Fifteen Years Later
James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser never forgot the moment he became King of England. How could he? He had been terrified. Lost. Wrapped in his grief at the sudden passing of his father and afraid of what would be the next step in his life. He was twenty-seven years old.
Even if his mother had tried to shield him from his destiny as much as possible, he had been prepared for the role since he was a wee lad… Ellen Fraser had tried to raise him like any other child, but Jamie was not any other child. Destined to do great things. And great things he had done. Always secretly hoping to make his mother and father proud. No matter where they were.
He announced his abdication a year ago and the ceremony took place six months later at Westminster Abbey. The day had finally come for him to step down from the throne to let space for the next monarch: Elena Quentin Louise Beauchamp Fraser.
Jamie had no doubt in his mind his daughter would be perfect for the role. Better than anyone had ever been before that. And even if his perception might be a little bit biased on the matter, it was the truth. Elena was a true Fraser. Stubborn and practical. Never stopping until she would get what she wanted. But she was also half Beauchamp. And that was, in Jamie’s mind, what would make her the best. His daughter was just like his wife. Intelligent, strong-minded and kind. Like his own mother, Ellen had been before them.
Jamie Fraser strongly believed the world would be a better place if more women were in charge. Again, he wasn’t wrong. He knew he had been a good King but he couldn’t take credit for any of it. On one part, his mother had raised him to be and on the other, his wife had been by his side, from the beginning. Helping him, whenever he was lost.
Claire. His guiding light into the darkness. The glimmer in the shadow. Sorcha.
She had left her life behind for him. Everything she had known and cherished. Her anonymity. Her job. Her ambitions. The promises of a simpler life. Only for Jamie had she given everything she had, risked it all. She had thrown away caution and judgement and wisdom. She had brought him nothing but herself, and been nothing but herself with him. Given him soul as well as body, let him see her naked, trusted him to see her whole and cherish her frailties. And for that, he would always be grateful that Claire Beauchamp had agreed to become Claire Fraser, Queen Consort. More than forty years ago.
So many things happened since then. So many memories stamped into his mind, forever. Loss, tragedies, laughs and love. So much love.
When it came down to everything. He owed it all to Claire. Without her, monarch or not, his life wouldn’t have any meaning. Before they had met, he was lost. Angry, still grieving his mother’s passing and a shell of himself. No matter how many years had passed, he felt hollow. Ignoring what to do with his life.
Then he saw her.
A riot of curls framing her face, porcelain skin like a china doll and lips plumb and pink, calling for him.
Jamie wanted to disappear. That was slightly dramatic but he truly did, just now. More than usual anyway.
His first day at university was supposed to be normal. He was supposed to be like any other student, no matter his title. But he had been on campus for ten minutes – and it was already chaos. He knew the rest of the day wasn’t going to get much better.
After all, the next King of England was attending Oxford.
What people didn’t know was that the next heir to the throne was shy and hated attention. He didn’t like for people to scream after him while waving flags and holding flowers.
Long minutes of polite smiles and handshakes. Of greetings and thank yous. Long minutes where Jamie realised he should have taken his classes from the warmth and peaceful bubble of the Palace in London.
He finally extracted himself of the crowd and roamed the empty halls in search of his first classroom. He didn’t agree to have someone walking him around nor to have a guide to show him where to go. He wanted to get lost, like any new student, and forget about who he was for a minute.
Just a minute.
The halls were deserted. Since everyone was either in class already or outside waiting to cast a glance of the prince.
Jamie walked, looking around and let his thought wander elsewhere. To a place where his mother would still be alive and his father wasn’t simply the ghost of the man he had known. A place where his life had been a normal one and not one of scrutiny in the public eye. A place where –
His thoughts were cut short as he bumped into someone and sent her books flying across the floor. His mind went blank and he blinked, standing in front of what he thought to believe to be an angel.
“I am so sorry! I hope I dinna hurt ye?” Panic crept onto the back of his neck.
Jamie noted the sudden expression on her face. But not one he was used to receiving whenever someone realises who he was. She didn’t seem to know – or if she did, she hid it well. And instead, she was almost laughing.
She shook her bouncy head of luscious curls and he had to fight the urge of reading out and stroking one.
“No, I’m fine. I should look where I’m walking, I’m sorry –” Her accent was thick and British. It sounded so posh. And her voice was smooth like silk.
Smiling, he picked up her books from the floor and glanced at the first one. His heart swelling, “Thomas Hardy, great choice. Are ye a literature major then?”
“No, archaeology, 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 colour and she seemed to notice 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 what 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.
That gloomy October morning, in a university hall, was the day his heart started to beat again and it never stopped since then. Beating for her. For their children. For the life she had given him and still gave him. Every day. For the rest of their lives together. And after that.
They had officially moved out of the Palace in London to settle at Balmoral, just the two of them, except for when their children and grandchildren would visit for the holidays.
Josef had married Emma ten years ago. Both had two daughters, Elizabeth and Grace. Respectively six and four. And a third bairn on the way.
Elena got married six years ago to Alexis de l’Espage, a French Earl she had met in her third year at university. They had a son, named Elias after her late brother, and aged two. The next in the line of succession.
Julia was in no rush to get married nor engaged. She was busy travelling the world, working on various charities and fighting the fights of people less fortunate and who had no voices.
When the entire clan was all reunited around a table, Jamie liked to look around and see his family. Loud and noisy, sharing a laugh or discussing everything and anything. And then, his eyes would lock with Claire’s and they’d share a smile, followed by a silent understanding of just how happy they were.
Claire made her way inside the castle and removed her tartan Burberry trench and olive rubber boots. She had paid a visit to Murtagh and Suzette, along with Mrs Fitz, while Jamie was taking a nap. Her hair had become fully grey but her curls were still as riotous as ever and she never tried to tame them. She removed the silk scarf from around her head and let her hair free while she made her way towards the library.
“Darling?” She called out, looking around for him. The library was empty so she made her way back towards the stairs.
“Aye, I’m here,” She heard his voice inside his office and turned around, smiling.
Leaning against the doorframe, she watched him, kneeling on the floor and sorting through boxes, “What are you doing?”
“Sortin’ some old papers,” Jamie smiled, getting up slowly, “I woke up and I was all alone so I found somethin’ to occupy myself with.”
“Was his royal highness bored, perhaps?” Claire walked over to him, smirking.
“Och aye, beyond reasonable measures,” He grabbed her hand and pulled him closer to him before wrapping his arms around her waist.
“It’s not my fault my old man needed a nap and I was restless,” She wrapped her arms around his neck, rubbing her nose against him.
“Yer old man, aye?” He pouted, tilting his head.
“Still younger than I am,” She smiled, brushing her lips against his.
“‘Tis verra true, Principessa,” Jamie couldn’t help but grin, “Where were ye?”
“I went to see Suzette, Murtagh and Glenna,” She stroked his nape hair, “They’ll join us for dinner tonight.”
“Och, good,” He lifted her up.
“No, put me down before you hurt your back again,” She chuckled, holding onto him, “Come on, I’m not kidding!”
“I canna hear ye,” Grinning, Jamie carried her to the library and laid her on the Chesterfield. “Dinna move, I’ll start the fireplace and get us a wee dram, aye?”
“Aye,” Claire watched him with a smirk, “Sounds like a good plan.”
“And I didna injure my back,” He shook his butt as a little victory dance before he kneeled down and started on the fireplace, leaving Claire laughing on the leather sofa.
Shaking her head, she watched him and pulled the plaid over her.
Sometimes, it hit her out of nowhere just how much she loved this man. It caught her off guard, when they were doing random activities or when he was asleep and she’d watch him. An immense rush of happiness would take over her, then, knowing her life without Jamie would have been a life lived in vain.
“I’m serious, I don’t want you to be stuck in bed for days again and you don’t want that either,” Claire got up, walking to the table to get them drinks.
“I will be careful,” Walking over to her, he wrapped his arm around her from behind while she poured the whisky into the glasses.
“I promise, a nighean,” He rested his chin on her shoulder.
“Thank you,” Smiling, she kissed his cheek.
“I have to admit I dinna mind gettin’ hurt because then ye doctor me,” He grinned, patting her bum. Kissing her cheek quickly, he went to sit down on the sofa.
“James Fraser, what am I going to do with you?” Claire chuckled, following him with the drinks. She sat down next to the big scot and handed him a glass.
“Thank ye kindly,” He took it, kissing the tip of her nose. “Weel, I hope ye’ll keep me as a husband for a few more years.”
She moved against him, smiling, “It would be a little bit late to realise I’ve made a mistake in marrying you, don’t you think?”
Jamie kissed her head before sipping some whisky, “Aye a wee bit but who kens? I just dinna want ye to regret anything.”
“Regret anything? Because I married you?” Claire looked up at him, “If there is one thing I will never regret in my life is that simple fact, my darling.”
“Ye sacrificed a great deal to be my wife, Caire…Yer life, yer career, yer anonymity –”
“The first time you brought me here, after what happened with the press, I was terrified,” She put her glass onto the table and moved closer to him.
“I had doubts about what this would be like, about if I could be enough for you. If I could handle it and be by your side and support you, no matter what. I didn’t want to promise you something and then running away because I couldn’t handle it,” She cupped his cheek, emotions catching in her throat.
“But I never doubted for a sheer second how much I loved you, Jamie,” She smiled, her vision blurring with tears, “I knew it wouldn’t be easy and it wasn’t always, but whenever you look at me or you hold me, all the fears I have or ever had, just vanish. You have no idea how thankful I am to be your wife.”
“‘Tis I who needs to thank ye, Principessa,” He put his glass away, smiling warmly, “When we met, ye gave my life meanin’ and the day ye marrit me, ye made me the happiest man in the world. Then a little bit more every day of our marriage.”
Wrapping her into his arms, Jamie placed a kiss on her head, “Wi’out ye, I am nothin’, Claire,” He whispered in her hair, closing his eyes.
“Neither one of us is whole alone, Jamie,” She squeezed his arm, looking up at his eyes.
“Aye, ‘tis verra true,” He stroked her cheek with the base of his thumb.
“And you?” She looked at him, “You never regretted marrying me?”
“No’ even for one second, Principessa,” Jamie kissed her lips with such tender delicacy, she almost wept.
“Ye are the love of my life, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser. I kent it the first moment I saw ye and I get a little bit more sure of that fact every day when I see ye stir next to me in the mornin’ and ye look at me wi’ yer whisky eyes still full of sleep and yer curls a mess on the pillow. Or when ye are readin’ a book, wi’ yer wee glasses on yer nose and that concentrated look on yer face.”
“God, I love you,” A tear escaped her eye and strolled down her cheek but Claire smiled. A smile full of happiness and love for this man. Her man.
“I know I don’t say it often enough but I do love you, Jamie,” She sealed their lips for a brief moment, feeling his arms tightening around her. “So bloody much,” She whispered against him, breath warm.
“Aye, I ken, a nighean,” His lip flicked up as he cupped her cheek – and she melted into his touch. “I dinna need to hear ye say it because ye proved it to me every day and ye still do. Ye gave me yer heart and yer soul. Ye gave me four bairns. Ye gave me everythin’ Claire.”
“You gave me a home and a family,” She held him close, “Two things I never thought I would have. I thought I didn’t mind solitude – I thought I was strong and independent but I don’t think I’ll be able to be alone again –”
“Ye’ll never be alone again, Principessa,” He whispered, smiling broadly. “My body is yers now and my soul will belong to ye even after we both will be dust.”
Nodding, she smiled and nuzzled his neck. Wrapped in his arms, Claire was right where she had always belonged. At home. Surrounded by a feeling of peace no one but her husband could procure her.
“When the day shall come, that we do part,” Jamie said softly, tightening his hold on her, “if my last words are not ‘I love you’—ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”
As a little girl, Claire never believed in fairytales. Stories of princesses rescued in their high towers of loneliness by princes and bound to live happily ever after until the rest of time did little for her imagination. She never believed such things to be able to be true. And usually, she was right about pretty much everything but James Fraser proved her wrong in the matter. Not that she minded.