Oxford wasn’t a busy city. The only moment of the year with much activity was the beginning of Fall, when students from all over the world would arrive in the little English town to start their courses at the prestigious, homonymous university of the same name.
But this new semester promised to be slightly different.
His royal highness James Fraser, first heir to the throne of England, was reported to be attending the university, after being spotted on campus during the summer for a visit with his Majesty the King Brian and her Highness Princess Jannet. James was the son of Brian Fraser, current King of England and his late wife, Ellen MacKenzie, a Scottish princess to whom his marriage had caused quite the scandal at the time.
You could feel the anticipation in the air as everyone was excited about the prince’s upcoming arrival.
Well everyone, except Claire Beauchamp.
Claire was an archeology student, about to start her second year of studies. Orphaned at a young age, she had spent the majority of her life on the road with her uncle Lambert, a renowned archaeologist and professor, until she finally settled in Oxford a year ago to start her courses. She liked the quietness of the city; riding her bike through the narrow streets for hours before she’d end up at the favorite bookstore. She wasn’t pleased to see the quiet town she loved turn into a circus.
Claire was not an avid royalist, but in this country you couldn’t escape the news regarding everyone’s favorite family for very long. James grew to be a handsome man, and the fact that he was still a bachelor made everyone wait eagerly to see who he would choose as a wife. As expected, every female on campus was getting ready to court him from the first day of the semester. Not a week would pass without a picture of him in the papers, linking him to some random blonde and labeling her as the next Queen.
Claire couldn’t be less bothered.
Claire was never a morning person and waking up late for her first day back at school had become a tradition. She skipped coffee and got dressed quickly before getting on her bike to ride to the campus. She had even forgot the prince’s arrival, the only one who did so -apparently, since everyone was eagerly waiting for the poor guy with flags and banners.
Rolling her eyes, she stationed her bike at its usual place and made her way inside the empty halls. Claire knew that without coffee she couldn’t function properly, so she made her way to the cafeteria to quickly grab a cup before her first class. She figured being late today wouldn’t be so bad, since all the students were outside waving flags anyway.
The thought amused her but deep down, she pitied the poor prince. He couldn’t even go to university in peace, without a horde of people calling his name for attention. The prince was gorgeous, she’d give him that, and he seemed well articulated from what she had seen from time to time on TV, but she couldn’t imagine living such a life.
Claire had no time for further thinking as she bumped into someone and her books went flying on the floor. She first thing she noted was his height. He was really tall.
Claire looked up and finally realized who had suddenly bumped into her in the middle of the empty hall. Fiery hair, sharp jaw and deep blue eyes. He was the prince everyone had been waiting for.
And he looked the part.
“I am so sorry! I hope I dinna hurt ye?” For an English prince he had a thick Scottish accent, something she thought was due to his upbringing in the Highlands and his Scottish mother. Claire suddenly realized she knew more about the monarchy than she would like to admit and she kept her mouth shut. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction to think she knew who he was.
His worried expression was cute and made her smile despite her effort to play it cool. She shook her head, curls bouncing. “No, I’m fine. I should look where I walk, I’m sorry.” Your highness? She had no idea what to call him and he seemed pleased about her lack of enthusiasm regarding his persona.
Jamie picked up the books and smiled, handing them back to her. “Thomas Hardy, great choice. Are ye a literature major then?”
“No, archeology, actually. But I love a good classic for the breaks between classes.” Her smile gave him goosebumps and her eyes transfixed him. He couldn’t stop staring into their whisky color and she noticed that. “Is everything okay?”
Jamie came back to his senses, feeling the tip of his ears turning pink. “Oh aye, I was distracted is all.”
“Well, I have to go or I’ll be late to class.” Claire ran her long fingers through her soft curls and Jamie wondered how they would feel like.
“Aye, of course. Just look where you’re going, you could get hurt next time.” Jamie warned her, with a cheeky smile.
“I promise, I will!” Claire smiled and disappeared before he had the time to ask her name.
The first day at university had been nothing but a chore for Jamie, since his arrival in the morning. After a formal meeting with his professors, he went to greet the crowd with smiles and handshakes. He had insisted of being treated normally, but that was a total failure already .
Everyone was always nice to him and he felt like an arsehole to complain about his situation, but he hated the attention and for once in his life, he just wanted to feel like any other young man going to university. He was missing the Highlands and the inner peace they brought to him, the quietness of his long horse ride through the woods and the particular smell of Scotland.
However, he had to admit that not everything sucked on that first day.
He met that stranger in the hall. Jamie knew nothing about her, apart from the fact that she was an archeology student with the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. She was a breath of fresh air next to all the girls he met daily, throwing themselves at his feet with the first opportunity.
Walking to the library, he remembered his late mother’s words,“You will ken the right woman when you’ll see her, m'eudail.” And his mother had been right about this, as she always was.
He was sure the library would be empty after the frantic first day and he was looking forward to dive in a book, unbothered, in peace. Walking in, he stopped abruptly. It wasn’t empty.
She was there.
Hair pulled back this time with some curls escaping, she wore round glasses and was concentrated on her lecture as the table lamp casted a glow on her ivory skin.
Jamie watched her for a while, not wanting to disturb her peace, but mostly because he was in awe and he had no idea what he could say to her. The way she frowned or smiled at something written in the pages, how she laughed at one point and making him wonder what set off the lovely sight in front of his eyes.
After a while, she finally looked up and their eyes met - hers sporting an amused expression that made him blush furiously.
Calm down, Fraser.
“How long have you been watching me?” She asked with raised eyebrows, closing her book.
Jamie looked like a little boy caught stealing candies and he didn’t know where to hide “I… Uhm, not verra long. I just dinna want to disturb ye.” He ran his hand along the back of his sweaty neck.
He walked over to her and tried to come up with something clever to say. “Twice in the same day, I think ye owe me yer name, no?”
“Truthfully, I don’t owe you anything.” She grinned, crossing her arms.
“Aye, I mean no, ye dinna. I’m sorry. I…” He spluttered, trying to find his words. He wasn’t prepared to be disarmed like that by a woman.
And what a woman.
“It’s Claire.” She interrupted him and smiled. “I’m just teasing you.”
“Nice to meet ye properly, Claire. I’m glad I dinna almost crushed ye again.” He said, making her laugh at the recollection of their earlier encounter.
“So am I.” She smiled, adjusting her glasses. “What are you doing at the library at such a late hour?”
“I could ask ye the same thing.” He smiled.
“I asked first.” She pointed out, smiling.
Chuckling, he nodded. “Touché.”
“You haven’t introduced yourself properly, by the way.” Claire remarked, resting her cheek against her palm and watched him.
“I dinna ken where are my manners,dear. It’s James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.” The way he said his name sent a shiver down her body.
“Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp, lad.” She held out her hand and instead of shaking it, he brought it to his lips and placed a soft kiss on the back, as he bowed down.
“And how do I call you? James? Your Royal Highness? Dude?”
“Just Jamie.” He chuckled and sat down in front of her. “I dinna like the fuss.”
“Well, for someone who doesn’t like the fuss, you caused quite the stir today.”
“Aye, it’s no’ like I can control it. Sadly” He sighed.
“That’s why you chose the library when it’s empty. I get it, I like my solitude as well.” She smiled.
“I’m sorry I’m bothering ye. I will leave ye alone.” He started to get up before she interrupted him.
“No, you’re not!” She smiled softly, touching his hand and their eyes met for a moment.
She cleared her throat and removed her hand slowly. ”I mean you can stay. I don’t own the library.”
“Technically I do, since it’s part of the country’s heritage.” Jamie grinned, making her laugh.
“You do have a very good point there. So when do I start calling you Royal Highness?” She teased.
He laughed, wondering when was the last time he enjoyed someone else’s company so much. “No, for ye it’s just Jamie. May I ask what are ye reading?”
“It’s one of my late uncle’s book. He was an archaeologist as well and from time to time I like to dive in one of his works, even if I have read them all countless times.”
“Could I borrow it?”
Nodding, she smiled. “Certainly, you can even keep it. I have another edition back at home.”
“Thank ye, but if i keep it I won’t have an excuse to bring it back and see ye again.”
“No you won’t, you will have to find something else.” Claire smirked.
“Is it a challenge, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp?”
“It might as well be, James - I’m not going to repeat your whole name because it’s too long- Fraser”
Jamie smirked, “I like a good challenge.”
“I am sure you do.” Claire smiled and got up, gathering her things. “Enjoy the book and have a lovely night.”
She made her way out of the library and Jamie followed her with quick strides. “Let me walk ye home, Claire. It’s late and I dinna like ye to walk alone in the dark.”
“I’m a big girl and I don’t live very far, but that’s very gentlemanly of you. And a great way to know where I live. Very smooth Fraser.”
Beauty and brain, damn.
“I dinna ken what ye’re talking about.” He acted innocently as they walked out of the building together.
“No, of course not,” Claire looked at him amused.
They walked in silence for a while, the mild late September breeze refreshing against their skin. He offered to carry her books as she pushed her bike, and she accepted. The silence was in no way awkward, it was more the comfortable quietness shared with someone close, nothing unnecessary to fill the void.
Claire looked around as Jamie watched her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, even if he tried. At some point, her hair tie gave up the struggle against the mass of her hair and broke, leaving her curls free and wild around her face as she laughed and stopped walking.
“Does that happen often to ye?” He asked with a grin, picking up the broken hair tie from the streat before facing her.
“Yes, it happens more often than you’d think. My curls have a mind of their own and I learned a long time ago not to try and tame them. They just don’t obey.”
“Aye, yer curls are like ye then, I guess?” He smiled, stroking a stray curl around her ear.
“Aye,” she mimicked his accent, looking up.
Jamie bit his lower lip, fighting the urge to kiss her on the spot and got drunk on her whiskey eyes instead. He had stopped counting how many times this happened already, he simply lost himself in their infinity.
After a moment, Claire smiled and finally spoke. “I live right up there.” She pointed to a little cottage further down the road.
“Weel then, it is time for me to wish ye goodnight, Claire. May yer dreams be as beautiful as ye are and hopefully I will see ye again soon on campus.” He brought her hand to his lips again and placed a soft kiss on it.
Claire was not one to be easily impressed but she had to admit James Fraser made her heart race faster than usual and she felt a foreign sensation in her stomach.
Claire tiptoed to place a kiss on his cheek and smiled, whispering, “Goodnight, James.”
She quickly disappeared into her house, leaving his Royal Highness James Fraser on the curb, wondering if she was some sort of witch. He was completely under her spell.
And happy to be there.