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Claire sipped on some lukewarm coffee from the doctors’ lounge, immediately spitting it back out when it hit her tongue. “Blegh,” Claire exclaimed, making a face. She poured the coffee down the sink drain and tossed the cup in the trash. She turned to go out, stopping short when the door opened. 

“Lady Jane,” a deep, baritone voice said as the door opened to admit her best friend from medical school. 

 “Joe Abernathy, Thank God you’re back.” Claire ran to Joe and opened her arms to give him a hug. 

Joe hugged Claire back, chuckling. He pulled her away from him to look her over. “I missed you too,” he said. “Lady Jane, are you getting enough sleep? You look a little tired.” 

“Thanks, Joe,” Claire said in a sarcastic voice. “You always know exactly what to say.” 

Joe raised his eyebrows. “Well, fine, I’ll tell Gayle that I’m in the market for a new work wife,” Joe said, his voice lowering to an almost whisper. “Especially since you might be leaving me anyway.” Joe squeezed Claire’s arms affectionately and released her. “Let’s go get some better coffee.” 

Claire sat across with Joe and inhaled the hot, fresh coffee in front of her. “So, your vacation was good, then?” she asked. 

Joe nodded. “Yes, absolutely. The kids had so much fun exploring Paris for the first time.” Joe grinned. “But we can save that for later. Tell me what’s going on.” 

Claire looked down at her coffee, considering her words carefully. “Well, you remember me telling me about the man I met at the conference in New York?” 

Joe rolled his eyes. “How could I forget? It sounded like you were living in one of my favorite romance novels, from the limited information you gave me, which, by the way, is more than enough. It’s like hearing about your sister with someone,” Joe said, wincing a little. 

“Oh, hush,” Claire said, taking a long drink of her coffee, relishing in the way it burned her throat as she swallowed.  “I am still thinking about him,” Claire said, nodding. “But I wrote him a whole fucking letter and haven’t heard a thing from him,” she said, waving her arms in irritation. “I’d strangle him if I saw him today.” 

Joe made a throaty noise and chuckled. “I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of your wrath, Lady Jane,” he said sagely, shaking his head. “I’ve seen you argue with some of the other surgeons.” 

“Well, they’re the ones who had their heads in their asses, especially that ortho surgeon visiting from the States,” Claire said, feeling anger building in her chest. 

Joe reached out and wrapped his hand around her wrist. “Yes, but that’s different, and you know it.” Joe nodded, encouraging her to continue. 

Claire nodded and took a calming breath before continuing. “Well, I am planning – I mean, I’ve always been planning – to apply to hospitals in Scotland, and well, I have two interviews set up in Inverness and Edinburgh,” Claire said, lowering her voice and looking around to make sure she and Joe were still mostly alone. 

“Congratulations, Lady Jane!” Joe said. “So are you going to look this guy up and murder him? Should I contact Interpol and warn them that a posh English woman is on the warpath, ready to terrorize all of Scotland?” Joe raised his eyebrows playfully. 

“Ha, bloody ha, ” Claire said. “No, I told Geillis that I think it’s time to get over it. I mean, it was just one weekend, and we were in New York, and honestly I’m embarrassed that I’m still thinking about him.” 

Joe shook his head and patted Claire’s hand. “Oh, Claire,” Joe said quietly. “Just because you only spent a short time with him doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to feel the way you do about the situation.” 

Claire gave Joe a small smile. “You only call me Claire when we have a stressful surgery or something’s going wrong,” Claire said. 

Joe shrugged. “Well, evidently something is wrong,” Joe said carefully. “Just go to the interviews and think it over. If either of the hospitals are a good fit, you’ll have a good reason to reach out to him, right?” 

Claire nodded slowly. “Yes, I suppose that’s good logic,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee. “I suppose I won’t feel more rejected and angry than I already do.” 

Joe laughed and took a long drink of his coffee. “Well, there’s only one way to find out, right?” Joe asked. “As my mother in law is fond of saying, ‘Nothing is final until you’re dead.’” 

“Too right,” Claire agreed. “Thank you, Joe,” she said, raising her coffee cup in a salute before draining it. “Let’s get back to the OR.” 

— 

Two Weeks Later 

Claire pulled onto the side of the road and threw the gear shift into park. “I’m going to kill Geillis Duncan,” she said aloud to the empty car. 

She dialed Geillis’s number and tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as she listened to the dial down. 

“Claire, love, where are ye?” Geillis said in a sing-song voice. 

“What are you in such a good mood about?” Not waiting for Geillis to answer, she continued, “I don’t see this place on the GPS. Are you positive it’s there?” 

“Claire, yes, an’ I told you it’s not going to be on the GPS because it’s a new business, ken?” Geillis said in a matter-of-fact tone. 

Claire nodded. “And when will you be joining me, exactly?” Claire asked. 

Claire had spent the last two days immersed in the first round of interviews at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. Geillis had begged her to stay for the weekend, sweet-talking her into meeting her at some sort of spa for a relaxing weekend. Claire gladly welcomed the idea, feeling more than ready for a weekend away with one of her best friends. 

“Soon, Beauchamp, just finishing up here,” Geillis said. 

“Sounds good,” Claire said, feeling somewhat soothed. “Talk soon.” 

Claire disconnected the call and gave one last look at the directions Geillis had sent before she got back on the road. A half hour later, Claire pulled into a small parking area next to a massive, ancient-looking stone house.  Claire looked around, wondering where the other cars were. Shaking her head, she grabbed her coat and wrapped a scarf around her neck before getting out of the car. It was freezing out, and the small, fat snowflakes were falling sporadically.  It was close to springtime, but evidently the Scottish weather hadn’t received that memo. 

Shivering, she popped the trunk and slung her overnight bag over her shoulder. Slamming the trunk closed, she walked toward the large house. She paused, suddenly overcome by the tranquil beauty of the place. In the distance, she saw stables and a couple of horse grazing nearby. Several smaller buildings dotted the landscape. Cottages, maybe? Claire thought to herself. Near the main building, there was a pen filled with fat sheep and a few cows grazing placidly. 

Suddenly feeling more charitable towards Geillis and her enthusiasm for this place, Claire continued to the front door and stepped inside. She looked around the empty foyer and dropped her bag near the door’s entrance. Walking further inside, she inhaled deeply. The smell of homemade bread and the heady scent of burning firewood wafted through the air. She closed her eyes, feeling the tension drain from her shoulders. 

“Hallo!” She opened her eyes, startled. Looking up, she saw a small boy on the second floor landing. 

“Mam!” the boy yelled. “Mam! Da! A lady is here!” The boy ran down the hall gleefully, not even waiting for Claire to answer. Claire heard a door open and registered a woman’s voice. After some back and forth between the woman and the boy – something about taking a bath soon, with the latter of the two attempting to argue his way out of it  – she heard the door close and footsteps coming toward the landing. Claire busied herself with unwinding her scarf in an effort to show that she wasn’t actually attempting to eavesdrop. 

A short woman with dark hair appeared at the top of the stairs. “Hallo!” she said, walking quickly down the steps of the large, ornate staircase. “Ye must be Claire Beauchamp, aye?” 

Claire smiled. “Yes, hi, I’m here to check in for the weekend. I’m staying here with a friend.” She looked around, feeling a bit confused by the lack of activity. “I’m not in the wrong place, then,” Claire said hopefully, her voice rising at the end to indicate that it was a question more than a statement. 

“Oh, aye, yer in the right place,” the woman said in a cheerful voice as she came to stand in front of her. “I’m Jenny Murray. Welcome to Lallybroch Bed and Breakfast.”