Is it the whisky that burns inside him, or the amber of her eyes?
James Fraser does not know, nor does he care, as he blatantly stares at the curly-haired goddess that sits at the bar in the pub, tipping back a tumbler full of whisky that almost matches the hue of her sharp gaze. Beguiled, he turns his chair to face her, mesmerized by the creamy skin exposed by her low-cut blouse and black skirt—an oddity in the frigid February air.
It has been a long time since he felt attracted to another woman. Jamie wishes he could stand up and go talk to her—ask her name, offer his own, buy her another whisky and discover if he has the courage to kiss away the taste of it from her lips. He sighs; there’s no use imagining things that will never come to pass. He is in no position to want or deserve her. Pulling his mobile from his trouser pocket, he scrolls through his work email, already planning tomorrow’s hectic schedule.
Jamie looks up, hoping it’s the brunette goddess, but instead, is met with a bewitching green-eyed gaze and red hair similar to his own. He offers a polite smile. “Aye?”
“My friend—” She gestures to the woman he has been ogling at the bar, and his wame does a slow roll. “She was wondering if ye would like to join us. Celebrate.”
“What’s the occasion?” He stands, picking up his own drink and twirling it in his hands.
“Ye should come over and find out. I’m Geillis, by the way.” With a raucous laugh, she leads the way to the tall stools that line the counter. A head of bouncy curls turns slowly and the tawny eyes he so admired roll upwards at Geillis, but her mouth—Christ, that mouth! —smiles.
“G, I told you not to bother him. I’m so sorry, we’re both a little past sloshed now.” A rich English accent trembles in his ears, and he’s absolutely enchanted; he didn’t expect she would be a Sassenach in Glasgow.
“No bother at all, lass. James Fraser, pleasure to meet ye.”
“Claire Ra—um, Beauchamp.” She extends a slender white hand to clutch his in a surprisingly confident grip.
“Well, I’ll leave ye to it. I have my sights set on that lad yonder. Let me know when ye want to go, C.” With that, Geillis saunters over to a dark corner of the packed pub, leaving them to get to know each other. He takes the vacant seat next to Claire.
“Yer friend said ye were celebrating. May I ask why?” Jamie signals the bartender for another round, which Claire accepts with a nod.
“My divorce was finalized this afternoon.” Claire smiles charmingly at his raised eyebrow. “It sounds terrible, perhaps, but it was a long time in the making. We’ve been apart for almost a year. I moved here from London to start over. My husband—ex-husband now—and I… turns out we were not as well matched as we had thought.”
Jamie tosses back the rest of his whisky. Desire, unbidden, pricks its way up his spine. “I’m sorry to hear that; how long were ye married?”
“Three years. I’m a doctor, he’s in politics. My career was also ill-suited for his plans to run for MP.” She crosses her long legs, and the tip of her shoe brushes against his trouser leg. He can’t tell if it was accidental or on purpose.
Jamie leans in, and catches a hint of her perfume. It’s intoxicating, but he manages to ask, “How so?” He cannot imagine that this vibrant, intelligent woman could be a hindrance for any man.
“He wanted me to be more of a proper housewife. He assumed I would give up my practice to support his political endeavors full time. He was wrong.” Claire shrugs, and finishes her drink.
She declines another when Jamie offers; instead, she turns the conversation towards him. “And you, James? What is it you do?”
“Jamie, please. I’m a solicitor. I work for my uncles’ company, Leoch Holdings. Publishing division, working out contracts and such.”
“I’ve heard of it. Quite an enterprise, isn’t it, tech and media and others?” Now it’s Claire who leans in a bit closer, and he is drawn to the delicate wings of her clavicle, and imagines what it would be like to trace them with his tongue when he realizes she’s expecting a response.
“It is, keeps me quite busy. They do seem to have their fingers in many pies.” He bites his lip, and deflects back to her. “I must ask. What is a Sassenach doing in Glasgow, practicing medicine? Surely London was big enough for ye and yer ex-husband?”
“A Sassenach?” Claire repeats bemusedly. “Haven’t heard that term in a long time.”
“Och, lass, I apologize, I didna mean it as an insult—”
“It didn’t sound like one. This Sassenach traveled the world with her uncle while growing up. He was an archaeologist; we lived in Egypt, Peru, India, Iran, Mexico, wherever there was a site to dig. When he died I returned to England, met Frank, married him. When we separated, I wanted somewhere foreign yet familiar. Scotland seemed like a good option.”
“Indeed, Sassenach.” Jamie pairs the words with what he hopes is a dazzling smile, and he is rewarded with a silvery peal of laughter. However, Claire hops down from the stool before he can offer any assistance, landing gracefully on her high heels and pulling her skirt down.
“Jamie, I must be going now. Celebration or not, I’ll be pulling an all-night shift tomorrow and should get some sleep.” She offers her hand again, and he stands, towering over her, enveloping her delicate fingers in his warmly. He is disappointed the evening was cut short, but knows it must be this way.
“It was a pleasure, Claire.” He feels the strangest urge to kiss her hand like on the period dramas he secretly enjoys. “Do ye need any help getting home? I can call a company car to drive ye, and Geillis.”
“We’re roommates. I just hope G is through with that one.” Claire motions with her head at the corner where Geillis had gone, and sure enough the bright hue of her hair gives her away. Claire’s friend is—entangled with a gentleman. “I’ll call an Uber. Thank you.” Another dazzling smile leaves him in a fog, wanting to ask for her number, for a rendezvous, anything to prolong his time with her.
But she walks over to Geillis while pulling on her coat without a backward glance. Jamie stares after her helplessly, riveted on the swing of her hips and the most perfect arse he’s ever seen. Claire taps her on the shoulder, and her friend drops the poor bloke, fetching her purse and waving goodbye at the lad. Jamie watches them as they leave the pub, making sure they are safely tucked away into an Uber before calling for a car to take him home.
Claire, Claire, Claire.
The encounter cannot have lasted more than half an hour, but she is all he can think of, consuming every one of his senses. Drunk on the whisky of her eyes, he manages the walk up to the flat. Once inside, the door snicks shut behind him. Jamie walks quietly into the guest bedroom.
Frowning while patting himself over, he pulls his wallet and phone from his trouser pockets, placing them on the nightstand. Stripping down quickly to his boxer briefs and undershirt, he lays on the guest bed in the flat that he shares with his wife.