Isn’t friendship the platonic version of a romantic relationship? Hence, without the sex?” She raised her eyebrows in defiance.

“Yes, it is. But friendship is when the two people don’t feel anything for each other. And you’re all hot and pining for him.” She laughed.

“I’m not pining!” She protested.

“But you are hot for him.” She had to hold her stomach, laughing even harder as she had gotten Claire into her trap. She loved to tease her friend.

“Moving on. Nothing is going to happen, Gillian.” Claire said sternly, folding her napkin onto her lap.

 

Calming down, Gillian went back to eating.

 

“Do you know what you’ll do, once your contract is up?” Gillian asked, changing the subject.

“I don’t know. I’m going to keep applying to nursing jobs, but I’m pretty sure no one will take me with no diploma and little experience… I’ve already started looking for anything in which I can have some useful skills, although it’s a bit soon for applications for the month of October. Hopefully I can find something not too far away, I like Tennessee.” She admitted.

“Yes, and you’ve made friends here.” She pointed out again, and her friend’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s ok to get attached to people, Claire, you know it is.” Gillian took her hand in hers, Claire squeezed back, hard.

“I try not to voice it too much.” She admitted, her bottom lip trembling.

“Ah come here.” Gillian got up and went around the table to take Claire into her arms. “You have to stop thinking you are cursed, alright? I’m here. I’m alive and well. Maisie is here, alive, and well. You are a good person Claire, and we love you. And it’s obvious the Frasers adore you, too.” She rubbed Claire’s back, soothing her while she was crying.

 

Claire nodded, unable to reply with the lump that had appeared in her throat. Once she felt better, Gillian sat back in her chair. They ate their lunch while discussing happier subjects, and when they were finished, got back on the road to the ranch.

 

It was around 4 when Claire knocked on Jamie’s door. He opened it with a smile, letting Gillian and Claire inside. He had moved his coffee table so he and Maisie could play on his big comfy carpet.

 

“Mama!” Maisie exclaimed, grinning at her mom.

“Hi baby!” Claire lied down on the carpet with her. “How was your day with Jamie?” She kissed her cheek and gazed at her adoringly.

“We had a great day. She gave hugs to pretty much all the horses on the ranch. Ate all her vegetables and meat, and the chocolate cookie too.” He laughed at that. “And she took a massive nap of almost two hours. She woke up about an hour ago.”

 

Claire put all the toys in the bag she had brought with her, got up and scooped Maisie up in her arms. Turning towards Jamie, her face broke into a smile.

 

“Thanks for taking such good care of her, Jamie. I owe you one.” She kissed his cheek and he smiled.

“You’re more than welcome. I love spending time with her, she’s good company.” He kissed Maisie’s nose and the three girls stepped out. “I’ll come get you around 8 ok?” He asked.

 

They nodded and left for Claire’s cabin, where they spent the remaining of the afternoon having some quality time with Maisie.  

Chapter Text

Because Claire was in Gillian’s company, her friend couldn’t resist to doll her up and push her to dress a little sexy to go out. She wanted Claire to have fun and meet some cute guys but didn’t realize the giant responsibility that was Maisie and how finding someone was far from her mind. Her only goal was to provide for her child and ensure that they had a roof over their heads, the rest just wasn’t necessary right now.

“I don’t want you to get married again Claire. I just want you to feel desirable and understand that you are only 23 and hot and have things to look forward to. Being a mom is not everything you are.” She had said before starting to put make-up on her face.

When she was done, Claire had to admit that her friend had a talent to make her look good. She did feel sexy and ready to go out for some fun.

 

Jamie knocked on the door and Gillian went to open it while Claire was adjusting her dress. Coming out of the bathroom, Claire appeared in the living-room and Jamie’s jaw almost dropped to the floor when his eyes landed on her. That red dress was fitting her like a glove and emphasizing her beautiful curves. Claire caught his gaze and started blushing instantly, looking away.

 

“You look incredible Claire.” He blurted and Gillian grinned from behind him, winking at her.

“Hm thanks Jamie.” She felt self-conscious but at the same time loved that she indeed felt sexy and noticed, she never really had to do that before.

 

She grabbed her clutch, the baby bag and Maisie and they all headed out to drop Maisie with Brian and Ellen. They left soon after and went to the restaurant that was at crossroads between Victoria and Nashville.

 

“What is this place?” Gillian asked, they were outside the restaurant which appeared to be Chinese, waiting for Ian and Jenny.

“I don’t know, I guess Asian food? I’ve never been here before.” Jamie said. “Let’s go inside, they’re already here.” He added, looking at a text on his phone.

They entered the restaurant and were greeted by a terrible voice singing Celine Dion.

Claire burst out laughing and Jamie and Gillian followed.

“Well, you did say you wanted to sing another duet with me.” Claire raised an eyebrow at Jamie.

“I sure did. I’m going to need a lot of alcohol though. God, I thought we were going to a bar, not a karaoke restaurant.”

“I can’t wait to see this.” Gillian was laughing, impatient to see these two singing their hearts out on stage.

“Here they are!” Jamie spotted their table and the girls followed him.

 

Jenny, Ian, Lauren and Andrew were sitting at a big round table, Finn wasn't available tonight and Jamie had thought it would be best not to invite Sarah, so he hadn't invited Mary either.

“Really, Jenny?” Jamie said in feigned annoyance.

“You and Claire were having so much fun singing last time, I thought this would be more appropriate than a bar.” She chuckled. “Don’t worry though, whenever we’re though with this place, there’s a nightclub across the street.”

The three sat at the table and Gillian was introduced to everyone.

 

“There’s no way I’m singing on my own, Claire we are doing this together.” Jamie said later when Jenny told the table they had to go write down their names and song in the book near the stage.

They were already tipsy on their third drink; Gillian had volunteered to be the designated driver as she rarely drank anyway.

“Fine, fine. Come, let’s go find a song.” Claire smiled and they went to write down their names in the registry book, but first had to pick a song.

“Something catchy, not sad.” Jamie said.

“Yeah, I want to have fun, not cry.”

They flipped through the pages of the song choices, thankful they were already listed into solos or duets.

“The Time of My Life?” He asked.

“Ugh no. Empire State of Mind?”

“Do I look like I can rap?” He glared at her and she giggled.

“Ok not that. Telephone? Gaga and Beyonce is always a good choice.”

“I don’t know that one.” He sighed.

“I’m not even going to comment on this... God we’re going the be there all night.”

They laughed some more and then Claire pointed to another song on the list.

“Yes! This I can sing my heart out to!” Jamie sounded excited.

“Perfect. Me too!”

They wrote down their names and went back to the table grinning like children.

 

Conversations were flowing around the table; Gillian spent a good thirty minutes telling stories from Cambodia and everyone was drinking her words. Not one of them had traveled so far in the world and when she was finally finished, the whole table was ready to book a flight ticket to Phnom Penh.

Lauren, Andrew and Gillian had already gotten their turn to sing. Eventually it was Jenny and Ian’s turn on stage, and they gave a terrible performance of Shallows from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Jenny would make terrible noises when Gaga hit the highest and longest notes, and the entire table was crying from laughter. Jenny and Ian were having a lot of fun and it was showing, making their performance at least cute for the eyes but a nightmare for the ears.

“I’m glad you chose law as your path, sis. I know we were born and raised near Nashville, but you really are a terrible singer.” Jamie told her when she sat back down. She nudged him in the ribs, and he gasped, smirking.

“I’m glad you’re up next after that woman. I can’t wait to see what you’ve chosen to sing. Because my dear brother, you’re no singer either.”

A few minutes later, it was indeed Claire and Jamie’s turn to sing. Thankfully, they were pretty drunk and went happily on stage. They broke out into a funny rendition of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Jamie singing Marvin Gaye’s parts and Claire Tammi Terrell’s ones. They were having so much fun, either back-to-back or looking into each other’s eyes and the energy was palpable. No matter how drunk they were, their chemistry was undeniable and every one of their friends back at the table could see it. They came back to their seats almost out of breath, under a round of applause.

 

“Alright, it wasn’t so bad.” Jenny conceded and Jamie’s face broke into a grin. “Claire, you definitely up his game.”

“Thank you, thank you.” She giggled and took a sip of her drink.

 

“Claire, Lauren, we need to do this girls day we talked about last time. What would you say to a spa day?” Jenny said as if she’d just had a revelation. “I love these guys, but girl time sounds heavenly.”

“Oh my god yes! I’m in.” Lauren replied.

“I’d love to Jenny, but I can’t really afford something like that.” Claire sighed; she had never set foot in a spa in her entire life.

“I still owe you that massage I promised you when you gave birth, C. You’re going.” Gillian pitched in, heartbroken that her friend couldn’t treat herself to some deserved, alone pampering time.

 

Claire looked away, ashamed that this had come up. She just didn't want people to know that her financial situation was complicated, it had obviously killed the mood and no one knew what to say.

Jamie could sense her discomfort and wished she would lighten up, because there was nothing to be ashamed of. Therefore, he came to her rescue.

 

“Why don’t we go to the club guys? We’ve all sung and have had enough food for a week. I’m feeling like dancing. What do you say?”

“I say yes!” Andrew clasped his hands, already standing up.

“You just want to find a reason to rub yourself against Lauren in a public place, you filthy animal.” Ian pointed out, and everybody – Claire included – laughed, lightening the mood.

Lauren blushed so hard she wanted to disappear, and Andrew kissed her.

“Can you blame me? I mean look at her!” He took her in his arms, and she hid her face in the crook of his neck.

“Andy shut up.” She mumbled and everyone smiled, Andrew obviously had it really bad for her, and Ian and Jamie were stunned to see their friend be so smitten. He was normally looking at everything that moved, but here with Lauren, he only had eyes for her.

 

They headed out of the restaurant, Claire and Jamie were at the back of the group.

“Thank you, Jamie.” She said in a low voice so the others wouldn’t hear.

“For what?” He winked at her and she smiled.

She had never met a man so kind. Every time she was uncomfortable, he was there to rescue her. Not that she needed anyone’s help, she was a big girl, she was fierce and independent. But she had to admit that ever since she had moved to the ranch, Jamie had been very supportive, and it was a relief to know someone had your back. She just couldn’t understand why. Why was he so sweet and helpful?

Maybe he likes you. – Her subconscious whispered. No way. Shut up. – Her reason replied.

Shaking her head to get rid of the inner conversation she was having with herself, she entered the club, arms laced with Gillian’s.

They were hit with the humidity of all those bodies dancing close to each other in a confined space and it’s like Claire’s drunken state was multiplied by ten.

 

“I love that song!” She yelled above the music, pulling Gillian toward the dancefloor.

She closed her eyes and started moving her hips to the beat of Nelly Furtado’s song Promiscuous Girl.

All the girls and Andrew joined her, and Ian and Jamie went to the bar to order some more drinks. Jamie was staring at Claire; he was just as drunk as she was, and his reason had left him. He let himself look at her openly and couldn’t help thinking how sexy she was and how much he wanted to go dance with her and feel her hips move against his.

Ian who was designated driver for Jenny, Andrew and Lauren, wasn’t in the least drunk and noticed his friend’s lustful gaze.

“Is it me, or are you totally falling for Claire?” He asked, as serious as ever.

“What are you talking about?” He replied, tearing his eyes away from her to look at Ian.

“Well, I’m not blind you know. The way you two act around each other and speak to each other. The way you always try to make her comfortable like a few minutes ago at the restaurant. Not to mention that weird electricity or chemistry or whatever you want to call it, between you two. We can all see it, Jamie.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ian. I haven’t analyzed things. I like spending time with her, she’s nice and funny and I think she needs a friend which I’m happy to be, but that’s it. I think.”

“Maybe it’s time you start thinking about it then. I have never seen you like this with anyone Jamie. Not even with Annalise.”

It was like his buzz disappeared instantly at the mention of this name. Jamie didn’t reply, not knowing what to say.

“You’ve been so guarded ever since… Which I understand. But with Sarah, it was mechanical. And when I look at you and Claire, it seems effortless, is all I’m saying.” He paid for his drinks and joined the group on the dancefloor, leaving Jamie with his thoughts.

 

It was effortless with Claire. He wasn’t looking for something to happen with her, he just enjoyed their time together without overthinking anything. But his dad had said something yesterday, Sarah had said something too. And now Ian. Was he falling for her? She was funny, kindhearted, and breathtakingly beautiful. And his heart did leap quite a lot when she entered the room… Maybe he was a bit infatuated. But she was 23, a widow, a mother, and his employee. So, whether he liked her or not, he couldn’t just ask her on a date and see where things went.

By the time he collected himself and finally agreed that it wasn’t the time or place to think about what Claire meant to him, things had escalated quickly on the dancefloor.

Andrew and Lauren were making out, Jenny and Ian had disappeared somewhere, Gillian was dancing with some guy and Claire… Claire was also dancing with a guy, who was openly touching her ass and kissing her neck, and she was giggling. What the fuck? Was his only thought at the sight. The pang of jealousy he felt at seeing her with a man took him by surprise. At least that was settled, he did feel something for her other than friendship.

The song changed to another, he didn’t know it but the music was sensual and the man turned Claire around, her back against his chest, her eyes still closed, and they started moving together.

Grinding his teeth, it took Jamie all his goodwill not to go over there and rip her away from him. He was sipping on his drink, his buzz coming back in full force. As much as he hated watching her with someone, she was achingly sexy and he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

To his delight, the song ended and she broke their embrace, leaving him planted there as if nothing had happened. Jamie chuckled at the poor guy’s confused face. Claire beamed at Jamie when she spotted him, and she joined him at the bar.

 

“Hey there.” He said with a crooked smile that made her weak in the knees.

“Hey. It's so hot in here, I need a drink.” She told him, pushing her way through a few people so that the bartender could see her.

She had her back to him, he could see the tiny drops of sweat in her neck and god he wanted to lick them away.

“Do you want another drink?” She yelled and he shook his head no, shocked at his own thoughts.

Claire ordered a gin and tonic and once she had it, grabbed Jamie’s hand and pulled him toward the dancefloor.

“Come on bad boy, let’s go dance!” She grinned at him and he couldn’t help but smile in return.

It was an upbeat song by Pitbull and they started jumping and laughing, dancing stupidly. They were having fun together.

 

On one side of the dancefloor, Jenny and Ian were taking a break from dancing. They were looking at Claire and Jamie, who had been dancing together for the last thirty minutes.

“How long is it going to take them, do you think?” Jenny asked Ian.

“To realize what there is between them? Or to bone?” Ian replied and Jenny rolled her eyes.

“Let’s not talk about my brother boning, if you don’t mind.” She made a disgusted face that made Ian laugh. “To realize they’re in love, silly.”  

“You think Jamie is in love?”

“Look at them. It’s like they’ve forgotten the world around them. They’re clearly falling for each other. Claire’s best friend is here just for the weekend, and she isn’t even paying attention to her.” She said, chuckling.

“True… We’ll see. I just hope they do realize it. I may or may not have said something about it to Jamie not an hour ago.”

“Ha! So it’s not just me who’s noticed! I like Claire. She’s not what I would have imagined for Jamie, but she’s good for him.” Jenny was smiling, envisioning them together in her mind.

“So do I. After what happened with Annalise, he deserves someone who will love him as much as he does.” He sighed, remembering Jamie’s state a few years ago.

“Yes. And Sarah definitely wasn’t it.” She said with a bitter tone, she just didn’t like Sarah, even when they were teenagers.

“It’s not her who doesn’t love him, he doesn’t love her.” He laughed at his wife’s reaction when Sarah was concerned.

“I know. Well good, cause I don’t love her.”

“Alright cupid, shall we go and dance now?” He stood up and handed his hand to her in invitation, which she gladly took.

 


 

They had gone home so late that the sun was almost out when they had hit their beds. Jamie and Claire had kept dancing together all night long and were joined again by the rest of the group. They had spent another great night together and Gillian was so happy to know that Claire had made friends here. She felt better knowing that she could go on the other side of the planet and that her best friend would have a support system and be looked after by lovely people who genuinely seemed to like and care for her.

She forced herself to wake up around 11 AM, even though she was tired to the bone. She wanted some special time with her godchild before going back to Fort Briggs, thus she left Claire sleeping quietly and went to get Maisie from Ellen and Brian once she had showered and taken some breakfast. On her way back to Claire’s cabin, she spotted Jamie on his porch, drinking coffee. Good. She needed to have a serious conversation with him before she left.

 

“Hey Jamie! How’s the head?” She smiled at him from below, Maisie attached to her hip.

“Hi Gillian. It’s weirdly fine, thank you. And thanks for driving us back last night.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” He asked, showing her his fresh pot.

“That would be lovely, thanks.”

She climbed the few stairs leading to his porch and came to sit next to him. Maisie immediately reached for him, and Gillian handed her over. He kissed Maisie’s cheek and smiled at her, earning a drooling grin.

“I hope you’ve enjoyed your time with Claire.” He told her while serving her a cup of coffee.

“I did. I’m sad I have to leave already, but I have a lot of things to do before I take off for India.”

“I understand. I can see it was really good for her to have you here, she seemed very happy.”

“Hmm.” She nodded. “Look Jamie, please don’t take this the wrong way but I have to say it for Claire’s sake, otherwise I wouldn’t be a good best friend.” She took a sip of her coffee and a deep breath. “It’s obvious that you like her, and I can tell you’re a good guy. I’m glad she has you around, as well as Maisie. But whatever happens between you and Claire, please be gentle with her. Don’t hurt her, she has been through so much already. Don’t initiate something with her if you’re not a hundred percent sure it is what you want. Claire needs to be loved and cared for; I know she does. But what she needs above all is stability, if she lost that kind of bond once more, I’m not sure she would be able to survive it again. And she has to, because she has a human being depending on her. Claire and Maise are a packaged deal, and you must be sure you’re ready to take on that responsibility before anything happens.”

Not expecting this conversation at all, Jamie was at a loss for words. Caressing Maisie’s hair, he nodded absently, reflecting on everything that Gillian had just told him. If there was one thing he knew he never wanted to do, it was causing Claire any pain.

“Understood.” He whispered.

“That being said. I think you’re great for her.” She added with a smile, and Jamie did his best to contain his grin into a small smile.

They fell into silence, drinking their coffee. Jamie was holding Maisie tight against him, thinking about her mother. Once their coffees were finished, Gillian thanked him and took Maisie back to Claire’s cabin.

 

The day flew by, Claire, Gillian and Maisie had tried to make the best out of their day although Claire had a massive hangover. Gillian had told her how much she had fun the night before, even though Claire had completly ignored her for Jamie's beautiful eyes, which made Claire blush. She was happy that her friend had losen up, danced with some guys and hadn't thought twice about it. And Claire thanked her for pushing her to be a bit more open than she usually was.

Around 5 PM, it was finally time for Gillian to leave for the airport. She hugged Maisie and Claire one last time in front of her rental car, her eyes and Claire’s were filled with tears.

“I’m going to miss you so much Gill. Thank you for coming, I know you basically got out of a plane and went back on another one to come see us, it means a lot to me.

"Anything for you and Maise, Claire. And I'm so glad I got to spend some time with you two."

"Wherever we are when you come back from India, you have to come visit us ok?”

“Of course I will. And we’re going to keep facetiming while I’m away, I want to know everything that happens with you.”

“Me too. I want to know everything you do in India!”

“I’m glad you’re living here for the time being, I know I’m leaving you and Maise in good hands with the Frasers, they’re great.” She smiled.

“Yes they are. We’ll be fine, I promise. Bye Gill.”

“Bye C, bye Maise.”

Gillian got into the car and turned on the engine. She lowered the window for one last word.

“And don’t forget to let me know when something happens with James.” She winked at her and drove away, hearing Claire yell “Shut up!” from behind.

Chapter Text

The weekend had ended so quickly that Claire didn’t have time to really reflect on what had happened until Gillian was gone, and Maisie asleep in her bed. She had been so drunk on Saturday night, had ended up dancing with some random guy who had touched her as if he knew her. But he didn’t. She had never done something of the sort before, and guilt was creeping up her heart. She had done nothing really, he had just touched her and kissed her neck, but it was intimate, and it had turned her on. Her biggest concern though was how Jamie’s eyes on her this entire time had really been what drove her to allow this man to continue what he was doing. She could see lust and need and jealousy all at the same time in his eyes, and she had only been waiting for him to come and take her away. But he hadn’t, the song had ended, and the moment was gone. A good thing too, because they were both drunk and she wasn’t sure how she felt about all of this now that her mind was clear. She couldn’t deny her attraction to him, it was powerful, but also inappropriate. She appreciated Jamie, in just a few weeks he had become a great friend, and that’s what she needed most. Not some complicated relationship that would probably go nowhere, make her feel guilty toward her husband, and may jeopardize her position at the ranch if something went wrong.

 

On Monday morning, a big meeting was held in the cafeteria of the ranch with all the workers. As they had all gotten acquainted on Friday night, the atmosphere was very nice and relaxed, and Brian and Jamie were able to get down to business quickly. On Monday, they had worked out everybody’s schedule for each week of the next two months to define their days and nights off. On Tuesday and Wednesday, every activity of every day had been written down and carefully planned out, with always a backup plan in case of rain. Once everything was defined, they were able on Thursday to attribute two people to each activity, which was quite the task as they had to navigate everybody’s own schedule. As this was the first week of work and that they had been very effective in all the planning, Brian gave them their Friday off, and it was agreed that they would meet on Monday to work out the children’s cabin attribution, which was going to be a tricky thing to plan out too as they were always coming and going at different times.

 

Jamie was glad he didn’t have to deal with any planning tomorrow, this week’s work had given him a terrible headache and he was happy to finish his week on a Thursday. Of course, he would have his usual chores to get done tomorrow but dealing with horses was always easier to him than dealing with employees. He shook his head, annoyed at himself for thinking this way. If he wanted to grow the business, it would mean more and more managerial tasks as he would have to hire people.

He was currently relaxing with a glass of wine on his porch, the night had set with a light breeze and all you could hear were the laughter of some of the workers who were apparently enjoying the evening together in one of the cabins, and the sound of crickets around. He let out a sigh of contentment and closed his eyes, it was his happy place.

He was disrupted by the sound of a door opening and closing, and he looked on his right, Claire was coming out on her porch too with a book in hand.

 

“Hey Jamie. You alright?” She asked with a smile.

“Yeah, you?”

“I’m good.” She nodded.

“Do you want some?” He asked, showing her his glass of wine.

Her face broke into a smile. “That would be lovely. Just give me a minute.”

 

She went back inside, then came out a few seconds later and headed toward his porch, holding a baby monitor.

He invited her to sit down in the comfortable armchair next to him and served her a glass of wine. They clinked their glasses and drank silently.

 

“So, what are you up to this weekend?” She finally asked, trying to make conversation.

“I’m headed to Knoxville on Saturday; I’m attending a wedding. An old college friend.” He explained under her curious eyes.

“That sounds exciting.”

“Hmm.” He mumbled, lips in a tight line.

“Wow, it sounds like you’re going to a funeral.” She chuckled and he gave him a small smile.

“Let’s just say I don’t have a great track record with weddings.” He sighed and she looked at him, wondering what he meant by this.

“Oh?”

Her curiosity was picked, and he could feel it. He took a sip of wine, wondering if he should explain his story to her. She had trouble opening up, and he thought maybe if he did it first, she would feel more at ease to do so too.

“I’ve had a rather… difficult experience in the past. In terms of romantic relationship.” He started.

“Your sister has mentioned something about it. You don’t have to explain anything to me Jamie.” She told him, taking his hand.

He could read compassion in her eyes already. If there was anyone whom he knew would be understanding and ache for him and what he had been through, he knew it would be Claire. She just had empathy and a kind heart.

“I know Claire, but I want to, if you don’t mind listening.”

“Of course.”

He squeezed her hand back. Claire was touched that he trusted her enough to tell her about something that had obviously hurt him in the past.

“My first year of college, I made friends very quickly, as you do when you arrive on a campus where no one knows anyone. We had a great little group, with people from my classes and my dorms. Annalise was in that group; we met the first weekend and hit it off right away. She was French and had decided to study abroad, said she had always wanted to live in America and wanted to make her life there. We started dating maybe a few weeks after our classes started? I was head over heels for her, and so was she for me. In our second year, we moved in together off campus. It may have seemed quick, but we were in love and at the time, it felt right. Everything was good, we had our little routine. My family loved her; my friends back home loved her… We were happy and we rarely fought, honestly I knew I had found the right person for me. She loved the ranch and when we evoked it, she said she would love to settle there and have a family one day. That’s all I’d ever dreamed of, someone that would share my dream. So, in my fifth year, I was in the middle of my MBA, I got down on one knee and I proposed. It seemed logical, we were almost done with our studies, and we were going to start our careers. I wanted to take this next step with her. She said yes and I was so happy Claire. We had a little dinner party with all our friends and family here, and a few weeks later she told me that she was pregnant. Obviously I freaked out a little, it’s not that I didn’t want children but I had hoped that we would wait to be financially stable before welcoming a child. However, I was thrilled, and I told her that it would all work out.” He sighed and then chuckled, shaking his head no. “God, I was so stupid. How couldn’t I see it?”

Claire frowned, extremely surprised at this perfect tale. He obviously didn’t have a child, and her heart ached for him before she even knew what had happened.

“We had started planning our wedding, I wanted to do it soon enough so she could enjoy it before being uncomfortable with pregnancy. I was so damn happy Claire!” He put his face in his hands, it was harder than he thought it would be. It had been four years and the wound hadn’t closed entirely. “On Fridays I usually had classes until evening, so we would meet at the bar on campus directly instead of home. But that day, my teacher was home sick, and I wasn’t feeling so good myself, so I headed to our apartment without telling Annalise. I didn’t want to bother her while she was in class.”

Claire grabbed Jamie’s hand, holding it tight. She had a feeling she knew where this was going, and she didn’t like it one bit.

“I arrived home and thought it was odd because the door was unlocked. I came inside, frightened that maybe someone had broken in, but then I heard laughter coming from our bedroom. Stupid as I was I called out for her, thinking that maybe she was sick too and watching a movie in bed. But no. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t watching a movie. She was there having sex with Jack… who happened to be my best friend. They were sleeping together in my own fucking bed Claire.” He said that last sentence with such despair that Claire shuddered.

“Oh Jamie… I’m so sorry.” She whispered, squeezing his hand once more.

“You should have seen them, they looked so guilty. And I was devastated, I didn’t know what to do. I just took off, running for a few miles, and then I decided to go home. I had to face them eventually and the sooner the better. I was already making excuses for her in my head. Maybe he had coerced her? Maybe they were so very drunk they didn’t really realize what was happening?” He laughed sadly. “As you’ve already guessed, I was wrong. He was gone when I returned, and Annalise was in tears. A part of me just wanted to comfort her, but at the same time I was so angry, I felt betrayed.”

“As you should be in that kind of situation.” Claire had a stern look; she was so mad that someone had done such a thing this to this wonderful man. No one deserved to go through that.

“She told me it had been going on for months Claire. Even before we had gotten engaged. And then… then she admitted that the baby was his.” She could see the tears in his eyes, threatening to fall. “It’s like my heart sank. My entire life was a dream, and then she had pulled the rug out from under me and left me on my ass. Then she proceeded to tell me that maybe this hadn’t happened completely by chance, that she had been trying to tell me the truth for weeks but couldn’t find it in her heart to hurt me. As if finding out all of this by seeing them banging together was a walk in the park… I threw her out. I packed all her stuffs and asked some friends to come get her things. And then I drank myself to oblivion for weeks on end. I almost didn’t get my MBA… Thank god, Jenny and Ian are as stubborn as they come and they started coming to visit me every week to make sure I was studying and living healthily. I did my best not to cross Jack nor Annalise on campus for the remaining of the year, and as soon as I graduated, I gave back my apartment and ran home to the ranch and away from them…”

“I don’t know what to say Jamie. I’m just so sorry.” She put down her glass of wine and bended toward him to hug him. He immediately relaxed in her arms, her closeness making this terrible hardship he’d been through, a little more bearable.

She sat back on her seat, and he gave her a small, sad smile.

“My parents never knew about the pregnancy; we were waiting at the time to announce the good news. Then all of this happened… And I made Jenny and Ian promise that they wouldn’t tell them. That’s why my mom keeps hassling me with me having kids. I think if she knew, she wouldn’t dare…”

“Why wouldn’t you tell them?”

“They loved Annalise. The cheating was already hard to swallow, and I know how hard it was for them to see me so broken when I came home. I didn’t want to add to that. And if I’m being honest… I was ashamed.” He turned his eyes to the landscape in front of them, feeling this same shame creep up inside of him.

“There’s nothing for you to be ashamed of Jamie. They’re the ones who should be ashamed. No one can blame you for being happy and wanting the best in your life. How could you have known?”

“There were signs. Afterwards I just kept replaying every moment, every discussion I had with her. And it hit me how evasive she was, how I never knew where she went most of the time. How fucking stupid I was.”

“Jamie, you loved her. You trusted her. She was a terrible person for using your love and trust to deceive you. But you have nothing to blame yourself for, you’re a good guy.” She said, taking his hand once more. “What a bitch.” She murmured to herself, but Jamie heard and chuckled.

“Thank you, Claire.”

“Is that why… you aren’t in a relationship now?” She felt weird asking, but her curiosity was too much to keep the question inside.

“I guess. When I got back together with Sarah, I was so broken inside. I had loved her, but honestly not the way I had loved Annalise, and everything just felt… fake. And I quickly realized that I couldn’t bring her what she needed. Not to mention how paranoid I was, thanks for the trust issues all this gave me.” He rolled his eyes. “Anyways, I wasn’t good nor ready for a relationship so soon after I think, and Sarah just wasn’t the right person either.”

Claire nodded, understanding how something like this would mess anyone up.

“Now I understand better why you’re not looking forward to this wedding…”

“Oh yeah. Not a big fan of weddings ever since. But this one I am definitely not happy to go to… Annalise and Jack, they will be in attendance. I’m just not sure I can face them.” He took a big sip of wine, as if it could make him forget this small detail.

“Oh god. But why are you going then?” Eyes wide, Claire was now panicking for him as if she were the one about to run into her ex best friend and fiancé.

“I knew they were coming when I RSVPed. But at the time I was supposed to take Sarah with me so I felt that I could go without losing face. But now we’re barely speaking, there’s no way I’m taking her. And going alone is freaking me out.”

“I bet. Can’t you say you’re sick or something?”

He laughed and smiled at her.

“That wouldn’t be nice to my friends, I do want to be there for their big day. But it’s going to be tough.”

They fell into silence for a minute, letting that conversation sink in. Then as if he had a divine realization, Jamie turned to her once more.

“Would you go with me?”

“To the wedding?!”

“Yeah! I mean I am supposed to bring a plus one. And you’re great company. Plus, you’re fun and you’re hot, so at least I won’t look desperate if we come across them. And I may even have fun if you’re there. What do you say?”

Claire instantly felt her cheeks turn into a deep shade of crimson. He thinks I’m hot?

 “I don’t know Jamie. I don’t have anything to wear, and I can’t just get a hotel room in Knoxville, I don’t have the money. And what about Maise?”

“I know it’s really last minute. But we can share my hotel room, I’ll just ask for a twin. And for the dress, I’m sure my mom or Jenny or Lauren can lend you one. And Maisie can stay with my parents, at that point she’s like their new grandchild they just can’t get enough of her.” He laughed and that phrase warmed her heart. It was crazy how much her little girl was loved by this family.

“Are you sure you want me there? I don’t know any of your friends… Won’t it be awkward?”

“I won’t know most people there either. It’s college friends that I haven’t seen for years… I would love it if you came. At least we can have fun together and talk trash about Jack and Annalise.”

She giggled and smiled warmly at him.

“Alright then. If it means that much to you, I’ll come.” She gave in, honestly charmed by his smile and his pleading, and quickly sent an SOS text to Lauren and Jenny for a last-minute dress.

 


 

The girls were standing in Claire’s living room on Friday evening, going over the different dresses Jenny and Lauren had brought for her to try on. Maisie and Maggie were playing together in a corner, leaving the three adults to their conversation. Lauren had been quickly briefed over Jamie’s predicament, and they all agreed that it was a good thing that Claire was going to this wedding with him.

 

“That bitch.” Jenny snorted angrily. “I never saw her again obviously, but I swear if I did, I would hit her for what she did to him.”

“Who would do such a thing to her fiancé? I’m still shocked honestly.” Claire told her.

“You should have seen him Claire, he was so depressed afterwards. It broke my heart to see him like this.”

 

Claire was trying on the third dress while they were talking. She definitely didn’t want to think about a depressed Jamie. The Jamie she knew was sweet and attentive and full of life.

 

“I’ll make sure to keep him entertained I promise. We’re going to have fun; I don’t want him to worry about them the entire evening.”

“I’m glad you’re going with him, truly. Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

“And you’re going to blow him away with this dress. You look amazing!” Lauren added. “That’s the dress.”

“You think?” Claire said shyly.

“You look stunning Claire. My brother is a lucky guy to have you as his date. Everyone is going to be jealous of the two of you, looking like you’re straight out of a magazine.”

“Right, right. I think you need glasses Jenny. At least regarding me. Your brother on the other hand… I agree, he’s like a real-life Ken.” She laughed.

“Don’t belittle yourself Claire, you’re beautiful. And in that dress, you look sexy as hell. Jamie isn’t going to know what hit him.” Lauren told her with a crooked smile that made Claire blush and Jenny smile knowingly.

“Thank you, girls. I’m so glad you were able to come here on such short notice… Thank you for all the dresses.”

“Don't mention it.” Jenny said, smiling, and then started putting the dresses back in the bag.

Claire had found the right one and their job was done. The girls left, making her promise to send pictures of Jamie and her all dolled up.

Chapter Text

Jamie and Claire took off early on Saturday morning. She had hugged Maisie as if she were leaving for a month, then finally released her in the care of Ellen and Brian.

Jamie was surprisingly calm and could only attribute that to the fact that Claire was by his side. They listened to different kinds of music the entire drive to Knoxville, singing with the windows rolled down, laughing, and enjoying being with each other.

 

They arrived at the hotel around 11 AM, Jamie had requested an early check-in so they could get ready before the wedding. They got two digital keys for their room and headed upstairs with their bags. Jamie unlocked the door and opened it.

 

“After you, milady.” He said with a terrible posh British accent that made Claire laugh.

She entered the room, Jamie right behind her, and her eyes went wide when she noticed the king sized, only bed in the room.

“Shit, are they kidding me? I called yesterday to make sure that we would get a twin. Wait for me, I’m going back to the reception.” He dropped his bags and stormed off the room before she could even say a word.

 

Jamie had been thinking of Claire more and more every day. Ever since his father and brother-in-law had mentioned his infatuation for her… he couldn’t stop thinking about it. But he didn’t want to cross that line and sleeping in the same bed as her seemed like tempting fate. Could he resist her if she were right there next to him for an entire night?

 

Claire took in the room and its view, which was lovely. Jamie had booked at the Hilton Hotel, as the wedding venue was just a few minutes away by car. She sat down and to pass the time, started looking at the latest pictures on her phone, most of which were of Maisie. Maisie with horses, Maisie making cute faces, Maisie playing, and Maisie with Jamie. Her favorite duo lately.

 

He came back a few minutes later, brooding.

“It’s the only room available. They already gave the twin to a fighting couple apparently.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry Claire, I’ll sleep on the floor.”

“Come on, don’t be silly. We can share the bed it’s fine, look how big it is.” She smiled, not in the least annoyed.

“Are you sure? You don’t mind?”

“Not at all, I promise.”

“Alright then. Well at least we’ve been gifted a full room service breakfast at the time of our choosing and a late check out tomorrow, I mentioned we were here for a wedding, so the receptionist offered that to compensate.”

“I feel like that’s a good bargain.” She nodded, her stomach growling just thinking about a good breakfast, which made Jamie chuckle.

“I can see that. Well, why don’t we unpack and go put some food in you before getting ready?”

 

She agreed and they quickly unpacked their things, hanging up their suits and dresses for the weekend end in the dressing. They got back in the car and Jamie took her to Sunspot, a restaurant on campus where he used to go all the time when he was a student. They had a nice time, Jamie told her about his favorite things in Knoxville, what it used to be like as a student here, funny stories that had happened throughout the years, and she drank his words happily. He gave her a quick tour of campus, where he used to go to class, where his dorms were during his first year, and then they headed back to the hotel to get ready.

 

Jamie shaved his two days stubble which made Claire frown as she found it particularly attractive, and he let her dispose of the bathroom. After a good hour and a half of taming her hair, putting make-up on, and getting into that absolute gorgeous dress, she was finally ready to go. The dress was blue and the fabric so light she felt she could fly with it. She got out of the bathroom and the look in Jamie’s eyes was priceless, he didn’t have to say anything, she knew he loved it already.

 

“Claire.” He gasped. “You are so stunning. Wow.”

 

The compliment made her heart beat faster and her cheeks flush with pleasure. He stood up and without noticing, she licked her lips when she caught sight of him in his navy blue three pieces suit, which matched her dress perfectly. He looked like a model.

 

“Thank you. You look very handsome in that suit.” She noticed that his tie did a weird thing at the top and without hesitation, walked straight toward him and reached for it. She placed it correctly and did her best to remain normal when really, his proximity made her heart do backflips, not to mention his amazing perfume that engulfed her when he was near…

“There, now you look perfect.” She smiled shyly, and his face broke into the most beautiful grin.

 

She collected what she needed to put in her clutch, took a shawl in case it got cold at night, and they left their room together.

 

“Wait!” She said, stopping him before they entered the elevator. “We need a picture; I promised your sister.” She winked and got her phone out.

There was a huge mirror in the hallway, so they took their best pause and flashed a few pictures, which Claire immediately sent to Jenny and Lauren.

 

Jenny replied in the next minute.

I was right. You look like you’re straight out of a magazine, you gorgeous people.

Lauren followed quickly.

O.M.G you guys are so hot!!!!

 

Claire burst out laughing and showed the texts to Jamie who smiled at his sister’s exaggerations.

An uber was waiting for them downstairs and Jamie, gallant as ever, opened the car door for her, then went around and entered the car as well. The ride wasn’t long, but it only took that few minutes for Jamie to start fidgeting his fingers and getting anxious.

Claire took his hand for comfort and smiled at him.

 

“It’s going to be alright Jamie. These people have got nothing on you. You’re smart, successful, kind, and dashing as ever tonight. That woman is going to regret leaving you when she will see you.” Claire said in a gentle tone.

“Thank you so much for coming Claire. I don’t know if I would have been able to go through this day on my own.”

“Let’s have some fun, ok? Don’t think about them.”

 

Jamie nodded and the car pulled over.

 

“Ready?” She asked.

“Let’s do this.” He said to pump himself up, and he got out of the car.

 

They stood next to each other, the uber leaving behind them. She felt Jamie tense next to her and he reached for her hand, grounding him.

He showed his invitation to the lady at the entrance, and they were directed to where the wedding was going to take place. The wedding and reception were happening at a place called the Lighthouse, and it overlooked a beautiful lake. Claire had never set foot in a place so lavish before, and she had to admit it was very nice and extremely romantic.

There were already a few hundred guests here, and Jamie didn’t know most of them. But the groom was standing near the altar overlooking the lake, speaking with people, and when he saw Jamie his face lit up. He excused himself and went over to him and Claire.

 

“I’m so glad you could come buddy. It’s so good to see you!” He said, hugging Jamie. “And you brought your girlfriend I see. It’s nice to meet you, I’m Cameron.” He told her with a smile.

Jamie didn’t correct him and Claire smiled shyly.

“Hi I’m Claire. Congratulations!” She said while gesturing her hands toward the aisle where he was about to get married.  

“Thank you!” He beamed at her, clearly giddy.

“Nervous much?” Jamie asked him, teasing.

“Not at all. Diane is my girl. I’m just so excited to see her!”

 

You could read the love in his eyes and Claire’s heart tightened, thinking of Frank. Their wedding definitely hadn’t happened this way, but she loved him so very much. Her heart ached for Jamie too, she knew he had been looking forward to a day like this one, but it had never come.

 

“I’m happy for you man. I wish you both all the happiness in the world.” Jamie hugged his friend and he left them after being called away.

 

They quietly scanned the crowd, their hands still linked together, and at some point, Jamie gasped and squeezed hers tightly.

“She’s here? Did you see her?” Claire asked quietly.

“Yes. Do you see the couple over there? The blond woman in the green dress, with a little boy next to her?”

She nodded and couldn’t find the words. She couldn’t begin to imagine what was going on inside Jamie’s head right now, to see this adorable 3-year-old little man who was supposed to be his son must be torture for him.

“They look happy.” He noted, sadness visible in his eyes.

Claire didn’t think and just pulled Jamie into a hug. He was so tense, but immediately relaxed into her arms, just like he had a few nights ago. He silently thanked the lord for her and the amazing gift she had to soothe his mind and make him feel better in an instant.

“I needed that. Thanks Claire” He muttered right into her ear, and it sent shivers running down her spine.

“I’m here for you. Let’s go sit down?”

“Yeah.” He kissed her cheek and they broke their embrace, walking down the aisle hand in hand to reach their seats. They passed right next to Annalise and Jack and Claire could feel the shift in Annalise’s mood when she realized it was Jamie.

 

They sat down together, and Claire took out her phone. Ellen had sent her a message and she opened it, the phone placed so that Jamie could look too.

 

The ladies are having fun, I hope you guys are too. Take care of my boy 😘

There was a picture attached showing Jenny, Ellen, Maggie and Maisie having fake tea together, Maisie was chewing on the small kettle.

 

“They look so cute! Look at Maise.” He said. “I want to eat her up.” He laughed and put his arm around Claire’s chair. She didn’t even blink, it felt so… natural.

“She adores you Jamie.” She smiled to him and put her phone back in her bag.

“The feeling is mutual.” He winked at her.

 

They kept chatting together until the groom went standing at the bottom of the aisle, and the music started. The crowd stood up and the bride made her entrance, her father on her arm. She was beautiful and Claire felt her eyes tear up, even though she didn’t know her.

How could she not think of her late husband in this moment? She felt this stinging pain in her heart, that was always there but hurt less since she had moved to the ranch. Why did he have to be taken away from her so soon? Why didn’t they have more time together? It was so unfair.

Sensing her sadness rather than a happy emotion, Jamie put his arm around her and held her against his chest, making her sigh in comfort and relief.

 

“Are you ok?” He whispered.

“Yes, it’s just bringing back memories.” She replied as silently, a single tear rolling down her cheek.

“I thought so.” He kissed her cheek and she melted.

My god, he’s so sweet! She smiled, her sadness resorbing a little. Pushing down her thoughts of Frank, she let herself be happy for this couple who was clearly so in love with each other. The ceremony was lovely, they had written their own vows which had made everybody laugh and cry in the span of a few minutes. They said I do and kissed, and the crowd errupted in congratulations and whistles of happiness. When the bride and groom went back down the aisle together this time, Claire turned around and couldn’t help but notice that Annalise was staring at her with murdering eyes. She bit the inside of her cheeks to not burst out in laughter but didn’t mention it to Jamie.

 

The guests were all directed to the reception where a cocktail was waiting for them, while the newlyweds were taking pictures. Claire and Jamie drank champagne and ate all the amuse-bouche that were available, giggling like children when they didn’t like the taste, and they took some picture together in the photobooth that Claire put in her clutch for safekeeping. A few people came to greet him and they spoke for a few minutes, but Jamie was sticking by Claire’s side and didn’t leave her for a second except when he had to go to the bathroom. 

Once the cocktail was over, they were invited to find their table inside the tent and Claire was happily surprised to see her name next to Jamie’s, and not Sarah’s. He had actually called his friends to change his plus one’s name at the last minute. God they must have hated him, one day before the wedding, no one likes a last-minute change. She beamed at him, obviously touched by the gesture.

The people at their table were nice but kind of boring, and Jamie spent the next hour telling her jokes that he had heard from the kids at camp throughout the years, which he kept in a small diary at home. She was almost crying from the stupidity of the jokes.

They were having an amazing night and Jamie appeared relaxed and genuinely having fun, which reassured Claire. They had to stay quiet for a little while, listening to the speeches and little shows that family and friends had put together for the happy couple. Then they opened with the first dance, and by that time Jamie and Claire were tipsy enough that he stood up and invited Claire to follow him for a dance. Once they were on the dancefloor, there was no going back. They were having so much fun dancing and drinking, Jamie had completely forgotten about Annalise and Jack, his sole focus being the beautiful woman accompanying him. It was at least three in the morning when the upbeat music changed into a slow dance one. Claire put her hands around Jamie’s neck, and he held her by the hips, gently swaying together and smiling at each other. They kept getting closer and closer together as the songs went on, when finally, she just rested her head on his shoulder, looking at the crowd around them. That’s when she finally noticed Annalise, who was dancing not far away from them with Jack, and just like this afternoon, was looking at her with murdering eyes.

 

She turned her head toward Jamie’s ear and whispered, “Your ex is trying to kill me with her eyes Jamie.”

“Oh. Is it bad that it kind of makes me happy? That she’s jealous?” He frowned.

“Absolutely not. It makes you human.” She replied with sincerity. “Want to truly piss her off?” She asked, standing back a little so she could look Jamie in the eyes.

“Sure. Whatever you have in mind, let’s do it.” He chuckled but went completely silent when Claire crashed her lips on his.

It took him a second to relax into it and return the kiss properly. She tasted sweet and of wine and he engaged in the kiss more than was probably required. He licked her bottom lip which made her moan and open her mouth, enough so that he slipped his tongue inside, tasting her completely. Their tongues and lips were dancing together and without thinking about it, their hands started exploring each other's bodies, pressing together as if they couldn’t stand an inch of them not being linked. Their bodies were igniting at this new contact like burning matches and neither of them could remember ever feeling this way with someone else before.

He needed to put a stop to this right now or otherwise he wouldn’t be able to stop himself to go further. With reluctance he broke their kiss, which had left them both panting and out of breath. They smirked at each other, not knowing what to say after such an intense moment. Jamie placed a lock of her hair behind her ear and kept smiling adoringly at her. They just fell back into each other’s arms and started slow dancing again as if nothing had happened.

 

“Her jaw is on the floor Jamie. Mission accomplished. I don’t think she liked the little show we just gave her.” She laughed while discreetly looking at Annalise.

“Well, she does think I have moved on with a girl that is much hotter than her. I’d be pissed too.” He replied while chuckling in her ear.

 

So he really does think I’m hot. She kept dancing with him and acting as if everything was normal, but her mind was somewhere else, in a world where Jamie was still kissing her. That moment had been so amazing she had trouble coming back down to planet earth.

They kept dancing together in complete bliss for another half-hour, not letting go of each other for even a minute. When Claire started yawning heavily, Jamie suggested that it was time they went back to the hotel.

After congratulating the newlyweds again, he ordered an uber. Overall, it had been a great day and Jamie hadn’t crossed path too much with Jack and Annalise, so he was fine. But it seemed that fate had other plans and when they stepped outside on the parking lot of the Lighthouse to wait for their car, of course Annalise and Jack were there, waiting for their own ride.

 

“Hello, Jamie.” Jack said.

“Hi.” Jamie didn’t turn his head to look at them, but wrapped his arm around Claire’s shoulders, needing her close, needing her strength, and oddly wanting to protect her from these people. But Claire was feisty and was deliberately looking meanly at them, showing her support to Jamie, and silently expressing to this couple her hate for what they had done to him.

“How have you been?” Annalise asked shyly, and it took him a lot of willpower to not reply with sarcasm.

“Here for the weekend with my girl. I’m doing good.” He replied and squeezed Claire against him.

 

Claire thanked God that it was too dark to notice the redness in her cheeks. Of course, she would go along with whatever story he wanted to tell them. “I see that you are too.” He and finally turned his head and pointed out to the little boy who was asleep in his father’s arms. “He’s beautiful, you guys did great.” He added, trying to be the bigger person.

Annalise looked down, clearly embarrassed, and Jack replied almost inaudibly, “Thanks. He’s a great kid.”

Jamie nodded and thankfully, their car pulled in front of them right at this moment.

“Well. Good night.” Jamie said. 

 

Forgetting his gentlemanly manners toward Claire, he went around the car and got inside it before he could hear their answer, willing to put distance with these people quickly.

Claire turned to them before opening the car door and addressed them with a spiteful tone, "I hope you will eternally regret hurting this wonderful man. You two are horrible people and you totally deserve each other. Someone as special as Jamie has no place for cheating liars of your kind in his life." And with that, she went into the car.

"Did you tell them something?" Jamie asked in a low voice.

"I just gave them a piece of my mind." She nodded and rested her head on his shoulder.

 

Once at the hotel, Jamie stripped into his boxers and went to lie under the sheets while Claire was taking her make-up off and putting an old t-shirt on to sleep. When she came back into the bedroom, it was dark and  only illuminated by the moonlight, which enabled her to see Jamie’s wet cheeks. Her heart tightened, she just wanted to take his pain away. She climbed into bed with him and hugged him tightly, putting her head in the crook of his neck.

 

“I’m sorry Jamie. It’s over, you won’t have to see them again. We’re going home in a few hours.” She whispered into his ear.

“I’m fine. I’m sorry I shouldn’t react like this, it’s not fair to you, you’ve been through so much worse.” He sighed and wrapped his arms around her to prolong the hug.

“Don’t think that for a second Jamie. What you went through was very hard. We all have our own life struggles, and we should never compare them because they may be different, but they can affect us the exact same way. I would never diminish your pain at the expense of my own.”

“I don’t know why or what made you come into my life Claire Beauchamp, but I sure am greateful that you are.”

He held tight onto her, expressing his gratefulness in a physical way.

“So am I, Jamie. So am I.” She whispered.

 

They drifted off to sleep in this intimate position before they could even realize it. That king size bed wasn’t so bad after all.

Chapter Text

Jamie woke up first and with puffy eyes, the kind you usually got after going to bed crying. He couldn’t believe he had lost it like this in front of Claire… But of course, she had been graceful about it and had hugged him, truly empathetic of what he had been through. This woman was a total dream and right now, as she was laying in his arms all wrapped up around him, he just wished she would stay there forever. He felt like a total ass for being so rude to her when they had met, because ever since she had arrived in his life, everything had gotten better. After this weekend, he was finally strong enough to admit that she was what brought him happiness these days, and that he would do anything to see a smile on her lips. Her laugh was music to his ears, and the way she was so gentle and caring with him made his heart flutter. He had feelings for her, that was undeniable.

Now that he had admitted that to himself however, he knew he needed to discuss it with Ian. He couldn’t just act on his feelings on a whim, especially with Claire. The last thing he wanted was to jeopardize their relationship. For now, he decided that he would just gaze at her beautiful face until breakfast showed up at their door.

 

 Half an hour later, Claire opened her eyes and Jamie smiled at her.

 

“Good morning beautiful.” He whispered and she felt butterflies in her belly.

She hid her face in her hands, not knowing if she should be more embarrassed that she was using him as a mattress again when they were in a giant bed that could welcome at least four people, or because he had called her beautiful and she knew perfectly she looked anything but.

 

“Good morning, Jamie. You’re sweet, I’m pretty sure I look like a witch, I can feel my hair being everywhere.”

“Well, I think you look beautiful.” He shrugged and smirked at her.

Rolling off of him, she stretched, and he couldn’t help but glance at her lovely body appearing underneath her big t-shirt.

“I’m sorry I used you as a live mattress again, I guess I just like to climb on you in my sleep.”

Realizing only after speaking that her phrase had a double meaning, she slapped her forehead. Jamie stifled a laugh and she stuck out her tongue at him.

“No worries. Anytime.”

“How are you feeling this morning?” Sympathy was written all over her face, and he just wanted to kiss her again.

“I’m good. Sorry for ruining the end of our night yesterday. I hope you know I actually had a lot of fun and that’s all thanks to you.”

“You didn’t ruin anything. I had so much fun too. I managed to not think about my daughter for more than 20 minutes and to enjoy myself, if you can believe it. Thanks for inviting me Jamie.”

“Thank you for coming!”

 

They smiled at each other like two idiots and were interrupted by Claire’s loud stomach.

 

“God I’m hungry.” She laughed and sat up in the bed.

“Breakfast should be there in about fifteen minutes, if you want to take a shower in the meantime.” He informed her while sitting up as well.

“Are you kidding? I want to stay in PJs until the last moment possible.” She grinned, grabbing her phone on the nightstand. “Your mom says we shouldn’t hurry home… But Jenny says the contrary because she wants all the details before going home.” Jamie rolled his eyes in feigned annoyance and Claire giggled. “Apparently everything is going well. Maisie is glued to Maggie’s side.” She showed her the sweet photo of the two little girls hugging each other, making him smile.

 

She ran off to the bathroom after checking her messages and when she came back a few minutes later, breakfast had arrived, and Jamie was laying everything in bed for them. He was so adorable that Claire took a few seconds to take in the view before saying anything.

 

“That looks so delicious!” She came back to bed and sat facing Jamie who was drinking coffee.

Still reminiscing on his thoughts from earlier, he planted his eyes in hers and told her with the most serious and apologetic tone, “Hey, I wanted to tell you… I’m sorry for being such a dick to you when you arrived. You didn’t deserve it, and honestly, I’m so glad you showed up in our lives. You’re a true friend, Claire.”

The butterflies made their second appearance of the morning in Claire’s belly, and she stared at him, surprised from this outpouring of kindness.

“It’s alright Jamie, you’ve already apologized, and you’ve been forgiven for a long time. But I appreciate the sentiment, you’re a great friend too. I’m really glad I met you and your family.” She smiled tenderly at him, and it took a great deal of strength for him to refrain from pulling her into a hug.

 “So, tell me about your childhood on the ranch. I want to know more.” She said in a lighter tone, and bit in a toast full of jam. Jamie happily told her, and they spent the rest of morning talking about random things, enjoying this lazy Sunday morning together.

 


 

They parked in front of the main house in the middle of the afternoon, and luckily, Ian and Jenny were still there when they got back. Ian and Jamie went to his house, leaving Claire to fill in the girls on how the wedding had gone, a conversation he didn’t really want to be a part of anyway.

 

“So what’s up?” Ian told him while helping himself to a beer in Jamie’s fridge. “How was the wedding?”

“It was… interesting. A real eye opener actually.”

“Do tell?” He handed a beer to Jamie and they both took a sip.

“I think you’re right. I think I have feelings for Claire.” He said it in a breath and felt relief course through his veins the moment the words left his mouth.

“Of course, you do. It’s quite obvious.” He chuckled.

“I don’t know what to do Ian. When I kissed her yesterday it was fucking magical!” He shook his head, trying to sort his feelings.

“You kissed her?!”

“Yeah, Annalise was watching so we gave her a little show by pretending to be together. But it didn’t feel like pretending to me… Annalise was totally jealous by the way… honestly it sucked to see her and Jack, but I had such a good time with Claire it didn’t feel that bad.”

“And that’s why you think you’re in love with her?” He raised an eyebrow; not sure his friend was considering the right things to define the way he felt for Claire.

“Of course not. I think I’m in love with her because every time she enters the room, I feel like my heart is going to burst. I frankly thought it was just sexual attraction, but I can’t deny that the more I know her, the more I can’t get enough of her. Damn, I’m fucked.” He sighed and flopped on the sofa.

“So, you don’t just have feelings for her. You are in love with her.” Ian pointed out the different phrasing.

“Maybe? I don’t know. It’s more than friendship.” He took another sip of his beer.

“Well, for what it’s worth, I think Claire is amazing and would be perfect for you.” He shrugged and smiled at Jamie.

“It’s funny you say that. Her best friend told me the exact same thing… regarding her.”

“Wait, Gillian spoke to you about Claire?”

“Yes, before she left… Well, it was more a warning than a talk. She said that whatever happened between us, I had to be sure I was in for the real thing before we took it further. I don’t know Ian. What if she’s not ready? She’s so young and she’s been through so much already. I can’t initiate something if she doesn’t feel the same way. I’m her boss, and I’m her friend, and from what I’ve understood that’s what she needs more than anything right now. I can’t believe she has no one in her life except for Gillian… it’s so unfair.” He was rambling, finally voicing what he thought of her, and Ian realized that it was indeed a tricky situation.

“You’re right, it’s not easy. Do you think she feels the same?”

“I don’t know. Maybe? I’m pretty sure she enjoyed that kiss as much as I did… And we are pretty tactile, I’ve never had a relationship like this with someone before… but what if it’s just me trying to convince myself that she likes me too? Oh for god’s sake, I sound like a fourteen-year-old girl.” He burst out laughing and Ian joined him.

He did sound like a lovestruck teenager, but Ian was so happy to see that his friend was finally ready to move on from Annalise.

“Just let the relationship evolve then. Keep spending time with her, keep doing what you’re doing. If it’s meant to be, I’m sure the moment will present itself.” Ian advised and Jamie nodded.

“I can’t believe I’m considering breaking my rule of dating an employee…”

“Jamie, stop it. Yes, I agree, don’t fuck your employees because that wouldn’t be a good idea. But if you happen to find someone you love, someone that you can envision a future with, then don’t throw it away just because of some stupid rule you imposed on yourself years ago.”

“You’re right.” He sighed and looked up at his friend. “Truth be told… It scares the shit out of me. What I feel for her. I’ve gone from 0 to 10 in like, a month.”

Contemplating what his friend had just told him, Ian nodded but didn’t reply, not knowing what to say to him.

“Please don’t say anything to Jenny ok? I’m not ready to have my family hassle me over it yet.”

Ian burst out laughing, “Do you really think your sister hasn’t figured it out? She told me you’d be great together when we went out last time. And she really likes Claire.”

“Are you kidding me!? Does my mom know too? She’s the only one who hasn’t said anything yet.”

“Guess you’re an open book, man.” He smirked at him, and Jamie sighed in defeat. Ian clasped his shoulder and sat down next to him. “Wanna watch some football?”

 


 

Claire had gone home a few hours later, after having told the entire tale of their wedding weekend to Ellen and Jenny. Well, everything but the kiss she had shared with Jamie, that would have started discussions that Claire just didn’t want to have.

Happy that Jamie had enjoyed his time and hadn’t dwelled on the past too much, she received a warm hug from mother and daughter Fraser and finally went back home with Maisie.

 

She tidied the cabin, gave a bath to her child, fed her, and before she even knew it, Maisie was asleep and Claire was having dinner, scrolling through the different job offers that deep down she knew she wouldn’t get. It was still early though, she still had a few months, but eventually she would have to turn to waitressing and sales jobs, not having any other choice.

She was in the middle of writing a cover letter, but her mind seemed to be focused on something else entirely. She couldn’t stop thinking about the kiss, about this perfect weekend with Jamie. She was so happy to have him in her life, but what she was starting to feel for this man frightened her. It was powerful, and comparable to a hurricane, and she just wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Her reason said she wasn’t ready to feel anything for another man than Frank, but her heart seemed to have other ideas.

Not wanting to venture further into this, she closed her computer, grabbed the baby monitor, and headed to the cabin next door. One of the other workers was having a small gathering with board games, he had texted her earlier in the day and that seemed like a great idea. Joe was a nice guy and it was time that she got to know her co-workers a little better.

 

Joe warmly welcomed her and invited her to sit at the table, where two other people were seated, Abby and Orson.

“Where is Maisie?” Asked Abby. It had taken everyone about 10 minutes on the first night to fall in love with Maisie. And all had been kind to Claire afterwards, offering to take her shifts for activities that were difficult to manage with a small child, some had offered to watch her for a few hours... Everyone had been extremely nice, and Claire couldn’t have been more grateful for such thoughtful coworkers.

“She’s down for the night.” Winking, she took out the baby monitor out of her pocket and placed it on the table. “What are we playing?”

“I was thinking Monopoly?” Joe replied, and everyone agreed.

While they were setting up the game, Joe brought beers for everyone, thankful that no one was underaged.

“So, how was your weekend?” Claire asked while distributing monopoly bills to everyone.

“Good, I went to Nashville and stayed with some friends.” Abby replied.

“Yeah, I just chilled on the ranch. Enjoying the down time before the kids get here.” Orson added.

“Me too, my girlfriend came over for the weekend and we visited the area.” Joe said. “What about you?”

Not having thought this through beforehand, Claire found herself in an awkward position. Was her relationship with Jamie appropriate in the eyes of the other workers? They were just friends, but he was the boss. She wasn’t ashamed at all of their relationship, but decided it was best to play it safe and remain as vague as possible.

“Mine was good too. I was out of town, it was nice.” She said and left it at that.

Not feeling her awkwardness, they all smiled and nodded and didn’t give it a second thought.

 

They had been playing for almost an hour and a half when Orson bought yet another hotel for his properties.

“Come on Orson, did you steal money from the bank?” Joe asked him, desperate that he didn’t have enough left to buy a house.

“I swear I didn’t, I’m just very good at it.” He laughed and dropped his little red hotel on the board.”

“I have to ask. Did your parents name you…” Claire started asking.

“After Orson Welles? Yeah. Big fans.” He rolled his eyes but smirked at her.

“Well at least I’m sure you’ve yet to meet other Orsons. I have met about a thousand other Joes since I was born.”

They were all laughing when Claire’s phone started ringing, interrupting them. It was almost 10 PM and Claire wondered who could be calling this late. When she saw the name on the phone, she sighed. It was Matt. He had been calling and texting ever since she had hung up on him the previous time, and it was probably time she picked up.

“Guys I’m sorry, I’m going to have to take this. I’m losing anyways. Here Joe, take my money, maybe you can save yourself with it.” She stood up and gave him all her money, making Abby and Orson laugh while Joe looked offended.

He stood up and walked her back to the front door.

“Thanks for the lovely evening, Joe. Next time we’ll do something at my place. Bye guys!”

They all waved at her and she went back to her cabin, sitting on her porch to not wake Maisie up.

 

The phone had stopped ringing, so she called him back. He picked up almost instantly.

“Claire. I’m so glad you’re calling me back; I’ve been worried sick.” He said, the distress in his tone was evident.

“I’m alright, Matt. So is Maisie. I just… needed a little distance from you.” She sighed.

“I understand. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable Claire. I miss you... Can you forgive me?” He sounded desperate and even though he had made a move on her, he was her friend and had been there for her ever since Frank died.

“I forgive you, Matt.”

Sighing in relief he replied, “Thank you…” A few seconds passed before he added, “May I come visit you and Maisie?” His tone was pleading.

“I don’t know. Do you want to visit because you want to spend time with us? Or do you have any other motives in mind?” She didn’t ask him directly if he was planning on making advances to her again, but it was clearly implied.

“I’ll behave, Claire. I promise. So… Can I?”

“Alright, Matt. You can come. But you’ll have to find yourself a hotel nearby, it’s not like Fort Briggs, I don’t have a spare bedroom.” She explained.

“That’s fine.”

Matt lived in California, where Claire had grown up. He was working for a Sales Company and could work remotely as much as he wished, which had been extremely helpful as he had flown to North Carolina many times to help Claire with everything after Frank’s passing, and again after Maisie’s birth.

“When can I come?”

“I’m available for the next three weekends. Then I will be working everyday so I won’t have time.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I can fly out on the 14th of June, if that works for you?”

“Sure, I’ll write it down. Text me when you have confirmed your travel and hotel?”

“Will do. How…” He started talking but she cut him off.

“I’m exhausted, I’m gonna head to bed ok? Have a good night, Matt. I’ll see you in three weeks.”

“Ok. Have a good night Claire. See you soon.”

 

That entire conversation had been laced with awkwardness and reluctance, and Claire wasn’t up for speaking longer than necessary with him. They would have plenty of time to catch up when he came to the ranch.

Sighing, she headed to bed, wondering how this weekend would actually turn out. She kissed Maisie’s head and climbed under her sheets. She grabbed the little photo album she showed Maisie everynight before bed, it was full of photos of Frank and her, so that Maisie would know who her father was even if he was gone.

As Claire was flipping through the pages, it downed on her that ever since his death, she had cried herself to sleep every single night. But it had been three weeks now, and she hadn’t shed a tear, she was getting better and finally moving on…

The guilt she felt in that moment was unbearable, and for the first time in three weeks she cried herself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Another week had passed since the wedding and things were going great on the ranch. All the workers got along well and Jamie was extremely happy with the team they had gathered for this year’s season.

After a good week of intense work, he was currently in Nashville enjoying a lunch with Andrew, Ian and Finn, and they had just told Andrew how impressed they were with his commitment to Lauren.

“Guys I wasn’t kidding. She’s amazing. I don’t know what’s happening to me.” He laughed and sighed at the same time.

“You’re growing up, bro.” Finn said with a smirk.

“Lauren is great, and she and Jenny get along great, they’re going to the spa with Claire next weekend.” Ian replied. “So yeah, if you’re serious about her, please keep her around! Especially because she has managed to tame you and for that, she has my eternal respect.”

Andrew smacked him behind the head, making the others laugh.

“Oh really, they’re hanging out with Claire next weekend?” Jamie asked innocently and Ian stifled a laugh.

“Yes, they are going to a spa in Nashville, James. Didn’t your girlfriend tell you?” He raised an eyebrow at him.

“Your girlfriend? Wait, what?” Andrew turned to him, not understanding.

“Ian.” He growled between his teeth.

“Our dear friend has finally found someone awesome for whom he has genuine feelings. Please tell him he should go for it.” Ian added.

“I like Claire. Wouldn’t mind having her around more.” Finn said.

“Yeah, she told me how you tried to kiss her.” Jamie said, trying to be cool but failing miserably.

All the guys laughed.

“Sorry Jamie, if I’d known you liked her, I wouldn’t have dared. And obviously she’s off limits now. She’s all yours.” He winked at his friend who felt slightly embarrassed, but loved how Claire being his sounded to his ears.

“It’s alright, thanks man. Yeah, Claire has pretty much turned my brain upside down, I don’t know what to do.”

“I really want to say first fuck her brains out and then see where it leads, because she is hot as hell, but that wouldn’t be very Andrew 2.0 of me.” Andrew told him; mouth full of fries, and this time it was Ian who smacked him. “Ouch! That hurt!” He whined.

“She is hot, that’s an understatement. But she’s pretty fucking smart too. And funny. And kind.” Jamie added and all his friends were looking at him as if he had a third eye growing on his forehead. “Stop looking at me like that. I know I sound ridiculously smitten. But as we’ve already agreed with Ian, I won’t start anything before I’m sure she feels something for me too. It wouldn’t be fair to her to put her in an awkward position… But it makes hanging out with her really… complicated.”

And he wasn’t lying. Ever since they had shared that kiss, Jamie had trouble focusing on anything else when he was with her, he wanted so badly to feel the sweet taste of her mouth on his again. They hadn’t spoken about the kiss since it happened, and it was driving him crazy. Was she feeling this electricity between them too? Did she want more? It was as if now that he knew he had feelings for her, all those feelings were amplified. But he had to maintain their relationship as professional as possible during the day and be the good friend she needed during the evening.

 

“Ok moving on, we’re starting the season in three weeks and I want to have a party at my place before the ranch is crawling with kids. What do you think?” Jamie’s mood had completely switched, you could see the wheels turning behind his eyes, already planning his party.

“I’m saying hell yeah!” Andrew slammed his hand on the table, making the entire restaurant turn toward their table. Finn smacked him. “Stop smacking me!” He whined and the guys burst out laughing.

“Sure, we’ll be there Jamie.” Ian nodded, and Finn was loving the idea as well.

“Cool. I’ll call everybody, and I’ll invite all the ranch’s workers too, God knows they’ll need to have fun one more night before the kids arrive.” He started to run down the list of everything he needed to do, but that was interrupted by the thought of Claire, dancing in his living room. He couldn’t help but love the idea of another drunken night of fun with her.

 

When they finished lunch, Jamie stayed in Nashville to hang out with his family. He took his niece and nephew to the park so Jenny and Ian could enjoy a quiet afternoon together, and he came home around dinner time. He had barely finished dinner that he went out again and headed for Claire’s cabin, he hadn’t seen her since yesterday and wanted to spend some time with her.

He was about to knock on her front door but heard laughter coming from inside, it was clearly a man’s laugh and he felt instant jealousy coming over him. He wondered if he should knock, but knowing he had absolutely no claim on her, decided against it and turned on his heels. Instead, he decided to go for a ride with his horse, which would be a good way to clear his mind and let go of this terrible feeling he was having. He spent a good time taking care of the horses when he came back it was completely dark outside. Claire was still on his mind, and he took out his phone to text her.

 

Are you up?

 

Yeah, what’s up? I hope you had a good day :)

 

All good. Had lunch with the guys, spent the afternoon with Maggie and Robbie, and the evening with the horses. You?

 

Maisie and I went to see them this morning. I can’t believe how much she loves those animals! And we had tea with your mom this afternoon, it was lovely.

 

He wasn’t fishing for information, but he was frustrated that she hadn’t mention what she had done with her evening… Who was this guy? He felt stupid. Sadly, it was none of his business.

 

Good. I hope you’re getting some rest; I know this week was a big one, and it’s going to get even crazier soon.

 

I know, I’m lucky Maisie is such a good sleeper. But yes, I should try to rest more, you’re right as always :)

 

Haha, thanks! ;) Want to hang out tomorrow? I know it’s far, but I was thinking we could take Maisie to the zoo?

 

Oh, that’s really sweet. Thanks Jamie. But I already have plans tomorrow, sorry.

 

He was so disappointed that he didn’t even know what to reply. He started watching a movie and ended up dozing off when his phone woke him up.

 

Jamie? Are you mad?

 

Now he felt guilty because she hadn’t done anything wrong. He replied instantly.

 

Hey, sorry I fell asleep. Of course I’m not mad, enjoy your Sunday.

See you on Monday Claire!

 

See you Monday

 

And now she was sending him a heart. What did this mean? Was it a sign? He turned off his TV and went to bed, confused and frustrated.

 


 

Claire was getting everything ready when someone knocked on the door.

“Come in Joe, it’s open!” She yelled from her kitchen, and he let himself in.

“Hey Maisie!” He said to the little girl who was playing on her mat. “Hey Claire. How are you?”

“Great! I’ve got everything we need, I just need to put my shoes on, and we can go.” She told him with a big smile on her face.

“Awesome. I’ve made us some sandwiches in case we get hungry.” He showed her his bag containing some ham and cheese sandwiches.

“So did I!” she giggled, “How was your call with Gail?”

Gail was Joe’s girlfriend, and she lived in Atlanta.

“It was good thanks! Sorry I had to leave early, but it was the only moment she had.”

“It’s perfectly fine don’t worry about it.” She finished lacing her shoes and scooped up Maisie in her arms.

She grabbed the big backpack full of food and baby stuffs, and they came out of the cabin together.

 

“Hi Jamie!” Joe said, noticing that the red head was having coffee on his porch.

Claire turned her face to him, beaming, but lost her smile when she saw him frowning, he didn’t look happy.

“Hey Jamie. Are you alright?” She asked.

“Hey guys. Yeah, I’m good.” He didn’t offer any more information and didn’t try to engage in a conversation. Sensing that something was wrong but knowing that it wasn’t the right time to inquire further as Joe was standing right next, she didn’t ask him anything else.

She nodded to him and then she left with Joe and Maisie to go to her car. They drove for a few minutes before arriving at their destination, they had decided to go hiking in the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Although they were going to go with the camp kids very soon, Joe and Claire were happy to go a first time and discover this beautiful park at their own pace. Next time, they would probably be worrying about losing a kid rather than enjoying the scenery anyways.

 

They walked for the entire morning, enjoying the amazing cedar trees and beautiful flowers along the way, discussing their lives and interests. Joe was easy to talk to and Claire felt comfortable with him, it had nothing to do with the way she felt with Jamie though, nothing could beat that. But it was actually nice to not be entangled in undefined feelings, this was purely platonic, and she really enjoyed it. They sat at a picnic table for lunch, and Claire fed Maisie who was being a perfect angel throughout this hike. Her daughter was so curious that she was looking all around her, taking in her surroundings and marveling at the animals she saw along the way. She was sitting on Joe’s lap while Claire was eating her own lunch, and Claire was happy to see that her daughter had warmed up to Joe as well.

 

“I’m glad she likes you! She hasn’t been around many people until now. But she absolutely loves the Frasers too. It’s good that she’s a social baby.”

“She’s super cute. I’m glad she likes me, too.” He laughed. “So, Jamie, he’s your friend?” He asked bluntly, and she felt her cheeks blush. What was she supposed to reply?

“Well, yes. Kind of. I arrived on the ranch before all of you, and as I didn’t know anyone around here and I have a kid, they were very welcoming. Jamie showed me around, gave me some horse-riding lessons… So yeah, we became friends, I guess. But I’m trying not to show it too much, I know he’s our boss first and foremost, so I don’t want to undermine his position when everyone is around.” She decided honesty was the best policy. “How did you know?”

“That’s understandable. Well, I saw him coming and going out of your cabin several times, so I figured you must be friends or something.” He shrugged.

“Or something?” She giggled.

“Don’t think I’m creepy or anything, but I’m not a big talker, I’m more of an observer. So… I notice things. Like the fact that he can’t keep his eyes off you at work. That did make me wonder if there was more between the two of you.” He smiled at her, conveying with it that he didn’t mind if there was indeed something.

“He stares at me? Really? I didn’t notice.” She felt butterflies in her stomach and her mind replayed this intense kiss they had shared at the wedding, making her blush.

“I wouldn’t tell, you know, if there was something.”

“But nothing’s going on, I swear!”

“I know, you’re so red right now I’m thinking you’re telling me the truth.” He smiled at her. “But if there was something going on though, I want you to know I wouldn’t say anything to anyone.”

“Thanks Joe.” She smiled back, understanding in that moment that she had made a new friend.

 

They went back to the ranch late in the afternoon, Maisie was exhausted from so much visual stimulation and Claire knew she needed to bring her baby home. They said goodbye in front of their cabins and Claire took care of Maisie and got her to bed early, her little girl couldn’t keep her eyes open. She cooked some lasagna and while they were heating, she decided to call Gillian, she still hadn’t told her all that had happened last weekend.

 

“You did what?!” She yelled through the phone when Claire told her about the kiss with Jamie.

“I kissed him Gill. To make his ex jealous.”

“Oh my god! How was it?” She was so excited that Claire laughed at her reaction.

“I’m not going to lie. It was one of the best kiss I’ve ever had.”

“I knew you two were going to get together. Didn’t think it would happen so soon though.”

“Nothing is going on Gill. We were just pretending. Well… I wasn’t pretending quite frankly, I enjoyed myself way too much. But we’re not together, as soon as it was over, we went back to our usual selves.” No need to mention the entire night cuddling, she knew Gillian would have a field day with this information. “But my friend Joe, he works at the ranch too, he did said that Jamie can’t keep his eyes off me. Do you think… he likes me?”

“Duh! It’s so obvious hun.”

“I don’t know Gill. He’s been through some shitty stuffs in his love life, I’m not sure he’s ready for something new. Plus, with me? I wouldn’t be a gift.”

Gillian snorted, unhappy with Claire’s assessment of herself.

“You’re a powerhouse, Claire Beauchamp! Do you hear me? Any guy would be winning the lottery with you.”

“You’re sweet, but I’m messed up and you know it. With reason, too. And I don’t even know if I’d be ready for something new… We’ve had this conversation already, even if I was open to it, he’s my boss… I can’t lose this job.” She sighed.

“You wouldn’t be losing anything Claire, don’t claim defeat so easily. I’m thinking you’d actually be winning so much…”

“Maybe. He was weird this morning, he seemed almost… sad. But he said everything was fine.”

“Oh why? What happened?”

“I have no idea. I came out of my cabin with Maisie and Joe, we went on a hike today. And Jamie was on his porch when we came out, and he looked sad, and a bit confused. I don’t know. I couldn’t push him to tell me, I was with Joe and I didn’t want him to know we’re friends. Well, now he knows but this morning, I didn’t know he knew.” She giggled at the stupid phrase.

“Oh hun. I don’t even have to think about it. He was jealous.” Gillian laughed, finding her friend’s innocence very sweet. “He saw you come out of your place with a guy in the morning. What do you think he thought?”

“Oh god. Do you think that’s what he thought?” She felt dread set in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t want Jamie to have the wrong idea. “But Joe has a girlfriend!”

“Well sure, but does Jamie know that?”

“I guess not.”

“Then you better go and tell him! I have to go hun. Let me know how things evolve ok?”

“I sure will Gill. I love you!”

“Love you too. Give Maise a kiss for me, bye!”

 

They hung up, and Claire sat back in her couch, mortified that Jamie could even think that something was going on between her and Joe. And then she laughed at herself, because she was wrecking her mind wondering if she would even consider dating Jamie, but couldn’t stand the idea of him thinking that she was involved with someone else…

Thinking it would be a good way to see if Gillian was right, Claire took her lasagna and decided to head to Jamie’s. She knocked on his door and he opened a few seconds later.

“Hey Jamie. I’ve made way too much food, I was thinking we could have dinner together? If you haven’t eaten yet.”

Not able to resist the smell of her lasagna nor the sweetness of her smile, Jamie let her in. She set the food and her baby monitor on his dining table and he quickly set the table for two, inviting her to sit down while he got some wine out. His lights were dimmed when she had entered, and he didn’t change it. This dinner had a romantic feel to it and it surely could have looked like they were on a date.

“How was your day?” She asked him while serving them some lasagna.

“Good. I was with my parents; we had some business to discuss. I’ve received my brother’s plans for the cabins.”

“Oh, that’s great! Are you happy with what he sent?”

“I’m actually thrilled. It’s a bit more work than I had anticipated, we would extend them and that means real big work, but it’s manageable within the school year, so as long as it doesn’t keep us from opening the camp next summer, I’m happy to follow his ideas.”

“Sounds like a big project. I’m sure it will be amazing. Look at this house!” She said while gesturing around her.

“Thanks Claire. Would you like to see the plans?”

“Yes, I’d love to!”

“I’ll show them to you when we’re done then.” He smiled at her fondly, happy that she was genuinely interested in his business ideas. Going back to their original conversation, his smile turned into a tight one when he asked, “And how was your day with Joe?”

“It was great, we went hiking at the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Maisie loved it! I think she passed out from happiness tonight.” She laughed.

“Oh, good! That’s good. And Joe and you? Did you like it?”

“Yes, it’s a beautiful place.” Time to know if Gill was right. “Joe kept sending photos of everything to his girlfriend all day, she had to call him to tell him to stop.”

She saw Jamie’s face relax instantly, and that’s how she knew that Gillian was right. Jamie had been jealous of Joe.

Chapter Text

It was Thursday and Brian and Claire were walking in the alleys of the supermarket. Claire looked like a zombie, Maisie had been keeping her up at night since last Sunday as she had a new tooth growing and kept having fever peaks. Her poor little girl was hurting, and Claire didn’t know what to do except rock her in her arms and give her some pain medicine. She had been crying a lot today and kept disturbing the group of people that was trying to prepare treasure hunts for the kids, Claire felt desperate to help her child and guilty to bother everybody, so Brian had suggested that they both come with him into town to buy some new toys and things for the camp. They had been cruising the alleys for a good hour and a half already and Brian, seeing Claire’s pale face, put a hand on her shoulder, “Are you alright Claire? You don’t look so good.”

“I’m fine Brian, just really tired.” She sighed, “Maisie is teething and keeps waking up in the middle of the night, it will pass.”

“We’ve all been there. I know how the lack of sleep feels like with a baby.” He smiled at her and laughed as Maisie had used this moment of inattention to grab something on a shelf. “Can you go get some paper and color pens? Maisie and I will go and get new board games. Let’s meet at the cash register?”

“Sure, I’ll meet you there.”

 

They parted ways and Claire went to get what she needed as well as some food and toiletries for Maisie and her, then she made her way to the check out.

Brian had been right; she was feeling terrible and was pretty sure she was coming down with something. Her head was throbbing and she felt sore all over her body, but it was not the time to be sick, so she’d sucked it up and had lied to him.

 

They paid and took some time to put everything in Brian’s truck. Claire was feeling worse by the minute and fell asleep in the twenty minutes that separated the supermarket from the ranch. When Brian entered the ranch, Maisie started crying and Claire woke up, startled from her daughter’s screams.

 

“It’s ok sweet pea, we’re home.” She told her and shivered under the eyes of a worried Brian, it was very hot outside.

“Claire, you’re not ok. You’re sick.” He said sternly after putting his truck in park.

“I’m fine don’t worry, just a bit under the weather. Nothing a good night sleep can’t fix.” She smiled tiredly at him and got out of the car to get her screaming baby out of the car seat.

Brian started unloading the truck, “Do you want us to take Maisie for the night? So you can catch up on some sleep?”

“Thank you Brian, that’s very sweet. But don’t worry, I’ll be ok. As soon as her tooth is out, she’ll be sleeping like an angel again.”

There was just no way she was going to impose her crying, screaming child on them.

“Ok, please feel free to drop her off if you don’t feel good.”

She smiled and nodded, thanking him silently. She rocked Maisie until she settled down, then strapped her in the baby carrier so she could help Brian unload the truck and bring everything to the game room. An hour later, everything was put away and Claire headed to her cabin. Maisie was crying again and had started to run another fever, and Claire was feeling as if she was going to pass out herself in a few minutes. Jamie was waiting on her steps when she got there and had a worried look on his face.

“What’s going on?”

“She’s teething, she’s got a fever.” She sighed, dropping her bag of groceries on the floor to get her keys out.

“Give her to me.” He told her gently.

Claire unstrapped Maisie and handed her over, she snuggled into Jamie’s neck but kept crying loudly. “Hi Maise. You’re okay.” He whispered, slowly rocking her. “You don’t look good Claire…” He put his free hand on her forehead while she was unlocking the door. “And you’re burning up!”

She sighed and opened the door, took her bag of groceries, and dropped it onto the living room’s coffee table.

“I’m exhausted. She hasn’t been sleeping. And I think I’m sick…” She felt dizzy for a second and Jamie noticed.

“You clearly are. Come on, give me the meds for Maisie and go take a hot bath. I’ll take care of her.” He said nicely but firmly too, not taking no for an answer.

“Jamie, you don’t have to…”

“No discussion. Go take care of yourself for a little while, you need rest. I can take care of Maise.”

Maisie had stopped crying and Claire started tearing up, the exhaustion making her emotional. In this moment, she was extremely grateful for this amazing man. She hugged him and murmured a thank you, and he hugged her back.

“It’s okay Claire, I’m here.” He rubbed her back in comfort and she leaned into their embrace, relaxing after this stressful day.

Finally breaking their embrace, she went to the kitchen and got the medicine for Maisie. She told Jamie what to give her and in what quantity, then went to the bathroom and locked herself in to take a hot bath that would hopefully make her fever drop. She came out forty-five minutes later in leggings and an old t-shirt. Jamie was sitting on her couch, Maisie on his lap, and was reading books to her. It was soon going to be dinner time and Claire headed for the kitchen to make something for her.

“What are you doing?” He asked, raising his head from the book to look at her.

“Dinner.” She replied, shrugging.

“Please, don’t. Just go to bed Claire. I’m going to feed Maisie, and you too for that matter. Go to bed and I’ll bring you some soup in a while.”

“I can’t ask you to take care of us. We’ll be fine, I’m fine. I’m feeling better already with the bath.” She smiled.

He stood up and went to her. Feeling her forehead again, he frowned.

“Your fever is still running. Come on, don’t be stubborn. Go to bed. Mom will drop off some soup in a few minutes, and I don’t mind watching over Maisie until tomorrow so you can rest. I promise it’s no bother.”

“Your dad sent you, didn’t he?” She raised an eyebrow, realizing that Jamie had been waiting for her when she’d arrived, and that Ellen must have been cooking up that soup especially for her since it was June and that the weather wasn’t really calling for soup these days.

“He may have, yeah. And he was right. You need to get better and you can’t take care of your sick baby if you’re sick yourself.” He smiled tenderly. “Come on, go to bed Claire. I’ll be up with dinner soon.”

She reluctantly agreed, thanked him for the umpteenth time and went upstairs. After three minutes, she was asleep.

 

Ellen arrived twenty minutes later, a big Tupperware of hot soup between her hands. She set it on the dining table and filled a big bowl with it for Claire.

“Take it to her, will you?” She said to Jamie, showing him the bowl. “I’ll watch Maisie.”

He nodded, grabbed some medicine for Claire from her bathroom cabinet, then went upstairs with the lot. He knocked lightly on the door and opened it. Claire had fallen asleep although the room was still basking in light, and even if she looked terribly sick, he still found her beautiful.

He set down the food and medicine on her nightstand and woke her up gently, grazing her right cheek with his fingers.

“Claire, sorry to wake you up. I’ve brought you some food.” He whispered and she awakened, leaning into his touch.

“Hey.” Her voice was husky with sleep. She opened her eyes and saw him gazing at her, concern was written all over his face. “Thanks for taking care of me. I feel like shit.” She sat up in bed and leaned against the headboard.

He gave her the medicine, then handed her the soup that she found delicious.

“Mom is downstairs with Maisie, I’ll go relieve her. Eat and I’ll come back to get the bowl ok? Do you need anything else?”

“Nothing, you’re perfect. Thanks Jamie.”

He winked at her and went downstairs, passing along Claire’s praises to his mother for her soup. Ellen praised him too, proud that he was stepping up to help his friend, then left.

Jamie fed Maisie who seemed to feel a bit better with her medicine, then he went upstairs with her to say goodnight to Claire. She was dozing off, but Jamie and Maisie entering her room immediately woke her up.

“Hey my baby. How are you feeling?” She grabbed her tiny hand but didn’t reach for her. Better not to contaminate her child with whatever she had caught.

“I think she’s better. She ate all the soup and the yogurt afterwards. Look, I’m going to take her home with me, ok? I’ll give her a bath and make up a bed in my guest room for her. Don’t worry, she’ll be safe.”

“Jamie no, I can manage don’t worry.”

“Claire, you need a good night sleep, and she’s not going to give you that. I don’t mind having her with me for tonight, especially if that means you get better.”

She felt so bad she didn’t find it in her to argue further. She nodded and told him everything he needed to bring with him for the night. Then she said goodbye to the both of them and they left.

 

Jamie went home with a sleepy Maisie in his arms. He knew Claire was worried she would give him a hard time, but he would deal with the consequences. He was worried about Claire and wanted her to get better, and he loved Maisie and was happy to have her with him anyways.

He ran a warm bath for the little girl, spent some time playing with her, then put her in her pajamas and rocked her to the sound of some slow music in his living room. In ten minutes, she was out like a light. He laid her down in his guest bedroom and surrounded her with all the pillows he owned to ensure that she wouldn’t fall throughout the night. Then he made himself some dinner, took a shower and went to bed too.

Around two in the morning, he woke up to a screaming Maisie who was asking for her mother. He ran to the guest bedroom and found her sitting up in bed, her face as red as a tomato.

“Hey Maisie, I’m here.” He took her in his arms and started rocking her, alternating between making shushing sounds and kissing her warm little forehead. “You’re ok. We’ll see mommy tomorrow morning, ok? Let’s go get you some more medicine.” He headed for his kitchen and gave her what she needed for her pain and fever.

She finally quieted down and snuggled against him. When he thought he could put her back to bed, she wouldn’t let go of his neck. Resolved to make her feel safe, he simply took her to his bedroom, sensing that she needed to be cuddled, and they fell back asleep together with Maisie lying on his chest.

 

The next morning, Jamie woke up to babbling sounds and a smiling Maisie, who was playing with his nose.

“Good morning my little munchkin. You seem much better this morning!” He felt her forehead and the fever had indeed disappeared. She kept smiling at him and his heart melted. “Gosh why are you so cute? Come here!” He laid her down roughly next to him, making her laugh, and started kissing her all over her face and neck. She kept giggling in glee, her little face turning red from her emotions.

“Shall we go get some breakfast and check on mommy?” He asked her while trying to tame her curly black hair around her face.

“Mama! Mama!” She repeated, apparently agreeing with his plans.

 

He left her on the bed while putting some clothes on, then they went to Claire’s cabin. When they got there, Claire was still sleeping. Jamie put Maisie on the floor, checked that there was nothing she could hurt herself with in less than three minutes, then left her with her toys and headed upstairs. Claire was sound asleep and appeared to be sweating. Without waking her up, he felt her forehead and realized she still had a fever. He went back down to her bathroom, took a towel and poured fresh water on it, then went back up and laid it on her forehead. She moaned in relief; Jamie’s idea clearly a good one, and she opened her eyes.

 

“Hi, how are you feeling?” He took her hand in his, tracing small circles on the back of it.

“I feel even worse than yesterday…” She admitted it directly as she knew she wasn’t going to be operational today. “I’m sorry Jamie, I don’t think I can go to work today.”

“I wasn’t even considering it. Go back to sleep Claire, just rest. I’m going to take Maise to my parents for the day, and I’ll come back to check on you at lunch time.”

She squeezed his hand in thanks, she didn’t have the strength to hold a discussion right now.

“Do you want some breakfast?”

“No I’m not hungry… Thanks for the towel, it feels so good.” She whispered while pressing it against her forehead.

“Please take another pill before going back to sleep, ok? I’m going to go make some breakfast for Maisie. I’ll see you later.” He kissed the back of her hand and left her again.

 

He prepared a bottle for Maisie and took great pleasure in giving it to her, the little lady was obviously lazy this morning and was enjoying being taken care of by Jamie. He changed her into some day clothes and grabbed her bag, then they left for his parents’ house. He sang her baby songs on the way, jumping up and down to make her laugh, and when they finally arrived Ellen took her from his arms.

 

“How is Claire doing?” She asked worriedly.

“She’s terrible, still running a fever. I’m not sure she’ll be better this weekend either.” He frowned. “I’ll go back and see her at lunch, give her some more soup. Do you think I should call a doctor?”

She smiled tenderly at him, and he frowned further.

“What?”

“Nothing, it’s good to see you caring so much about someone again.”

“I was wondering when you were going to say something.” He rolled his eyes but smiled nonetheless.

“What do you mean? Who said what?” She replied in feigned surprise.

“Come on mom, don’t play that game with me. Dad said something, Ian said something, Jen too… I was worried your radar was off.”

“I’m fond of Claire and it’s all I will say, alright? You do whatever you want with your life my son, so long as you’re happy, I’m on board.”

“Thanks mom.” He kissed her cheek and didn’t say more, there was nothing to tell anyway.

“I’m glad you’re looking after her Jamie. And no, I don’t think you need to call a doctor. I’m pretty sure she’s got the flu; it’s been going around these past few weeks. But maybe go to the pharmacy and get her whatever they recommend?”

“Yes. I’ll go after I tend to the horses. Dad is overseeing everybody this morning, can you let him know Claire won’t be there? And are you sure you’re ok with taking care of Maisie all day? I can manage with her if it’s too much trouble.”

“It’s ok Jamie, I’ve got some gardening to do but that’s it. I’ll take her, I’m sure she’ll love it. And yes, I’ll inform your father, no worries. Now go, I’ll see you later, ok?”

He started explaining her how to give Maisie her medicine, but she shooed him away, telling him she had had kids before. He kissed her and Maisie and said his goodbyes, leaving to do his morning duties on the ranch.

 

He went by Claire’s cabin a little after one in the afternoon, he had been to the pharmacy and had brought her everything they had said she would need to get better. He heated up some soup and took everything with him upstairs.

Claire was under her covers, watching a movie, and turned her head when she heard Jamie knock.

“I’m awake, come in.” She said with a small voice.

“I’m back. Brought you some soup again, and I went to the pharmacy I’ve brought you vitamins and painkillers.”

“Thanks Jamie. I owe you big time.” She sat up, took the soup from him and started drinking it. “I didn’t even ask you how it went with Maise last night?”

He sat down on the bed next to her and started taking out all the medicine he had brought.

“She woke up in the middle of the night, I think she was in pain. So I gave her what you told me and she ended up sleeping in my arms, I don’t think she wanted to be alone.”

“Like mother like daughter.” She smirked at him and he did his best not to jump to conclusions, instead he just smiled and stifled a laugh. “You were right, thanks for taking her, I would have never been able to take care of her.”

“It’s no bother. I love her you know that.”

She nodded, smiling, and kept eating.

“I can keep her tonight too. I really don’t mind. I don’t think you’re going to get better right away… Mom thinks it’s the flu, it’s been going around apparently. You probably caught it at the wedding.”

“It’s definitely the flu.” Her nursing school knowledge had taught her that. “I don’t want to give it to her so yes if you really don’t mind… I think that would be best.”

“Good, it’s settled then. And I can take her to Nashville tomorrow, visit Jenny and the kids, do you think she’d like that?”

“Shit, Jenny! We’re supposed to go to the spa tomorrow… Guess I have to cancel.” Her eyes teared up, she was really looking forward to this.

“Hey it’s ok. I know my sister. She will reschedule it for the three of you.” He brushed up the tear that had fallen with his thumb.

“Yeah but it was the last weekend we could do it, then my days off are all over the place…” She sniffed and he smiled, she had bloodshot eyes and bags under them, she was as pale as a ghost and yet, he couldn’t help but find her adorable.

“You already know your days off, you’ll just have to send them to her. And you still have next weekend actually! By the way, I’m having a party next Saturday, I hope you’ll come. Mom and dad can watch Maise.”

“Oh, actually I have someone visiting next weekend… But maybe we’ll stop by, if you don’t mind him coming.”

She yawned and finished her soup.

“Of course not, you’re welcome to bring anyone you want.” He told her calmly with a smile, but inside he was dying to know who this guy was.

He was pretty sure she wasn’t involved with anyone; she would have told him by now. But she wasn’t giving him any information either and that was weird, right? Well, she was very sick after all, and maybe not in the mood for a big conversation…

Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t notice her putting her bowl away and taking her meds. She lied down again but started shivering.

“Claire, are you cold?”

“Yeah, it’s so annoying… I’ve been cold and hot and cold… On and off like this since last night.” Her teeth were chattering, and she hugged her covers tighter.

“Come on, scoot over.”

“What? No Jamie, I’m sure you’ve got work to do, and I don't want to contaminate you. I’m good, it will pass.”

“I got my flu shot this year. Scoot over.” He repeated, and she obliged.

He took off his shoes and lied down next to her. She rested her head on his chest and her arm around him, and he put both of his arms around her. She sighed contentedly, but he didn’t know how to interpret it.

“It’s true you’re a human heater.” She hugged him tight and stopped shivering.

She was content because of his warmth then, not his nearness. Or at least that’s what he thought.

In reality, Claire felt good in his arms because she felt safe in them and because he smelt like heaven. His warmth was just a bonus.

He started running his fingers through her hair, on her face, then back to her hair, which was probably her favorite thing ever. She eventually fell asleep, rocked by the rhythm of his heartbeat, and Jamie stayed holding her longer than she ever knew.

Chapter Text

Claire had ended up being sick throughout the entire weekend. Jamie had been an absolute savior and had kept Maisie with him until Claire felt well enough to care for her child again. He had suffered through several sleepless nights with a teething baby and had been a real trooper, rocking and comforting her, letting her sleep with him every night so she wouldn’t feel alone without her mom. He had finally returned her to Claire on Sunday night, she wasn’t completely cured but had regained enough energy to manage things on her own.

She felt awful for leaving her daughter for four consecutive days, but so grateful that she had someone as caring and supportive as Jamie to lean on. He had been right, she would have never been able to care for Maisie, especially these days as she wasn’t sleeping. She had thanked him so many times, but she did realize that he loved her daughter dearly and that he had been genuinely happy to care for her while she recovered. And that just added one more thing to the list of things that made her fall for him.

 

The next week flew by, they had started cleaning the kids' cabins as they were due to arrive at the end of next week. Claire had finally had a discussion with Ellen, Brian and Jamie about Maisie and how they would manage once camp started. It had been agreed that every time Claire or Jamie oversaw indoor activities in the game room, she would be staying with them in her playpen. She would also be going to hikes at Cedars Park and stay with them when they were at the lake. For the rest, Ellen had assured them that she would be pleased to keep her at home with her as she was mostly in charge of accounting for the ranch, which she could do when Maisie wasn’t there, and she could manage gardening with her as she had already done it before. With this out of the way, the four adults felt relieved, and Claire hugged and thanked them once more for the amazing opportunity and place they had provided for her and her daughter.

 

Claire was surprised when she read on her phone that it was already Friday. She had barely seen Jamie this week, he had so much work to finish before camp started and he had been planning his party on Saturday, so he hadn’t come over at night for their usual dinner-show ritual. Instead, she had hung out with Joe, Orson and Abby all week after work, they had picnicked at the lake one evening, had another game night, and she really enjoyed her time with this group of people. She was finishing setting up a cabin with Orson when her phone had vibrated, it was a text from Jamie, asking her if she wanted to have dinner and watch a movie or another episode of their show together. Sadly, she realized the weekend was already there, which meant Matt would be there in a few hours. She sighed, it felt weird to not have seen Jamie all week when she had been spending pretty much all of her time with him for the past month and a half, and she would have loved to curl up on his couch and just enjoy an evening with him. But she had said yes to Matt, and he was on his way to Victoria, so there was no turning back now. She declined his invitation and reminded him that she had a visit this weekend.

 

Oh yes, I forgot… Will I at least get to see you at the party tomorrow?

 

She had already asked Ellen and Brian who had evidently agreed to keep Maisie for the night, and even if Matt was there, she wasn’t planning on missing it. Everyone would be there, and it would be the last big night before the camp opened its doors.

 

Of course, we’ll be there. Let me know what I can bring :)

 

He put a thumbs up on her message and the conversation ended there.

After his reaction regarding Joe, she thought he may be feeling the same way about Matt coming this weekend. Obviously, Jamie had no idea who he was nor what he meant to her; she hadn’t told him anything really about her past except that she had been married and that Frank had passed… But these past few days she had been thinking about telling him everything. The people who knew her before knew everything, and she had never had to explain her story in its entirety to someone before, except her therapist. She was afraid to say it out loud, because it would hurt, because she feared it would open this giant wound that hadn’t closed yet. But she trusted Jamie, he had told her about his past and he had been such a supportive and comforting presence in her life since she’d met him, that she knew he would react appropriately no matter what she told him.

 

Orson was giving her some crooked smiles over the sheets they were putting on one of the beds. He had been openly flirting with her since that first game night and it made her laugh inside. He was quite handsome, black hair, grey eyes, tall and muscular, but he was as mature as a teenager and probably the last person she would get into a relationship with. Although thinking back on what Gillian had said, he wouldn’t be so bad to get back out there.

She smiled back at him and asked him about his plans for the weekend, which evidently included Jamie’s party, every worker was looking forward to it on the ranch. She assured him that she would stop by, she just didn’t know how long as she had a friend coming for the weekend.

 

Matt and Claire had agreed to meet at a restaurant in the next town, Jasper, where he had found a BnB for the weekend.

Once she was done with work, Claire went back to her cabin and took a bath with Maisie, spent some time playing with her and fed her before they had to leave for the restaurant. Claire was trying to relax but couldn’t help the anxiety she felt about seeing him again, as the last time they had seen each other, he had made a move on her… She took big breaths and pictured all the times he had been a life saver, helping out the first few weeks when Maisie was born, helping her with the funeral arrangements after Frank’s passing… This was Matt, her friend, her support, her child’s godfather. He said it wouldn’t happen again and she at least owed him the benefit of the doubt.

After a ten-minute drive, she arrived in Jasper. She took out Maisie’s stroller, in case she fell asleep, then took her daughter in her arms and locked her car. When she turned around, Matt was there, a huge grin on his face, and all her anxiety vanished. He greeted her with open arms and she hugged him warmly, happy to see her friend again.

 

“Hey, I’ve missed you so much girls.” He said, hugging them tight.

“Missed you too, Matty.” She broke their embrace and he reached for Maisie. Claire handed her to him and they went inside the restaurant. The waitress gave them menus and sat them in a booth near the window.

Maisie only lasted two minutes in Matt’s arms before starting to cry, calling for her mother. Claire took her back and calmed her down.

“I’m sorry, she’s been so fussy these past few days, she’s teething… And it’s been almost two months since you last saw her, she has to get used to you again.” She told him with an apologetic smile.

“It’s fine, I know I’ll conquer her heart again.” He gave her a wink, then they both looked at their menus to choose their meal. They ordered and then he gazed at her, still smiling.

“So, tell me about your life on the ranch. I want to know everything!”

“Well… it’s amazing. This place is huge, full of nature, Maisie adores the horses and we go see them every morning, there’s a big lake too. It’s kind of surreal. I was hired by the family who owns and runs the ranch, the Frasers. They’re absolutely amazing. They have been so supportive with Maisie, babysitting her often so I can have some downtown. Their son Jamie is my supervisor but he’s become my friend really, he’s great, Maisie is in love with him. He introduced me to his friends, so I’ve actually made some friends here, and I truly missed it. Overall it’s been great, I’m finally moving on, finally feeling happy again…”

“You really do seem happy Claire. Your smile was only reserved for Maisie but now I see it’s taken a permanent place on your face again, I’m so glad.”

“Thank you. Gill has been saying the same.” She smiled shyly. “Next weekend the kids are going to arrive, summer camp is opening. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m reassured now that we’ve figured out where and who will take care of Maise every day.”

“She’s grown up so much. I can’t believe she’s starting to talk.” He looked at her in awe.

“Yeah, she’s crawling too… Next thing you know, she’ll be walking and be the death of me.” She laughed, kissing her daughter’s head, who was currently playing with the napkin on the table.

“She looks more and more like you, it’s incredible. I do see some of him in her too, though.” He smiled sadly and she felt her heart squeeze in her chest. She could see it too, in her smile, in her expressions.

“I do too.” She sighed, and they were cut a second later by the waitress who came back to take their order.

 

“So, what is new with you?” She asked him.

“Well, nothing much in the work department, still the same job, still working like a maniac. But I have met someone. We met through a dating app, I didn’t expect much of it at first but she’s really nice, we’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks. It’s been good.”

Claire was surprised but thrilled for him. The last remains of fear she may have had of him trying something with her again disappeared, and she smirked at him.

“This is great news Matty! I'm happy for you. What’s her name? What does she do?”

“Her name is Eleanor, she’s a primary school teacher.”

“Good, that means she loves kids. I approve.” She winked.

 

The rest of the dinner went by nicely, they kept on having nice and easy conversations about nothing very special, they were just happy to be spending some time together again. Maisie had finally agreed to sit on his lap, adapting to her godfather, and had fallen asleep there while they were having dessert. Claire asked Matt to come by the ranch for lunch the next day, promising him a tour of the place in the afternoon. She also informed him that Jamie was throwing a party at night and that he was welcome to join, and he told her he would. It was dark outside when they left the restaurant, Matt helped her put Maisie in her car seat and hugged her before she climbed in her car.

 

When she got home, it wasn’t very late and she wasn’t tired. She put Maisie to bed, removed her make-up and sat down on her couch, bored. She grabbed her phone and texted Jamie, she missed him.

Up for an episode? 😘

 

I’ll be there in 5

 

He replied almost a few seconds later and she smiled; happy she would get to spend some time with him tonight.

He showed up as promised five minutes later, letting himself in, he kissed her cheek and sat beside her. She had already prepared the episode and just clicked play when he arrived. They didn’t speak, getting back into their usual TV date nights' habits. And she wasn’t sure he really wanted to know how her night with Matt had gone anyway, he just seemed happy to be there with her. She grabbed a cusson, put it on his legs and laid her head on it, taking a horizontal position on the couch.

Jamie’s hands reflexively went to her hair which he started stroking and Claire let out a small whimper of contentment, which did things to Jamie she could have never imagined.

After two episodes, he saw her drifting to sleep and sent her to bed before going back home to sleep too. After all, they would be needing some rest in order to party tomorrow night.

 

When Claire woke up the next day, she was shocked to see it was ten in the morning. Maisie had slept straight through the night and hadn’t woken up in the morning. The poor thing was probably exhausted from all her previous sleepless nights.

Claire found her awake and smiling in her crib, not in a rush to get up. “Mama! Mama!” She babbled when she saw Claire looking at her, and this was all Claire needed to start the day with a huge smile on her face.

They spent the morning eating breakfast, playing with construction games and small dolls. Claire stood her up on her feet and made her walk in the grass in front of the cabin, she had already started standing up by herself by holding onto tables or chairs, and Claire felt like she was very close to walking on her own. Jamie, who had just come back from the stables, was having coffee on his porch and filmed the adorable scene, which he later sent to Claire. She was grateful for it, as she rarely was in the pictures or videos with Maisie, being the one who usually filmed her.

Around lunch time, Matt showed up and Claire welcomed him next to the main house. They walked to her cabin and had lunch there, Matt fed Maisie and spent a bit of time playing with her while Claire was doing laundry. They put Maisie to bed for her nap and they sat on her porch, drinking iced tea and reminiscing about the past. They spoke about memories with Frank, and Matt was happily surprised to see that Claire was able to talk about him without tearing up, which actually surprised her too. She had reached another milestone in her grief and felt lighter to know that things were truly getting easier with time. As they sat on her porch for nearly two hours, she wondered what Jamie may have been doing as she didn’t see him come in or out of his house in this entire time.

 

 

Jamie was at the supermarket, shopping for his party with Ian, Jenny and Andrew. As the cat was out of the bag regarding Claire, they were in deep conversation about his feelings toward her guest this weekend.

“But who is this guy?” Ian asked, curious.

“I have no clue. We were together last night, and she didn’t say anything to me about him. I’m so frustrated.” He sighed, grabbing some sour candies from the shelf.

“She’s not seeing anyone Jamie, last I checked she wasn’t ready for it.” Jenny told him and his stomach knotted. So, he didn’t stand a chance then?

“Oh, I see.”

“She spent the end of the night with you, Jamie. Doesn’t that count for something?” She added, hopeful.

“I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how to read her in this department. I’m so afraid to screw it up I wouldn’t dare to try anything right now. But if this guy is indeed interested in her, and I miss my chance…” He rolled his eyes, trying to avoid thinking about this unpleasant idea. “Can someone go and get some chips please? I’m going to go get the beers.”

Closing the subject, Andrew and Jenny went to get the chips and Ian and Jamie remained together.

“You’ll figure it out Jamie. I know things will fall into place eventually, have a little faith.” He clasped his shoulder and smiled at him, making Jamie laugh.

“Thanks, Ghandi.” He made him laugh in return.

 


 

The evening came quickly. Jamie and his friends spent the afternoon filling bowls with food, pushing the furniture aside to make space for people, and removing the fragile objects who may perish in the hands of drunk young adults.

On her side, Claire had given a walking tour of the ranch to Matt, Maisie strapped in the baby carrier. They had spent the entire afternoon outside and when they returned to her cabin, Matt left them to go back to his BnB to take a shower and change, due to the hot weather of the day. Claire bathed Maisie too, and took her to Brian and Ellen’s, leaving them in charge of dinner and bedtime and crossing her fingers that it would go smoothly.

She went back to her cabin, got ready for the party, and showed up at 8:00 PM. It had already started, and people were gathered in Jamie’s living room. All the workers were there, eating and talking, and there were a lot of other faces she didn’t recognize.

When she spotted Jenny and Lauren, she joined them happily and hugged her friends tight.

 

“I’m so sorry you had to cancel our plans on Saturday. You should have gone without me.” She pouted, feeling guilty.

“Claire, you were terribly sick. We get it! And there was no way we were going without you, we’re doing this together, as we planned.” Jenny replied with a smile.

“Yeah, send us your days off tomorrow, we’ll find another date.” Lauren added, nodding to Jenny’s statement.

 

Claire smiled and thanked them, touched that they really wanted this day to include her. They got themselves some alcoholic drinks and grabbed some food too, then went to sit at Jamie’s kitchen counter. Claire did her best to not think about her bad memory featuring this counter and thought at least Jamie must have cleaned it a few times since it had happened.

As if Jenny had been reading her mind, she started giggling between bites, sending knowing looks to Claire who rolled her eyes but laughed as well. It was better to laugh about it after all.

 

Jamie had put on some music in the house and people were already dancing, drinking eagerly at the same time. He interrupted the three women who were in deep conversation, putting both his hands on Claire’s shoulders, “Hello ladies, I think it’s time we hit the dancefloor.” He turned his head to the living room, some people were already spilling their drinks on the floor, “Thank god I put my carpet away.” He muttered, making them laugh. “Alright come on, let’s go.” He grabbed Claire’s hand and dragged her in the living room, making her giggle.

Jenny rolled her eyes, smiling. “Right, as if he had any interest in us coming to dance, huh. God they’re so obvious, how are they not together already?” She told Lauren who shrugged, laughing.

“They’re a little slow. I think it’s not as obvious to them as it is to us.”

“Yeah, it usually isn’t.”

“I see their friendship and I can understand the reluctance in transforming this into more. I’d be scared to lose my friend, too.” Lauren said.

“I felt the same with Ian, but I gained so much more in the end!”

“Oh, I completely agree, and it will be worth it for them too I have no doubt. They just need to realize it. Come on, let’s go dance!” She winked and dragged Jenny toward the dancefloor too.

 

Everyone was dancing and singing in Jamie’s living room, having fun. Matt only arrived an hour later, standing by Jamie’s front door. Claire was already very tipsy and her reaction when she saw him was a lot friendlier than the day before.

“Mattyyyyy you came!” She ran toward him and hugged him tight.

“Sorry I’m late, I had trouble finding an uber here.” He hugged her back.

“Come on, let’s get you a drink and I’ll introduce you to everybody.”

She took him to the kitchen and served him some strong drink that made him frown and laugh when he tasted it. He took her hand in his and didn’t let go of it, and they started talking a little. While this was happening, Jamie was watching her from the corner of his eyes, wondering who this man was and why he was touching Claire so much. He didn’t like it and felt jealousy surge through him like fire, but he took a deep breath and kept dancing, as he knew it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to say anything about it. After ten minutes though, he was just too curious to not go over to them, and he did just that. Claire turned to him and flashed him a beautiful smile, "Jamie!" She said way too loud and happily.

At that, Matt put his arm around her waist and held her close. Jamie did his best to not react and gave him a tight smile.

"Hello. I'm Matt, Claire's friend." He said, handing out his hand for him to shake.

"Nice to meet you. Welcome to my home." Jamie replied while shaking it, he put his strength into the shaking and stared him down, clearly trying to send him a coded message.

Matt smiled back at him and Jamie did not like what this smile was showing, but he wasn't sure if this guy was a jerk, or if it was just him that was seeing what he wanted to see. After all, he was jealous.

Claire finally brought Matt to the group a few minutes later and they all turned to look at them, Jamie followed, “Guys, this is Matt, one of my oldest friends. Matt this is…” And she enumerated all the names that he probably wouldn’t remember anyway. They all welcomed him and he thanked them, then they joined them in the drunk dancing, which didn’t take Matt too long to be, seeing how strong the drink Claire had given him was.

Throughout the night, Claire alternated between dancing with Jamie, who did his best to keep some distance between them as they were surrounded by a lot of people they were working with, and dancing with Matt, who was getting more and more handsy by the minute, which made Jamie’s blood boil with annoyance and jealousy.

It was only around 1 AM that Claire started to feel sleepy. She knew she had to wake up early the next day to pick up Maisie, as they were supposed to go to Nashville with Matt before he took a flight back to California. Matt was obviously not feeling like staying if she was leaving, and they both said goodbye to everybody before taking off toward her cabin, although pretty much no one noticed as they were too far gone into drunkenness.

 

When they reached Claire’s cabin's front door, she took out her phone, “Let me order you an Uber.” She said.

“Claire, wait.” He took her phone and grabbed her hands, and before she could understand what was happening, he was pushing her against the door and kissing her.

She was drunk and returned the kiss without thinking, but Matt broke their embrace and looked at her longingly, “God, I’ve wanted to do this since I arrived. I’ve missed you so much Claire, I know you felt reluctant about us, but this feels so right.” He started kissing her again, but his words had been like a slap that brought her back to earth. She instantly felt the alcohol buzz disappear, she couldn’t believe this was happening again.

“What the fuck Matt?! You promised this wasn’t going to happen again! What about Eleanor?” She almost yelled, so angry at him she felt her hands shaking.

“Come on Claire. I know there’s something there, and I know you feel it too. I don’t care about her, all I want is you.” He pleaded.

“There’s nothing there, Matt. There never was and there never will be! Do you hear me?”

But Matt was drunk and in love with her, and he just couldn’t hear what she was saying. He launched himself at her, pushing her against the door again and crushing his lips on hers. She tried to push him off, but he wasn’t listening to her pleas, too busy thinking about how he felt about her. 

Chapter Text

Claire couldn’t begin to fathom what was happening right now and started crying. She couldn’t move, he was holding her too tight, and she feared what would happen next. But before Matt was able to go any further, she suddenly felt him withdraw from her violently, and his body flew across her porch.

“Get your hands off her!” Jamie yelled, bursting with anger.

In his jealousy, he had discreetly watched them leave from his own porch, and when he saw what was going on and that Claire didn’t seem to be consenting, he immediately saw red.

 

After throwing Matt away from her, he pulled him up, grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and made him stand up again, telling him in a threatening tone with his fist pointing right at his face, “Leave my property right now, do you hear me? If I ever see you near Claire again, I swear to God, I will break your face. Do you hear me? Am I being clear?”

Matt was clearly frightened, Jamie was taller than him, more muscular, and so protective of Claire that he did not stand a chance. He nodded and took off running, not even apologizing or glancing again at Claire as he was too afraid of what Jamie would do.

 

Once he was finally out of sight, Jamie turned back to Claire, who was sitting against her front door and sobbing uncontrollably.  Jamie took a look at his house; the party was still going but no one seemed to have noticed what had happened. He scooped her up in his arms and took her inside her cabin. Sitting down on her couch, he kept her tight against him, rocking her slightly to calm her down.

“You’re alright Claire, he’s gone. He won’t be coming back.” He muttered in her hair, and she nodded, wrapping her arms around his neck to hold onto him.

“Please stay with me?” She pleaded.

“Of course. I’m not going anywhere.” He kissed her temple and kept on rocking her until her sobs finally stopped.

“I-I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have told him to come here. I never thought he would do something like this.” She hiccupped.

“Claire, what are you talking about? You did nothing wrong! I’m so glad you’re okay. When I saw you struggling I just…” He grunted, incapable of putting into words on what he had felt. “Are you, okay?”

“I honestly don’t know.” She sighed. “I’m just happy you were there. Thank you Jamie. I don’t know what he would have done if you hadn’t shown up.”

“I’d rather not think about it. I thought you said he was an old friend?”

“He is. He was.”

 

She got off his lap and went to her kitchen to drink a glass of water. Then, she took out a bottle of tequila and came back to the living room with it.

She sat next to Jamie and laid her legs on his, then opened the bottle and took a good gulp of it. She handed him the bottle, but instead he took her other hand and stroked it gently. “He was my husband, Frank’s, best friend. I met them both in high school when I was fifteen.”

He kissed her fingers and stopped her, “You don’t have to explain anything to me Claire. I know you didn’t do anything.”

“I know Jamie, but I want to. I’ve wanted to for a while. You’ve shared your past with me, and I feel it’s about time I did the same. I trust you.” She gave him a small smile and squeezed his hand.

 

“As you know, I’m an orphan. Well, I was born and raised by two loving parents in California, but they passed in a boat accident when I was 7. I was away for a school trip, and when I came back, my whole life was turned upside down. As my only living relative, my uncle moved into my house and got custody of me. But I barely knew him, my dad and him never got along. Turns out he was a drunk and a gambler, my parents were pretty wealthy, but he dilapidated all their money in his games and when we were finally ruined, he shot himself.”

She took another sip of tequila, this just felt like a lifetime ago. She then went on.

“I entered foster care when I was 10, and it was horrible Jamie. Most families were doing this for the money, they didn’t care for us at all. I know I didn’t get it as bad as others did, but this is not a time I like to remember. I was a shy little girl, I didn’t have many friends, and my only pleasure was going to school because when I was in class, I could pretend my life was still normal like the other kids’. I was a great student and luckily, the private school my parents had sent me to had offered to pay for my entire schooling up until high school. So even though I had a shitty home, I kept going to an amazing school and I did my best to be an A student. I met Frank there. I was 15 and he was 17, handsome, older, and it was the first time I fell in love with someone. No one looked at me in my school, I was invisible. I didn’t dress with fashion designer clothes, I didn’t put make up on, and yet, this guy who was two classes above me noticed me and for the first time since my parents died, I felt what it was like to matter to someone. And it was pretty incredible.”

After another sip of tequila, Jamie kissed her fingers again. She knew he was letting her speak her truth and would talk when he felt it was time to.

“I got myself a job after school and over the weekends, and by the time I was sixteen, I was earning enough money to rent a room in a shared apartment. I got myself emancipated and finally had the power to care for myself, focus on my studies and my relationship. I spent the small free time I had left with Frank and his best friend Matt.” She sighed.

“Frank started university when I was 16. Thankfully he went to UCLA, so we saw each other all the time. I finished high school and had been accepted to CSU in the nursing program. Turns out I could afford it, after I got emancipated I found out my parents had left me with a trust fund for my studies, the only money my uncle could never get his hands on. But in August, right before I was supposed to start, Frank showed up at my place and we had the biggest discussion of our life that day. He had finally sent his parents to hell, had dropped out of college and enrolled in the special forces training program in North Carolina. Frank’s parents never approved of me, I wasn’t rich, I didn’t have the social status they wished, so I was never allowed to set foot in their house. Frank had decided to choose me, and to choose his dream, and his parents decided to cut ties with him... It broke my heart. I never understood how parents could do that and now that I have Maisie, it stuns me. I could never, ever do that.”

Her eyes seemed far away, and Jamie could see she was remembering painful memories. Then she started smiling.

“He asked me to marry him and to move there with him. He was my entire life and I loved him, so I said yes. We were married the next weekend at the courthouse, with Matt as our witness, and we left for Fort Briggs right after. I cancelled my spot at CSU and applied for nursing schools near Fort Briggs, but it was too late for me to enroll that year so I had to wait for one more before starting nursing school. Honestly, it was a very lonely year for me. I became an army wife, and I tried to get into it but I just never fit in, just like I never used to fit back in California. I was so young, Frank trained almost every day for 15 months and I barely saw him, when he wasn’t training he was exhausted and didn’t feel like spending time doing things with me … Then I started nursing school and things changed. I met Gillian and finally I had a social life. We would go out, she introduced me to people, I had fun. It was a special time for me, a rare one where everything was going great.”

She drunk some more tequila and realized she was feeling tipsy again, which is what she wanted.

“Frank got deployed pretty much as soon as he was done with training, right after my twentieth birthday. It was hard letting him go and knowing I could never see him again. He was in the special forces, I never knew exactly where he was, what he was doing, and we would go weeks without talking… I’m glad I had Gillian, because I don’t know how I would have gone through it otherwise. Matt was also a big support, he checked on me often, made sure I was ok… Frank was gone for almost sixteen months, and let me tell you, it was a long ass time to not see my husband. I woke up every day, hoping that the worst wouldn’t happen.”

Jamie hadn’t uttered a word, but she could see the shock on his face.

“He came home eventually but he wasn’t exactly the same. He never told me, but I knew he had seen things that would haunt him forever. I was grateful he didn’t get any PTSD though, and at some point, we fell back into a routine. Things were better, we were finally living our life as a married couple, I was doing great at school, I had a nice group of friends. I was happy.”

Her gaze turned dark again, and Jamie knew bad memories were hovering over her mind.

“Then one day he got the call. They were deploying again, somewhere in Africa. He wasn’t supposed to leave so soon, and I was so angry and scared. But he had a contract and couldn’t just tell them no, and he left in October.”

She took a deep breath and tried to speak through the lump that was forming in her throat.

“Six weeks later, I was on my way out to school when the dreaded car pulled over in front of my house. Two soldiers came out and told me my husband had been killed in a raid. Two days later, I found out I was pregnant.” She had done her best up until that point but finally, tears started flowing from her eyes.

“Oh god, Claire. I’m so sorry.” He put one arm over her and kissed her teary cheek. Nothing he could say would make this better. He didn’t know what to expect from her past, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine it could have been that bad. From early childhood, Claire had been alone to fend for herself, had almost never received parental love and guidance, and had been through more loss and grief than anyone he knew personally. Suddenly, her personality and her reactions toward his family being so welcoming and loving made complete sense to him.

“I was devastated Jamie. It’s like after I received the news, everything went into slow motion and I couldn’t feel anything but pain, I just wanted to stay in bed and never come out again... Gillian and Matt took care of everything for Frank’s funeral. We… We had to bury an empty casket. They were never able to retrieve his body and I wasn’t given any more information than that due to the highly classified op they were running. Can you believe that?”

She hiccupped and took a few seconds to catch her breath.

“I sent word to his parents, with whom we hadn’t had any contact with ever since we had left for Fort Briggs. And they didn’t even come to the funeral. I despise these people, if you knew how much I hate them. I will never understand their choices.”

Jamie squeezed her in his arms, to let her know he understood.

“Then after the funeral, I had to face the fact that I was pregnant and without a husband. I wasn’t earning any money because I was in school…” She sighed.

“I considered it, you know? Getting an abortion. But that child was all that was going to remain of the only good thing that had happened in my life, a last piece of my husband, and I just couldn’t do it. Keeping her came with its load of hardships, but I never regretted my decision. Gillian dragged me to grief counseling, because I needed to get better and take care of myself, for the sake of the baby at least. It helped. It took a good year, even after Maisie was born. But I got better, and to be honest, I really started to feel better once we arrived at the ranch.”

At that, Jamie smiled and kissed her temple, touched that he and his family had helped.

“I started receiving a pension after Frank’s death, so I stayed in school until I was as big as a whale and then I had to drop out. Matt and Gill were amazing, they helped a lot to get me organized before the birth, and really supported me once Maisie was born. But Matt lives in California and Gillian left for Vietman, so Maise and I spent most of her first 9 months on our own.”

“Eventually, I received notice that I had to vacate my house on the military base this July. They actually let me stay there almost a year more than is usually allowed after a spouse’s death, because I was alone and pregnant the other army wives had helped me get an extension. When I received that notice, I understood I had to find a job quickly, because I wouldn’t be able to care for us and pay rent with Frank’s pension alone. I did my best to find something around Fort Briggs, where I at least knew some people, but time was running out and I still couldn’t find anything…”

She drank some more tequila and frowned.

“Then Matt came to visit, and he hit on my one night. I was in shock. I was grieving his best friend, my husband, and he did that. I had found your job notice online earlier that day, and I freaked out so I called your dad, told him a bit about me – obviously not that much – and when he agreed to hire me, I took Maisie, packed the few things we owned, and took off as quickly as possible. I just couldn’t face Matt. He called me a few weeks ago, apologized… After all he had done for me, I owed it to him to give him a second chance. He is Maisie’s godfather after all. And last night, he told me he had a girlfriend, I just… I would have never imagined he could do such a thing to me. Maybe it’s because he was drunk, I hope, it’s because he was drunk. Because as much as I’m in shock, and angry at him right now, I just can’t understand why he would do such a thing.”

“Because he’s in love with you Claire. It’s written all over his face.” Jamie replied.

“Yeah, I think I gathered that… I meant why he would try to force himself on me like that. It’s not like him. He’s never been… abusive.”

“I don’t know Claire. Honestly, I don’t care. He's a jerk. I just hope you don’t see him ever again.” She could hear the fear in his voice, and she looked at him tenderly through her teary eyes. The alcohol was running in her veins and the inhibition it gave her made her want to reach out and stroke his lovely red hair.

 

Jamie took a deep breath and gazed at her, his thoughts were going at a crazy pace, he couldn’t fully process all the information she had told him just yet. It was so much. She had suffered so much.

 

“What are you thinking right now?” She finally asked as he had been staring at her for almost a minute.

“I’m thinking you’re the bravest person I’ve ever met.” She blushed at this. “I’m thinking… after all you’ve been through you deserve to be loved and respected by the people who surround you.” He kissed her cheek and laid his head on her shoulder. “I’m thinking it’s unfair you’ve been through all this shit, because you’re amazing and you didn’t deserve a single thing that’s happened to you.”

She squeezed his hand in silent thanks.

“I’m also thinking that this explains a lot about your personality, the way you’ve reacted with my parents and me… I want you to know we truly all care for you and Maise, Claire. It’s been great to get to know you, to spend time with you, I’m really glad you ended up here. I know it wasn’t easy to leave it all behind, but I hope it was worth it.”

“It was more than worth it Jamie. I told you, I didn’t really start feeling better until we came here. It was hard to leave all that I knew, but apart from some acquaintances from school and the military base, I didn’t have any ties there except for Gill, who is mainly abroad now anyways. And it was good also, to leave a place that was so entwined with memories of Frank. Everywhere I went, I saw him. And as much as I loved him, I needed to move on and get better for Maisie.”

 

By saying it out loud, that’s when she realized she had actually taken that next step. She was good. She would always miss her husband, but she knew she had reached that last step of grieving, acceptance.

 

“I’m really glad we came too. You’re pretty awesome, you know? You’re like, my best friend here. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

She turned her face toward him, smiling, and she was awfully close to his own face.

“You’re kind of my best friend too, just so you know.” He smiled back at her, and she found him so very attractive she felt her heart skip a beat.

 

Alcohol wasn’t helping her to think clearly. She just really wanted to grab his face and kiss him senseless, and at the same time she knew it wasn’t a good idea.

Jamie brought her back from her thoughts by stroking her cheek with his fingers.

 

“Thank you for telling me, Claire. And for trusting me. It means more to me than you can imagine.”

 

She curled up into him and they stayed there for a while, holding each other tight. Claire knew in this moment that Jamie had taken an unexpected place in her life and in her heart, and she wondered how the well she was going to leave him when the time came.

Chapter Text

A week had passed since that emotional night. Claire had been feeling lighter, confessing her truth to Jamie had set something free inside of her, and she was happy she had finally been able to open up to someone about her complicated past. The problem was, Jamie had been avoiding her. The past week had flown by, work had been crazy as they had to get everything ready for the children arriving today. She knew they were both tired, but he hadn’t shown up once at night for their usual TV watching and it hurt her feelings. Did he feel she was too vulnerable to be around her? Was he disappointed? She was wrecking her mind with unanswered questions, and hated that after being so open with him, he had shut down like this. She possibly couldn’t tell him anything now though, as they were in the cafeteria, surrounded by a handful of happy, hungry kids.

 

All the workers were eating at a big table, chatting loudly, happy and running on adrenaline after welcoming so many children who had a lot of energy.

Claire was sitting right across Jamie at the end of the table, Maisie was in between them in a highchair. He was staring at his food and had barely looked at Claire, which irritated her even more. Tired from his mutism, she decided she didn’t care who heard them.

“What’s wrong Jamie?”

He looked up from his plate, eyes tormented, and she could see he was surprised by her question.

“You’ve barely spoken to me this week.” She replied to his unspoken question.

He looked around them, checking to see if anyone was paying attention, then finally set his eyes on her.

“Not here, Claire.”

“Where, then? When? Because you sure didn’t find time to come see me this week.” She mumbled, her voice low.

“I’m sorry, I was tired, okay? Nothing’s wrong.” He sighed and looked at his plate again.

 

She wanted to yell at him, angry at his lack of reaction and his poor reply. She wasn’t his girlfriend though, and she didn’t have the right to be mad that he hadn’t spent time with her the past few days. But it bothered her.

He sighed again, then said, “I’ll stop by after the kids are in bed.”

 

She nodded and decided she would rather take part in the funny conversation going on next to them, rather than focusing on this moody Jamie in front of her.

Her daughter on the other hand, was tired from a long day of socializing with all those new faces on the ranch, and apparently, had had enough of sitting there and being quiet. She started crying and Claire barely had time to reach for her, Maisie was already in Jamie’s arms. He stood up and started rocking her gently, alternating between kissing her forehead and whispering in her ear words that Claire was dying to know. The little girl immediately relaxed in his soothing embrace and Claire’s anger vanished, her heart melting as usual when she saw how much this man cared for her child.

Jamie felt Maisie falling asleep and without asking Claire, reached for the baby carrier that was hanging from the highchair, managed to put it around him, and strapped the baby around his chest so she could fall asleep comfortably.

 

“It’s ok Jamie, I’ll take her.” Claire told him.

He looked at her, and gave her a sweet smile that made her heart beat faster.

“I don’t mind, let her sleep. We’ll get the kids to bed, and I’ll put her in her crib when we’re done.” He winked at her and headed for the kids tables.

She was both happy and confused by this, one minute he was cold, the next he wasn’t… What was going on in his mind, she was dying to know.

 

“Okay guys. Have you all finished your dinners?” Jamie asked loudly, making all the conversations stop. Maisie didn’t budge, already sleeping soundly.

“Yeeeaaaah!” They all screamed back.

“Great, you can bring all your plates over there,” he pointed at a table next to the kitchen, “then off to bed all of you. It’s been a big day, you’re all allowed to stay up in your cabins until 10, then lights off. Deal?”

They yelled their agreement, then got up, brought their dishes to the table and started heading toward their respective cabins, which they had already seen earlier today.

Jamie came back to the workers table, “Ok so in fifteen minutes, we all separate and will start to go check on them. We’re not the police, they’re on vacation, ok? Let them have fun, they can hang out on their porch, but no leaving their cabins, the property is too big and too dark at night for us to chase them. We’ve never had problems before, let’s hope it continues. I’ll need two people to go and make rounds again at ten, to make sure all the kids are in bed, and I’ll do it again at midnight. Who wants to take the 10 PM shift?”

Two guys raised their hand and Jamie nodded, “Perfect. Let me know if there’s anything you need or if you have any questions, you all have my cell and we have the Whatsapp group. Also please don’t forget to remind the kids that they can come knock on our doors at any hours of the night, I know it’s not ideal, I promise it rarely happens, but it’s important they feel safe here.”

Everybody nodded, then they all brought their dishes to the table too and went outside, Claire included.

 

Joe put his arm around her shoulders, smiling at her, and walked with her a little behind the group.

“So, what’s going on with your friend Jamie?” He emphasized the word friend, which made Claire roll her eyes and Joe laughed.

“Nothing. I don’t know. He’s been avoiding me all week.” She sighed. “Why? Did you notice something?”

“Well, I could see the tension, yeah. He’s usually staring at you, talking to you, but I’ve barely seen him do any of it this week.”

“Fuck.” She whispered, “so it’s not my imagination. He’s totally been avoiding me.” She felt her stomach clench with fear. Jamie was her best friend here, and she desperately needed their relationship to be ok. “I told him… things. About my past. Last weekend.” She sighed. “I’m afraid he’s not handling it well.”

“Why? Did you tell him you killed someone?” He raised an eyebrow and she burst out laughing.

“Yeah sure. I told him where I’d buried the body and asked him not to tell the cops. I think he might tattle on me now.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I’ve been through some stuffs. And I’ve told him everything, finally. I don’t know, maybe it scared him off. Who knows? I don’t like that he’s not talking to me though.”

“Then tell him?”

“I did, during dinner. He said he’ll come by after we’ve put the kids to bed. At least I know he’ll come, he kind of has kidnapped my daughter so, I’m hoping he’ll come to return her at least.”

“I’m sure he will. He does like Maisie a lot, doesn’t he?”

“He does. I don’t know why, but I’m not complaining. It’s nice to take a breather sometimes. I love my daughter more than anything in the world and everything I do, I do for her. But I have to admit, having the Frasers helping out and taking care of her sometimes has been a blessing. I’m starting to feel like myself again, not just someone’s mom, you know.”

“I couldn’t possibly understand, but I can imagine.” He squeezed her against him. “Now let’s go check on the little monsters. They all seem nice and fun, I hope there won’t be too many arguments between them.”

“So do I. I remember how kids can be cruel throughout teenagehood, and I don’t want to see a kid suffer from that during their vacation.”

“Yeah, neither do I.” Joe nodded and led her toward a cabin. “I’ll let you check on the girls, I’ll go check on the guys next door.

 

Claire walked up to the cabin, climbed the little stairs to the porch and knocked on the door. She entered the cabin and found some of the girls in their beds and the others brushing their teeth. It was a group of girls who were aged between fifteen and seventeen.

 

“Everything alright girls?” Claire asked, and they nodded.

“Yes, perfect, thank you Claire.” One of them replied.

“Where’s your baby?” Another asked with a grin.

“Somewhere close with Jamie, I believe. That girl loves to fall asleep on him.” She said with a feigned annoyed tone.

“I wouldn’t mind falling asleep on him too, honestly.” One of the seventeen-year-olds replied, waggling her eyebrows in a suggestive way and making all the girls giggle.

Claire stifled a laugh; she had fallen asleep on his chest a few times now and didn’t blame her daughter either. His broad chest was reassuring, his smell was infectious, and just thinking about it made her insides squirm with delight.

“Jenna.” Claire said in a shocked breath.

“What?” She started laughing too. “He’s hot! You can’t deny that!”

“Not the point. You’re way too young.” Claire replied.

“Yeah, but you’re not.” She gave her a lopsided grin, making the girls giggle again, and Claire’s cheeks turned crimson.

“You liiiike him!” Another girl chanted.

“I do not!” Claire tried to defend herself, wanting to dig a hole and disappear into it.

“Your face is saying otherwise.” Again, another girl chimed in.

“Okay, enough ladies.” Claire laughed, shaking her head and raising her hands in resolution. “Jamie is my friend and that’s it. Now just a warning, please don’t leave your cabin at night except if you need to come see us. You’re allowed to hang out on your porch if you wish, but after 10, lights out and everybody in bed, ok?”

The girls nodded.

“Tomorrow breakfast is at 8 in the cafeteria. Goodnight girls, sleep well.”

“Good night Claire, please say good night to Jamie for us will you?” Jenna replied.

The others all laughed and wished her good night and Claire left. Joe was waiting for her outside.

“Oh my god.” She whispered. “I just got mocked by a bunch of teenage girls.”

“What? What happened?” Joe replied, trying to contain his laugh.

“They teased me about Jamie. They said he was hot and that I was old enough to do him, I guess. I was mortified and obviously turned as red as a tomato because that’s what happens whenever I’m embarrassed.”

Now Joe started laughing loudly.

“They’re right, aren’t they? He’s hot. You’re old enough. So why not?”

“He’s my boss.” She added to his obvious list.

“Right. Who cares?”

“I do.”

“I don’t. And I don’t think he does.” He gave her a knowing smile and started walking toward another cabin.

“Wait? What do you mean?” She ran behind him, and he didn’t reply but started humming a song instead.

Claire was frustrated but didn’t ask again. Joe was clearly teasing her too.

They went to check on several cabins together for a good forty-five minutes, and finally Claire went home.

When she arrived, Jamie wasn’t there yet so she put on some pajamas and made herself an infusion. She grabbed the book she was in the middle of reading and sat on her couch, reading while waiting for them to arrive.

 


 

Jamie had stayed back after the group had gone out to check on the kids in their cabins. He started putting the dishes in the kitchen, although he knew that people would be there soon to take care of them. He ended up going to sit in the reading corner, caressing Maisie’s cheek, he was lost in his thoughts. Thoughts about Claire, mostly.

 

Claire was right, Jamie had been avoiding her, but it was for a completely different reason than what she may have thought. Ever since she had confessed everything about her past, it was as if all the walls around Jamie’s heart had shattered. This woman was so raw, so extraordinarily brave and strong. She had been through hell and back and was standing there every day, raising a child and being the kindest person he had ever met, when she had so many reasons to be bitter and mad at the world.

She was perfect, and that night as she had fallen asleep crying in his arms, he had realized his whole heart was hers if she wanted it. That’s why he had been avoiding her. Being near her was a sweet torture. He wanted to kiss her, to hold her, to make love to her. He wanted to protect her from more harm, although he knew she didn’t risk getting any on the ranch. All of the reluctance he had had before, about being her boss, about putting their relationship at risk… All that had vanished. He wanted to take care of her and never let go, and it both thrilled him and scared the crap out of him at the same time. All those feelings had rushed inside of him like a tornado, the intensity of them taking him by surprise. So he had taken a step back, giving her a breather to figure her feelings out, and see if she needed him as much as he desperately needed her. He also knew he needed to spend less time with her, because he might not be able to not act on those feelings on an impulse. But the way he had taken this step back was too brutal, going from spending everyday with her, to nothing at all. And he understood why she was upset, especially after opening up to him about her past. Now he felt like a complete jerk, he was trying to give her space to respect her boundaries, and here he was hurting her when it was the last thing he wanted to do.

He sighed, put a fake smile on his face, and started going through a few boys’ cabins to check that the kids were all there. Once he was finished, he showed up at Claire’s door, about ten minutes after she had started reading her book. She got up and opened the door to him. He was standing there, her daughter sleeping soundly on his chest, and a timid smile on his lips.

“Come in.” She whispered and stepped aside to let him inside. He headed upstairs directly, and she followed.

Once in her room, he unstrapped Maisie, took her in his arms and kissed her temple.

“Good night little angel.” He murmured to her ear, then laid her down gently in her bed and caressed her cheek.

“Good night baby.” Claire whispered too, and they both left the room silently.

 

Back in the living room, Claire wasn’t sure what to say.

 

“Have you been avoiding me?” She blurted, not wanting to pretend.

“What? No!” He defended himself, not knowing what to say. He sure as hell wasn’t going to tell her yes, nor why.

“Then what’s going on Jamie?”

“Nothing’s going on Claire.” He walked toward her and raised her arm to hug her, but she backed away.

“You’re lying to me. I shouldn’t have told you about my past. Now you can barely look at me… I don’t want your pity, Jamie.” She said, she was angry again, now that Maisie wasn’t around to soften the situation.

“What? That’s not true Claire! I don’t pity you. Not in the least. I told you I think you’re the bravest person I know.”

“Yeah? Well actions speak louder than words Jamie.”

“Why are you arguing with me Claire? I’m telling you, you’re wrong. I’m glad you told me about you, I’m glad to know all of you.”

“Well, I’m not. If I’d known it would change things between us, I would have kept quiet.” She sighed and sat on the couch, suddenly feeling exhausted. This conversation was going nowhere and was draining all the energy she had left.

“But Claire…” He started saying.

“Please leave. I thought I wanted to talk but I don’t. I’m tired, I want to go to bed.” She told him and she saw the hurt in his eyes.

The best protection was rejection, she shouldn’t have let her guard down so much with Jamie because now she expected too much of him. She wanted to slap herself for that. And she was too tired to think straight really. It had only been a week, maybe she was overreacting. But right now she felt hurt, and she knew he was lying, and she didn’t have time for it. She stood up and went to the front door.

“Claire.” He murmured, his eyes searching for hers.

He put the palm of his hand on her cheek, but she turned her head, making it clear he should take it down.

“Good night, Jamie. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He dropped his head down in defeat and left her cabin reluctantly, heading toward his home. He wanted to scream that he wanted her, but he knew this wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen, the way they were supposed to happen, if that ever happened.

Claire closed the door and went straight to bed, not letting herself time to reflect on this useless conversation which had done nothing, except maybe make things even worse. She knew she would cry if she replayed it in her mind, so instead she decided to replay the good moments they had had together since she had arrived on the ranch, and fell asleep with a bittersweet feeling.

Chapter Text

Today was the 4th of July. It had been nineteen days since Claire and Jamie had shared that sad argument at her cabin, and none of them had known how to get back to their easy friendship ever since. They barely had time to speak to each other, working day and night, and didn’t share their days off, which meant they hadn’t found a moment to go to the other and talk it out. In truth, Claire was feeling sad but also bad, because she knew she had pushed him away that night. He had told her nothing was going on, and she knew he was lying, but he had also been kind and had tried to talk to her, and she had told him to go away. The weight of her feelings for him had gotten heavier and it frightened her, because she wasn’t sure if she was ready for more, in the sense that if she put her heart out there, if they went a step further, then things may get more complicated. However, the prospect of having more of him, of his time, attention, and sweetness… That made butterflies flutter inside of her. But before all of this was even a remote possibility, they needed to be on good terms again. She hated this situation. They didn’t sit together during meals, he avoided her at work and had managed to not have one single activity in common with her, of course he still took care of Maisie as promised and kept doting on her, but he barely said a few words to Claire when she came to drop her off – to his defense, they were always surrounded by lots of kids who had the incredible ability to overhear anything, so they couldn’t really discuss their friendship problems during those times.

 

Claire had dropped off Maisie with Ellen an hour before, leaving her for the night as this was the first campfire of the season – which always happened on Thursdays, as some of the kids were leaving on Saturday. Today was quite special, however. As it was fourth of July, Brian had hired a fireworks company to give a little show at the lake. It was 9 PM, the sun had set, and all the kids were sitting in the grass, waiting impatiently for the show to begin. The two first weeks of camp had been a dream, the kids were nice and easygoing, they all got along perfectly, and no one had been left as an outsider, which was exactly what the Frasers expected when creating this camp.

Ellen appeared a few minutes before the show started and a lot of heads turned in her direction. Claire heard swooning over her baby who was very awake in Ellen’s arms, and laughed.

“What is my little monster doing here?” She asked from afar.

Ellen shrugged, smiling, “She couldn’t sleep, I’m sure she knew fireworks were happening tonight. I thought I’d bring her over; I hope you don’t mind.”

“Are you kidding? I don’t even know why I didn’t think of it myself. You should enjoy the show too!” Claire smiled and Ellen winked at her.

A group of kids went to see Ellen and Maisie, eager to make the little girl laugh. Maisie had been the mascot of the camp so far; everybody loved her and wanted their turn with her. Claire was amazed at how much her daughter had grown since they’d arrived at the ranch. She was starting to say a few words and had also started standing up by pushing on chairs or tables, Claire thought maybe it was due to the fact that she was only surrounded by grown ups. She was also impressed at how social and happy Maisie was around new faces. However, there was always one face that made her forget about all the other people she had met.

“What is my favorite girl doing here?” Jamie said, pushing his way through the group.

Maisie wiggled her feet in delight at the sight of Jamie, and immediately reached for him to take her in his arms, which he did. “Hi Maise.” He said and kissed her chubby cheek. “Have you come to watch the fireworks? Did you ever see any before? I don’t think you have. I’m sure you’re going to like it.” He told her in a smitten voice, completely oblivious to everyone around them. “Shall we go sit down? Yeah?”

He walked toward the lake and took a sit near Claire, but not too close either. Ellen sat next to Brian and they all started talking together. Claire had watched the entire scene and her heart ached over how much she missed simple interactions with Jamie, but it was also beating faster because he just couldn’t stop loving her daughter no matter what the situation was between them. She finally turned back her attention to Orson, who was telling her about a trip he had taken to England during his spring break. Claire was dying to visit and had asked him all about it.

 

“We went to The Shard, it’s this huge skyscraper and you can go at the top of it to look over the city. There’s a bar there and you can have drinks. It’s really cool! I’m sure you’d like it.

“I’m sure I would.” She replied.

“The view is very pretty from up there. Not as pretty as you, though.” He added with a smirk, and Claire started blushing.

 

Claire and Orson had ended up working together a lot for the last two weeks, he was kind and funny and really enjoyed flirting with Claire. It didn’t bother her that much; he was respectful and had never tried anything. He was mostly complementing her and making her cheeks flush, and it felt nice to feel appreciated by other men. She was finally feeling like her old self again, if not even more confident than before, because now she was a mom. So yes, a few compliments now and then from the other gender didn’t hurt.

She nudged him gently in the ribs and he laughed.

“What? It’s true.” He said in an innocent tone.

“Right. You smooth talker.”

“Only to beautiful ladies.” He shrugged and Claire rolled her eyes, blushing even more.

 

All the conversations started to die down, and she understood the show was about to begin.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be back after.” She told Orson with a smile and stood up.

She knew things were a bit complicated with Jamie right now, but she didn’t want to miss her daughter’s first fireworks. Hopefully she would see the magic in her eyes, and if not, she wanted to be there to comfort her if she got scared.

She sat down next to Jamie and rubbed her tiny back. Jamie leaned her toward Claire, without handing her back, and Claire smiled at her and kissed her face.

Jamie turned Maisie forward so she could look at the show, and Claire took her little hand, which was settled on Jamie’s thigh. Jamie brought his hand on top of theirs and squeezed them gently, maybe as a sign of truce?

Claire turned her gaze to him, but his eyes were fixed on the dark sky in front of them. He let go of their hands and pressed Maisie's ears so she wouldn't be afraid of the noises. Then all of a sudden, lights started popping in the air, making people gasp in awe. Claire couldn’t stop looking at Maisie, who was blinking furiously, taking it all in.

“Look at her.” She told Jamie without thinking, she wanted to share this with him, she needed to share it with someone. Her baby was growing up and discovering some of the beauty that could exist in this world, right here in front of them.

He leaned over Maisie, looking at her little awestruck face, and he smiled.

“You like it, don’t you? I knew you would.” He kissed her cheek and went back to his own staring.

 

Once the show was over, the entire camp wished Maisie a good night and Ellen and Brian went home with her to finally put her to bed.

 

“Who wants s’mores?!” Jamie yelled, and all the kids screamed “Meeee!” with excitement.

The campfire was burning next to the lake, they had put benches all around it and one of the boys had brought his guitar. They all started singing songs that they knew by heart, laughing when they had forgotten the lyrics and humming instead. Everybody was happy and it warmed Jamie’s heart to see all those children making memories of a lifetime in his favorite place.

 

Claire was sitting between Joe and Orson, the two of them kept whispering things into her ears. Joe was mostly telling her stupid jokes, and Orson – who was pretty drunk already as a few flasks had been going around the workers all night – kept flirting and making Claire smile shyly, a smile that Jamie knew very well. He was doing his very best to not stare at them openly, but it was hard. He wanted to rip off that smirk off Orson’s face, the smirk of someone trying to get into the pants of someone else. He knew he had no claim on Claire, but for the life of him, he would probably go crazy if something happened between the two of them. He missed Claire so much it physically hurt. He had switched his shift to not be with her, because he was trying to give her space, especially after their fight two weeks ago. He was waiting for her to make the move, not even romantically but just a sign that she wanted their friendship back. He had thought it was torture to be around her without being with her, but it was hell to live next to each other, to be around each other so often and not be able to spend time with her the way he wanted to. So yes, he was ready to take whatever she would give him, he was just waiting for her cue. But right now, there was no cue. She had made other friends, someone was interested in her, and how could he blame him? He was so far gone into his feelings for Claire, just a few months after meeting her, he could only understand. But it took everything in him to not go over there and take Claire away from Orson. He sighed and ate his s’mores in silence, listening to the beautiful song some of the kids were singing.

 

“I think Jamie doesn’t like Orson very much.” Joe whispered to Claire’s ear.

“What, why?” She asked while turning to him, surprise written all over her face.

Joe laughed and clasped her shoulder, “Oh god, you’re so oblivious sometimes Claire. Why do you think? Have you not seen how Orson has been acting with you for the last few weeks? Everyone has noticed, and so has Jamie.” He murmured so only she could hear.

“I don’t think so.” She replied, but deep down she wondered if he was right. He had been jealous of Joe after all…

“I know you said nothing is going on between you two but, are you really sure?”

“We’re not speaking lately. We had a stupid fight the day the kids arrived, and I still haven’t had time to talk to him to try and make things right.”

“Well, he doesn’t look angry at you right now, but jealous? Definitely.” He gave her a knowing look and she smiled. It did make her a little happy that he was paying attention to her when she wasn’t looking.

 

The night kept going smoothly, the kids were on a sugar high from all the s’mores, and a nice breeze had appeared, cooling the heavy hot air. Suddenly, a strike of lightning lit up the sky over the lake, thunder exploded, and without anyone expecting it, rain started pouring all over them. Everybody yelled, laughing in surprise.

“Ok night is over, run to your cabins right now! We’re making rounds in ten minutes!” Jamie yelled, and all the kids took off running toward their cabins.

 

All the workers stayed behind in the rain to clean and put everything away in the shed.

“Ok, let’s go make rounds, it’s already past eleven. I’ll need one or two people to make rounds at midnight?" Jamie asked, and two people volunteered. "Great, now let’s run, I’ll take the six farthest cabins. You guys can figure out which ones you want to go check on now, so you don’t spend half the night in the rain.” He said, then took off running.

The others organized themselves and took off running as well. Orson didn’t want to get separated from Claire and proposed that they take the cabins next to each other so they could walk home together after. She agreed and they walked to the kids’ cabins, not minding the pouring rain and thunder over their heads.

Claire went to a girls’ cabin while Orson went to a boys’ one. She knocked on the door and went inside, laughter was resonating between the walls, and it made Claire smile.

“Did you girls have fun tonight?” She asked.

“So much, it was amazing! I can’t wait to do it again next week!” One of them replied.

Indeed, the campfire would happen every week, as kids would be coming and going every Saturday from now on.

“Good. I know you’ve all had way too many s’mores to eat and are running on a sugar high, so you can chat in your bed, ok? But lights off.” She winked.

They all agreed and wished her a good night, and Claire went on to three more cabins like this before she found Orson waiting for her outside. The rain had stopped.

 

“Thanks for waiting for me.” She said.

“It’s my pleasure. I needed a shower anyway.” He replied, making her laugh.

They started walking toward their cabins, which weren’t too far from where they were.

“I’m so drunk right now.” He laughed. “Thank god the kids didn’t notice.”

“Yeah, they were all having a good time. So were you apparently?” She smiled, pushing him with her arm.

“Hey, we don’t get to have much fun on our nights off, we’re all alone! And I wasn’t the only one to drink by the way. I saw you taking some sips.” He winked at her.

“I only had three!” She defended herself.

He laughed and pulled her closer, putting his arm around her shoulder.

“You’re the best of us, Claire Beauchamp.” He replied with a sincere tone.

“I’m not, but thanks.”

They started walking in silence and at some point, arrived at his cabin, but he kept walking anyway.

“Aren’t you going home?”

“No, I’m a gentleman. I’m walking you home first.”

“Aw that’s very sweet. Thank you for this very gentlemanly gesture.” She bowed awkwardly while walking and laughed.

Apparently, everybody was home already because there weren’t any workers in sight. True, they had been walking rather than running like the others, so it made sense.

Once they reached Claire’s cabin, she turned to him before going up her porch.

“Well thank you for bringing me home safely Orson.”

He nodded and she turned to the stairs, but he caught her hand and turned her back around. He brought her to him in one move and gently started kissing her. Claire was surprised by it, but it felt nice, and she leaned into it instead of pushing him away. He walked her over a tree, not leaving her lips, and leaned her against it. Claire started to giggle, it was kind of surreal, and this wasn’t going to go anywhere.

“Are my kisses making you laugh?” He asked against her lips, laughing too.

“No. I’m laughing because you’re drunk and wondering what you’ll think about that tomorrow.”

“Oh, to hell with tomorrow!” He replied and put his lips back on hers again.

It was a nice kiss, but it didn’t make her feel anything in particular either. The rain started to pour again, a lot stronger than before, but they didn’t stop.

“What are you doing here?” A stern voice screamed behind them.

That made them stop.

Claire pushed Orson off of her, and saw Jamie staring at them, his eyes mixed between horror and anger. Her stomach dropped; she hadn’t expected to see him there, even less right at this moment when she was kissing a random guy. What was his problem though? She could do whatever she wanted, there was no rule that prevented workers to hook up if they wanted to after all.

“Oh hey Jamie!” Orson smiled at him, a little embarrassed. “Sorry, we’ll get out of your way.” He grabbed Claire’s hand and started to drag her toward her cabin, but Jamie stopped him again.

“I think you should go back to your cabin Orson, you’re clearly drunk, and we have a big day tomorrow. By the way if I see any alcohol around the kids again, there will be consequences.” Jamie stared him down and used his boss voice, the one Orson felt compelled to obey to.

“Right, right. Sorry Jamie.” He mumbled.

Claire released his hand from hers, not wanting to follow him because now, she wanted to yell at Jamie.

“Have a good night, Claire. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He kissed her cheek and took off running under the rain toward his own cabin.

 

“What the fuck is wrong with you Jamie? First you avoid me, then stop talking to me. And now that I’ve made some friends you want to drive them away too? What’s your problem?” She yelled, glad that she could make a scene because the rain and thunder were so loud, no one could hear them.

“I tried to apologize for that, and you discarded me without listening to anything I had to say! And this guy clearly wants to be more than your friend!” He yelled back, still standing a little far away from her.

“So what if he does? That’s none of your fucking business! Why do you even care?”

“Why do I care? Why?” He laughed sarcastically and pulled at his hair like a mad man. He growled, looking at the sky and ended up blinded by the heavy rain. Then he reached her in two big strides, pulled her face into his large palms, and crashed his lips on hers, desperate to hold her close. He sucked on her bottom lip, then licked it so she would part her lips enough for him to slip inside. The intensity of the kiss made her moan and he felt it resonate deep inside him. Their tongues danced together in perfect rhythm, and both of them held the other as if they would fall apart if they didn’t. Jamie broke the kiss brutally and released her from his grasp, looking at her with such hunger and desire that it made her ache in all the right places.

“That’s why.” He finally replied and took off with a firm step toward his home, leaving a panting Claire frozen in the rain after this magical and torrid moment.

Chapter Text

Claire stayed frozen, half dreaming and half shocked of what had just happened. “That’s why” he had said. Was this a confession? Was he telling her he wanted her?

 

She blinked a few times, blinded by the rain. She took a deep breath in and, finally coming to her senses, ran to Jamie. She caught him right before he reached his porch and grabbed his arm, yelling him to wait. He turned around and his eyes drank her in, she was soaked to the bone; her white dress clinging to her body and leaving nothing to the imagination. He felt himself harden even more, because that kiss had been so intense it had turned him on like never before and he had had to use all his willpower to break it off.

The way he was looking at her made something break free inside of Claire, as if she finally had an answer to all the questions she’d been wrecking her mind with for weeks. He wanted her. He wanted her just as much as she wanted him.

 

She threw herself at him, not caring one second that someone might see them out here.

He wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss, and she put her hands in his hair and pulled gently on it, making him grunt. He bent down and brought her thighs around his waist, and she moaned as soon as both their pelvis clashed and rubbed against each other, making it completely obvious how much they desired one another. Claire broke the kiss and started leaving a trail of kisses between his mouth and his collarbone, letting him bring her inside his house where they would finally be free of doing whatever they wanted to each other. He closed his front door and pushed her against it.

 

“I’ve wanted you for so long, Claire.” She started kissing on the pulse point in his neck and he closed his eyes in pleasure. “I want you so much.” He whispered.

She raised her head and planted her eyes in his, her gaze dark with need and affection.

“Me too Jamie. I want you too.” She whispered and brought her lips to his.

She started rocking her pelvis against his again, this time harder.

“God, you’re killing me right now. Let’s go upstairs.” He told her between kisses and put her down on her feet.

She reached for the hem of his shirt and took it off him, licking her lips when his tan, muscular torso appeared in her line of sight.

“Downstairs will do just fine.” She smirked at him and bent her head down to finally taste his skin, but he turned her around and unzipped her dress before she could reach her destination. She gasped at the sudden movement and giggled. Her dress was off and on the floor in a second, leaving her only in her panties as she had conveniently not been wearing any bra tonight.

Her back still to him, he put his arms around her, his left palm splayed on her flat stomach and his right hand caressing her cheek. He tilted her head up so she would look at him and ran is nose along her jaw until he reached her ear.

 

“I want to taste every inch of you.” He murmured before sucking gently on her earlobe.

At that statement, she felt her insides turn to jelly.

“God, Jamie.” She gasped as he grabbed one of her breasts, running his thumb over her hard nipple.

“Do you want this, Claire? Because I really do, and once I start, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stop.”

She felt his hardness press against her ass and grinded against him again, making him groan in pleasure.

“I do, Jamie. Please.” She cupped the side of his face with her hand and brought it down to hers, kissing him fervently.

He pulled down her panties at the same time and pushed them to the floor, and he let his hand caress her body, from her breasts to her stomach, to her thighs, making her shiver. When he finally put his fingers on her aching center, she cried out in pleasure and melted into his arms. He rubbed in a perfect rhythm, and she couldn’t think straight anymore, lost in a cloud of pleasure.

“Do you like that?” He asked, wanting to make sure she was enjoying every second of what was happening.

Incapable of speaking, she nodded and started panting, making him smile with pride. As much as he wanted her, what he really wanted was to please her.

“Jamie. I can’t keep standing up.” She told him at some point, so far gone into pleasure that her legs couldn’t hold her anymore. He smiled against her cheek and kissed her temple. He stopped his slow torture and suddenly, he wasn’t holding her anymore. She frowned and turned around.

“What are you doing?” She asked, half curious and half frustrated that he had stopped his incredible finger treatment.

“Making room!” He said while pushing his coffee table away from his carpet, which Claire had to admit, looked pretty comfortable.

He turned back to her and gawked at her, seeing her naked like this for the first time, she couldn’t have been more beautiful. Her cheeks flushed in pleasure, her body still slightly wet from the rain and from his own doing.

“You’re so beautiful.” He told her reverently, and she felt herself blushing even though he had been touching her in the most intimate places of her body just a minute ago. He cupped her face with his hands and gave her the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen Claire. Outside. And inside.” He whispered and kissed her gently, slowly licking her lower lip, nipping at it.

Feeling self-conscious at being fully naked when he was still so clothed, she smiled under his kisses and grabbed his belt, unbuckled it and pushed his pants to the floor. He kicked them to the side, making Claire laugh, and when he pushed his boxers down right after, she stopped laughing. She took him in, standing in all his glory, and her eyes went wide.

“Damn.” She muttered, more for her than him, but he stifled a laugh.

“I hope it’s a positive curse.” He said with a crooked grin.

Her eyes shot to him, and she gave him a shy smile.

“Hopefully. It’s been a while since… Since I’ve done this.”

Suddenly, the reality that was Claire’s life hit him like a rock. And he felt he had to slow things down.

“Did you have anyone since…?” He didn’t want to bring up her husband. This moment was for them and for them only. He didn’t want her to feel the shadow of his ghost hanging over her head while she was finally doing something for her. But he couldn’t go further before he had all the information either.

She shook her head no and he gave her a tender, loving smile, which made her heart swell in her chest.

“I do want this Jamie. With you. Right now.” She told him while taking his hand in hers.

“Then I’m happy to oblige.”

He laid her down on his fluffy carpet, and started kissing, licking, and sucking his way from her neck to her calves. Worshipping her body the way he had been dying to for weeks.  She could only let gasps come out of her parted lips, letting herself feel absolutely every emotion, every feeling that aroused inside her.

When he finally put his face between her thighs, she sat on her elbows, looking at him shamefully.

“Jamie. What are you doing?” She asked, embarrassed.

“Planning to make you scream my name, and come with my mouth, if that’s alright with you?” He gave her a devilish grin and her cheeks turned red, which he could see thanks to the moonlight.

“You don’t have to. Plus I haven’t showered since this morning. It’s okay.” She said, still sounding so embarrassed.

He kissed her thigh and laid his head against it.

“I’m dying to taste you. Please, let me give you this.” He said gently, lacing his fingers through hers with one hand, caressing her stomach with the other.

“Okay.” She whispered, her face so vulnerable right now that it downed on him for the first time that she was just only 23. 

He buried his face inside of her and tasted her with his tongue, licking and swirling around her most sensitive part.

“Oh god.” She fell back on the carpet, closing her eyes in pleasure and pressing his hand so hard he knew he was doing a good job. He pushed two fingers inside her, which drove her mad and made her arch her hips to meet him.

“Jamie. Don’t stop.” She muttered. “I’m going to come.” She said when it became too much, making him groan with pride and pleasure. He started humming, the air and vibrations were so intense against her sensitive skin that she finally came apart under him, screaming his name and pulling his hair to try and ground herself. He let her ride her orgasm until the very last wave, resting his head against her stomach and his fingers grazing her skin until she came back down to earth.

“That was. Indescribable.” She finally said after a few minutes, her hand running through his hair. She looked down at him dreamily and he grinned at her.

“Good. Cause I kind of want to do it again right now.” He said and her eyes went wide.

"Wait what ?" She gasped when he got back to his meticulous work, making her laugh loudly. She was so happy in this instant and he could feel it radiate off her, his heart was about to explode, knowing he was giving that to her meant everything.

“You taste so fucking good.” He told her a few minutes later, and the vibrations of his voice brought her closer to the edge again.

“Jamie. I need you inside me.” She pleaded, her voice almost pained.

“Not yet, baby. Not yet.” He replied absently, way too focused on the task at hand.

“I can’t take another one. It’s too much.”

“Yes, you can. Come for me Claire.” He said, looking her straight in the eyes and pumping his fingers inside of her energically. The combination of all three together made her spiral so quickly she started shaking against him, her second orgasm overtaking her violently. She gripped his hair hard, making him moan and grin. She just couldn’t control herself and he loved that he did that to her. He crawled up to her and gathered her in his arms, letting her mind and heart rate get back to normal.

She tilted her head up and pulled his face down toward hers to kiss him, the taste of her still on his lips. He gave her a few pecks on the lips, then on her cheek and she giggled, so happy that she wasn’t sure this was really happening.

They changed positions and found themselves lying on their sides, facing each other. Claire started to run her hand across his chest, admiring his impeccably fit body.

“You’re beautiful too, you know. Inside and out.” She whispered and looked right into his eyes, smiling dreamily. “Everything you’ve done for me. For Maisie. I’m so grateful to have you in my life Jamie, you’ve changed everything.” She kissed him tenderly and pulled back again, and he started caressing her face, looking at her so lovingly that she felt her heart rate quicken.

“I’m sorry if I’ve been distant and if it caused you pain. It was never about your past Claire, the only reason I took a step back was because ever since we kissed at the wedding, all I’ve been thinking about every time we were together was to do it again. And I didn’t want to push you into something you didn’t want, I thought you deserved space to figure out what you wanted.”

She turned her head and kissed the palm of his hand.

“Honestly, it’s all I’ve been thinking about ever since that night too. But you’re my friend first and foremost, and I’ve missed you. I’ve really missed you.” She whispered and he kissed her, putting all the longing and affection he had for her into it.

“I won’t do it again, I promise.” He said into her ear, then kissed her in the spot right below it, which made her moan.

“God you’re so responsive, it’s turning me on even more.” She giggled and planted her eyes in his again. “What I did to you earlier… Was that. Was that the first time someone went down on you like that?” Her reaction had been so shy and shameful that he couldn’t help but wonder.

She felt her cheeks turn to crimson and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and opened them again. “Frank did it once, but it was kind of awkward and I didn’t enjoy it so much, so he didn’t do it again. With you though… Wow, that was the most intense thing I’ve ever felt.” She grinned at him, even if she felt shy saying it, Jamie was skilled with his tongue and fingers and deserved some praise for it.

He laughed and kissed her once more. He didn’t want to insult her husband so he didn’t comment on what she had just told him, but he couldn’t understand why Frank wouldn’t do that to her, when he had already done it twice and couldn’t wait to do it again.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s only the beginning.” He gave her a crooked smile and she laughed.

“Oh god, I don’t know if my body can take much more.”

“It’s going to have to, because I plan on doing lots of dirty things to you.” He replied proudly.

She kept laughing, rolled on her back and covered her face with her arm, a little embarrassed and very turned on by his words.

“Don’t hide from me.” He said, pushing her arm out of her face. “You are so sexy and powerful Claire. You don’t have to be embarrassed about anything. I’m so attracted to you it’s ridiculous. I should be the one to be embarrassed.”

She turned her face to him and grabbed his chin between her fingers.

“I’m so glad you’re attracted to me, because I’m so very attracted to you, too.” She said before pulling him down to her for another kiss.

This one turned into more, more frantic, more languid. They couldn’t stop kissing and moaning and Jamie felt like he was about to explode. He climbed on top of her, grinding against her slickness, and she started panting again.

“God I want you Claire.” He moaned in her ear and the fire already present in her stomach inflamed her entire body at those words.

“I want you too Jamie. Please take me now.” She almost begged, sucking on his neck.

He aligned himself right at her entrance, and as he was about to push into her, he fell flat on her side and buried his head in the hollow of her shoulder.

“Shit.” He whined. “Condoms. I want you so badly I was about to forget.” He started standing up, clearly annoyed and frustrated as it was finally about to happen.

“Where are you going?” She asked.

“Upstairs. They’re in my bathroom.” He whined again and she giggled.

She stood up and closed the distance between them, “Come here.” She said and crushed her body against his, kissing him passionately. She broke their embrace and took his hand, dragging him to the couch, and made him sit down on the floor against it.

He was looking at her with awe, wondering what the hell she was doing, but completely at her mercy. She could do whatever she liked with him.

She straddled him and took his length in her hand, making him grunt with pleasure.

“Are you clean?” She asked him tenderly, no judgement in her voice. She knew he had been with someone else not so long ago, so she wanted to make sure.

He nodded, “I am.”

She cupped his face with her free hand and brushed his eyebrow with her thumb.

“I am too. And I’m on the pill.” She explained and he exhaled loudly, already thinking about the amazing sensation of having her without any barriers between them.

“Are we really doing this?” She asked as if she couldn’t believe it.

“Yeah baby. We’re really doing this.” He replied while grabbing her hips and positioning her right above him.

She eased herself onto him, her eyes never leaving his, and all they both could do was to gasp at the incredible feeling. Claire had to take some time to adjust to him and let her forehead fall against his, and once she was ready, started rolling her hips.

Jamie let her set the pace, wanting her to feel in control of this first time with someone other than the man she had married. It meant a lot to him that she had chosen him to take that step. He couldn’t help but stare into her eyes, letting a few moans come out when it was too much, the pleasure was so intense, their connection so deep, that he couldn’t find it in him to break this moment with words. When he felt her slow down, probably from exhaustion, he grabbed her and laid her down on the floor, taking charge. He set a slow pace, pushed her hands above her head and laced his fingers with hers.

“You feel so good. This is… I don’t have the words for what this is.” He whispered into her ear, then looked at her.

She nodded and encircled his hips with her legs, pushing him further into her and making her cry out.

“It’s perfect.” She whispered back, amazed by the deep connection she was feeling to him right now.

It was slow and sweet and passionate, and Jamie realized that he was making love to her in a way he had never done it before. It wasn’t just sex, there was so much more between them. He could feel that Claire felt for him every feeling he had for her, and it made this moment so very special.

She started moving her hips a little faster, suggesting that he should increase the pace, which he did. He kissed her neck and breasts and could feel her drifting slowly toward climax, which brought him closer too.

“Are you close?” He asked between two shaky breaths.

She nodded and let go of his hands to put hers in his hair. She brought him to her mouth and kissed him feverously.

He grabbed her shoulders and planted his eyes in hers, “I want you to come with me.” He said while accelerating his pace, bringing them both toward the edge.

“Yes. Jamie yes!” She replied, her eyes closing in pleasure.

“Look at me Claire.” He said tenderly, and she struggled to keep her eyes open but did as he asked. He didn’t want to miss a single second of this moment.

When finally, they reached their peak at the same time, she yelled his name, incapable of saying anything else. He watched her fall apart and did the same, spilling inside of her. He fell on top of her, his head between her breasts, and heard her heart beating like crazy against his ear, matching his own heartbeat. When their breathing finally came back to a slow rhythm, he raised one hand to stroke her cheek, and when he felt tears spiling down her eyes, raised his head to her in panic.

“Claire, are you ok? Did I hurt you? Did I do something wrong?” He asked, his voice filled with fear.

He gathered her into his arms, and she curled up into him. She shook her head no and left a kiss on his chest. She finally opened her eyes and brushed off her tears, but they were still spiling uncontrollably.

“I’m sorry, you didn’t do anything wrong Jamie. These were originally tears of joy. Because what just happened between us was so incredible, I didn’t know it could be like that. I’ve never experienced anything like that.” She admitted shyly and looked into his eyes.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it either.” He kissed her forehead. “But baby, if it was incredible, why are you still crying?” He asked again, afraid of the answer.

“Because I’m realizing that it’s never been like this with Frank, and as much as I want to enjoy what has just happened, I can’t help but feel guilty.” She muttered, ashamed to tell him this, but she knew she had to be honest with him.

He held her tight and kissed her tears away.

“It’s ok. Please don’t feel guilty. You can’t control your body’s reactions, Claire. You were so young when you got married. You still are so young. How could you have known that it could be different? It doesn’t diminish what you had with him, or how much you loved him.”

She felt her heart glow at those words. Here she was, crying for another man in the arms of the one she had just had sex with, and he was comforting her.

“Why are you so good to me?” She asked, honestly in shock that he was taking her reaction this way.

“Because you make me feel things I didn’t think I could feel again. Because ever since you’ve barged into my life, you’ve made it a hundred times better. Because you’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met, and I know you’re not trying to insult me right now. You’re still grieving. It’s a long process and I know that. I just hope that you have some space in your heart for me, because you’ve already filled a big spot in mine. It’s not just sexual attraction between us, Claire.” He told her with honesty and he felt so vulnerable, but it was good to finally lay it all out. She finally knew he had feelings for her.

She stopped crying; Frank went back in that little box in her mind. Right now, she wanted to focus on Jamie, and Jamie only.

“You’ve filled a big spot in my heart too, Jamie. It’s pretty crazy the place you’ve taken in my life these past few months.” She admitted to him and he smiled, so happy that she felt the same way. “I am a little scared though. What if we don’t work out? I need you in my life Jamie. You’re my best friend here, and I need that more than anything else.”

“I know Claire. I’ve been thinking about it too. But what I feel for you is so much stronger than that, I can’t just be your friend anymore. Not after what we’ve just done.”

She nodded, agreeing with him. “I know, I’m just scared.”

He kissed her forehead, her nose, and finally her lips.

“This feels right.” He whispered, running his nose against hers.

“It really does. But what is this exactly Jamie? In three months, I’ll be gone God knows where…”

“I don’t know Claire. Do we have to label it right now? Can’t we just live it, and see where it leads? I just want to enjoy being with you for as long as I can.” He said, the longing in his voice obvious. He longed for her friendship, her kindness, her laugh, her body… He would take whatever he could get.

“I guess you’re right. We can figure it out later.” She stroked his hair and kissed him. “Let’s keep it to ourselves for now though. Ok? Let’s see how we can explain it to ourselves before we have to explain it to everyone else.”

He nodded and sat up, scooped her up in his arms, and carried her toward the stairs.

“Where are we going?” She asked while he was clearly taking her to his bedroom.

“To help us figure out what this is.” He said with a lopsided smile, and her body shook with laughter.

Chapter Text

The sun was already up in the sky, the ranch was slowly waking up, and in the last cabin-turned-house, two people had finally found each other and were locked together in a spoon position. Claire opened her eyes and once she realized where she was, she couldn’t stop grinning. It felt right to be there in Jamie’s arms, and she could feel her heart about to burst out of her chest from the happiness she was feeling. Jamie had his arms around her, and she snuggled up further into them, also pushing against his very obvious morning greeting. She giggled silently and kissed the part of his arm that was next to her face.

Suddenly she felt a trail of kisses, starting from her shoulder until it reached her jaw, and her smile got even wider.

 

“Good morning beautiful.” He whispered into her ear.

“Good morning.” She sighed happily. They remained in silence for a minute, both slowly waking up.  “Is this real? Did last night really happen?” She finally asked.

“Well, you are naked in my bed, so I think it did yes.” He chuckled and kissed her cheek. “Do you remember when we first met and you said that once I wouldn’t be a stranger anymore, you would be a lot more vocal? Well, you were right. You were definitely more vocal last night.” He said, waggling his eyebrows in reference to her letting herself go during their night of passion.

“Oh my god, I’m going to die of shame.” She said, burying her face in her pillow.

He laughed and made her look at him. “After what we’ve done together you’d think you would be at ease with me and yet, you still feel shy and embarrassed. Don’t be. You’re so fucking hot, Claire. I can’t get enough of you. I would keep you in this bed all day if I could.” He told her seriously and kissed her sweetly afterwards.

His words went right to her heart, he wanted her to be comfortable and herself in front of him, to own who she was and not apologize for it. She made a mental note to try and be more assertive with him and to stop being embarrassed. He obviously wanted her just the way she was.

 

“I’m sooo tired.” She said, stretching her entire body. “But it was one of the best nights of my life Jamie. Truly.” She planted her eyes in his so she could show him how sincere she was.

 

He cupped her chin and ran his thumb back and forth from her lips to her cheek.

 

“It was the greatest night I’ve ever had too. You’ve turned my world upside down, Claire Beauchamp. I don’t know if you realize that.”

“Right back at you, Fraser. Actually, I feel like you’ve shifted my whole world onto the right axis. I feel like myself again, and I owe it to you more than anyone else.”

Her words were full of honesty and Jamie couldn’t help but feel stupidly happy at that statement. He was aware of how he had screwed up these past few weeks, but finally he knew Claire shared his feelings, and that was sacred knowledge to him. From now on he would do his best to make her happy and not let her down.

 

“Are you happy?” He asked tenderly.

“Very.” She nodded and smiled at him.

“Good. So am I.”

 

He leaned in and kissed her slowly, savoring the moment. The kiss turned quickly into something more passionate, and Jamie was on top of her in a matter of seconds.

 

“Do we have time?” She asked when he started kissing her neck.

“I think we do. And if we don’t? I absolutely don’t care.” He said with a devious grin.

 

She laughed and let herself enjoy the moment, focusing only on Jamie and the amazing sensations he made her feel.

 

After making love, they took a shower together, trying their best to keep their hands to themselves and failing miserably. They were both giddy from what was happening between them, and Jamie couldn’t stop grinning as he was looking at her getting dressed in the -fortunately now dry-dress she had worn last night.

 

“You’re so beautiful Claire. It’s been very hard to not say it every day.” He blurted and she froze, looked up at him and started blushing. She felt self-conscious and he knew it, but he wanted her to know the way he saw her. She was perfect to him.

He stood and zipped up her dress, then kissed her neck and brought her into his arms.

“I really don’t want to let you go right now. I wish we could just skip work.” He sighed in her ear, and she laughed. She turned around to face him and caressed his hair, making him smile like a little boy.

“I wish we could too. But it’s not our day off, and we have to go meet the hungry kids.” As she was saying it, her stomach rumbled. “Alright, I may need to feed myself too.”

Jamie chuckled and kissed her once more. “Alright, let’s go get breakfast. What activity do you have today?”

“Just supervising indoors, we’re doing friendship bracelets today. Your mom is supposed to bring Maise in the morning.”

“Good, I’ll try to come visit you if I can get away. It’s soccer tournament for me.”

“Good luck.” She laughed and finally broke their embrace. She started walking away when she said with a smirk, “I have to go change, hopefully no one will see me do the walk of shame between your house and mine.”

At that, he grabbed her arm and turned her around so she would look at him. “There’s no shame in what happened between us, Claire. I hope you know that. I know we must keep it to ourselves for now, figure out what it means and where it’s going before we tell other people. But you’re amazing, and my family adores you, I would be proud to tell them I’m with you. Just so you know.”

She felt her cheeks turn red again and her heart do back flips, the same way it had every time he said something sweet to her. “I know Jamie. And you’re a wonderful man, I would never be ashamed of you.” She hugged him tight and locked her hands at the nape of his neck. She breathed him in deeply, he smelt like soap and summer and his natural musky scent, and she just wanted to take him back to his bed.

“Now that I’ve had you, I honestly don’t know how I’m going to go through an entire day without having you again.” He said with a frustrated tone, and she laughed, silently thanking him for not engaging more in this deep conversation they would eventually need to have.

“You’ll be fine, I’m sure.” He squeezed her tight. Just like her, he was obviously not ready to get out of their sweet bubble. She sighed and pulled away from him. “Ok now I’m going. I’ll see you at breakfast!” She gave him a quick kiss on the lips and took off before he said something adorable again that would make her even more late.

 

Once she was at her cabin, she changed into fresh clothes and brushed her teeth. She couldn’t stop smiling at her own reflection in the mirror. She had been wrecking her mind for weeks, trying to understand her feelings for Jamie, wondering if they should get together… And then last night had happened. It had been so wonderful; she honestly didn’t know it could be like this with someone. They had connected on such a deeper level, it was so intimate and tender, this had been an eye-opening moment for her. She was in love with Jamie. It was so obvious now, that she felt like a fool for not understanding it before. Because it was consuming her in a way she had never felt before, not even for her husband, and she didn’t know how to feel about that. Jamie was right, she had been so young when she met Franck, and he was her first love, she didn’t have any other relationship to compare it too. But now she did. She still missed Franck so much it hurt, but her heart was open to someone else now, and she couldn’t go back. She was happy, Jamie wanted her as much as she did, and she wasn’t about to throw that happiness away in the name of her late husband, even if she was scared as hell of the future that awaited them.

 

When she arrived at breakfast, everybody was already seated and eating eagerly. There was a spot next to Jamie and she smiled shyly at him when she sat next to him. He gave her a lopsided grin while eating his cereals, and squeezed her knee under the table, a way to secretly, yet publicly, acknowledge her and what had happened between them. She put her hand on his and squeezed it too, secretly acknowledging it as well. They were in on the same amazing secret, and it thrilled her. They both brought their hand back on the table and ate their breakfast, speaking together about nothing important as if nothing had happened, but their smiles betrayed the happiness they were both feeling. They had been brooding and moody for the past few weeks, both affected by their fight, but now they were beaming.

When breakfast came to an end, the adults stayed to clean things up and the kids left to brush their teeth. Claire was cleaning the tables when someone put his hand on her back.

“I’m sorry about last night, Claire. You were right, I was very tipsy and shouldn’t have kissed you. I know I tease, and I flirt a lot, but it’s all there is. I promise it won’t happen again.”

She could tell Orson was embarrassed and she felt bad for him, she had completely forgotten about what had happened between them, as her mind was so full with what had unfolded afterwards.

 

“Oh. That’s alright Orson. No harm done. Let’s be friends, ok? I do like spending time with you.” She shrugged and smiled at him.

He visibly relaxed at her reaction and cracked a smile at her, then nodded. “I’ll see you at lunch.” He said before turning on his heels.

She giggled and finished cleaning, she couldn’t believe she had just completely forgotten about what had led to Jamie and her kissing in the rain. He had been dead jealous when he had seen her kiss someone else, and it gave her butterflies to know it. Now she knew how he felt about her, how the lingering looks, the lopsided grins, the sweet words, were more than just a friend talking to a friend. She turned her head and looked at him, he was speaking with the group of kids who were helping cleaning this morning. She felt her heartbeat go faster just by looking at him. This man, this wonderful, sweet, caring, patient man wanted her. Yes, he may have been judgmental of her at first, but he had made it up to her in so many ways since, that she just couldn’t find the negative sides of him anymore. She was just ridiculously happy.

 


 

Claire was quietly reading a book in an armchair while Maisie was napping in the corner of the room and the young girls were making their friendship bracelets at a table, talking about their lives back home. It was a quiet morning, there were only five girls here and Claire had told Joe he could go out and check if anyone needed some extra supervision, obviously she could manage on her own here. It was almost lunch time when Jamie showed up. She started grinning stupidly and he did the exact same thing. He gestured the bathroom with his head, and she followed him after checking that Maisie was still in deep sleep. The girls didn’t even notice Claire leaving.

Jamie closed the door behind her and pushed her against it, then crashed his lips to hers as if they hadn’t seen each other for weeks.

“I’ve missed you.” He said, his hunger for her obvious.

She giggled and replied, breathless, “I’ve missed you too.”

 

When they finally stopped kissing, she hugged him tight and laid her head in the crook of his neck.

 

“Do you want to come over tonight? I know it might be a little late, but I’ve missed our tv nights.” She asked and laced her fingers through his.

“I would love that. I’ve missed hanging out with you too. I’m sorry I was so stupid.” He kissed her forehead, and she closed her eyes, content in his arms.

“Don’t mention it, we were both stupid. I wish I’d known you felt the same way I did all those weeks ago. But now I do.”

“Yeah, now you do. I’ll do my best to behave tonight, but I can’t make any promises.” He put both his hands in the back pockets of her shorts and cupped her ass through them, making Claire giggle some more. “I’m trying really hard to not take you on the sink right now.” He said and started kissing her neck, making her body tingle. “But if I stay one more minute in this closed space with you, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to keep that resolution.”

She laughed and instead of releasing him, started kissing the pulse point in his neck and run her hands underneath his shirt.

“What are you doing?” He said, breathless.

“Just checking how much self-control you’ve got.” She smirked at him then started sucking on his bottom lip.

“You’re evil.” He growled then kissed her hard. When she felt him harden against her stomach, she broke their kiss, laughing, and adjusted her clothes.

“Ok ok, we’ve got to stop or we’re definitely not making it out of here. I am, after all, responsible for the six kids out there, boss.” She squinted and he smiled.

“Yeah, get back out there. I need a minute.” He cupped her head, his fingers in her hair, and kissed her tenderly. Then he released her and she went back to the children, leaving him grinning again. He wondered if he had ever smiled so much in his life before. Probably as a child, yes, but never as an adult. That’s how much power Claire had over him, he was completely at her mercy, and she could do with him whatever she liked from now on. He was hers.

 

The rest of the day went by quickly, Claire had had a lot more kids to teach how to make friendship bracelets as the heat had pushed a lot of them to go inside to benefit from the AC. She hadn’t stopped smiling throughout the whole day, and Joe couldn’t help but notice it.

 

“You’re awfully chipper than you’ve been these past few weeks, Claire. What happened last night?” He had said with his eyebrows raised in curiosity.

“Nothing. Nothing happened.” She had shrugged it off but couldn’t stop grinning.

“Right. Right. I can see your mind wandering to “nothing” a lot. I’ll let you get back to it, huh?” He had said teasingly and smiled at her, respecting her wish to not talk about it yet.

She knew he must have known it had something to do with Jamie, but he didn’t want to pry. He was just happy to see his friend happy, and she was grateful for it.

 

At night, they had played games outside with the kids before they all went to bed, and Maisie had fallen asleep in Claire’s arms, lulled by the sounds of the forest and the laughing children.

Now she was at home in her nightgown, comfortably seated on her couch and waiting for Jamie to show up. When he finally went through her door, both their faces lit up at the sight of the other. He took off his shoes then told Claire to lie down on the couch, and he joined her, lying behind her and gathering her in his arms. He kissed her temple, and she launched a new episode of their show.

About ten minutes into it, he started grazing his fingers on her naked arm, leaving goose bumps in his trail. She instinctively tilted her head up, inviting him to do more. He started kissing her neck, and let his fingers wander further down, grazing the skin of her thigh.

“I know we said we would watch the show, but I’m not very interested to know what happens in it right now.” She admitted, then turned in his arms to face him. She planted her fingers in his hair and kissed his jaw, then his mouth, then their tongues were dancing together and it was as if the whole world had disappeared around them. “I would much rather lose myself in you.” She whispered between kisses, and he growled.

“I thought you’d never ask.” He exclaimed, relieved, and ventured his hands beneath her night gown.  

Chapter Text

Almost two weeks had passed since Jamie and Claire had finally found each other in that rainy night, and the two couldn’t keep their hands off of each other… in private. It was a real struggle for them to not let their relationship transpire to the outside world, but they were both honoring their word to keep it a secret while they were taking the time to understand what was happening between them.

Today was Claire’s night off and Jamie had stopped by her cabin while she was cooking before heading out to dinner at the cafeteria. She was stirring mushrooms in the pan when he surrounded her with his arms and pressed her against his chest. She sighed in pleasure and closed her eyes, letting her body relax against his.

 

“I wish you could stay with me for dinner.” She whined.

“So do I. I only see you at night, which I love, but I’m so tired.” He chuckled and she turned into his arms, locking her hands at the nape of his neck.

“I’m right there with you. I wish we could hang out during the day like we used to…” She kissed him and smiled.

“Me too. I’ll tell you what, I’ll check our schedules and as soon as we have a night off in common, I’ll take you out on a proper date. What do you say?”

“Our first official date? I’d love that.” Her heart swelled at the idea of pampering herself for a night out with him.

“Good. I’ll set it up then.” He kissed her again, then started kissing her neck, and ended up sucking on her earlobe, which made her legs turn to jelly.”

“What are you doing?” She panted, she just couldn’t resist, period.

“Tasting a bit of you for the road.”

She giggled and pushed him off, then attacked his lips with hers fervently. They broke apart when they both needed to get some air inside their lungs, grinning like two stupid teenagers.

“You’re coming back after, right?” She asked, her eyes silently pleading.

“Of course I am. I wouldn’t miss the only few hours I get with you.” He caressed her cheek and smiled, then they got interrupted by Maisie who threw her water cup at them. “Sorry sweetie, did you think we were forgetting about you?” He asked, his tone very serious. “Come here.” He got her out of her highchair and hugged her tight, kissing her little head which he sniffed like an addict. There was nothing more soothing than the smell of a baby’s skin.

 

Claire couldn’t help but melt at that scene, her little girl was in love with Jamie, and so was she. She just felt like it was too soon to say anything, they had only met a few months ago, but to her it felt like she had known Jamie her whole life. She already knew she had feelings for him before, but now that they were being intimate with each other it was as if everything had been magnified and her heart had expended. He could read her so easily and understood her in a way that no one had ever before. She had poured her soul to him, and he had accepted her and wanted her with all her flaws and bagage, which meant everything to her.

He was currently holding Maisie in a hug, her little face laying on his shoulder, and she just had to join in. She turned off the stove and walked toward them. Jamie opened his other arm to her, and she wrapped herself in his embrace, cradling her daughter at the same time.

They both sighed in content and enjoyed the few minutes of calm holding each other, just the three of them.

Jamie reluctantly broke the hug and put Maisie in Claire’s arms.

 

“I have to go.” He kissed her again, then kissed Maisie’s cheek. He grabbed his phone on the table and put it in his jeans, then headed for the front door. “I’ll see you later my girls.” He winked at them then left, leaving Claire with huge smile on her face.

 

Overwhelmed with her feelings, Claire had to talk to someone about them. Someone who could be aware of this relationship without constantly scrutinizing them. Gillian.

Claire hadn’t told her yet about Jamie and her, even though she had been dying to. She wanted to make sure it was serious enough with Jamie, although she knew Gillian would have never judged her if it hadn’t been. But still, Claire was who she was, and she needed to process things at her own pace. But now she was stuck with the overflow of new feelings and had to pour her heart out to her best friend, so she could help her figure it out.

 

After spending some quality time with her daughter, feeding her dinner, and giving her a bath, she put Maisie to bed. Then she heated her dinner and settled in the living room, her plate on one knee and her computer open on the coffee table. She launched facetime and called Gillian, who picked up a few seconds later.

 

“Hey C! I’m so happy to hear from you, we don’t talk often enough!” Gillian said with a smile.

“I know I’m sorry. I’m working all the time and when it’s my day off I always forget.” Claire replied, a little shameful.

“That’s fine, I know how it is. How are you? How is Maise? How is Jamie?” She teased, waggling her eyebrows and Claire blushed immediately. “Oh my god. Spill!” Gillian almost screamed when she saw Claire’s face changing at the mention of Jamie’s name.”

“Well we’re kind of… together? I guess. It’s still not labeled, we’re keeping it a secret for now, just trying to figure out what it means.” She sighed and smiled dreamily.

“Oh Claire. I’m so happy for you girl!” She yelled and laughed. “Tell me everything!”

And Claire told her the whole story, the way he had taken care of her when she was sick, their fight, when Orson kissing her… And how Jamie and she had finally fell into each other’s arms. She was grinning the entire time and Gillian was thrilled to see her friend so happy.

“Unbelievable! This is such incredible news Claire. I called it! I knew there was something between you two it was so obvious.”

Claire rolled her eyes but smiled and nodded.

“Yeah, you were right.” She marked a pause then sighed again. “I think I’m in love with him Gill. I have this weird magnetic pull toward him, I can’t stay away. And I’m just so ridiculously happy, it’s hard to remember how miserable I felt just a few months ago.”

“There’s no one I know who deserves it more than you, Claire. Just enjoy it.” Gillian replied seriously.

“Thanks. But I can’t help feeling guilty too, toward Franck. I know he would want me to move on, to be happy. But it feels like I’m forgetting him, all my thoughts are consumed by Jamie. I’m obviously not going to stop whatever this is though; I know Franck is gone and I have to enjoy whatever comes my way that makes me happy. But it’s hard. And it’s especially hard because what I feel for Jamie, it’s so… Deep. Gill. I’ve never felt like this before. Not even with Franck. What does that make me?” She asked, panic written all over her face.

“It makes you human, C. Franck was your first and only everything. And I’m sorry to say this, I don’t want to disrespect him or his memory, but first loves are usually not long-lasting. And what you feel the first time is sometimes huge, and sometimes what you find after is much more powerful. And I think in your case, it’s the latter. And that’s ok! It doesn’t change how much you loved him and the life you had together. But now he’s gone and you’re here, and if you’ve found someone who makes you happy then you should hold on to him.”

“Jamie said something similar.” She nodded, understanding that she was right even if it hurt to allow herself to move on and be happy.

“Really? You told him about this?”

“Of course. He’s a fucking gentleman Gill. I don’t know what I did to deserve him.”

“I’m so happy for you Claire. This is the best news.” She smiled tenderly at her friend. “But what happens at the end of the season? What if you have to leave?”

Fear instantly crept up her chest, she couldn’t even dare to think about it. Leaving this place felt like a nightmare. The ranch was the best home she’d ever known since her childhood home with her parents.

“I can’t even think about that right now Gillian. We’ll cross that bridge when we’re there. Right now, we’re just focusing on us and what it means and what we want out of that relationship.”

“You’re right. You still have a few months to figure it out. Just enjoy it ok? Be happy with him.”

“That’s exactly what I’m doing. And having a lot of sex.” She giggled.

“Oh god. Tell me more!”

Claire blushed and giggled some more.

“It’s absolutely mind-blowing. I feel like I’m re-discovering my body. He’s a freacking king.” She shut her eyes tight just at the thought and Gillian burst out laughing.

“Oh my god I’m so jealous. Your guy is a Greek god. You’re so lucky!”

They both laughed and Claire shook her head as if to say Gillian was crazy. But she wasn’t. She knew she was very lucky to share the bed of Jamie Fraser. The guy was talented in all fields and especially this one.

“You better keep me posted, I need all the details and evolutions of this!”

“Don’t worry, you will be. You’re the only one who knows apart from us for now. We’re keeping things quiet, especially with the workers you know, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem but for now, as we’re not officially together, it’s a secret. So, I need to tell you about it because it’s a lot!”

“I can imagine! You’re right to keep it on the down low for now, plus it must make things even more sexy, no?”

“Kind of, yeah.” She laughed. “But it’s really hard to keep my hands off of him when he’s around and we’re surrounded by other people.”

“I bet!” Gillian laughed. “I’m sorry C, I have to go I was on my way out to dinner with my grandma. I’ll speak to you soon ok? I’m so freacking happy for you girl! Let me know how things move forward ok?”

“I will. I miss you Gill!”

“I miss you too. Kiss my goddaughter for me, will you?”

“Of course, I will. Bye!”

 

Claire hung up and sank in the couch, still feeling on cloud nine from what was happening with Jamie. She was glad she had finally told someone, and especially her best friend. Having her approval and support meant everything.

She turned on her TV and put a movie on, and as she was slowly drifting to sleep, she was startled awake by a loud “boom”.

 


 

“Yeah, it’s definitely the AC system. I need to change this piece, but it can take weeks to get it, especially during the summer as so many businesses close down for the holidays. I’ll see what I can do, but for sure there won’t be any cold air in this cabin for at least a month. Sorry guys.” Bob the repair guy said apologetically, knowing that not having AC throughout the summer in Tennessee was pure torture.

Jamie had called him as soon as Claire had texted him to tell him what had happened. Bob lived in the area and was good friends with Brian, so he had agreed to come over late at night.

“It’s alright Bob. I know if there was something you could do, you would do it. We’ll find a solution until then.” Jamie replied, clasping his shoulder. “Thanks for coming over so late.”

“It’s no bother. You know you can call me anytime.”

Jamie nodded and after saying their goodbyes, Bob left Claire and Jamie in the already very hot and humid cabin.

 

Jamie took Claire in his arms and kissed her forehead.

“We’ll be fine Jamie, don’t worry.

“I can’t let you and Maise live here. You will die baby, it’s way too hot.”

“We don’t really have any other choice, though. All the cabins are taken.”

“Well. Not all, exactly.” He raised an eyebrow and gave her a lopsided grin.

“What are you thinking?” She smiled, wondering what he was plotting in his beautiful mind.

“Well, I do have a guest bedroom. That you could use, in the eyes of everyone. But really, I have a double bed that’s very comfortable and in which you can sleep, while Maisie sleeps in the guest bedroom. And the best is that it would give us a really good excuse to leave my house together in the morning without anyone getting suspicious. We’re already spending every night together anyway.” He grinned at her and she couldn’t help but kiss him.

“Jamie, did you do something to break my AC on purpose? Was this your plan all along?” She giggled and he laughed.

“No, I wish I’d have thought of it myself though. It’s such a good cover for you being in my space all the time. I’m loving this idea. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a pretty cool idea, yeah. Are you sure you don’t mind though? As you say, we will be in your space all the time, Maise is cool, but you know, sometimes she’s not. Me either.”

“I don’t care, I want you there. Both of you.” He framed her face between his palms and caressed her cheek with his right thumb. With pleading eyes, he pouted, “Please say yes?”

“Of course. Yeah, I’ll move in with you. Temporarily.” She did emphasize that last word, to let him know this wasn’t final and he didn’t need to freak out. But Jamie wasn’t freaking out, it was his idea. He was conscious of what having her and Maisie in his house entailed, and he loved it. He kissed her senseless and they fell on the couch, starting an impromptu make out session that Claire broke after a few minutes.

“Okay I’m drenched. We can’t sleep here tonight.” She said, pouting.

“Come on. Pack whatever you need for the night and tomorrow. I’ll go get Maise and we’ll head to my place. We’ll come back tomorrow to move the rest of your stuffs out.” He smiled and kissed her once more before standing up and heading for the stairs.

He opened Claire’s bedroom door slowly to not wake Maisie up, but the little girl was fully awake in her crib.

“Hey baby girl. Why aren’t you sleeping?” He murmured, and Maisie raised her arms to him. “God you’re such a good baby. You’re not even crying.” He got her out of her crib and cradled her to his chest, running his nose on her little forehead. “Oh my god, you’re completely wet. You are hot too, aren’t you? That’s why you’re awake. You know what? You’re gonna come stay at my place for a while with mommy. And I’m going to give you a bath before we put you back to bed. How does that sound?” He kissed her temple and rocked her gently. Maisie simply snuggled her face to his neck and held tight to him.

Jamie grabbed the few toys and teddies in her bed, then came back down with her.

Claire was surprised to see her daughter awake so late.

“She was sweating too, it’s already very hot in your room. She was awake and not saying anything. That little girl is perfect.” He kissed the top of her head again and Claire stopped what she was doing to look at them.

“You’re so good with her. The way you care for her kind of makes my heart beat faster, you know.” She smiled shyly.

He shrugged, smiling, “What can I say? I love her.”

And I love you, she wanted to say, but kept her lips shut tight and smiled at them with tenderness.

 

Once everything was packed, Jamie grabbed all of their bags and Maisie’s umbrella bed, and they went to his house. He helped Claire unpack and set up a space for Maisie in the guest bedroom.

Claire was finally sitting on Jamie’s big L shaped couch and was cuddling her little girl who was very sleepy.

“Shall we give you a bath before you go back to bed sweet pea? I’m afraid you’re going to catch a cold in that state.” Maisie was still wet from starting her night in the hot bedroom.

“I’ve got it. You just sit and relax, ok?” Jamie stopped her before she started standing up. He kissed her lips and caressed her hair, making her shiver, then grabbed Maisie from her arms and headed for the bathroom upstairs.

She sat back against the couch, happily surprised and a bit shocked that he would just step up like this. But she shouldn’t have been, because this was Jamie and he had showed her time and time again that he was there for her. If this was what it was like to share a life with someone, then it must be pretty amazing.

Claire was curious to know how living with Jamie was going to turn out. It should have worried her, but she was actually thrilled to be able to spend more time with him in their little bubble. Their relationship was new, but the way she felt about him and around him felt like she had known him forever rather than just a few months.

 

Too curious to stay in the living-room, she ended up climbing the stairs silently to see what her two favorite people were up to. She watched them from the door, not wanting to be noticed, and yet again felt her heart swelling with love and awe. Jamie was kneeling next to the bathtub and was holding her little head above water, humming a song. Maisie was almost asleep from the soothing sound and hot water.

Claire was amazed that he was bathing her without exciting her. Most people would have just played and gotten her all up and awake, but he knew better. She was so grateful for him she didn’t know how to express it. Saying thank you seemed ridiculous compared to the way she felt.

 

“Ok, let’s get you out baby girl. Time for bed now.” He whispered.

He had already laid the towel next to him, so he got her out and laid her on the towel, then wrapped her up in it like a burrito and brought her to his chest to dry and warm her. He stood up and headed to the bedroom, but stopped when he saw Claire standing there, gazing at them with loving eyes. Jamie couldn’t help but smile at her, and Claire on her side, couldn’t help but reach for him and kiss him deeply, which ignited Jamie’s body. He laughed sweetly and broke their kiss.

“I’ll get back to you in a few minutes. Let me just take care of her, and then I can take care of you.” He winked and made her blush.

 

Claire went to his bedroom and changed into her nightgown, then went to the guest bedroom to say goodnight to her daughter. Jamie had already put her in her pajamas and was rocking her slowly to put her to sleep. Claire put a hand on his back and kissed Maisie’s forehead, wishing her goodnight, then laid her head on Jamie’s shoulder as they both watched this marvelous little being drift away to the land of dreams.

 

After putting her to bed, they turned on the baby monitor and left the room, closing it behind them. Only a second passed before Claire turned back to Jamie and basically jumped on him, wrapping her thighs around his waist. She giggled from her boldness and Jamie kissed her to shut her up, it would have been a shame to wake Maisie up after all his efforts to make her sleep. Their kiss quickly became passionate, and he brought her to his room so they could finally do what they wanted to each other.

He pressed her against the wall so she could feel his erection press against her core and she gasped, looking at him through hooded eyes.

“I want you so much, all the time. I think I’m walking with a semi hard on every time you’re around.” He sighed and she laughed.

“Are you reconsidering your offer then?” She raised an eyebrow and smirked at him.

“Oh no, never!” Then he kissed he some more, but she broke the kiss and suddenly turned serious.

“Thank you Jamie.”

Surprise marked his face, and he raised an eyebrow, “For what baby?”

“For being you. For taking care of me and my daughter the way you do. I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I’m so grateful.”

“It’s my pleasure.” He kissed her, then pressed into her again and she cried out.

“Tonight, I’m in charge.” She said, giving him a crooked smile and making him put her back down.

She reached for his belt and knelt down before him. His Adam’s apple bobbled, and his eyes went dark.

“I’m completely at your mercy.” He replied with a shaky breath and Claire felt so powerful she knew she was going to have a lot of fun. The more time she spent with Jamie, the less shy she felt, and right in this moment he was extremely grateful for it.

Chapter Text

It had been a week since Claire and Maisie had moved into Jamie’s house, and needless to say, the two adults were absolutely enjoying it. There was no need for them to sneak in and out of the other’s house, they could just walk into Jamie’s home without raising questions. No one had questioned Claire’s AC situation, except for Joe who had waggled his eyebrows at her knowingly. She had just rolled her eyes and brushed him off with a smile. Ellen and Brian had shared similar knowing looks between them but had just told their son that he was a generous man for offering his home to the girls, and had changed subject of conversation to something else.

 

Life was moving along, and Jamie and Claire were discovering how they couldn’t get enough of each other, even while living under the same roof.

They spent their days glancing at each other, sending silent messages to the other with their eyes and hands, and at night, they talked, they laughed, and they kept discovering each other in the intimacy of Jamie’s bedroom. They were both incredibly happy and grateful that the living situation was enhancing the way they felt about each other rather than the contrary.

 

Aside from being an incredible lover, Jamie was an incredible partner. He had kept helping out with Maisie ever since the first night, playing with her, cooking her meals, giving her baths, putting her to bed, and always with the intent of bonding with her and giving Claire a break so she could relax. Claire felt this warmth in her chest almost constantly, knowing that only Jamie could provoke that reaction inside of her. He was perfect, and every day that went by, she was falling more and more in love with him. It both scared and thrilled her, because how amazing is it to be in love in a way that you have never experienced before?

On the other hand, it frightened her, because the future was so blurry and unknown, she couldn’t help but wonder where she would be in a just a few months. Would she be far away from Jamie? Would they still be together? That was really what bothered her. Because the more she was getting used to this life, the less she felt like leaving it behind. But whatever her feelings, she needed to prioritize, and her priority would always be Maisie. If she had to leave to put a roof over her daughter’s head… Then she would do it, even if it broke her heart.

Right now, though, she needed to focus on the present and enjoy as much of it as possible.

 

“We have finally a night off at the same time, so I’m taking you on a date tomorrow night. Just you, me, dinner and wine, baby. My parents are babysitting Maise for the night. Meaning we get to be as loud as we want when we get home.” He told her yesterday morning with a smirk on his face while she was dressing Maisie for the day, and a giddy feeling went through her.

“Alright.” She had said. “What should I wear?”

“Something sexy Although, you’re always sexy. Every guy will be jealous of me anyway because no matter what you wear, you’ll be the most beautiful woman in the room.” He said it as if it was an obvious normality, and she felt her heart grow sizes. God he was so sweet.

She grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him to her for a kiss, a hand on Maisie’s belly so she wouldn’t fall over in the meantime.  

“Something sexy it is.”

“How about that dress you wore at the club on our night out with Gillian? Oh my god, I wanted to rip that thing off you from the minute I first saw you wearing it.” He said it as if it was a painful memory and it made Claire giggle.

“If that’s the one you want, then that’s the one you’ll get.” She winked at him.

 

And so here she was, finishing the last touches on her make-up, all dolled up in that tight dress that drove Jamie crazy.

Their cover tonight was that they were having dinner with Lauren and Andrew, which she would love to do, honestly. Ever since camp had started, she had barely seen her friends. Lauren had come over one afternoon, and they all still kept in touch with their whatsapp group, but she missed going out and having fun with everyone. Hopefully she would soon get a day off during the weekend and they would be able to do go out together. But in the meantime, she was excited because in four days, they were finally going to the spa with Lauren and Jenny. The two had gladly taken their Friday off to match Claire’s day off, and they were all looking forward to relaxing and spending the day just the three of them.

 

“Are you ready Claire? We should go if we want to make it on time for our reservation.” Jamie pulled her out from her thoughts by knocking on the door.

“Yeah, I’ll be down in just a minute.”

She put on some lipstick and took one last look at her reflection before heading downstairs. She saw Jamie’s breath catch in his throat when he saw her, a look of wonder, pride and lust in his eyes. Without saying a word, he could make her feel like the most beautiful person in the world.

“I’ve reconsidered our evening. Why don’t we just skip dinner and go straight to my room?” He asked with a low, husky voice, making her cheeks flush.

“That would be nice… But no. I want to go out with you. In public.” She replied with a small smile.

Jamie got up from the carpet where he was playing with Maisie and took Claire’s hands.

“Then that’s what we’re doing.” He kissed her cheek and nuzzled his nose against her ear. “You look breathtaking, Claire.” He whispered in her ear and just the way he had said it made her feel weak in the knees.

“Thank you. You look very handsome too.” She kissed his lips this time, a sweet preview of what the night held later.

When they pulled back, Claire blushed as she realized Jamie was wearing half her lipstick on his own lips. She reached out with her thumb to take if off, and Jamie couldn’t help but put it in his mouth, sucking on it sensually.

“God Jamie stop it, we’re never going to make it to the restaurant if you do that.” She said, almost panting and her voice pleading.

Jamie released her thumb and laughed. He grabbed Maisie on the floor and the baby bag, then reached out for Claire’s hand.

“Let’s go!”

They took his car up to his parents’ house and Jamie didn’t bother ringing the bell, he just entered Brian and Ellen’s home, Claire behind him and Maisie in his arms.

“Hi mom. Hey dad. Here’s the package.” He said, dropping Maisie into Ellen’s arms.

Claire giggled and said hello to the couple, who greeted Maisie like they would their own grandchild.

“Thanks for taking her tonight.” Claire said.

“You know we love to.” Brian said.

“You look beautiful Claire. Where are you guys headed tonight?” Ellen asked, curious.

“Out to dinner with Lauren and Andrew.” Jamie replied naturally.

“These two are still together?” Brian asked, surprised.

“Yep. Going strong. Andrew is transformed.” Jamie laughed and kissed Maisie’s head. “See you tomorrow princess.”

Claire said her goodbyes as well and the two left Jamie’s parents’ house in a hurry.

“Do you think they know yet?” Briand asked Ellen.

“That they’re going to end up together?” Ellen raised an eyebrow and Brian nodded. “Look at them, hurrying off like to giggling teenagers. If they don’t know by now, it’s not going to take them much longer to realize it.” She smiled and kissed her husband.

 


 

Jamie was driving, the windows were rolled down and music was playing through the car’s speakers. But even if the scenery was lovely, even if the music was catchy, all he could do was glance at Claire every two seconds. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He was mesmerized by her beauty, by the small smile floating on her lips and the dreamy look her eyes were harboring.

This woman was his. Or at least, he was wishing she would be, in the near future, once they had this discussion. Right now, they were taking things slow, one day at a time, enjoying discovering each other in this new light. But he knew, he just knew she was about to become everything to him. He could feel it in his heart, beating faster, in his bloodstream, pumping harder, and in his mind, consumed by her in his every thought. Life was crazy sometimes. Just a few months ago, he was still moping around about the life he didn’t get the chance to have with Annalise, pursuing meaningless relationships that led nowhere. And then, like an angel falling from the sky -even though he hadn’t been so welcoming of the said angel at the time- Claire had showed up on his doorstep, in his life, erasing slowly all the hurt he had ever felt, and making him discover what another relationship could be like. What it was like to be true friends with someone before you ever became lovers. Because that’s what was so special between Claire and Jamie, they were falling in love with each other, but they were great friends first and foremost.

 

In a burst of affection for her, Jamie put his hand over her knee, a small gesture and yet so revealing. One that said, “you’re mine”. And just thinking about it made Claire’s heart jump up and down in excitement. She put her hand over his and squeezed it gently.

 

“There we are.” Jamie said calmly, looking at the beautiful vineyard before them.

“Oh my god, a vineyard? Jamie, it’s so beautiful!” Claire gasped, taking in the marvelous view in front of her.

“Yes, they do wine tastings, but they also have a restaurant. That’s where we’re going.” He said, smiling. “Do you like it?”

“I love it.” She said, excited to discover the place.

She brushed her lips on his cheek to thank him and let him park the car in front of the restaurant. He got out of the car and made sure to go over her door to open it for her like a gentleman, making her smile as wide as humanly possible.

 

With a hand on the small of her back, they walked to the entrance and were quickly seated in the garden after Jamie gave his name to the hostess. They ordered some wine and for a few minutes, remained in silence. Claire was taking in her surroundings, looking dreamily at everything, and Jamie kept watching her, holding her hand from across the table.

 

Jamie pressed his palm on her cheek and smiled at her.

“I’m glad you like it. The food is excellent I know you’re going to like it.”

“I’m sure I will. Thank you for taking me out tonight, Jamie. I feel like a princess.”

“Thank you for agreeing to go out with me, I’m the lucky one. You deserve the best, Claire.”

She kissed his palm then rested her head against it. How this man was even real, she had no idea. But the fact was, he said things like that, and he truly meant them. He was special.

“You make me feel very special, I hope you know that. The way you speak to me, the way you care for Maisie… I’m wondering when the other shoe is going to drop honestly. Because I’ve never been so happy in my entire life.” She said shyly but looking at him straight in the eyes.

He squeezed her hand tightly.

“You make me happy too Claire. And I don’t say things I don’t mean… The way we are together it’s… easy. Effortless. I’ve never had that before, even when it was supposed to be “casual” it was complicated. With you it’s not. I just want to spend time with you and Maise, I don’t overthink it.” He shrugged and gave her a small smile.

“I feel the same way.”

“I was really struggling after we kissed at the wedding. I wanted more with you, but I was terrified to try something and be rejected… I didn’t want to jeopardize our friendship. But I couldn’t stop thinking about kissing you and I ended up pushing you away…”

Claire giggled and kissed his knuckles.

“I get it. I was having an inside battle with myself about the way I felt about you, too. Especially because I’ve never dated anyone other than Frank and I wasn’t sure if you felt the same way about me. And just like you, our friendship was not something I wanted to sacrifice.”

“I’m so glad I took a chance though. This.” He started gesturing between him and her. “This feels right.”

Claire nodded, then stood up a little and grabbed his face between her hands.

“I agree.” She replied silently before planting a kiss on his lips. And kissing him this way in public felt just as right. She sat back on her chair, leaving them both a little breathless for a second.

“So… I’m going to sound awfully childish, but I do have and want to ask… Will you be my girlfriend?” He asked her with puppy eyes and the joy she felt couldn’t be put into words.

“You’re adorable, you know that?” She took a sip of her wine and smiled widely. “Yeah, I really want to be your girlfriend, Jamie.”

He grinned at her, so happy he wanted to jump off his chair, grab her, and kiss her. But they were in public, so he remained seated and thought he would just show her how happy he was when they would get home.

“Good. Cause I really want you to be.”

They both laughed at how ridiculously cheesy they were being but were interrupted by the waiter who took their order. When he left, Claire laced her fingers through his, unable to stop touching each other in one way or another.

“I do want us to still keep our relationship between us for now, if that’s ok? It’s still very new… And sort of fun too, to keep it a secret.”

“I agree. And I want you to be comfortable, so if that’s what you want, then that’s what we’ll do.” He said tenderly.

 

They fell into easy conversation, telling each other stories and anecdotes from their past. They ate their dinner while glancing at each other with hungry looks that weren’t meant for food. And finally, when desert and wine were finished, Jamie stood up and held out his hand to her.

 

“Will you dance with me?”

She looked up at him and took his hand, “I’d love to.”

She stood and Jamie took her in the middle of the garden, near the vines, where slow music playing from the restaurant could be heard. No one was around and the scenery was beautiful and romantic.

Jamie put one hand on the small of her back and held hers with the other, and they started swaying to the music with their foreheads glued together. They were both silent, enjoying this special moment and basking in it. Sometimes words just weren’t needed.

Claire pulled her head back and planted her eyes in his, and the way Jamie was looking right back at her made her heart flutter. Whatever the future held for this relationship; they were in this together.

 

Jamie leaned into her and kissed her lips, sucking on her bottom lip and making her moan in response. His hands started reaching down, caressing the curves of her body through the dress. One of his hands settled on her ass and the other was at the hem of her dress, playing with the taunting skin of her thigh. His lips derailed from her mouth to her ear, nibbling on her earlobe, while she felt him up through his shirt, tracing the contours of his abs eagerly and making him shiver.

“I think we should go home.” She said, panting.

“I think you’re right.” He kissed her neck and pulled back with a devilish grin. He grabbed her hand, and they walked back to the restaurant, where he paid for dinner while she went to the bathroom.

 

“Thank you for the evening, Jamie. It was lovely.” She said as he was opening the passenger door of his car for her.

“It’s far from over baby.” He smirked at her and kissed her lips before going around to sit behind the wheel.

Just like on the way over, he possessively settled his hand on her knee. But unlike earlier, the air was charged with electricity. They were both acutely aware of the other, how their breathing was a little altered, how Claire kept pressing her thighs together, clearly anticipating what was going to happen when they got home. Jamie kept running his hand up and down her thigh, making her whimper. Just knowing he could reach farther up and touch her drove him mad and made him uncomfortably hard while driving. They had been driving for twenty minutes and still had a good half hour before making it to the ranch. Five more minutes passed, and he couldn’t take it anymore, he pulled over on a deserted picnic area.

 

“What are you doing?” She asked, a little breathless.

“I can’t wait any longer.” He said while turning the engine off, his eyes dark with lust. He unbuckled her seatbelt and his, then grabbed her from the end of the bench seat so that she would straddle him. She yelped in surprise and giggled.

“I have to have you now. You’re so sexy in that dress, I can’t focus on the road.” He said with a husky voice, which made her hornier than she already was. He slid his hands up her thighs and settled them on her ass, pushing his erection against her throbbing center.

“What if someone sees us?” She said, not really resisting against his caresses.

“It’s a Monday there’s no one out there, plus it’s dark outside, no one will see.” He replied while pulling the straps of her dress down her arms, freeing her breasts right in front of his face. He groaned and immediately took one in his mouth, sucking on her nipple.

“Fuck, Jamie.” Was all she could say in response. She grabbed his hair tight and pushed herself further into his mouth.

“So eager, my Claire.” He trailed kisses up to her collarbone, “I want to fuck you in my car, and I want you to ride me just like that.” He whispered into her ear while sneaking his fingers under her panties and dipping them inside her.

“Yes!” She said in an exhale.

“You’re already se wet for me baby. Damn.”

“Yes. Just for you.” She replied and dipped her tongue inside his mouth a little savagely, which made him even harder than he already was.

Claire reached between them and managed to unbuckle his belt and unzip his pants without breaking their kiss. She freed his thick shaft from his boxers, pushed his hand aside and started humping against him while his eyes rolled back into his head.

“God Claire, you like to drive me mad, don’t you?”

She pulled back so she could look at his face and nodded at him with a sheepish grin. She framed his face with her hands, and he made her sit up so she would be lining up with his erection. He pulled her panties to the side, and she slowly took him in, their eyes never leaving each other.

“God you feel so big inside me.” She said, breathless, before she started rolling her hips. She leaned against the steering wheel, her head tilted back and her eyes closed to take in all the sensations. They fell into a slow, sensual rhythm that had Jamie groan in pleasure.

“You’re so fucking beautiful like this. Half-naked and standing over me like a goddess. I wish you could see how I see you.”

Even in the sexiest, most vulnerable moments, he gave her butterflies. She looked down at him and the way he was looking at her made her eyes water, because he did look at her like she was the 8th wonder of the world.

Not knowing how to reply, she just pressed her body against his and kissed him with everything she couldn’t yet say out loud.

The friction of their skin made them a little crazy, and the slow pace they had up until this moment was quickly replaced by something more frantic, more urgent, that had Claire lose all control and scream Jamie’s name without restraint.

When he realized she was close, he reached down between them and started stroking her just the way she liked it.

“Yes baby, come for me now.” He commanded in her ear, and just like every time he did it, she reached her climax, triggering his own in the process.

They stayed in this position for a few minutes, Claire’s head resting in the crook of his neck and her hand pressed against his heart, while he was grazing his fingers up and down her back, making her shiver.

“Do you feel better now? Shall we go home?” She asked playfully, and she felt his chest shaking with laughter.

“I feel much better thank you. I think we should arrive home just in time for round two.”

“I don’t want to move though. I’m good here in your arms.” She sighed.

He kissed her temple, and she looked up at him.

“I love it when you’re in my arms too. But my car isn’t that comfortable, and I’m going to need more space than this small bench to do what I want to do to you.” He replied with a cocky smile that melted her insides.

“When you put it like that.” She laughed and started to put her dress back on correctly. “Let’s go!” She sat back in in the passenger seat, eager to get home.

Jamie laughed and dressed himself properly too before putting the car into gear. He took her hand in his and couldn’t help the smile that was hovering on his lips. She was as addicted to him as he was to her, and that made him happy.