Chapter 1: Murphy’s Law
Anything that can go wrong, will.
Some women spend their whole lives dreaming of motherhood; Claire Beauchamp was not one of those women. There was a time when she’d imagined herself settling down and having children, but her life had gone another way and she couldn’t bring herself to regret the decisions she’d made to get there.
Aged thirty-seven, she was one of the youngest plastic surgeons practising on London’s exclusive Harley Street. Performing rhinoplasties and breast augmentations mightn’t have had the gravitas of heart surgery, but Claire enjoyed the challenge of helping people chase perfection. Not to mention it allowed her to live a very comfortable life in a terraced house overlooking leafy Battersea Park.
With a routine that ran like clockwork, a typical day started with a jog, cold pressed juice and scrolling through online medical journals. Arriving at her gleaming offices, Claire’s working hours consisted of consultations, surgeries, paperwork and plenty of black coffee in between. In the evening she favoured long baths with a bottle of Beaujolais. From sun up to sun down everything was ordered and efficient - just how Claire liked it.
A phone call in January changed everything. Mid-morning and Dr Beauchamp was consulting with a woman requesting several litres of fat removed from her thighs in time for her upcoming fiftieth birthday party. Claire had just pulled out her black marker to start mapping out the liposuction zones when her receptionist buzzed; there was a call on line two which he insisted most strongly that she take. With an awkward smile Claire excused herself from her patient and stepped into an adjoining office. The next few minutes passed in a blur: her dear friend Louise involved in a car accident... paramedics tried everything they could... pronounced dead before she’d reached the hospital...
Sinking into the leather desk chair with the handset still clutched in her hand, Claire struggled to process the news. She’d known Louise since their university days and although in-person visits were infrequent —with Louise living in Paris and Claire in London — they kept in contact via phone calls and emails. Now she was gone. Claire’s heart broke anew when she thought of Louise’s son Fergus: six years old and all alone, his father having left before the child was even born. Amidst the pain of fresh grief, she abstractly thought she must remember to send some money; perhaps the boy could put it towards school books or similar?
Several days later Claire travelled to France to farewell her friend. The service was sad in a way funerals for the young always are; a slideshow of pictures of Louise happy and smiling had everyone in attendance dabbing at their eyes. Afterwards the wake was held at Louise’s apartment. Chatting to some old acquaintances, Claire was approached by a man with a pencil moustache who introduced himself as Louise’s lawyer.
“Might we have a word in private? It’s concerning Mme de La Tour’s will”
Claire was intrigued but not altogether surprised. Having known Louise almost twenty years, it wasn’t impossible to think she might have left her a little something; a picture of the two of them together perhaps?
“Dr Beauchamp, I’ll get right down to it. With no close family, Louise felt the need to name a guardian for her son Fergus so that should the worst happen he’d be properly taken care of”
“Yes, very sensible. And does this person live far away? Did Louise ask me to assist with Fergus’ travel?”
“No. Louise has named you guardian”
The idea that Claire’s friend would have named her - a woman whose most recent experience with children was when she was one herself - as guardian to Fergus was unfathomable. Confused, Claire asked if perhaps there’d been some sort of error? Beauchamp was a French sounding name, perhaps the proposed guardian’s name had been incorrectly transcribed? Failing that, if this seriously had been Louise’s plan, why not mention something first? It just made—
Claire realised she’d been staring at the floor, muttering. Shifting awkwardly in her seat, she leaned forward and asked the question she felt she must.
“Is ah...is there any further provision in the will if I don’t accept custody of Fergus? I mean surely there’d be someone better suited?”
“In so far as the will, no. As I’ve said, Louise had no close family. If you are unable to assume responsibility for the child, he will become a ward of the state”
An uncomfortable weight settled in Claire’s stomach. The idea of sending a grieving child off to live with god-knows-whom was awful, but the notion that he’d be coming back to London with her was impossible. What about her business? Springtime was their busiest period; it wasn’t like she had the time (or the inclination) to be at caring for a child!
Taking her silence as acceptance, the lawyer handed over an envelope containing Fergus’ personal papers.
“You’re a good person Dr Beauchamp, I’m sure Fergus will be very happy in his new home”
And just like that, Claire became a mother.
Three days later and Fergus and Claire were on the Eurostar back to England. The boy was fairly quiet - understandable considering he’d just lost his mother and been told he was to live with someone he’d only ever seen over FaceTime. The problem was further compounded by the fact that he only spoke a smattering of English. As Claire’s high school level French consisted of asking for directions to the train station or ordering a baguette, communication was stilted at best.
As the snow-covered fields of rural France whizzed past the window and Fergus dozed, Claire watched him in amazement. Soft brown curls, not too dissimilar from her own; he looked the picture of innocence. How could she be responsible for an entire person? It had taken her the better part of thirty years to work out her own life - how was she going to navigate that for him? Opening her laptop she began making plans for the week ahead: increase to the weekly grocery delivery, enrolment application for the local primary school, a quick reshuffle of her own schedule to allow for school drop off and pick ups. By the time they’d emerged from the other side of the Chunnel Claire felt confident that she’d put in place the steps needed to take care of everything. If she’d known anything about children the notion would have been laughable, alas she didn’t.
On Monday Fergus didn’t want to get out of bed and when he did he flat out refused the kale and wheatgrass smoothie Claire had prepared for him. Against her better judgement they’d gone to Fergus’ school via McDonalds and by the time they arrived (late) he had egg McMuffin all down the front his shirt. Things went from bad to worse when what had Claire assumed would be a quick interview with the principal to confirm everything turned into a three-hour meet-and-greet and tour of the campus. By the time she made it into the office it was already midday and half her appointments had needed to be rebooked. Tuesday wasn’t much better; trying to learn from yesterday’s debacle, Claire had shifted all her face-to-face appointments to the afternoon. Unfortunately they’d run over and at 7pm she received an irate call from the after school-care programme advising that they had closed an hour ago and that needed to collect Fergus immediately. Dinner that night was eaten in sullen silence; the only time Fergus even raised his eyes was when Claire offered him her iPad to play with. He retreated to his room, slamming the door behind him and Claire poured herself a large glass of wine. It was clear then that parenting wasn’t going to go as smoothly as she’d anticipated.
After almost a week of Claire coming into work looking like she wanted to stab the next person that got her coffee order wrong, her surgical nurse (and best friend) Joe felt he had to step in.
“You do know there’s no medal for trying to do this all on your own, yeah?”
“If you’re suggesting boarding school I already checked. Most of the major schools won’t take students until they’re at least seven years old...”
Joe began to laugh but pressed his lips together when his boss shot him a murderous look.
“You don’t need to ship the kid off just yet; what about hiring a nanny?”
“Joe, I know to an American Mary Poppins may seem like real-life, but we’re a long way from a Disney movie here”
“Ya don’t say? Look, I’m not talking about some Edwardian woman showing up on a flying umbrella; this would be a modern-day professional that knows what makes kids tick. She could pick Fergus up from school, cook him dinner, help with homework...”
“Really? There’s people that do that?”
Seeing Claire look something other than highly stressed for the first time in days, Joe opened his desk drawer and took out a stack of papers.
“Yes there are. In fact...your amazing friend Joe has already gone to the trouble of contacting London’s most reputable nannying agency and requesting resumés”
Eyes lighting up, Claire eagerly reached for the documents.
“You’re a lifesaver!”
Giving up on the battle to have something healthy for dinner, Claire ordered pizza and while Fergus sat munching, began to go through the resumés Joe had obtained. With amazement she read about the vast range of qualifications the twenty-first century nanny had. In addition to the usual cooking and childcare skills there was singing, fencing, calligraphy, swimming...one even claimed she could teach unicycle riding!
After carefully reviewing each of the dozen applications, Claire had settled on one, but considering her less-than-stellar start to parenting she decided to call Joe for his opinion first.
“Ok Beauchamp, I’ve got the list they emailed in front of me, which one did you decide on?”
“Janie Fraser’s her name”
“Short for Janine I assume; anyway - can you read her resumé and let me know what you think?”
“Ok, lets have a look: Scottish, degree in child psychology, fluent in French - a definite plus - proficient in knitting...oh that’s interesting. ‘I prefer kids to learn to make things with their hands rather than being cooped up in front of video games all day.’ Old school, I like it. She sounds perfect”
“Excellent; glad you think so too. Doesn’t say how old she is though, hopefully young enough to be able to take Fergus to the park when the weather’s fine”
“Well even Mrs Doubtfire could take the kids to the park and she was like 80 years old”
“Very reassuring Joe; I’ll be sure to mention that when she arrives”
The next morning - after an argument with Fergus about why ice cream wasn’t a breakfast food (mostly one-sided as she didn’t even know the French word for ice-cream), Claire called the agency to engage the services of Janie. After she’d explained her rather unusual parenting situation, the manager assured her that all kinds of families utilised their services and that the nanny would be fully briefed ahead of their arrival. The agency’s policy was to arrange an obligation-free trial so the family and the nanny could see if they were a good fit; with much relief, Claire set it up for the following day.
Dr Beauchamp was a big believer in making a good first impression so with renewed positivity she arose early to make sure everything was running smoothly ahead of Janie’s arrival. Of course she hadn’t accounted for Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will.
The baked beans she attempted to make Fergus for breakfast had burnt, their charred remains filling the kitchen with smoke. This in turn set off the fire alarm which made Claire choke and Fergus scream thinking the house was about to burn down. Big brown eyes staring at her, she bit back the wave of panic rising in her stomach. With a grunt of effort, Claire forced the kitchen window open, knocking the jam jar onto the floor in the process. It shattered - covering them both in big globs of sticky raspberry and as the boy was barefoot she had no choice but to stand him on the worktop while searching for a broom. It was at this point the doorbell rang.
“Bugger! Ok, Fergus stay there... s’il te plait!”
This was not the way Claire had intended to meet the new nanny, fearing at this rate she’d more likely report them to child services than agree to take on the job. Hopefully Janie was a kindly old lady who understood the trials of parenthood....or at the very least how to make some damn baked beans. With a deep breath Claire opened the front door, but instead of a Mrs Doubtfire-type stood quite possibly the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. Well over 6 feet tall, russet waves and piercing blue eyes; were she not covered in burnt beans and jam she might have appreciated his good looks, but now was definitely not the time.
“Good morning, I’m—“
“Look I’m terribly sorry, but whatever you’re selling I’m not interested”
“No, I’m here to—“
“That’s great, but we’re actually expecting someone, so if you wouldn’t mind?”
Frazzled and annoyed, Claire began closing the door; a large hand reached out to stop her.
“I’m Jamie Fraser. The nanny”
Thanks for reading my new fic, I’ll be posting weekly. Hope you’ll enjoy and would love to hear what you think xx
Chapter 2: The Manny
Fergus’ new nanny arrives and he’s about as far from Mrs Doubtfire as you can get.
Mouth agape, Claire eyed up the man on her doorstep.
“What did you say your name was?”
“James Fraser; ye’re Dr Beauchamp, I presume?”
“You’re a man!”
Lips quirking in a smirk, he did a mock glance over his body.
“Aye, last time I checked”
Face flushed, Claire ushered him inside.
“The agency said they were sending a Janie Fraser. It seems there’s been a mix-up”
“Hmm, dinna think so. I’m the only Fraser working there; ye must have misread the name”
“I most certainly did not!”
Claire attempted to stare him down, but Jamie just shrugged.
“Well I’m here now, so...”
He motioned for them to move beyond the front hall but Claire stood rooted to the spot. She’d been expecting an older woman with a wicker basket, instead there was a man who looked like he spent his days climbing mountains and chopping wood. Realising she’d been staring at his arms, she tilted her head up, eyes narrowing.
“How old are you?”
“Not that I see how that’s relevant, but I’m twenty-nine. How old are you?”
“That’s not...I’m not...”
Flustered, Claire blew a curl out of her face.
“The agency told me ye’d seen my CV and had requested my services, has something changed between then and now?”
“No, it’s just that I was expecting someone different, that’s all. Perhaps a little more mature...”
“Right, well how about I meet yer lad and we’ll see how that goes? If ye dinna think I’m what you’re after I’ll let the agency know and they can send ye someone more appropriate”
The way he emphasised the last word made it clear to Dr Beauchamp that he thought little of her assumptions about the correct appearance of nannies. Conceding for now, she led Jamie through to the kitchen where Fergus still stood on the worktop; marooned on an island surrounded by breakfast carnage. To Jamie’s credit, he didn’t laugh, although Claire could see he was somewhat amused with the situation. Feigning confidence, she proceeded with the introduction.
“FERGUS THIS IS YOUR NANNY, JAMIE. SAY BONJOUR”
Volume and pitch high, Claire carefully enunciated each word. Alarmed, the Scot quickly pulled her aside.
“Is the lad deaf?”
“No, why would you think that?”
“Well why are ye shouting at him?”
Blushing for the second time since his arrival, Claire pinched the bridge of her nose, both embarrassed at her mistake and annoyed at being called out on it by a man she’d just met.
“I thought it’d help him understand me...I don’t speak a lot of French.”
Placing a comforting hand on her shoulder, Jamie smiled sympathetically.
“I’m assuming that as your boy’s on the worktop and you’re both covered in jam that this morning hasn’t gone exactly to plan?”
Claire shook her head.
“Well how about we get this mess cleaned up and go from there, aye?”
With a nod, he turned to Fergus and introduced himself in impeccable French. The child’s face lit up at being spoken to by someone he could fully understand and happily jumped into Jamie’s arms as he reached to help him off the worktop. While she took a broom to the broken glass, the Scot wiped everything down with a cloth before taking Fergus to wash up. Ducking up to her own bedroom to change, Claire returned to find the two sitting at the kitchen table chatting; Jamie saying something which had Fergus giggling and replying animatedly. She couldn’t completely follow their conversation, but understood enough to know that the boy had taken an immediate shine to his prospective nanny.
Still feeling frazzled, the doctor offered to make everyone a cup of tea and was most surprised when Jamie jumped up and offered to do it. With a seemingly innate ability to locate everything without direction, within minutes they were all sipping from steaming mugs of Earl Grey. The morning appearing to be back on track, Claire put on her glasses and took out her ipad; ready take notes.
“So how does your trial usually work? Is there a scorecard we need to complete? KPIs? Is there an agenda you’ll be following that I can review?”
To someone as career-focussed as Claire, they seemed like reasonable questions so her brow furrowed in confusion when Jamie bit back a laugh.
“Is there a problem?”
“No Dr Beauchamp. But ah... how shall I put this? Childcare isna as linear as the corporate world. The main thing is that Fergus is happy; so I propose the lad and I spend today getting to know one another; we’ll catch up again tonight to discuss whether I’ll be a good fit”
Reddening - Christ was there no end to her blushing in front of this man? - Claire put away her iPad.
“Yes, yes of course. Shall I show you through the house?”
With Fergus sent to dress himself for school, Claire began the tour. Listening attentively, Jamie seemed to have a way of visually sweeping a room that made her feel like her life was under review. It made her uneasy; although she certainly wasn’t willing to admit that it has anything to do with the way her heart beat faster when his deep blue gaze landed on her.
They’d agreed that Jamie would drop Fergus at school and collect him afterwards, then prepare dinner before Claire came home around seven. Ever efficient, the doctor had had a house key cut for the prospective nanny which she’d attached to an oddly-shaped silver key ring. Bemused, Jamie held it up for a closer look.
“It’s a deviated septum. I’m a plastic surgeon, a friend got it for me as a joke”
“Oh, that’s clever. What’ve ye got holding your keys then, a silver pair of breasts?”
Caught completely off guard, Claire stood shocked into silence while Jamie smiled disarmingly.
“My apologies Dr Beauchamp, ye were saying?”
“Here’s my business card with the phone number and address for my surgery; I’ve written my mobile number on the back. Did you have any questions before I head off?”
“Just a couple - what does Fergus usually do after school? Reading? Playing wi’ his toys? As it’s my first day it’ll be best to keep to a routine he’s familiar with”
“Um...we haven’t quite got that sorted out yet...”
“That’s ok, I’ve brought a football with me, we can always kick that about. And what’s the lad’s favourite meal? I’ll be happy to cook it for dinner if ye’d like?”
“I uh...I don’t know”
“Not a problem, I’ll ask him; see if we can find out if there’s any vegetables he’ll eat too, aye? Oh and what does he—“
Embarrassment quota for the morning exhausted, Claire cut him off.
“Whatever you’re about to ask, let’s just save us both some time and assume I don’t know the answer ok?”
“Dr Beauchamp, ye—“
“I get it, you probably think I’m the worst parent in the world and you’ve only known me an hour. Now if you’ll excuse me I really must be getting to work”
Giving Fergus a perfunctory goodbye, Claire grabbed her bag and left, wondering how it was possible to feel like such a failure all before 8am. Arriving at the office, the doctor had barely sat down before Joe popped in to ask how it had gone with the prospective nanny.
“Well it turns out Janie is actually Jamie and instead of an old lady with grey hair, he’s is a chisel-jawed twenty-something man”
“A male nanny; a manny.”
“Did you just make that up?”
“No! I read it online when I was googling nannying agencies for you. Anyway, how did the meet-and-greet go?”
“Let’s see: I was covered in jam when he arrived, assumed he was a salesman and tried to close the door in his face, embarrassed myself with my shockingly bad French and when he asked me questions about Fergus I didn’t know the answer to any of them. All in all, a fabulous beginning”
“On the upside, he makes a decent cup of tea and Fergus seemed to warm to him, so that’s a relief”
“Sounds promising. And is he good looking?”
“I hardly see what that’s got to do with it?”
“Beauchamp, you appraise people’s appearance for a living. Are you honestly telling me it never even crossed your mind?”
“Fine — let’s just say that anatomically there isn’t any work for me to do.”
“No it isn’t; I’m hiring a nanny for Fergus so he can be taken care of while I focus on my work. Whether the candidate is attractive or not is not going to affect me in the slightest”
Her best friend raised his eyebrows but said nothing further.
Back on familiar turf, Claire’s day was spent performing a rhinoplasty and two tummy tucks. Assisted by Joe, the two worked in perfect synchronicity and the procedures, like all of Dr Beauchamp’s work, were completed flawlessly. She felt a different person when she was in the operating theatre, no doubts and hesitations, her mind was quick and her instructs strong. Pulling her rubber gloves off after she’d sutured her last patient, she wondered if being a parent to Fergus would ever feel as comfortable as surgery did?
From the minute she’d brought the boy to live with her it’d been one disaster after another. Oh God - What must Louise think of her? Not for the first time Claire wondered why her friend had chosen her of all people to take care of the person most precious to her. In the space of two weeks the poor boy had been ripped from the loving arms of his mother and moved across the Channel to live with a woman who couldn’t even work a stove without incident. Could she ever make the little boy happy? She wished she could just have five minutes with Louise to ask for some guidance.
As Claire drove home she cheered herself a little thinking that Fergus seemed to like Jamie at least. She mulled over her opinion on the man; he certainly wasn’t the benevolent matron she’d been expecting, but he did come with good qualifications and excellent references. She got the distinct feeling he’d be the type to keep her on her toes, all while disarming her with a smile. Could he look past her neurotic, awkward and gaffe-filled start to consider taking the job?
Thank you so much for reading - I was blown away by your response to chapter 1! Will try and reply to every comment; love to hear what you think! Xx
Chapter 3: A Kick in the Park
Jamie’s first day - after the trial is complete, will Claire offer the Manny the job?
Jamie knew within five minutes of arriving at Dr Beauchamp’s house that were he offered the nannying position he’d accept it. The day before when he’d heard about Fergus’ sad circumstances his heart had gone out to the boy. Having met him, he could tell he’d be a joy to work with and he looked forward to the chance to bring some happiness back into the little lad’s life.
Claire on the other hand...she was much more of a conundrum. As soon as the front door opened, thoughts of how gorgeous she was popped into his head unbidden. Long chocolate curls were swept up into a bun but a few had come free, swishing around her face, much to the doctor’s annoyance. Cheeks and nose slightly pinking from the cool morning air, Jamie thought she looked breathtaking. Noting the jam splattered all over her shirt, he surmised that it, the escaped curls and air of irritability were the result of an attempt at breakfast gone awry. A prospective parent looking slightly bedraggled when he arrived was nothing new, but one refusing to admit anything was amiss all the while trying to grill him on his credentials certainly was. She was an intoxicating mix of both sweet and sour and Jamie was entranced; who was this feisty sassenach?
Sassenach. He smiled to himself; he was the one living outside his homeland so if anything he was the outsider down here. But Dr Beauchamp...there was just something about her that seemed otherly; the word — and all that it encompassed to him — fitted perfectly.
When she’d taken out her iPad as though about to interview a potential CEO it took all he had not to embrace the wee thing and tell her she needn’t worry so much. With the language barrier and Claire’s lack of prior experience with kids, it was a tough situation for both her and Fergus. The lass was clearly trying her hardest and he found he wanted to help them though this challenging period however he could.
After Claire’s abrupt exit, Jamie made Fergus some toast for breakfast before they departed for school. He decided to continue to converse with the lad in French, knowing it’d be the best way to encourage him to open up to a relative stranger. In the Manny’s experience, there was a delicate art to getting to know a new child and whilst they were off to a reasonably good start, he didn’t want to strain their tentative bond with a barrage heavy questions. Enquiries about how he was finding living with Claire or coping with the loss of his mother could come later, for now it was enough to discuss Fergus’ favourite football team, which they did ‘til bidding adieu at the school gates.
As a male working in a female dominated industry James Fraser often found himself a bit of an oddity. Certain parents flat out refused to believe that a man could do the job: “Surprised if he even knows how to use a stove” or “He’ll probably have my girls doing pushups in the snow before he plays dress-ups with them” were some of the comments he’d received. Others - definitely some of the older mothers - saw him as more of a status symbol, and tried to parade him around like a prize stallion. There were families, thankfully, that could appreciate him for who he was and as his experience grew he could be more selective with the jobs he chose, having no problem turning down a well paid position if the fit with the family wasn’t right. Above all else, he loved kids and the thing that was most important to him was the opportunity to watch a child grow and progress while under his care.
Having set himself up at a local café, Jamie drummed his fingers on the table as he mulled things over. The tour of Claire’s house had revealed three things; firstly the woman had impeccable taste. Modern artwork adorning the walls, pops of colour from carefully chosen throw cushions, indoor plants providing balance and flow; the place was amazing. Secondly, there was exactly nothing in the perfectly decorated home that was child friendly. And thirdly, if Fergus was ever going to warm to Claire she needed to have more food in the house than merely ingredients to make a macrobiotic juice.
Jamie knew on instinct that Dr Beauchamp could come around to the idea of having a non-traditional nanny; but she also clearly wasn’t one to suffer fools, so if he wanted the job he’d have to present himself as a good value proposition. He smiled as he recalled the way she’d asked about key performance indicators. Definite Type-A personality, he thought with a chuckle. Tapping away on his laptop, he made a list of all the things he would need to help grease the wheels on Claire’s journey into parenthood and help both her and Fergus build a happy home.
Task complete he packed up and headed for the supermarket. Pushing the trolley along the aisles, his mind once again drifted to the Sassenach. He found he wanted to know more about her; what she liked and what made her tick. Different to any of the other parents he’d met before, there was an energy about her that he couldn’t help but feel drawn to. Being incandescently beautiful probably didn’t hurt either. He did have the sense to check himself slightly; developing feelings for a prospective employer was obviously a big no-no. Hoisting a bag of potatoes into the trolley he reasoned that were the sassy doctor to engage his services, he’d only be seeing her briefly at the start and end of each day, so surely admiring her from afar could do no harm.
By school pick-up time, Jamie had stocked Claire’s fridge and pantry with all the things that would both nourish a six-year-old as well as help draw him out of his shell; in his experience a little chocolate went a long way. Greeting Fergus with a wave, he suggested they head to the park opposite the house for a game of football.
“Tu vas jouer avec moi?”
“You’ll play with me?” The boy had asked, as if surprised that Jamie would even consider it. Not begrudging Claire, but the question told the Scot that she probably hadn’t considered what a bit of one-on-one playtime would mean to a lad still grieving the loss of his mother. Crouching next to Fergus, Jamie adopted a serious tone, telling him in French:
“I should warn ye that I’m very good, so ye probably won’t be able to score a goal on me...”
With a giggle and a nod, Fergus took the football and they made their way to the park. Kicking the ball back and forth on the damp grass, in this relaxed setting Jamie was able to glean more information about how the boy was settling into his new home. In the nonchalant, no-holds-barred way that only small children can, Fergus told him about moving in with Claire (“Her house is a big as a hotel!”), her less-than-successful attempts at cooking (“I don’t like slimy food”) and how, when he’d asked to watch cartoons, she’d she’d instead put him in front of the French news programme Le Journal. Jamie bit back a smile at this, knowing that in the Sassenach’s mind, watching something in the lad’s native language would have been perfect; however if there was a six-year-old interested in current affairs and politics, he was yet to meet them. That Claire was trying to accomodate her new son was evident, but there was clearly a lot of work to do.
After an hour in the park, Fergus was ruddy faced from running around in the chilly winter air, but with a final burst of energy sprinted past the Manny and scored a goal. He threw his arms in the air in triumph and Jamie made a big show of being upset at being bested, much to the boy’s amusement. How gratifying it was to see him smile.
Arriving home, they baked a batch of biscuits together, Fergus pleased to be appointed offical stirrer and taste-tester. Moving to the living room to enjoy their afternoon tea, Jamie admired the fireplace. Large and well appointed; a stack of neat logs sat in a basket alongside but the whole thing appeared largely unused. Odd.
“As-tu dejà fait du feu, Fergus?”
“Non; notre appartement c’etait trop petit”
“Veux-tu que je vous montre?”
The boy nodded eagerly at Jamie’s offer to show him how to set the fire, enthusiastically stuffing old newspapers and kindling between larger pieces of wood while the Manny explained each of the steps involved. They were soon rewarded with a roaring blaze which filled the house with a delicious warmth.
Jamie had one last surprise for Fergus; telling him that for being such so well behaved that day, he’d bought him a couple of Matchbox cars. The Scot wasn’t in the habit of giving kids in his care presents regularly, but seeing Fergus’ lack of toys, he thought a little treat on his first day was justified. The lad’s eyes lit up at the sight of the toys; much gratified Jamie ruffed his hair affectionately before leaving to make a start on dinner.
Chopping carrots, peeling onions and boiling potatoes, in half an hour he had a fragrant stew bubbling gently on the stove. He was cutting some fresh bread when Claire arrived home.
“Hello!” she called out from the front door. “Gosh the heater isn’t even on you must be freezing—“
The doctor stopped short when she entered the kitchen, evidently noting it was anything but freezing.
“You lit a fire?”
“Aye, hope ye don’t mind?”
“No of course not, I just didn’t think that...actually never mind”
“Ye didn’t think a nanny would ken how to light a fire is that it?”
Jamie watched with amusement as Claire’s cheeks pinked. Rather than answer him, she squared her shoulders and changed the subject.
“What’ve you got going on the stove there?”
“Mutton and vegetable stew. Old family recipe”
“But where did you...?”
Claire opened the pantry door.
“You bought all this food?”
“Not all of it; the biscuits on the middle shelf Fergus and I made this afternoon.”
Jamie answered her next question before she could ask it.
“Yes, I bought the ingredients for those too. And some measuring cups and bowls; ye didn’t seem to have any”
Claire smoothed a non-existent crease on her trousers. It was at that moment that a smiling Fergus came into the kitchen brandishing his new toys.
“Bonsoir Claire! Jamie, le dîner est prêt?”
Responding in French, Jamie replied in the affirmative; requesting the boy leave the cars and go wash his hands first. When he’d left the room Claire picked up one of them, eyeing it closely before putting in back on the worktop, lips pursed.
“I’m terrible at this, aren’t I?”
“Dr Beauchamp, it’s just a wee £2 car”
“Is it? Burnt breakfast, none of the right food, didn’t think to buy any toys...”
“Ye’ve been doing this all of two weeks; ye’re being a bit hard on yourself aren’t ye?”
“Perhaps, but that’s hardly helpful to Fergus is it? Taken away from everything thing he knows to live with the woman who can’t even speak the same damn language! I wouldn’t blame you for deciding this is too weird of a situation to be involved with; I mean how many parents don’t even know the first thing about their own child?”
Claire sighed, folding her arms across her chest defensively.
“If you can please tell me how much you’ve outlaid for everything today I’ll make sure you’re reimbursed as soon as possible. Thank you for coming for a trial in any case”
Jamie was genuinely surprised. Most parents would take advantage of the fact he was willing to take on many of the household duties, perhaps even trying to add a few extra ones like collecting their dry cleaning or paying some bills. Yet here was Claire, assuming it’d all be too much and that he couldn’t wait to leave. He needed a way to cut through; simply reassurances weren’t going to be enough for a woman that set such high standards for herself. He considered; she didn’t seem like the type to shy away from a someone who challenged her — thankfully neither was he.
“Do you always make other people’s decisions for them, or am I a special case?”
Jamie smirked, eyebrows raised in provocation.
“Seems that ye’ve decided the outcome for today, not only before it’s over, but without even thinking to consult any other parties involved”
“I did no such thing!”
“Didn’t ye? You didn’t even ask me how the lad and I got on today. Instead ye smell the stew I’m making and conclude it’s a slight on your parenting skills. And ye haven’t even tasted it yet! Could be rubbish for all you know”
“Is it rubbish?”
“Lord no, it’s bloody delicious.”
That got her. Letting out a snort of laughter, Claire’s shoulders finally relaxed, her mouth curving upwards.
“Are you always this self-assured when starting with a new family?”
“Starting? Ye’d like me to work for ye, would ye?”
Breaking out into a proper smile, the doctor rolled her eyes.
“I’ll need to try the stew first, obviously”
Nodding, Jamie filled a spoon and presented it to her. Before accepting the taste, Claire’s tongue darted out to check the temperature and Jamie unconsciously licked his lips just watching her. Was it appropriate for him to feed the spoonful to her? Probably not, but he didn’t care. This woman made his blood sing and he found he rather liked it.
“All right fine, it is bloody delicious; happy?’
The air much friendlier between them, Jamie at last felt confident that Claire was listening properly without her defences up.
“Ye know all those things - the toys, the biscuits, cooking dinner - they’re just the tools of my trade, aye? No different to you and your surgical instruments. Just because ye didna have measuring cups doesn’t mean you’re setting the lad up for a life of misery.”
Claire bit her bottom lip, golden eyes softening at his words.
“I know it can feel like climbing a mountain with all the things to learn, but ye dinna need to attempt it all on your own. If ye’d like me to help ye it’d be my pleasure”
“Thank you Jamie, I’d like that. And I think Fergus would too”
Smiling, she held out her hand for them to shake on it. Jamie willingly complied, noting her firm grip and cool skin that felt like silk.
Claire insisted Jamie join them for dinner to celebrate his appointment. He readily agreed, much pleased to see both parent and child looking so happy after a very trying day. After the meal he helped put Fergus to bed, smiling as he watched Claire put on her glasses and tap little notes into her phone so she would be able to replicate the process herself in future. The lad asleep, Claire walked him to the door.
“I just wanted to say thanks again for today. And I’m sorry for trying to close the front door in your face this morning”
She blushed adorably and Jamie couldn’t help but smile.
“I must confess that taking care of a child isn’t coming as naturally to me as I’d assumed it would”
“Becoming a parent is something most people have months if not years to prepare for, you had two days; perhaps cut yerself a break and learn to walk before ye try to run?”
“You may have a point there” she smiled, twisting a lock of hair around her finger.
“Fergus is a great kid; yes, he’s had a rough go of it to begin with, but with a stable routine and lots of love I ken he’ll be thriving in no time”
“Thank you; I really appreciate your willingness to give this a go”
“Ye’re welcome. I’ll see ye tomorrow at seven, Dr Beauchamp”
He was half way down the front steps when she called out.
“It’s Claire; only my patients call me Dr Beauchamp”
“‘Well then, goodnight Claire”
Jamie watched as she smiled and closed the door. Walking towards the tube station he reflected on his day. In ten years of childcare he didn’t think he’d ever felt so gratified to be offered a position and damnit if that spirited Sassenach hadn’t already started to creep her way under his skin.
After last week’s short-ish chapter, I went back and beefed up this one a bit. Really appreciate all your thoughts on the story it helps me know where I might need to provide a bit more detail.
Thank you all so much for your lovely response to chapter 2; love to read all your comments and hear what you think! And will try to reply to all too!
Wherever you are in the world, hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe, take care xx
Chapter 4: French For Beginners
With the Manny making Fergus feel comfortable in his new home, Claire decides to make an effort of her own.
The ceramic bowl sat in the middle of the refrigerator. Covered with aluminium foil there was a small note affixed to the side.
- 1 cup in the microwave for 2 minutes
- Stir gently
- Sprinkle brown sugar on top
Filled with curiosity Claire peeled back the foil to reveal a large quantity of porridge; easily enough to last the rest of the week. Smiling at Jamie’s foresight and thoughtfulness she carefully followed the instructions and presented the results to Fergus. Prodding it cautiously with his spoon, he regarded it suspiciously; understandable given Claire’s previous culinary offerings. Thinking of the food tasters in Ancient Rome who would sample the Caesar’s meal to confirm there was no poison, she dipped her spoon into the bowl, eating a mouthful in front of the boy in a show of good faith. To her relief it worked and Fergus finally tucked in enthusiastically. Considering the farce at breakfast day the before, the doctor was elated.
Jamie arrived soon after, looking far too bright eyed and bushy-tailed for an early winter’s morning. As he now had his own key, he greeted them in the kitchen.
“Bonjour! Good morning!”
Both parent and child were much pleased to see him again. A subtle energy shift had occurred after only a day and like the third leg on a stool there was a stability in the house that had been absent previously. Claire thanked him for the porridge, pointing to Fergus’ empty bowl as testament to its success. The tips of his ears pinking slightly, the Manny shrugged modestly.
“I hope ye both slept well?”
Without thinking, Claire checked her hair in the reflection from the toaster, cursing herself immediately. What did it matter how she looked in front of Jamie? Still using the reflection, she switched her gaze to covertly watch him while he chatted with Fergus. Wearing a fitted navy jumper, it accentuated his muscular form to full advantage. Sleeves pushed up to his elbows, the sinews of his forearms radiated strength. She told herself that it was the plastic surgeon in her that was automatically evaluating from a physical point of view, but that didn’t account for the way her eyes lingered on his jaw, or followed the bob of his Adam’s apple as he spoke. Was his Scottish accent this smooth yesterday?
The toast popping up broke her trance and Claire became very focussed on buttering it to distract herself from inappropriate thoughts about the man hired to take care of her new son. Silently chewing her toast, she watched Jamie take coloured paper and black markers from his bag.
“Planning a craft project?”
“Kind of - with yer permission, I thought we could make some signs to put up around the house: names of things in both English and French to help you and the lad with your language skills”
Such a simple idea, but perfect. Claire nodded enthusiastically.
“Excellent, we’ll get started today”
Turning to an intrigued Fergus, he relayed the idea, speaking first in French and then slowly repeating it in English. The boy looked reasonably interested, but not super excited. That was until Jamie reached into his bag and pulled out a box of crayons, glitter and a jar of colourful buttons. Eyes wide, Fergus shook the jar with glee.
“Pouvons-nous commencer maintenant?”
“No, we canna start now - someone has to get ready for school!”
It wasn’t until mid afternoon, after a hectic run of back-to-back consultations that Joe caught up with Claire to ask how it’d gone with the Manny. Detailing the successful afternoon Jamie and Fergus had had together as well as the delicious stew, she was pleased to report the Scot had accepted the position.
“Well that explains your cat-that-got-the-cream smile today! Can I see a picture of this guy?”
“Why would I even have one?”
Just as Claire spoke, her phone vibrated with an incoming message from Jamie. Attached was a picture of him and Fergus sitting at the kitchen table. Green crayon in hand, the boy was smiling as he coloured, surrounded by an array of paper and glue. Joe peered over her shoulder to take a look at the happy image.
“Oh la la; you might have mentioned you’d hired an Adonis!”
“Joe, for the last time, he’s there to take care of Fergus. Nothing more”
As soon as Claire got home from work Fergus grabbed her hand, insisting on a tour of the house to show her all the new signs. Each had the English and French words neatly printed by Jamie and were decorated by the young lad, who was adorably pleased with his artwork.
“Salle de bains, la baignoire, les brosses à dents ...bathroom, bathtub, toothbrushes!” He proudly announced. “Pouvez-vous le dire aussi?”
Slowly and rather awkwardly, Claire sounded out the words. Her attempt earned a giggle from Fergus, but he seemed genuinely chuffed that she’d tried and that was the most important thing. It wasn’t until later that night that she realised the other purpose for Jamie’s project. By putting something that was uniquely Fergus’ up on the walls, he’d started to help the boy feel like the house wasn’t just somewhere he was now living, but his home. Claire was impressed with his strategy, feeing slightly guilty that up until yesterday she’d assumed nannying was just glorified babysitting. Damn, you are good Fraser she thought as she prepared for bed.
Over the next month the trio built a routine. During the week, Jamie would arrive at breakfast time, helping Fergus get ready and then walking with him to school. In the afternoons the two would hang out before the Scot prepared dinner, having it ready to serve when Claire arrived home from work.
Fergus was a charming little boy and under Jamie’s care he slowly but surely began to come out of his shell. The Manny had a huge number of activities in his repertoire and their afternoons were spent doing anything from walks in the park, to baking, reading, and creative art projects. The lad’s sadness over losing his mother still lingered, but there were smiles and laughter each day, too.
As Fergus’ comfort with his new London home began to improve, so too did his relationship with Claire. Gone were the silent evenings spent sullenly staring at iPads and phones, replaced instead with watching a movie (of the boy’s choosing) or playing a board game. There was still a lot for the doctor to learn about parenting, but Jamie was a good teacher, offering her tips and advice in a way that never left her feeling inadequate. Like the day he patiently knelt by the bath, offering guidance to Claire as she practised shampooing Fergus’ hair; his smile of encouragement warming her insides.
With spring fast approaching there was an increase in patients at Claire’s clinic, requiring her to put in extra long hours. Jamie was able to help there, too: washing Fergus’ clothes, assisting with any homework and - most importantly - checking the boy’s school bag to make sure no pieces of fruit had been forgotten and left to rot in the bottom.
It was inevitable with all the time he spent at the house, that Claire got to know Jamie better. As the weeks went by they often found themselves sharing a cup of tea after Fergus had gone to bed, chatting about their respective days and sharing information about themselves. From this Claire learned Jamie had grown up in a small village outside Inverness before attending university in Glasgow. Five years ago he’d come to the capital in search of better job opportunities. Intrigued by a career path that was so different from her own, she was keen to understand what motivated a man like him:
“You don’t feel out of place in a profession that’s mainly dominated by the opposite sex?”
“Why don’t you tell me; many fellow female plastic surgeons practising on Harley street are there?”
Eyes narrowing, Claire was unable to stop her lips from curving upward.
“You’re making fun of me again, aren’t you?”
“Sorry, I can’t help it - ye’re just so earnest Sassenach!”
Flustered, Jamie gaped liked a fish as he scrambled for the right words, much to her amusement. With a smirk, she pressed her advantage.
“Any other insulting names you’ve got for me that I should know about?”
The Manny rubbed the back of his neck, cheeks colouring slightly. Collecting himself he leaned forwards, his hand resting a hair’s breath from Claire’s.
“It can be an insult, but I see it more as a person who’s a bit different from the norm, in an engrossing and fascinating kinda way. You’re like a Rubik’s Cube; damn near impossible to navigate unless someone’s got the way of ye.”
His cheeky smile faded to one of shyness before he added:
“If it bothers ye though, I wilna use it again”
It didn’t bother Claire; in fact she got a little thrill out of the idea that he had spent time appraising her character.
“I quite like it actually”
Jamie’s eyes sparkled as he grinned; clearly this was something he was happy to hear.
At first the doctor told herself the extra time she sought out with Jamie was merely to be updated on Fergus’ day. Whilst this was partly true, it wasn’t hearing what the boy had had for afternoon tea that made her heart skip when she looked at the Scot. Trying to to brush it off as merely admiring his looks, a dazzling smile was no match for a kind heart and gentle teasing that always made her laugh. Their conversation flowed so naturally - or so it seemed to Claire - and after spending all day in ‘serious doctor mode’ it was liberating to come home to someone she could let her guard down around.
Amidst stories about his travels or growing up in Scotland, she noticed that Jamie never mentioned a girlfriend or partner and she couldn’t quite bring herself to ask if there was someone special in his life. The question itself wouldn’t have been too difficult, but as time went on Claire found her reluctance to enquire was more to do with being afraid of an answer in the affirmative.
Aside from trying to pass off any increased interest in Jamie as friendship-only, Claire set herself the task of learning French. Fergus’ English was coming along in leaps and bounds but she wanted to be able converse with him in his native tongue so he’d know that she appreciated how important his Gallic origins were. Downloading the language app French For Beginners, she spent her commute each day conjugating verbs and reciting useful phrases. After a few weeks she decided to try out her newly acquired skills with Fergus:
“Veux-tu regarder un film ce soir? Nous pourrions aussi avoir due pop-corn?”
The boy was delighted — and not just at the prospect of watching a film and eating a salty treat.
“Oui s’il vous plaît; j’adorerais!”
It warmed Claire’s heart immeasurably to be able to have a conversation with Fergus like this; he needn’t know she’d been practising the simple exchange all week to make sure she didn’t mix up her verb forms and word order. Side-by-side in the kitchen, they made the popcorn together, Fergus giggling as the popping grew in crescendo until it sounded like hailstones on a tin roof. Their snack buttered and salted, they made their way into the living room to watch the LEGO movie. Navigating the onscreen menu, Claire set it up to play in French with English subtitles; rewarded with adorable ‘oh’ in surprise from Fergus. It was the doctor’s turn to be surprised next; on all previous occasions, they’d sat at opposite ends of the couch or on seperate armchairs, but that night Fergus came and snuggled right into Claire’s side. Wrapping a tentative arm around his shoulders, she spent most of the film smiling at him, her heart blooming at the fact that such a simple action could mean so much.
Emboldened by her success, Claire decided to try her beginner’s Français on Jamie. One evening after Fergus had gone to bed, she mustered her best French accent and offered the Scot a cup of tea (as had been their usual practice on several occasions previously). Not having rehearsed the conversation as well as she had with the lad, she couldn’t remember the words for peppermint tea so went with the word for drink instead, hoping the meaning wouldn’t be lost.
“Veux-tu venir prendre un verre chez moi ce soir?”
Her eager smile quickly faded when Jamie’s eyes went wide as saucers. Confused at his response, Claire opened the language app on her phone, scrolling through to try and find where she’d gone wrong, but found nothing that would suggest an error. It all seemed fine? Looking back up at Jamie she saw his lips were pursed as he tried to hold back a laugh.
“What’s the matter? Should I have used the formal object pronoun instead?”
Bewilderment turned to embarrassment as the Scot let out a snort of laughter.
“What’s so funny? I was trying to ask if you’d like a cup of tea; I don’t see where—“
“Sassenach, the words ye used were fine, it’s just...have ye heard of the expression Netflix and Chill?”
“Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Well what ye just asked me; would I like to come to your place for a drink - is pretty much the French equivalent...”
The doctor’s shocked expression broke the dam on Jamie’s attempt to contain his mirth and he doubled over the kitchen table laughing. Claire felt her face go as red as a tomato. Oh the humiliation of inadvertently propositioning the Manny! Running hands through her hair she started at the floor, willing it to open up and swallow her. No such luck, Jamie’s sniggering echoed throughout the room. Countenance eventually retuning to normal, he wiped a couple of tears from the corner of his eyes.
“Och, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass ye. Your French is really coming along well”
“You call that coming along well?” Claire huffed incredulously.
“It was a simple mistake, anyone could’ve made it”
Still feeling mortified, she turned way from the Scot, pretending to rummage through the pantry by way of escape. Jamie came up behind her, placing his palms tentatively on her shoulders.
“Sassenach, learning a new language is never easy, ye canna be expected to know every expression right at the start”
“Can we please just pretend this whole thing never happened?”
“I’m sorry for laughing. Please dinna be uncomfortable because of me, I think what ye’re doing for the lad is amazing”
Claire turned around to see an expression of real contrition on Jamie’s face. He squeezed her shoulders lightly before dropping his hands to his sides.
“Well if it was you I’d probably have laughed too”
“If the offer of a cuppa’s still there, I’d love one”
With a watery smile she put the kettle on.
Lying in bed that night, Claire stared at the ceiling, the events from earlier still bothering her. She and the Scot had chatted congenially after her gaffe grande but an uncomfortable feeling had settled in the pit of her stomach. What was it that was bothering her so much? It was an honest mistake that could’ve happened to anyone, Jamie had apologised and they’d moved on. Flipping onto her front then rolling onto her side, Claire struggled to find a comfortable position, the nagging feeling of uneasiness refusing to leave.
Like a flash of lighting it suddenly came to her — she had a crush. A heartbeat-raising, blushing-in-his-presence, can’t-stop-smiling-when-I-think-about-you, crush. The truth of her feelings admitted, she recalled the way butterflies would build up in her stomach on the way home from work, nervous anticipation giving way to a giddy warmth when she saw him. Or the way the smooth lilt of his voice drew her in whatever the topic of conversation. And his hands - how long had she spent watching them and wondering what they’d feel like caressing her skin?
A further thought then struck - she’d made an amorous suggestion to Jamie (albeit unintentionally) and his immediate response had been to laugh in her face. Clapping a hand over her eyes as though it would shield her, Claire cringed. Jamie’s eight years younger and employed to take care of Fergus for god’s sake! She knew it was stupid to think that he’d have ever taken her seriously, but his reaction confirmed that her feelings were decidedly one-sided. Perhaps it was foolish, but knowing it’d never be reciprocated made her sadder than she thought it would.
“Right that’s it” she said into the darkness. Jamie was there because it was his job to be. Entertaining anything further was a fool’s errand and it was time to burst the bubble of denial before her feelings went past the point of no return.
Decision made, she closed her eyes full of resolution, but as she drifted towards slumber her subconscious had other ideas. Pressing her shoulder against the pillow she recalled the feel of Jamie’s warm hands as he stood behind her in the kitchen. It was the closest they’d ever been, the gentle puff of his breath ticking the fine hairs on the back of her neck and making her shiver with desire. When she’d turned around to look at him his deep blue eyes had bored into her with an intensity that made her body tingle from scalp to toes. Replaying the scene she imagined it ending differently, this time with Jamie leaning down and kissing her, his arms wrapping around and pulling her close. Enjoying these fantasies far more than she wanted to Claire gave up trying to regulate her thoughts, promising:
“I’ll stop my crush first thing tomorrow.”
Thank you so much for all the amazing comments you’ve been leaving - apologies for not replying to them all before this new chapter was posted; this chapter had a pretty big re-edit this week which took up a lot more time than I’d anticipated!
Thank you for reading - really means a lot xx
Chapter 5: The Golden Rule
In the world of nannying there’s one rule that stands above all the rest.
There are many dos and don’ts when it comes to being a successful nanny, but one golden rule which stands above all the rest: maintain professional boundaries. Due to the nature of the job, it’s quite common for a nanny to come to be thought of as part of the family; however, it’s vital that despite this, an emotional buffer is preserved. Blurring the lines between what is real and what is the job only leads to heartache for all involved.
In his decade-long career Jamie had always abided by this golden rule; bonding with the children and parents he worked for but never allowing himself to get too attached. It was a complete surprise to him, therefore, that only a month into his new job any pretence at a professional boundary had evaporated like ice on a hot summer’s day.
In began with a cup of coffee. Due to a Tube strike in his second week, the Manny had been running late and had no time to stop for his usual latte on the way to work. Noting his missing cup when he arrived, Claire offered to make him one from her machine. He accepted, as he did the following day when the offer was repeated. By the end of the week she’d started putting out two mugs from habit, pleasing Jamie immeasurably.
With an easy familiarity that was unusual for so short an acquaintance, the pair would chat as they enjoyed their morning brew. Initially just about Fergus, it soon evolved into stories about their lives, places they’d travelled and the objects and subjects they were passionate about. The time spent talking was so agreeable that the Scot started coming in a little earlier each day to prolong it and within a fortnight was arriving a full half-hour earlier than his agreed upon start time. Conversing with an employer was nothing out of the ordinary, but when Jamie started to feel a dull ache in his chest on weekends when he was separated from Claire, he admitted he’d stepped over the line of what was an acceptable nanny/parent relationship.
The Manny briefly considered resigning, but believing himself fully capable of keeping his emotions in check, ruled it out as unnecessary. The only problem was that the more he was around Claire, the more enamoured he became. Eyes that sparkled when she laughed, silken skin he longed to caress, rose-hued lips that constantly tempted him to kiss her. By the time he realised how deep he’d gotten in it was too late; inviolable affection for Claire had wrapped around his heart like bandages on an Egyptian mummy.
Whist certain of his feelings, Jamie felt conflicted; would it be right to act on them? He knew he wasn’t an unattractive man and sometimes he saw Claire looking at him in such a way that gave rise to hope that she might feel a little of what he did for her. On the other hand, would she even consider something of a romantic nature with the man hired to take care of her son? Would a sophisticated and successful plastic surgeon be interested in a nanny? He’d been pondering just how to handle the situation when the Sassenach had inadvertently offered him the one thing he’d been dreaming about.
Friday night and the end of a long week; Fergus was in bed and Jamie was packing up his things to head home. The Scot thought of contriving a reason to stay and hang out with Claire, but couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound like a pickup line. It was quite surprising, therefore, when she used one on him! Leaning against the kitchen worktop, she asked in French if he wanted to come to her place for a drink. Being new to the language perhaps she didn’t know how alluring her accent was, but her deep and husky tone aroused him instantly. For a second he just stood there dumbstruck. Was the beautiful Sassenach really propositioning him? He pictured her saying the same words in a bar; the hour late and the lights low, draining a tumbler of whisky before suggestively enquiring if he’d like to come back for a nightcap. In those circumstances his hands would be encircling her waist immediately; lips dropping to her throat to taste her. The Manny’s heartbeat took off at a gallop as he considered how to respond. If she was serious he wanted to answer in the affirmative immediately, his hands tingling with the need to squeeze that gorgeous round arse of hers...
Her golden eyes regarded him so hopefully as she waited for an answer that it finally brought Jamie to his senses enough to realise what had actually happened: the wee thing had no idea of the colloquial meaning of what she’d said. As he began to explain she pushed her glasses up her nose, scrolling through the language app with a little huffing noise of irritation. She looked so completely adorable that Jamie couldn’t keep the smile from his face. When Claire realised she’d just used the French equivalent of Netflix and Chill her comically shocked expression broke him, guffaws tumbling out like water from a fire hydrant. Full of anxiety, his laughter was high pitched, bordering on a cackle. God - how close he’d come to making a complete fool of himself! The Sassenach’s discomfort finally quieted him; but when she turned away in embarrassment he felt like such a jerk.
Despite parting with Claire on friendly terms, shame pulsed through Jamie’s veins as he made his way towards the train station. Slumping into a hard plastic chair as he waited on the platform, his chin dropped to his chest. Amidst many thoughts berating himself over how he’d handled the situation, one thing was clear: if he was ever going to show the beautiful doctor that he was worth taking a chance on he’d have to do better than laughing in her face.
Monday morning and Jamie was walking through Battersea Park, the early morning air biting at his skin. Hair still damp from the shower, tendrils licked the back of his neck like icy tentacles and with a shiver he doubled his pace towards Claire’s house, eagerly anticipating the toasty warmth awaiting within.
He’d spent the majority of the weekend trying to think of how to make things right with the Sassenach, ultimately deciding that profuse apologies would only draw attention to the situation and potentially embarrass her again. She’d said she’d wanted to just move past it, so he’d respect her wishes and do just that. His affection as strong as ever, the Manny had no clear plan on how to proceed other than to hope a path would present itself when the time was right.
Letting himself inside the house, he stopped in the front hall, smiling as he overheard Fergus and Claire chatting together, her lyrical French accent floating down the corridor.
“Il fait froid aujourd’hui”
‘It is cold today’ she’d said. The French word for cold - froid - was pronounced ‘f’wa’ but Claire’s pronunciation had sounded more like the name of the renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. Jamie continued to eavesdrop as Fergus corrected her, the lad clearly loving the chance to be the teacher rather than the pupil for once. He suspected Claire knew this too, which made him admire her all the more.
“Bonjour mes amis!”
Fergus sat at the breakfast bar, swinging his legs as he ate. Seeing the Manny he dropped his spoon to wave hello. Ruffling his hair, Jamie gave him a look that the boy knew meant ‘Make sure you finish your food!’. Reluctantly, Fergus returned to his porridge.
Jamie then turned his focus to Claire who stood at the coffee machine, pulling levers and turning dials. Dressed for work, her dark hair was pulled into a high bun which, combined with her crisp white blouse and black-rimmed glasses, gave her a sexy school-teacher vibe; one that he found most appealing. She turned and greeted him with a smile, cheeks colouring slightly as her eyes lingered on him. It made Jamie’s insides feel like melted caramel.
With a clang, Fergus dropped his spoon into his empty bowl, loudly announcing he’d finished breakfast and was going to dress himself for school.
“On my own - I’m a big kid”
“All right laddie, if ye're sure. Call out if ye need any help with yer tie”
As soon as he’d left the room, Claire stepped close to Jamie with an excited gleam in her eyes that had his heart thumping hard against his rib cage in response.
“I’m glad we’ve got a couple of minutes to ourselves, I wanted to tell you about my discovery!”
“Last night I was reading Fergus his bedtime story and I found out he loves dinosaurs!”
She looked so pleased with herself Jamie didn’t have the heart to tell her he’d never met a six year old that didn’t love dinosaurs.
“So I looked up the Natural History Museum and I found out they do children’s tours in French! I booked one for this Saturday; I thought I’d surprise Fergus, take him out for lunch afterwards. You think he’ll like it?”
Two months ago Claire didn’t know the first thing about parenting and now she was planning a day trip with her boy. The Manny stared at her, pride blooming in his chest to such an extent it was threatening to overcome him. He reached out and gently squeezed her hand.
“That’s a braw idea, Sassenach. He’ll love it”
The doctor grinned, whole face lighting up at the endorsement of her plan. Moistening her lips, she moved slightly nearer; then, searching his eyes, took a deep breath. Jamie felt a flutter in his gut; did she want him to come with them? Was this the opportunity he’d been waiting for - for Claire to see him as something more than just Fergus’ nanny? The Scot could picture it all: holding the lad’s hand as they walked through the exhibits, putting his arm around Claire’s waist and kissing her when no one was looking... Ok the last part was a bit fanciful, but a man could dream. Waiting for her to speak, he tried to keep his expression blank, lest his excitement at going on a quasi-date be too obvious.
Rather than issue an invitation, however, Dr Beauchamp’s shoulders stiffened and she stepped away to rinse Fergus’ porridge bowl, gaze downcast. What just happened? The sudden shift in demeanour felt like a cool wind blowing through the kitchen. After an awkward silence while Claire turned on the dishwasher, she eventually spoke:
“So what are you up to this weekend? Plans with anyone special?”
There was a forced cheerfulness in her tone and Jamie didn’t know how to reply; all he could think was how much he wanted to go to the museum. Idiot! Claire clearly wanted to maintain professional boundaries, even if he didn’t. Floundering as he struggled to think of a response that would cover the sting at not being asked to accompany them, he said the first thing that popped into his head.
“I’m heading out with a few of the lasses from the nannying agency. We’re going to a nightclub in Soho. Really looking forward to it”
Claire gave him a funny look then schooled her features and smiled, although it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Oh right. Do you go out with them often?”
“Yep, all the time. Love to get out and amongst it, meet new people...”
Jamie couldn’t believe the rubbish coming out of his mouth; why was he trying to pass himself off as some man about town? The other nannies had asked him to go out with them many times, but he always turned them down; it just wasn’t his scene.
“Well I hope you have a fantastic time! Alas my nightclubbing days are well behind me; I’m sure it makes me sound ancient, but I’ll likely be curled up on the couch with a glass of merlot”
The ache in Jamie’s chest was acute; what he’d give to be nestled next to Claire, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her neck. Instead he was pretending to be excited about a night out with casual acquaintances to some grotty club. For a conversation that had had started off so well, it had rapidly careened off a cliff and with Claire still bustling about the kitchen it took all the Scot’s focus not to sag against the table with his head in his hands. The maudlin thoughts were interrupted by a chirpy voice shouting from the next room:
“Jaaaaamiiiie! Pouvez-vous m’aider avec mes lacets?...S’il vous-plaît?”
Fergus’ endearing tone eliciting a small smile, he got up to go help the lad tie his shoes.
“Clubbing? Why in God’s name did ye tell her that? Ye hate clubbing!”
“Aye, thank ye, I know! It’s just that I thought she was gonna ask me to go to the museum with her and the lad and then when she didn’t I panicked”
It was later that morning and Jamie was on the phone to his best friend Ian. Married to Jamie’s older sister Jenny, he’d been a constant in the Manny’s life since he was a lad and the two remained close despite living hundreds of miles apart. After a couple of weeks on the job, Jamie had confided to Ian his growing feelings for Dr Beauchamp and had just updated him on the most recent turn of events.
“If ye wanted to go with them so badly why didna ye just ask?”
“And have her say yes out of pity? No thanks”
“Well spending the weekend mooning about yer flat thinkin’ about Claire is hardly gonna help anything, maybe ye should go to the club?”
“Ian, if I wanted to drink shite-tasting whisky and have someone throw up on me I’d sooner come round to your place for a dram and hold one of the bairns for half an hour”
“Hilarious; dinna be giving up your day job! Seriously though, I ken ye like the doctor, but is it ever going to come to anything? Can ye really be going after a parent of one of the kids ye’re looking after?”
“Look it’s not an ideal situation, but there’s no specific rule against it”
“Ye’re sure she’s keen then? Maybe her not askin’ ye to the museum is a sign ye need to back off?”
Jamie acknowledged the truth in Ian’s words, but it didn’t stop him from wanting Claire. It was a delicate situation and he wracked his brains to think of a way he could show her how much she meant to him without it looking like he was trying to hit on her while she ate her breakfast. Finally an idea came to him; if he couldn’t ask her out, then they could stay in. He’d make her a special dinner, something that the lad would enjoy too; but perhaps afterwards he and the Sassenach could share a bottle of wine in front of the fire? No pressure to do anything more than chat, if his feelings for Claire were all one-sided then he’d leave straight after the meal and she’d be none the wiser.
With a renewed sense of optimism he started planning what he’d need to woo Claire with his culinary skills. A smile on his face as he compiled the shopping list, he recalled the way her hair had smelled when he stood close to her in the kitchen last week; conjuring images of a field of heather on a sunny day. He was sure Ian would have given him a clip over the ear if he’d heard him say something so cheesy, but he didn’t care.
When to cook this feast? A Friday night would be ideal, the perfect way to help Claire relax after a stressful week. And not this week, with the lad’s trip to the museum on Saturday he didn’t want to detract from that. The Friday after it was then; he’d ask the doctor about it tonight.
Half way through reviewing a recipe for duck à l’orange Jamie’s mobile buzzed in his pocket. He took it out and saw Claire’s face flashing up on the screen; a photo taken of her in front of the coffee machine pretending to be a barista. Smiling, he took a deep breath before answering to not appear over-eager.
Voice cracking half way through her nickname, his plans to sound calm and casual had failed, two words in.
“Hi Jamie, sorry to bother you; have I called at a bad time?”
“No, not at all. Actually there’s something I wanted to ask ye”
“—hoping to ask a favour?”
“Sorry, I spoke right over the top of ye; you go first”
“Thanks. I was just wondering if you’d be free to work a few extra hours on Friday night next week?”
It was the same night the Manny had planned to cook Claire her special dinner; but no matter, it could easily be moved.
“Sure, that shouldn’t be a problem; do ye have to work late?”
“Um...no. Actually, I’ve got a date”
Thank you so much for your continued support of this fic!
This chapter took forever and a day to write so very keen to hear your thoughts if you’d like to share? 😊
Have a great weekend xx
Chapter 6: Family Dinner
Caught completely off guard by news of Claire’s date, things seem to go from bad to worse for the Manny.
As Claire’s words - I have a date - hung in the air, it was as if Jamie had been shoved into a freezing cold lake. Shock akin to being unexpectedly plunged below the surface, he felt pressure on every inch of skin as he struggled to get air into his lungs. Somersaulting in the dark and murky depths, confusion set in making it impossible to tell which way was up. Words tumbled out of his mouth before he had the sense to stop them:
“Someone asked you out?”
The Manny bit his fist at how rude the question sounded.
“Yes; is that so hard to believe?”
“I didna realise ye were seeing anyone...”
Claire stayed quiet on the other end of the line; long enough that Jamie wondered if she’d hung up on him for being impertinent.
“If you must know, it’s a first date. He’s an anaesthetist who does work for my practice from time to time.”
“Do you know him well?”
“Not particularly, but that’s the whole point of a date isn’t it?”
“Perhaps, but is it wise to be going out with a man ye don’t ken much about? I don’t think it’s good for for Fergus to be around someone who—”
“Who said anything about introducing him to Fergus?”
Claire cut the Scot off.
“Jamie, I’m not really comfortable discussing this with you. And to be honest, I don’t see how it’s any of your business?”
Jaw clenched, the Manny remained silent.
“Don’t worry about the extra time, you already work such long hours; I shouldn’t deprive you of what little social life you still get. I’ll find someone else”
Her disenchanted tone broke through Jamie’s wall of jealousy. Kicking the chair, he ran a rough hand through his hair.
“No Sassenach, wait - I’m...I’m sorry. I had no right to speak to ye like that. I can do the extra hours”
“Aye, it’s fine”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.”
Tone clipped, she took a deep breath as if to calm herself.
“Did you say you had something you wanted to ask me?”
“No, it doesn’t matter now”
They said their goodbyes and ended the call. Shoulders hunched, Jamie pressed the heels of his palms into his eye sockets until he saw stars. Whole body heavy with the weight of disappointment, he closed his laptop. As if a woman of Claire’s sophistication would be impressed by his clumsy attempt at French cuisine! Hell, if the guy she was dating was an anaesthetist he could probably afford to fly her to Paris for the real thing. Comparatively speaking, Jamie concluded he didn’t stand a chance.
Self-pity soon gave way to guilt; the Manny wincing as he recalled the rude way he’d questioned Claire about her date. His immature response ate away at him all afternoon and when the doctor arrived home from work he was near jumping out of his skin with the need to speak to her and make amends. Fergus finally asleep, he was quick to address the elephant in the room.
“Claire, can I have a word with ye?”
She nodded but seemed reluctant to meet his eye; not a great start.
“I wanted to apologise again for this afternoon. It’s not my place to question who ye spend your time with. I stepped over the line and I’m really sorry.”
He’d expected indignation and anger, instead she just looked disappointed and sad.
“You think it’s too soon after Fergus coming to live here for me to be having a night out, don’t you? That I’m being selfish for not putting him first”
“Christ no, not at all! I know ye wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise the lad’s happiness. You’re doing an amazing job and absolutely deserve a night out”
I just wish it was me that you wanted to go out with, he mentally added. Claire narrowed he eyes at him.
“I think I know what this is really about”
Jamie had been working hard to conceal his attraction, but had the mask slipped; had his jealous outburst betrayed his deeper feelings?
“We’re spending too much time together, aren’t we? I’ve been relying on you too much and now you’re annoyed that I’m going out when you have to spend so many of your nights working”
Biting her bottom lip, Claire shook her head.
“You said it yourself, you love to meet new people; bit hard to do that when you’re stuck here having a cup of tea with your boss on a Friday night!”
“That’s not what I was thinking at all — I ken the job has odd hours, but it’s never a bother. I love helping ye with Fergus”
Cheeks colouring she waved her hand dismissively.
“That’s settled; I promise I’ll be home earlier from now on.”
Her tight smile made it clear that the subject was closed and considering his rudeness earlier in the day, Jamie didn’t think it was the right time to force the issue. But oh how he longed to tell his Sassenach that seeing her each day made him so much happier than extra time to himself ever could.
For the rest of the week, Dr Beauchamp was true to her word, arriving home soon after Jamie had collected Fergus from school and assuring the Manny that they were no longer in need of his assistance for the evening. The reduction in time with Claire was even more heart-rending for Jamie as, to make up for her early finishes, she left for work as soon as he arrived, thereby eliminating the time they’d previously spent chatting over morning coffee.
Time and again he thought of bringing up the changed state of affairs, but feeling hamstrung by his position he held his tongue. If this is the way she wanted things to be, who was he to challenge it? The wind well and truely knocked out of his sails, the Manny limped through to the weekend, doing his best to care for Fergus but crestfallen at how quickly things had soured between him and the doctor.
Arriving home on Friday night he turned on a game of rugby but mind elsewhere, only watched half-heartedly. Opening a beer in an attempt to relax, one drink easily turned into another. Soon drunk enough that the players on the TV screen had started to blur, Jamie picked up his phone. The plan was simple: call Claire, beg for forgiveness and tell her she was making a big mistake dating someone else. Castigating himself for even contemplating such a stupid and disrespectful move, he instead opened his laptop and booked the earliest flight to Scotland for the next day.
By mid-morning, overnight bag slung over his shoulder, Jamie walked in the front door of Lallybroch, his family home. He loved London, but the Highlands were in his blood and their crisp air and greenery were perfect for clearing his head of the bitterness that had overtaken his mind.
A morning spent helping his mam in the garden and an afternoon out riding with his father had Jamie in slightly better spirits come dinner time. Jamie’s mother Ellen had invited his sister Jenny and Ian as well as their three children over for the meal and to stay the night so as everyone could spend as much time with Jamie as possible during the impromptu visit. As the family gathered in the living room in for a pre-dinner drink, Ian pulled his brother-in-law aside.
“What’s going on? Please tell me ye didna make a pass at the doctor and get fired?”
“No, but thanks for the vote of confidence!”
“What happened to going out with the lasses from work tonight?”
“I didna feel like it”
“So travelling six hundred miles for a family dinner was the only other option, was it?”
Jamie admitted the visit was impulsive but also necessary; he needed a bit of space to think clearly and not do anything rash. With a sympathetic pat on the back, Ian assured him that he would of course help wherever he could and that the real reason for the visit would remain between the two of them.
Dinners in the Fraser family were always a raucous affair, even more so in recent years since the arrival of Jenny and Ian’s children; seven year old twins Caitlin and Kitty and five year old Henry. The table groaning with a roast dinner than could have easily served eighteen instead of the assembled eight, Jamie was updated on all the day-to-day events that’d happened since his last visit at Christmas. His nephew’s riding lessons with grandda (He lets me hold the reins!), the twins starting to learn recorder at school (matching groans from Jenny and Ian), and his Da, Brian’s foray in amateur whisky-making (There’s naught wrong with it Ellen! I read it’s common for the first batch to taste a bit soapy). In turn Jamie told them about working with Fergus and Claire; especially proud to detail the progress of both parent and child in such a short amount of time. After dessert Ian went to put the bairns to bed while the others stayed at the table for an after-dinner dram. Despite no one being able to fit another bite, Ellen insisted on resetting the table with cheese, crackers and fruit.
Conversation soon turned to Easter and the upcoming family trip to their holiday house in Coldingham Bay, a beachside town in the Scottish Borders. A yearly tradition since Jamie’s parents had been gifted the land as a wedding present, it had continued despite the their son’s move to London. After a discussion about quantities of chocolate required for their Easter egg hunt on the Sunday morning, Ellen turned to her son in earnest:
“So will ye bringing anyone?”
“No, why would I be?”
“Ye always used to bring a friend when ye were younger”
“It was Ian! And in case ye hadn’t noticed, he’ll still be coming so I dinna see why ye're even asking?”
“It’s just that if ye did have a special friend ye wanted to invite, I wanted ye to know they’d be welcome”
Jamie rolled his eyes at his mother’s use of the term special friend, wondering why it was that parents world-over seemed to have such an issue with saying boyfriend or girlfriend.
“Well sorry to disappoint ye, but I’m not seeing anyone, so it’ll just be me”
Ellen clearly wasn’t ready to let the subject drop.
“I saw Glenna Mackenzie in the post office last week and she happened to mention that her granddaughter is still single...”
“I’m twenty-nine years old, I dinna need help finding someone!”
“She’s a lovely girl Jamie, quite keen to get married Glenna said”
“Ye’d have me propose to a lass I dinna even know because Mrs Mackenzie says her granddaughter wants to settle down? Honestly Mam!”
“Well ye wouldna need to talk marriage straight away; ye could get to know her a bit over Easter. Shall I set it up?”
“Not in a million years! And in case ye’ve forgotten, the house only has four bedrooms - where’s this lass supposed to sleep? Or am I asking her to share my bed before we’ve even gone on a date?”
“Well she could have the sofa...”
Jamie pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. There might be a snowball’s chance in hell of Claire ever wanting to be with him, but he wasn’t even remotely interested in looking at another woman.
“Mam, I appreciate the offer, but I willna be settling down any time soon, so can we talk of something else please?”
He downed the rest of his drink in one gulp, hoping the burn from the whisky would dull the ache in his chest. At that moment Ian returned and - much to Jamie’s relief - the discussion moved to the mares Brian had recently purchased.
A couple of hours later, the Manny sat alone in front of the fire. For as long as he could remember, his path in life was clear - content in both his professional and personal life, every step forward felt like it was building towards a greater goal. Since meeting Claire, however, he’d never been more confused. A door to future joy had been opened and he could see everything he wanted on the other side, only he couldn’t work out how to walk thorough. Every time he though he was getting closer to puzzling it out, something would happen to make it seem further away than ever.
The floorboards creaked as Ian entered and Jamie greeted him with a small smile. Pouring them both a whisky, his brother-in-law settled in the chair opposite. Never one to mince words, tonight was no exception.
“So what’ve ye done?”
With a wry smile at his friend’s correct assumption that he’d cocked up in some way, Jamie explained his ill-fated plan to cook a special dinner for Claire. How his hopes had been dashed when she announced her date with a fellow doctor and that instead of being the one to woo her next Friday night, he’d be the babysitter. Ian’s sympathetic nod turned to an eye roll and a smirk when the Manny then confessed to the shameful way he’d reacted to the news; needling Claire about introducing the man to Fergus when she hadn’t even indicated that she would. Possessive, inappropriate, jealous; in ten years of being a nanny he’d never taken a tone like that with a parent; much less a woman he had such strong feelings for.
“I think I’m losing it!”
“I assume ye apologised?”
“Of course, but somehow she got it in her head that my rudeness was because I was unhappy about the hours I’ve been working.”
“I take it ye didn’t correct her?”
Jamie shook his head and Ian raised his eyebrows in question.
“I know I should have - but how could I without telling her how I feel about her?”
“Would it have been the worst thing if ye had?”
“She’d just accepted a date with someone else, I don’t wanna be that guy”
“Fair enough, so what happened after that? I can’t see ye coming all the way up here just because she agreed to a meal out”
Quiet and subdued, Jamie detailed the way Claire had reorganised her whole work schedule, reducing their interaction to ships passing in the night.
“I know I’m there to work, but the time we spent together...it all just felt so right. Now I’m going out of my mind missing her. What am I gonna do? I know it sounds foolish, but it really felt like maybe, there was something there for her, too?”
Sighing he got up to refill his drink, holding up the bottle in invitation to Ian who held his glass out in acceptance.
“Ye don’t think...”
Trailing off, Ian drummed his fingers against the arm of the chair.
“When did Claire accept this date?”
“Monday; just after I spoke to you”
“Hmm. Here’s a thought, maybe she only agreed to go out with the other bloke was because she thinks ye’re not interested?”
“Not interested? I’d do anything to spend time with her”
“Ye didn’t tell her that though, did ye? When she asked ye what ye were doing this weekend ye spouted some nonsense about nightclubs and implied ye love bedding random lasses!”
Jamie thought back to the way Claire had shut down when he’d made the off the cuff remark about going out with the other nannies. Her forced smile when he’d said he loved to meet new people. He was just babbling to cover disappointment about the museum trip but she wasn’t to know that.
Oh Christ, what kind of man did she take him for?
He sunk back into his chair, wondering how it was possible to feel even worse than he had before. The amount of whisky he’d drunk was making his brain fuzzy and rational thoughts harder to form.
“So she’s made up her mind that I’m some Lothario and decided she now wants to avoid me at all costs?”
“Has she though? She hired ye because she couldn’t take care of the lad with the hours she works, yet here she is bending over backwards to give you time off cos she thinks that’s what ye want. If anything, she’s trying to make ye happy but you’ve been too busy feeling sorry for yourself to notice”
“Or she could be trying to create some distance because she’s not interested?”
“Jesus man, would ye have a listen to yourself? Ye’re as miserable as sin because someone asked Claire out when you wouldna? Ok, ye fucked up and said some things ye shouldn’t have, so what? Get your head back in the game because the Eeyore routine gets old really fast and if ye keep it up it willna be just the one date she goes on”
“Thanks for the tea and sympathy!”
“Someone needs to give it to ye straight; I hate seeing ye like this.”
Eyes full of concern, Ian watched as his brother-in-law, both physically and emotionally spent, dragged his palms across his face.
“What’s happened Jamie? It isna like you to get so thrown off kilter by something like this”
“I’ve spent all week trying to work it out myself and I keep coming back to the same thing”
“I love her”
Thank you so much for reading and for all the amazing comments you’ve been leaving, have been trying my hardest to reply to all of them as I truely love to hear what you think!
Next chapter will be back to Claire’s POV.
Take care xx
Chapter 7: Two Coffees
A changed Jamie returns after the weekend and Claire has no idea what to make of it.
Dawn light still weak in the sky, street sweepers whooshed along Harley Street, cleaning the gutters ahead of another bustling day in the city. Bleary-eyed, Claire unlocked the front door of her surgery and headed for her office to make a start on her paperwork. Propping her head on her hand for just a moment, the next thing she knew someone was squeezing her shoulder.
“Claire, honey; are you all right?”
Disoriented, she looked up to see Joe hovering over her.
“Oh...I must’ve nodded off for a minute there”
Full morning light streaming through the windows, it had evidently been considerably more than a minute.
“It’s not like you to fall asleep at your desk, is everything ok?”
Knowing her friend’s ability to wheedle the truth from her even when she’d rather not give it, the doctor sighed and motioned for Joe to sit down. Beginning with the events of Monday morning, she explained how she’d been on the cusp of inviting Jamie to the museum with her and Fergus, only to chicken out at the last minute when he’d looked so utterly unimpressed by her plans. The apathy soon made sense with the Manny announcing his preferred choice of weekend activity was clubbing and meeting new people.
“Oh Beauchamp, I’m so sorry; you really liked him, huh?”
“But I never said— ”
“You didn’t have to; you light up like a Christmas tree whenever you get a message from him.”
With a sad smile she told Joe about the early morning chats she and Jamie would have over coffee, his ready smile, the shared jokes, the way his eyes would linger. How embarrassing it had then been to realise that while she was looking for someone to fall in love with, he was just looking for someone to fall into bed with.
“Looking back on it, I suppose I was confusing routine for romance. He was just doing his job and I was flattered enough to think the attention was something more than professional.”
Joe raised his eyebrows; a practical person, Dr Beauchamp was the last person to imagine affection where there was none.
“Anyway, I thought rather than sit and home and wallow, I should probably get out and make an effort with a real person not just a fantasy”
Anticipating her friend’s reaction to what she was about to say, she looked away; inspecting the leaves of the rubber plant on her desk.
“...And that’s why I accepted a date with Nigel”
“Nigel Blakeney?! Please tell me you’re kidding?”
“I don’t see what the problem is? We’re both medical professionals, both based in south-west London...”
“Are you describing a prospective partner or reading his LinkedIn profile?”
“He mightn’t be the most exciting man, but all that sweep you off your feet stuff is for teenagers and women who watch daytime soaps, of which I am neither.”
Joe rolled his eyes, thinking her justification sounded a little too rehearsed.
“It still doesn’t explain why you fell asleep at your desk?”
Claire sighed, of all the things to happen, this was the part she regretted the outcome of the most.
“Jamie didn’t react too well to the news of my date; I didn’t think it through and asked him to babysit Fergus.”
“He’s your manny, I don’t see how it’s that unreasonable?”
The doctor then related how aggrieved Jamie was at being asked to do extra hours on a Friday night, after regularly sacrificing his own social life and staying back well beyond the hours he was originally hired to work.
“He seemed so upset about the whole thing I was worried he was going to resign. Fergus would be absolutely devastated to lose him so I’ve been coming in early so I can finish early and give Jamie the evenings off”
“You’re going to wear yourself out burning the candle at both ends like that.”
“All that matters is that Fergus is happy. If that means I need to shoulder more of the load, so be it.”
Knowing her proclivity to work herself to the bone, Joe was far from convinced at the merits of such a plan.
“The whole point of hiring someone was so that they could help you; why are you the one doing all of the heavy lifting? What’s really going on here?”
Claire ran her fingers though her hair, exasperated.
Night after night the doctor had come home from work exhausted, trying her best to muster cheerfulness when telling the Manny he could leave early. Only instead of thanks, she was met with sullenness. Arms hanging limply at his side and sparkle from his eyes gone; the resentment over his working conditions clearly ran a lot deeper than she’d imagined. After such a promising start, it was a bitter disappointment.
Not even a morose manny however, was able to dampen Claire’s eager anticipation for taking Fergus to the Natural History museum on Saturday. Deciding to conceal the real purpose of their outing until they arrived, she told told him they were headed out to buy groceries. Butterflies beat their wings in her stomach as they alighted the Tube at South Kensington station. Would Fergus enjoy the surprise?
A short walk later, the large terracotta tiled building loomed before them. Watching Fergus take it all in a moment, the doctor then crouched down beside him, revealing with a smile that they were off to see the dinosaurs. Squealing with delight he wrapped his little arms around Claire, almost toppling her over in his excitement. A warmth spreading through her body, she hugged him back.
Hand-in-hand they explored with museum with their tour group. As it was conducted in French, Claire couldn’t understand most of it; but it didn’t matter. Fergus’ wide-eyed enthusiasm more than made up for any language barrier; his oohs and aahs echoing through the exhibition halls as they saw everything from the menacing teeth of the T-rex to the towering skeleton of the Brontosaurus.
Afterwards they enjoyed lunch at a nearby cafe. In a mix of French and English, Fergus reeled off facts about all the creatures they’d seen, pausing only for a slurp of chocolate milkshake. Nodding along, Claire watched him with wonderment. Was this really the same boy who’d come to live with her only a few months ago? Gone was the slumped posture and down-turned mouth, replaced with bright smiles and bubbly enthusiasm. Pausing his story, Fergus leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“What was that for?” the doctor asked, undeniably pleased.
“Thank you for taking me to meet the dinosaurs Maman Claire”
All choked up, she pulled him close before he could see the tears welling in her eyes.
“You’re welcome, my darling”
Feeling invigorated from her successful weekend, Claire hoped the same would be true of Jamie. Despite the bruise to her heart it occasioned, she crossed her fingers — for Fergus’ sake at least — that the Scot’s night out with the girls from the agency had proved the tonic he needed for his dour moods.
Punctual as ever, at 6.30am she heard his key in the lock. Already wearing her coat, Claire slung her bag over her shoulder and prepared to leave; fully expecting any interaction with Jamie to be brief and monosyllabic.
A radiant glow about him, the Manny couldn’t have looked more different from the ill-tempered man who’d left on Friday night. Brandishing a cardboard tray with two coffees, he proffered the doctor one with a smile.
“I know you’re about to head off, so I got ye this to take with you”
Unsure how to interpret this abrupt change in demeanour, Claire thanked Jamie and accepted the coffee. He was looking at her in a most peculiar way and she was about to ask if she had lipstick on her teeth when he jumped in with a question of his own.
“How was your trip to the museum with Fergus? Did ye have a good time?”
If the coffee was unexpected, this was even more so. As she described their day out, he listened with rapt attention, a soft expression on his face.
“Sound like it went flawlessly; such a wonderful thing ye did for the lad”
He paused, swallowing slowly.
“I want ye to know how proud of you I am, Sassenach”
Only then did she notice how close they were standing. Head dipping so it was almost level with her own, Jamie briefly wet his lips with his tongue as his eyes swept across her face. Self-conscious both from the praise and at being in his personal space, Claire stepped back.
“I’d better get going, I have an early consultation”
The Manny smiled and nodded, watching her intently as she left the room.
If the events of the morning were hard to puzzle out, those of the evening were even more so. The doctor arrived home just after 5pm to a mouth-watering aroma of spices wafting through the house. In the kitchen Jamie and Fergus were set up by the stove, the latter - wearing laboratory-style goggles - giggling madly as the Manny dropped small thumb-sized wafers into a pan. Spotting her, the lad motioned excitedly for her to join them.
“We’re making prawn crackers; look, look!”
The oil sizzling and bubbling, Jamie dropped in another one and in only a few seconds the semi-transparent wafer transformed into a white puffy cracker. Amidst a cheer from Fergus, the Scot carefully lifted it out of the pan and onto a sheet of paper towel, where a dozen or so already rested.
“These will keep for a couple of hours, so you’ll be able to have them alongside your dinner”
Jamie then lifted the lid on other pans, revealing sweet and sour pork, various sautéed vegetables and a mountain of fluffy rice.
“I hope ye like it; I made enough to take for lunch tomorrow if you wanted? I’ll just finish this up and then I can get out of your hair.”
Turning towards her, the Manny cleared his throat.
“Or I can stay to help with Fergus’ bath, if you’d like?”
At his gentle words, a weight lifted from the doctor’s shoulders and she smiled with relief.
“Thank you, that would be wonderful”
For the remainder of the week the Manny continued to be helpful and attentive, quickly resuming his previous working hours. Claire was definitely pleased, especially for Fergus, but couldn’t help pondering what had changed. Given his transformation had occurred after the weekend a little voice in the back of her head wondered - Is the return to his good mood because he met someone? The thought alone produced a burning sensation in the pit of her stomach, so she pushed it to the back of her mind; focusing instead on her upcoming date.
Despite telling Nigel him she’d be happy with a pub meal and good conversation, he insisted on making reservations at a fancy restaurant in Mayfair; occasioning Claire to get much more dressed up than she’d originally envisaged. Friday night and fussing over her wardrobe, she eventually settled on a figure-hugging sleeveless black dress; making her feel like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hair usually confined to a tight bun for work, she opted to wear it out; chocolate curls cascading around her shoulders. Deciding to go all out, she completed the look with a pair of sapphire blue satin Manolo Blahniks.
A firm believer in the dictum feelings follow behaviour, Claire had hoped that in accepting a date with someone else it would lessen her desire for Jamie. Had his put-upon and resentful demeanour from the previous week continued, it just might have, but the Manny was back to his charming, funny and kindhearted self; making him more attractive than ever. Applying her makeup, Claire’s mind drifted to what it would be like to instead be readying herself for a date with Jamie. He’d have some fun but unexpected activity planned, like kayaking down the Thames followed by a picnic on the riverbank. Closing her eyes she pictured them drinking cider and feeding each other strawberries in the sunshine. She let out a sigh, there really was no use in pining for something that would never be. Taking a calming breath to clear her mind, she spritzed on some perfume and resolved to not think of Jamie as anything more than Fergus’ Manny.
With Nigel due to pick her up in fifteen minutes, the doctor nervously paced the living room. Fresh from his bath, Fergus entered the room clutching a bag of Maltesers.
“We’re watching movies!” He declared happily, holding up the chocolates. Then, with some seriousness he tugged on her hand, adding: “Vous êtes trés belle ce soir”
“Who looks very beautiful tonight?” asked the Manny, overhearing the lad’s comment as he entered with two cups of hot cocoa. Stopping abruptly, his posture stiffened, causing the warm milk to slop all over the front of his shirt. Cursing under his breath he asked Fergus to dash to the kitchen for some paper towels. Rather than being embarrassed at his clumsiness however, Jamie barely seemed to notice, eyes openly roving up and down Claire’s body.
“Sassenach...ye look breathtaking.”
Skin tingling under his intense gaze, the doctor blushed.
“You think so? Hopefully I don’t look too much like mutton dressed as lamb”
“Ye— what? Why would ye ever think that?”
He put down the half-empty mugs and stepped closer, tracing the air around her head.
“Ye look so different with your hair all undone” he glanced down at her heels “And so much taller; I’ve still got you covered though”
His soft smile made Claire’s heart swell. Biting her bottom lip, she looked up into his deep blue eyes, quite unsure how to reply. Before she could say anything, Fergus returned with the paper towels, tutting like a mother hen as he helped Jamie clean his shirt. Both adults smirked watching him, all three floating in a bubble of familial domesticity. It only lasted a few seconds, the loud buzz of the doorbell breaking the spell. Nigel had arrived.
This chapter was *supposed* to be the date, but there was a bit of Claire’s POV I wanted to flesh out before we got there, plus I thought it’d be good to see Jamie’s attempts to right his wrongs...
As always, love to hear what you think and really appreciate you reading.
Take care and have a lovely weekend xx
Chapter 8: The Date
Claire’s date Nigel has arrived to sweep her off her feet, much to the Manny’s chagrin.
On paper, Dr Nigel Blakeney should have been a good match for Claire. Mid-forties and educated at Cambridge, he started his career as an emergency room surgeon before specialising and becoming an anaesthetist. With light brown hair and glacial blue eyes, he was meticulous about his appearance and outside of his surgical scrubs was always impeccably dressed; usually in bespoke suits from Saville Row.
Over the years they’d worked together, he’d asked Claire out several times, but suspecting the attraction was more about what she represented than who she was as a person, she always declined. Nevertheless, unrequited feelings are a powerful motivator and believing that the adoration she felt for Jamie would never be returned, the doctor had at last accepted Nigel’s invitation for dinner.
With much less excitement that she ought to feel, Claire made her way to the front door to greet her date. Smoothing her dress, she took a fortifying breath and opened the door.
Grinning like a game show host, he presented her with a large bouquet of red roses.
“Beautiful roses for a beautiful English rose”
Cringing at the cheesy line, Claire smiled and accepted the flowers, ushering Nigel inside. She hadn’t been planning on introducing him to Fergus but when he insisted on picking her up rather than meeting at the restaurant, against her better judgement she agreed to a brief hello.
In the living room, Jamie and Fergus were settled on the couch, laughing and chatting in rapid-fire French as they watched a film. Upon the doctors entering, the conversation stopped abruptly; two pairs of eyes immediately glued to the stranger. Trying her best to ignore the knot of nerves that had taken up residence in her stomach, Claire presented Dr Blakeney to her son.
Clearly even more unaccustomed to children than she had been when Fergus first arrived, Nigel gave the lad a pat on the head as though he were a well-behaved dog. Wincing at the faux-pas, Claire saw Jamie roll his eyes, but eager to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible, she pressed on:
“And this is Jamie; our nanny”
Where Fergus had remained seated on the couch, the Manny stood, drawing up to his full 6’4” height before holding out a hand to Claire’s markedly shorter date. With a smile that bordered on a sneer, Nigel shook it, glancing contemptuously at Jamie’s cocoa covered t-shirt. His triumph was short lived; soon grimacing as the Scot crushed his hand in an iron-like grip. Air thick with testosterone, Claire watched uncomfortably as the two stared each other down.
“Perhaps we’d better get going, Nigel?”
Nodding, her date put his arm around her waist; boney fingers settling on her hip. At this Jamie made a slight choking sound, then picked up Claire’s coat.
“You’ll want to wear this Sassenach, it’s pretty chilly tonight”
He moved to put it over her shoulders, forcing Dr Blakeney to remove his hand. Eyes narrowing, Nigel yanked the garment away from Jamie.
“Allow me, Claire”
Tone smug, he smirked at the Manny, who grunted with annoyance.
Not at all interested in whatever ridiculous display of machismo was going on between the Jamie and her date, Claire grabbed the coat.
“I’m perfectly capable of dressing myself, thank you!”
Looking anywhere but at each other, both men stood silent at the doctor’s admonishment.
“I’ll just put these flowers in water and then we’ll be off”
“I’m sure Jamie can do that for you” Nigel simpered. “Be a good chap and go fetch a vase for Dr Beauchamp, hmm?”
Taking the roses from Claire, he thrust them towards the Manny. Teeth clenched, Jamie reluctantly accepted the bouquet and headed towards the kitchen in search of a vase. Judging from his glowering expression, Claire suspected that what he really wanted to do, however, was feed them down the waste-disposal unit. Embarrassed at her date’s condescending behaviour and wanting to throttle Jamie for being so unnecessarily territorial, the doctor ushered Nigel out of the house.
Lit with chandeliers and lavishly decorated, The Hanoverian was the kind of venue more suited to a marriage proposal than a first date. The dozen or so tables were adorned with crisp white linen and gleaming silvery cutlery, paired with high-backed velvet chairs. Seeing to diners’ every need a cadre of waiters glided about, moving so smoothly one could almost believe they were floating.
Claire hoped that now it was just the two of them Nigel would relax a little and they could enjoy getting to know one another. Ordering an expensive bottle of champagne he proposed a toast to their first date and as they chatted about people they both knew by professional acquaintance, the evening began to look up. Tucking into their entrees the doctor attempted to steer the conversation towards more interesting topics but it appeared Nigel had other ideas; talking at length about articles he’d recently read in industry journals. On and on he droned about the cover story from the latest Lancet, so seldom pausing that it seemed more like he was giving a lecture at a medical conference rather than conversing with his date at what was supposed to be a romantic dinner.
The minutes crawled by and Claire became convinced her last trip to the dentist — when she’d had a root canal — had been more enjoyable. Granted a brief reprieve when Nigel excused himself to use the bathroom, she whipped out her phone to check her messages; hoping to find one advising of a not-too-serious emergency that required her to immediately come home. No such luck, the only SMS was from Joe who having predicted the outcome of her date, had sent the snoozing emoji.
Resting her chin on her hand, she reflected on what a mistake it had been to accept a date with Nigel in the first place. He wasn’t exactly the most animated person at work, but she’d assumed that was just him being a dedicated professional, not because he was in the running to be crowned dullest man in England. Her plan to get over Jamie by going out with someone else had blown up in her face spectacularly and after an evening of struggling to stay awake it just made her more aware than ever that if she couldn’t be with the Manny, then she didn’t want to be with anyone.
Half an hour later Claire was in a cab home. Saying their goodbyes Nigel had leaned in to kiss her goodnight but she’d shimmied sideways to avoid his mouth meeting hers; his cold, thin lips landing on her cheek instead. Even that small contact alone had made her squirm and she was exceedingly grateful that a taxi had pulled up immediately afterwards, saving her from any awkward we should do this again-type conversation.
The front door clicking shut behind her, Claire braced herself against it and kicked off her heels, sighing with relief. The comfort of home, knowing Jamie and Fergus dwelt within, brought a calmness that had been absent from the moment she’d left for dinner. In the living room the Manny leaned against the mantlepiece, mind seemingly far away as he stared into the fire with a thousand-yard stare. As the room’s only light source, the flames cast a red glow across everything, illuminating Jamie’s russet locks and making them appear as though they burned like the logs in the hearth. Standing in the darkened doorframe, the doctor was able to watch him a few moments unobserved. Wistfully admiring his strong, muscular form, she wanted nothing more than to rest her head against his chest and breathe him in.
Given her relatively early return home, his surprise was understandable. As she walked into the room he looked cautiously over her shoulder and Claire couldn’t help but smirk.
“I’m alone if that’s what you were wondering?”
Jamie looked like he wanted to deny it, but realising he’d been caught out, the sides of his mouth turned up slightly as he rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously.
“How was the movie night?”
“Good; we missed you though. In fact Fergus has already informed me we’re doing it again next week so clear your schedule”
Emotion swelled as she pictured a night of playing happy families with Jamie and her boy; the three of them cuddling together on the couch. So eager for this idea, however fanciful, she almost pulled the Scot into an embrace for even suggesting it, but controlling herself she folded her arms instead.
Adopting a serious expression, the Manny gently cupped her shoulders; his warm fingers a sharp contrast to Dr Blakeney’s corpse-like digits.
“I wanted to apologise about earlier, I probably could have been a bit nicer...and definitely less of an arse. I’m sorry”
“I can’t say Nigel was exactly putting his best foot forward either. But it’s all right, I know you were only looking out for Fergus. It’s nice to know he’s got someone like you in his corner.”
Brow furrowed, Jamie drummed his nails against the mantle piece as he collected his thoughts.
“It wasn’t just about protecting the lad. I wanted to protect you, too.”
He paused, biting his bottom lip.
“I know he can afford to take you to fancy restaurants and buy you expensive flowers, but you deserve so much more than a by-the-numbers attempt at romance. He’s all wrong for you.”
The doctor smiled; touched that Jamie’s kind heart would extend to looking out for a parent of a child in his care.
“Well none of us need worry about that, there’s not going to be a second date”
The Manny looked absurdly pleased at the news, then realising this meant Claire hadn’t had a good evening, tempered his response.
“I’m sorry to hear that; the man’s even more of a fool than I thought if that’s the case. Did you...did you want to talk about it?”
“Actually what I really need is a glass of wine. Don’t suppose you’d fancy one?”
Jamie’s surprise had Claire’s confidence wavering and she was on the brink of retracting the offer when he broke into a broad grin. Smiling back, she headed to the kitchen to fetch a bottle and corkscrew.
Something about the gentle crackling and popping of the fire encouraged intimacy, so despite the living room providing several seating configurations, it felt right for them both to settle on the same couch. Claire poured the wine when they were both seated, necessitating leaning close to prevent any spills. Knees softly touching, she felt no inclination to move away and was pleased to see Jamie seemed content to stay where he was, too. Swirling the burgundy liquid in his glass before taking a generous sip; the Scot’s eyes widened as the rich flavour filled his mouth.
“Jesus that’s good! What’s this one?”
“Pinot Noir, it’s dry and acidic; like me” Claire deadpanned with a twinkle in her eye. The Manny smirked, running his tongue over his bottom lip as he held her gaze in such a way that made her blush.
“And what sort of wine would I be?”
“Hmmm...a moscato I think; sparkling and sweet”
“That’s not very manly. Are there no wines that are braw and heroic?”
“That’s how you see yourself is it?”
“Isn’t that how you see me?” he said with a cheeky smile that had Claire giggling.
One bottle easily turned into a second and then a third, the conversation flowing just as freely. Everything from Fergus-related anecdotes to favourite movies and music, to most embarrassing moments of their youth. In short, perfect first date conversation but without any of the pressure and expectations that accompany it. With each refill the discussion became more animated, points emphasised with touch a well as words. A playful shove, squeezing a foot, fingers gently trailing down an arm; unconsciously moving closer with no attempt at retreat. The sound of Jamie’s laugher filled Claire’s chest with happiness and tipsy from both the wine as well as the close proximity to him, she felt flirtatious and free. Eyes frequently drawn to his mouth, an overwhelming urge to kiss him radiated though every bone in her body.
Why did I even consider dating Nigel when what I want is right in front of me?
The answer stopped her short. Dr Blakeney for all his faults had actually asked her out. He’d shown an interest; whereas Jamie had made it clear that he was looking elsewhere - both in the type of women and the kind of relationship. The sweet wine suddenly tasted bitter as all the previous feelings of embarrassment - amplified this time by the alcohol - crashed over her like a heavy wave in a rough sea. Claire took stock of how they were seated: Jamie’s arm around her shoulders, her hand resting on his upper thigh and their faces only inches apart. What am I doing? Cringing as she decided she must be coming across as some kind of desperate Mrs Robinson she pulled back; depositing her wine glass on the coffee table with a loud clunk.
“Sassenach? Are ye all right?”
On wobbly legs she stood, head spinning.
“I ah...I think I’ve had too much to drink. I need to get some water”
“Here let me go, ye—“
“It’s fine” she said a little too forcefully.
In the kitchen Claire splashed water on her face, catching sight of her reflection in the window and narrowing her eyes to try and examine crows feet that weren’t even there. Struggling to think clearly, thoughts she did form were disjointed and increasingly maudlin. Jamie entered the room, hovering cautiously by the door.
“Is everything all right? Have I done something to upset ye?”
The doctor shook her head to try and clear it, using her thumbs to wipe underneath her eyes where her mascara had begun to smudge.
“I’m just tired. It’s probably best we call it a night”
Jamie looked crestfallen but nodded and collected his things. Standing at the front door together, Claire turned towards him.
“I’ll make sure you’re paid overtime, I’m sorry to have kept you here so long.”
“What are ye— I’m here because I want to be and up until five minutes ago we were having a great time. Well I thought we were?”
Slowly as though not to startle her, Jamie’s fingers encircled her wrist, gently running his thumb backwards and forwards across the inside.
“What is it Sassenach? Why would ye ever think I wouldn’t want to be here?”
“I know this isn’t your ideal night out. You don’t need to humour me just because you’re Fergus’ nanny”
The Scot stepped back, running his hands roughly through his hair.
“This is about what I said the other week isn’t it? About going to a nightclub?”
Unable to meet his eye, Claire fiddled with her bracelet. The Manny let out an exasperated grunt.
“I made it up”
Gripping the doctor’s shoulders, he looked her square in the face.
“I hate nightclubs and havena set foot in one in years. I told ye I was going because I’m a fucking idiot and don’t think before I speak. But please believe me when I tell ye that if I had the choice of doing anything - on any night of the week - it’d be to spend time with you”
If she was sober, Claire would have asked Jamie what he’d meant; but the hour was late and the alcohol had shut down the analytical part of her brain. All that remained was instinct. Heartbeat drumming loudly in her ears, her eyes fluttered closed and she pushed up on her toes; pressing her lips to his. Initial surprise gave way to desire as the Scot swayed forwards, opening his mouth to hers on a sigh. Anxiety melting away, Claire slowly wound her arms around Jamie’s neck, inhaling his heady scent and tasting the wine on his tongue.
When they pulled back Jamie was watching her intently, cat-like eyes almost black in the dim light of the hallway. Was he about to suggest staying the night? His strong body above her as he pressed deep inside was something she craved on a visceral level and she let out a little sigh at the mere thought of it. Drunk enough not to be thinking about the consequences she put her hand on his chest, splaying her fingers in invitation. For a moment neither of them moved, the only sound a far off siren from the busy city beyond.
Trailing off, Jamie cradled her face in his palms and placed a soft lingering kiss on her lips. Then, with a small smile and a nod he opened the front door and departed into the cold London night, leaving Claire stunned and confused.
Stumbling upstairs she changed for bed, making a perfunctory attempt at wiping off her makeup and drinking a glass of water before crawling under the duvet. Dizziness made her head feel like it was spinning even when motionless on the pillow; fragments of thoughts and sensations blurring together in the darkness. On the cusp of unconsciousness her phone beeped with an incoming message and she squinted to see who it was from. Jamie.
Sleep well beautiful lass xx
Fairly certain she’d just been rejected, her tired eyes filled with tears. Too exhausted to wipe them away she stayed staring at her phone until her vision blurred, eventually slipping into a dreamless sleep.
Thank you for bearing with my while I had a little break. Apologies for not replying to all of your comments just yet; will get to them as soon as I can.
Have realised writing from a drunk person’s perspective is quite the challenge; keen to hear what you think! Xx
Chapter 9: The Morning After
After the unexpected end to their night drinking together, Jamie can’t wait to speak to Claire and discuss what it means...just as soon as the room stops spinning.
Jamie awoke on Saturday morning knowing three things. Firstly, that Claire kissing him had been one of the best moments of his life, Secondly, that leaving her house afterwards had been one of the hardest, and thirdly that he needed to invest in some better curtains because the bloody fucking sunshine streaming through the windows was making his hangover ten times worse.
Groping clumsily for his phone he felt a little pang of disappointment to see the doctor hadn’t yet replied to his text wishing her goodnight. Deciding perhaps it was too early in the day, he flopped back onto the bed and let his mind drift back to the events of the evening before.
Claire had looked ethereal in the light of the fire and like a bee drawn to a luscious flower, once he’d felt her soft skin under his fingertips he couldn’t resist returning again and again. To his delight, she welcomed his touch; pressing into his side when he put an arm around her shoulders and blushing prettily as he swirled patterns across her scapula. When she put her palm on his thigh it almost became too much, the Manny reduced to short shallow breaths as he pictured her wee hand wrapped tightly around his cock. He couldn’t think of a single conversation in his life that’d felt so intimate, nor so arousing. Encouraged by her smile he leant forward, intending to brush his lips along the delicate skin of her neck. Catching her intoxicating scent he stopped short, nose half buried in her silky curls.
“Ye smell sweet Sassenach, like summer berries”
Claire’s hummed response bordered on a moan, the sound travelling straight to his groin. Faces only separated by an inch, her golden eyes flitted across the Scot’s face before settling on his mouth. Pupils dilating, her tongue darted out to wet her lower lip. This was it, the perfect moment to show his Sassenach just how much he desired her; how much he loved her. Holding her gaze, he slowly angled his head in anticipation of their kiss, but instead of welcoming his advances the doctor shrunk away. Storm clouds gathering on her face she stood and left the room; Jamie felt like he’d been slapped.
Kicking himself for misreading the situation so badly and bewildered at how quickly things had soured, with a heavy heart he prepared to leave. The next thing he knew, Claire’s mouth was on his; soft warm body pressing close and arms wrapping around his neck as she kissed him. Her tongue caressed his gently, but held the promise of so much more and it took every ounce of restraint not to shove her against the front door and return the kiss with all the fervour and heat she stirred in him. Disoriented from how rapidly the mood between them had done a 180, he stared at the doctor intently. Lips slightly swollen and wine-stained and eyes half-closed in lust, she’d put a hand over Jamie’s heart, her message clear: Stay the night with me. Already half hard from their kiss, his body was screaming to hoist her over his shoulder and take her immediately to bed. Somehow he managed to resist. They’d both had far too much to drink and sleeping together needed to be a choice Claire made with a clear head, something she truely wanted. He loved her too much for anything less.
Head throbbing, Jamie burrowed under the duvet; seriously rethinking the merits of being so virtuous. Weekends were already a challenge as it meant two days away from his Sassenach. Knowing that at that very minute instead of lying in bed alone, he could’ve been wrapped around Claire’s beautiful naked body in her bed, made his rationale for leaving all the more difficult to reconcile. Arousal surging through his every fibre, he shuddered and sighed, drifting into semi-consciousness reliving her touch.
Waking a few hours later, the Manny gingerly made his way into the shower; resting his forehead on the tiles while hot water cascaded over him. Despite feeling absolutely rotten physically, hope and happiness bloomed in his chest. Claire had kissed him. Beautiful, funny, sexy and talented Claire; it almost seemed too good to be true. Had he not been certain that any sudden movement would cause the contents of his stomach end up all over the bathroom floor, he’d have jumped out of the shower and rushed straight over to her house just to kiss her good morning. He longed to know what she was thinking and feeling; had she awoken with the same silly smile on her face that he had? The day felt alive with possibilities and he couldn’t wait to speak to his Sassenach and talk about where they went from here.
A strong coffee in hand, Jamie dialled Claire’s number. The wait for her to pick up seemed interminable and he felt more nervous with every ring that went unanswered. After a dozen or so the call diverted to voicemail.
“Hi Sassenach. How ye feeling? My head’s killing me! So last night was fun...I mean I had fun. Did —did you have fun too? I was thinking about you just now and um...yeah. Call me when you get this? If ye want, no pressure. Ok bye. Oh it’s Jamie by the way”
Cradling his head in his hands, the Scot wondered if in the history of the telephone a worse message had ever been left. Even as a gangly teenager he’d had more poise in front of the lasses and he prayed Claire would just call him back without listening to it. Less than a minute later his phone rang and such was the Scot’s haste to answer he didn’t even check who it was.
“Oh. Hi Mam”
Disappointment sat on his chest like a lead weight as his mother prattled away about the comings and goings at Lallybroch. The chickens laying more eggs that usual, cows trampling the fence in the top paddock, Mrs Campbell getting caught entering a store-bought cake into the local baking competition. Distracted, the Manny missed every few words as he kept pulling the phone away from his ear to check if Claire had replied yet; she hadn’t. At length Ellen revealed the reason for her call; Brian had surprised her with a trip to Rome to celebrate their upcoming 35th wedding anniversary, meaning they wouldn’t be joining the rest of the family on their Easter holiday this year.
“The Trevi fountain, the Colosseum, the Spanish steps; can ye believe it Jamie! And the food! Spaghetti, gelato...”
The faint beep of another call coming through sounded in Jamie’s ear. Claire!
“Sorry Mam, gotta go; I’m sure you and Da will have a grand time, bye!”
Fumbling and almost dropping the phone entirely, the Manny ended Ellen’s call to pick up the doctor’s.
“Hi Jamie. Sorry I missed your call...”
Straight away he knew something was wrong. Claire’s voice was quiet, restrained. He hoped it was to do with being hungover, rather than something worse; like regret.
“How are ye feeling? Are ye all right?”
“Bit of a headache, but I’ll live. How about you?”
“Putrid; my head feels like it’s in a vice. Serves me right for drinking so much, aye?”
“Yes, we did drink rather a lot...”
The night before Claire was speaking ten to the dozen; her energy and passion an aphrodisiac all on it’s own. By contrast, this felt like pulling teeth. Jamie kept trying.
“I had a really good night, we should do it again some time”
“Of course! Didn’t you?”
Claire cleared her throat but said nothing. With each passing minute it was becoming obvious that not only was she not as eager to jump into professions of feelings, but was instead near desperate to avoid the subject altogether. An uncomfortable feeling began to gnaw away at the Scot, tempered only by the fact that Claire had been the one to initiate their kiss.
“Can we talk about what happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“At the end of the night...?”
“Gosh, who can really even remember? All a bit of a haze isn’t it?”
The Manny tried not to be offended at the faux-confused tone, adopted quite clearly to shut down the topic.
“Claire. You kissed me. I kissed you. I think we should talk about what it means”
A deep sigh came down the phone line.
“I’m just...Fuck I’m so embarrassed Jamie.”
“For stepping over the line. For putting you in such an awkward position. I promise I’m not usually like that”
Pausing, the doctor sniffed loudly. Was she crying?
“You deserve to be able to come to work without worrying that your employer isn’t going to make a pass at you. I just hope I haven’t ruined things; Fergus is so happy to have you as his nanny.”
“Sassenach, I love working with the lad, you know that. But I need ye to be honest. Why did ye kiss me? Why did ye— why did ye ask me to stay?”
“I’d had too much to drink”
The word hit him like a sucker punch. The idea that the best kiss of his life was fuelled by alcohol alone seemed incomprehensible. Headache returning with force, he felt dizzy; gripping the table as the room began to spin.
“Last night was...nice. I’m just sorry I let things go further than they should have. It will never happen again. I promise”
“Um...well ye know these things happen.”
“Thank you for being so understanding.”
Hanging up in a daze, he shuffled over to the couch, spending the rest of the afternoon mindlessly flicking through TV shows as he tried desperately to ignore thoughts of his Sassenach. It was no use, memories from the night before flooded his brain like a burst dam and his heart hurt from the knowledge that she didn’t want him. Like most people, Jamie had had his share of drunken kisses; typically sloppy affairs that signified nothing more than an itch being scratched. He knew in his bones that what had happened with Claire was different. No other woman made his blood sing like that. No other woman could make him breathless from a glance alone. It was so much more than physical want and it felt unbearably cruel that he not have a chance to prove himself worthy of her.
Falling into a fitful sleep, he awoke to a darkened flat with the only light coming from the Are you still watching? screen on Netflix. Dimly he became aware his phone was ringing but groggy and disoriented he couldn’t get to it before the caller had hung up.
1 missed call: Sassenach
While he was deliberating whether to call back a notification popped up for a new voicemail. Stomach flip flopping he was almost too scared to listen to it. Had Claire decided they couldn’t work together anymore? Had she called back to reiterate how much their kiss meant nothing to her? Realising that stewing over what ifs wasn’t going to help, he braced himself and pressed play.
“Sorry to call so late, I um...about what I said on the phone before...You asked me to be honest and I wasn’t. But I want to be now so here goes. I lied about why I kissed you. It wasn’t because of the wine. The truth is I’d been thinking about doing it all night, right from the minute I walked into the living room and saw you standing in front of the fire. I don’t know how you feel about me kissing you, but I ah...well I really liked it. A lot. Ok I’m going to hang up now before I die of embarrassment, but maybe we could talk on Monday? You’re a good guy Jamie; Fergus and I are really lucky to have you. Goodnight”
The Manny couldn’t believe it. Dumbfounded, he stared into the dark of his living room and for a full minute didn’t move as he tried to take in what he’d heard. Could it really be true? With shaking hands he replayed the message, heart pounding as though he’d just sprinted a mile. Claire. Her voice had wobbled with nerves, but underneath there was fortitude and a refusal to shy away from her actions. His arms ached wanting to pull her close and tell her what a brave wee thing she was for opening up like that. It wasn’t a profession of love, far from it, but a door that had previously been slammed shut was now tentatively being nudged open. Monday morning couldn’t come soon enough.
Thank you SO much for all your lovely comments, it’s absolutely amazing to hear your thoughts and discuss the story with you.
With the world seemingly turned on its head at the moment, I hope this fic can provide you with some lighthearted rom-com relief. Take care xx
Chapter 10: Malade
Jamie arrives at Claire's house to discuss the events of Friday night, but she and Fergus are nowhere to be found.
After Claire’s voicemail on Saturday night, Jamie’s first impulse was to jump in a taxi and head straight to her house. Sprinting up the front steps, he’d pull her into his arms and kiss her until there was no air left in his lungs. Laughing at how quickly he’d let his thoughts spin into an overblown fantasy, he put down his phone and took a deep breath. Much as he wanted to open his heart to his Sassenach, he could tell from her tone that she needed a bit more time to sit with her thoughts and, not wanting to overwhelm her, opted instead for a text.
I’ve been thinking about you all day Sassenach & want you to know I really liked kissing you too. Chat Monday xx
He didn’t think he’d written something so syrupy since he was a teenager but to his delight Dr Beauchamp replied immediately.
Looking forward to it x
He fell asleep staring at the kiss at the end of her message, dreaming of when he could again experience the real thing.
Monday morning and the Scot was at sixes and sevens. Alarm set for 5.30PM instead of AM (causing him to oversleep and panic that he’d missed work), iron on the wrong temperature (leaving an unsightly singe mark on his shirt) and his wallet seemingly stolen overnight by pixies (resulting in a frenetic 20 minute search of his flat, only to find it was by the front door the whole time). After much chaos and calamity (and a fresh shirt) he was at last on his way to Claire’s.
The feeling in his stomach as he stood in the crowded Tube carriage reminded him of final school exams mixed with a first date and a dash of childhood birthdays. Ridiculous he thought to himself. We’re just talking. If the doctor had meant to shut him down completely she would have already. To alleviate his nerves he listened to the voicemail one more time, the sound of Claire’s voice making him smile from ear to ear.
Arriving at the Beauchamp house in the mornings, Jamie was typically greeted with the sound of Fergus’ excited chatter and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Today however, it was chilly and unusually quiet; something was definitely amiss. No one in the kitchen, the living room or the laundry; the dining room, garden and study all deserted. What was going on? Fearing there’d been a gas leak, or worse, he raced upstairs, bounding up the steps two at a time. The lad’s room was first, the Manny rushing in ready to administer CPR. Still wearing his pyjamas, Fergus was sprawled out on the rug playing with his toy trucks as though he hadn’t a care in the world. Noticing Jamie enter, he looked up with a smile.
“Jesus laddie, ye nearly gave me a heart attack! Has Maman Claire not told ye to start getting ready for school?”
She’s sleeping? A shiver ran down Jamie’s spine. Dr Beauchamp was not one for spontaneous weekday lie-ins; had something happened that the boy had mistaken for her being asleep? Moving slowly to avoid causing alarm, he backed out of Fergus’ bedroom and headed straight for Claire’s. Door closed, he knocked softly.
“Sassenach? Are ye awake?”
No answer. Ordinarily he’d never think of entering uninvited, but Fergus’ words had him rattled. Adrenaline pumping, he pushed aside his fears and went in; the bed was empty. Where the hell was she? Light from the en suite flooded the dimly lit room, its door ajar. Jamie approached with caution, walking a fine line between potentially giving lifesaving first-aid and not wanting to be the creep who sneaks up on women while showering.
Rounding the door he saw a mass of chocolate curls and flannelette huddled on the floor. In a flash he was beside her, crouching down as he frantically ran his hands over her to check for any signs of injury. To his immense relief she didn’t appear hurt.
“A nighean what’s wrong?”
She gave a little moan of discomfort.
“Just a touch—” Coughing loudly, her whole body shook with the force of it. “— a touch of the sniffles”
His hand on her forehand told a different story. Blazing hot and clammy with sweat, she was clearly running a fever. On a hunch he gently pressed his fingers just below her jaw, feeling for her lymph nodes. As suspected, they were swollen. Years of taking care of children meant the Manny could spot the ‘flu at fifty paces and based on Claire’s symptoms he was in no doubt. Giving a silent prayer of thanks that she wasn’t in any immediate danger, he rubbed her arm soothingly.
“Let’s get ye back into bed, aye?”
As Claire moaned again, he lifted her carefully and carried her into the bedroom. Pulling the blankets up over her, he knelt down beside the bed, running his knuckles across her flushed cheek.
“Ye gave me a bit of a scare there, lass”
Unable to hide the tremble in his voice, Jamie smiled at her tenderly. Eyes glassy and unfocused, the doctor tried to get up, struggling with the sheets tucked around her.
“I need to make Fergus’ breakfast… Do you want a coffee? I can get you one… will just jump in the shower…will be up and about in no ti—”
Her words were lost to another bout of heavy coughing.
“You’re unwell Sassenach, all ye need to do is rest. Let me take care of everything else”
Dashing down to the kitchen, he quickly returned with ibuprofen, a cold compress and a glass of water. When Claire had taken the pills, he placed the cool cloth over her forehead and smoothed the bedding around her once more.
“Would ye like me to call a doctor?”
“I am a doctor.” she bristled.
Jamie bit back a smile as she burrowed into the pillow like an angry cat. Leaning close, he stroked her hair.
“I’m gonna go see to the lad, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. Will ye promise me you’ll stay in bed and try and get some sleep?”
Claire sighed and nodded.
With a calmness that belied his concern, the Manny worked quickly to get Fergus dressed and ready for the day. Fortunately the boy didn’t seem to have any signs of illness himself, so after checking in on the patient - who was thankfully now sleeping - they left for school. An hour or so later the Scot returned to the house, having stopped at few places on the way to stock up on supplies. Claire hadn’t asked him to take care of her, in fact she was the kind of person who’d never ask - but there wasn’t a doubt in Jamie’s mind he would be there in her time of need.
Carrying a tray into the doctor’s room felt like stepping into a sauna. The cause soon became apparent; clutched in her hand was the remote control for the thermostat and despite the tropical temperature, she still shivered as she slept. Heart squeezing at the sight, Jamie set the tray down on the bedside table before carefully slipping the control from her grip, adjusting the settings then opening a window to get some fresh air circulating. Perching next to Claire on the bed he observed her carefully; lips chapped and brow furrowed, there were dark circles under her eyes as well as strands of sweat-dampened hair plastered to her temples. Normally radiating strength, it was strange to see her in such a position of vulnerability and the urge to protect her swelled large in Jamie’s chest. Has this been coming on for a while and I was too caught up in my own feelings to notice? Taking her small hand in his, he rubbed the back with his thumb, silently promising her that he’d do whatever it took to see her well.
An hour or so later, the Manny had just put the washing machine on when he heard Claire coughing and rushed back upstairs to check on her. She groaned when he entered the room, pulling the blankets over her head.
“Sassenach, are ye all right?”
“I’m fine; you can go”
A little confused, he sat down on the edge of the bed, gently squeezing her shoulder.
“I think we both know ye aren’t”
“It’s really not necessary for you to stay, I’m perfectly capable of handling things from here”
She sneezed loudly but stubbornly remained under the covers.
“What’s the matter? Is it so hard to believe I want to take care of ye?”
“I have a little bit of pride left, you know.”
Her voice, already muffled by the blankets, dropped even lower as she said quietly:
“I know it sounds vain, but I don’t want you to see me like this…”
She trailed off. The Manny, having already decided that Claire was the most stunning woman he’d ever seen, had not considered for a moment that anything could be altered by her having the flu. He realised now, however that she didn’t see it that way. Worming his hand beneath the duvet, he interlaced her fingers with his.
“I ken we were going to discuss things today; you being unwell doesn’t change me wanting to do that. But it can wait, I’m not going anywhere and I hope ye aren’t either?”
Claire gently squeezed Jamie’s hand, making his heart leap.
“And for the record, I think ye look beautiful”
“You’re a terrible liar”
“I’m not. Although if ye want to see someone looking truly awful when they’re sick I’ll have my Mam send some pictures of me when I had the mumps”
Claire’s rosy-cheeked face popped up from under the sheets, eyes narrowing.
“The mumps? Do you not have vaccinations in Scotland?”
“Aye, we do” Jamie said with a laugh. “But it’s still possible to get it and believe me, I looked hideous”
He puffed out his cheeks in an impression of himself with mumps, earning a laugh from the doctor.
“Now, will ye have some water? Please?”
He poured her a glass, smiling when she sighed gratefully as the cool liquid trickled down her throat. Claire’s eyes moved to the tray by the bed. On it were tissues, cough medicine, paracetamol, lip balm, throat lozenges, some chopped fruit, a teacup, thermos of hot water and a selection of teabags.
“What’s all this?”
Jamie blushed, worried he’d gone a bit overboard.
“Och, well I just wanted ye to have everything ye might need close to hand so ye wouldn’t have to get up unnecessarily…”
The doctor’s eyes watered and she sniffed loudly.
“You did that just for me?”
“Of course Sassenach, I’d do anything to help ye be well”
The Manny felt the tips of his ears grow warm from the smile Claire gave him. Not trusting himself not to blurt out something he oughtn’t to - like I love you - he stood up and took a pace back.
“I’ll leave ye to your rest and be back with some lunch a bit later. If ye need anything before then though, I’ll be right here”
“Thank you Jamie”
Looking more relaxed than she had all morning, Claire slid back under the covers, eyes already heavy lidded. Smiling at her her, the Scot tiptoed out of the room.
At midday he returned with a bowl of chicken soup - made according to his Mam’s recipe - which Claire was thankfully well enough to eat some of. Throughout the afternoon he pottered about the house, periodically popping upstairs to check on the doctor, refill her water jug or see if there was anything else he might do to make her more comfortable. What really struck him was how natural it all felt; like this was exactly where he was supposed to be. Was it just because he had feelings for his Sassenach? No, it was more than that. Throughout his career he’d spent a lot of time in other people’s houses, but never before had one felt as much like home as this one did. Fergus and Claire…they’d started to feel like family. The idea should have frightened him, instead it felt like the quiet acceptance of an incontrovertible truth. But there was such a long way between thoughts of that kind and where he was currently; how to bridge the gap? A little germ of an idea began to sprout, but he filed it away for now.
The afternoon and evening were relatively normal; picking Fergus up from school, kicking the football around together in the back garden, dinner then bath time. He’d explained to the lad that Claire was unwell and would be staying in bed and so at Fergus’ insistence they’d made ‘Get Well Soon’ cards, presenting them to Maman Claire just before bedtime. After Fergus was asleep, Jamie returned to check on his patient one last time before heading home. Sitting up in bed, she’d tied her hair in a messy bun and put on her her glasses as she annotated a large pile of case notes. He was about to tell her that she was too unwell to be doing work, but thought she might think him impertinent and held his tongue.
“I brought ye a mug of hot honey and lemon; with a dash of whisky too. Should help ye sleep”
“You’re spoiling me”
The Manny shrugged modestly as Claire accepted the mug and took a sip as though it contained the elixir of life.
“Fergus get to sleep ok?”
“Aye, out light a light”
“Thank you again for all the extra work you’ve done today; I really appreciate it”
Again the urge to tell her he loved her bubbled up inside him, threatening to spill over. It was as if in delaying their planned discussion of the events of Friday night, his feelings had distilled, becoming more potent by the minute. Not that he minded delaying that conversation, he’d have endured anything to see his Sassenach healthy and safe, but - he reflected forlornly - if he was more than Fergus’ nanny, he could be climbing into bed with her right now, rather than getting ready to go home alone to his cold flat. The sting of separation felt all the more acute today.
Looking at the doctor, he wondered if it would be appropriate to kiss her goodnight, at least on the cheek. As he watched her, she licked her lips, brow furrowed.
“I ah…I don’t suppose you’d like to stay for a little bit? We could watch a movie?”
Jamie stared at her dumbly, convinced he must have misheard.
“Oh god, no of course you wouldn’t; you’ve been here for more than twelve hours! Not to mention I look like death warmed up and sound like I’ve got a clothes peg on my nose!”
Claire’s words rushed out so quickly she began to cough from the effort. Blushing fiercely, she pulled the covers up over herself protectively, looking anywhere but at the Manny. Knowing the self-defensive body language meant she was unlikely to be listening properly if he spoke to to the contrary, Jamie let his actions do the talking for him. Walking around to the other side of the bed, he toed off his shoes and stretched out on the duvet, back against the headboard.
“What movie have ye chosen?”
Despite her pallor, when the doctor smiled, Jamie didn’t think she’d ever looked so lovely and were he not worried about cutting off her air supply (on account of her nose being blocked from her cold) he’d have wound his arms around her waist and kissed her. He settled instead for tapping his shoulder in invitation, rewarded with Claire’s contented sigh when she rested her head there.
“We’re watching National Lampoon’s European Vacation, have you seen it?”
“Only about a hundred times”
“That’s a relief, I’d hate to have to find Fergus a new nanny”
Giggling against his shoulder, she was asleep within minutes.
Relieved that Claire was getting some much needed rest but loathe to yet part from her, Jamie promised himself he’d leave as soon at the film finished. He’d of course grossly underestimated his own level of tiredness, the soft bed and darkened room doing nothing to help matters. Intending only to rest his eyes it wasn’t long before his head began to nod and he joined his lass in slumber.
Jerking awake, Jamie was momentarily confused about where he was; the press of Claire’s soft breasts against his chest soon reminded him. They’d both slipped down the bed while sleeping and his Sassenach - now tucked into his side - had a hand splayed possessively across his sternum. Were it not for the fact that they were both still dressed, he’d have sworn he had died and gone to heaven. A quick glance at his watch told him he should have gone home hours ago, so despite it going against every instinct he had, he began inching across the bed to leave. He’d barely moved when the doctor’s hand tightened on his shirt.
Voice roughened from sleep and illness, Jamie wondered if she was even fully awake.
“Sassenach, it’s 1:00am; I need to get going”
“Are ye sure?”
Humming her assent as she nestled closer, Claire’s breathing soon shifted into the cadence of deep sleep. Exhausted himself, it wasn’t hard for Jamie to rationalise that remaining where he was was the right thing to do; after all if Fergus should need anything during the night the doctor wasn’t really in a position to assist… Decision made, a sense of calmness washed over him. Sliding under the blankets, he wrapped himself around the doctor protectively, inhaling the scent of her hair. Perhaps it was the late hour or the fact that nothing of a sexual nature was on the cards, but lying with her in his arms there was a level of safety and comfort that he’d never felt with anyone else before.
The next time he woke, Claire was doubled over on the edge of the bed coughing, the husky sound interspersed with frustrated swearing. Blinking in the semi-darkness of the early morning, he flicked on the lamp before reaching over to rub slow circles on her back.
“Ye all right?”
“Fucking ‘flu! I can’t be sick, I need to get back to work!”
Nose beginning to run, she sniffed and swiped at it angrily.
“And I need to take care of Fergus, he’s my responsibility, I need him to know I’m not going to let him down”
“Lass it’s only been a day, ye need to give your body a chance to recover”
Big golden eyes stared at him, chin beginning to wobble.
“Fergus knows you’re there for him. And he and I both - we just want ye to get better”
The pure kindness in his voice was the straw that broke the camel’s back and Claire burst into tears. Without hesitation, Jamie pulled her into his arms; for a moment she tried to pull away, but at his gentle shushing, melted into his embrace.
“God, I’m such a mess”
“Ye aren’t a mess; you’re unwell. Maybe cut yourself a wee break, aye?”
For the next few minutes the Manny just held her, running a gentle hand though her hair as she wept. Tears finally abating he kept his arms around her; hoping it provided reassurance that everything would be ok. As he did so, something he’d been thinking about since the day before came into crystal clear focus.
“When’s the last time ye went on a holiday?”
Confused by the apparent non sequitur, the doctor pulled back. Grabbing a tissue, she dabbed at her eyes.
“Um…Joe and I went to a medical conference in Madrid last summer, does that count? Why do you ask?”
“I don’t wish to speak out of turn, but it’s pretty clear you’re burning yourself out. It’s Easter at the end of next week, what do ye think about getting away for a few days?”
“I appreciate what you’re saying, but I just don’t have time to be planning a trip. Besides, I’m sure anywhere worth going is booked up already; the last thing I want to do is take Fergus somewhere he wouldn’t enjoy himself.”
“My family has a holiday house in the Scottish Borders. We go every Easter, have done since before I was born. A big whitewashed stone cottage right on the water, ’tis a lovely place”
“Oh - you’d like time off? Of course, I’m sorry we haven’t even spoken yet about when you’d want to take holidays”
“Well yes, I would like some time off, but—”
Jamie nervously cleared his throat in anticipation of what he was about to propose.
“Will ye come with me; you and the lad?”
“On your family holiday? Good heavens no, we couldn’t possibly impose like that.”
Her answer was so quintessentially English that he couldn’t help but smile.
“Ye really wouldn’t be. It’ll just be my sister and her husband and their kids. Low key and a chance for you to relax. Jenny’s bairns are about Fergus’ age so he wouldn’t be short of company.”
Biting her bottom lip, he could see the cogs turning in Claire’s head.
“It does sound nice. Are you sure your family wouldn’t mind a couple of extras they haven’t met before?”
“Of course not, ye’d both be very welcome”
“What um…what would that mean for you and me? We still haven’t talked about Friday night and I do want to I— Ah-choo!”
Sneezing repeatedly, she then loudly blew her nose and sighed.
“Sassenach, perhaps we save that conversation ’til you’re feeling better? If you come to the beach we’ll have plenty of time and space to talk about anything we need to. Not with any agenda, but I’d really like to spend some time with ye, away from the pressures of work and the city. What do ye say?”
Cheeks blotchy and red from her tears, Claire tenderly cupped his face with her hands. The Manny held his breath, heart hammering in his chest.
“I don’t know what Fergus and I have done to deserve you Jamie, but I’m grateful every day that you came to us. I’d love to come to Scotland with you”
Had hoped to stick to a Saturday posting schedule so this is either early or super late...!
As mentioned, I am trying for rom-com vibes here so it'd be remiss of me to not include a 'sick and needs caring for' trope. I know it's not *the* discussion Jamie (& likely you the reader) were hoping for, but I hope you still enjoyed the development of the doctor & the manny's relationship. Either way, would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for reading, you brighten every day with your support.
Hope wherever you are in the world that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe xx
P.S. I have a mood board I post on tumblr as well as another pic each chapter to 'set the scene'. I've added them to the top of this chapter (& tried my best to get the sizing right so you don't have to scroll sideways on a phone!). What do you think? Would you like me to keep using the images? And should I go back and add them to the previous chapters? :-)
Chapter 11: The Train
Fergus, Claire and the Manny depart for their beach holiday.
A heavy sleeper, Dr Beauchamp didn’t hear her bedroom door open, nor the sound of footsteps scurrying across the carpet. A squeal of delight and the unknown assailant launched himself onto the bed, landing right on top of the unsuspecting Maman Claire.
“La plage, la plage! We’re going to the beach today!”
Fergus' enthusiasm was infectious and despite her breathing being restricted with her son sitting on her stomach, Claire’s laugh and happy smile matched his.
After Jamie had invited them to accompany him on his family’s Easter holiday to Coldingham Bay, it had emerged that the boy hadn’t been to the seaside before. Yet far from being wary of the unknown, he was beyond excited, and for the past fortnight had talked of little else.
“Will there be dolphins? Can I ride one?”
“Can I have ice cream? And fish and chips? And ice cream?”
“Do seagulls really poke people’s eyes out?”
No detail too small, every morning when the Manny arrived it seemed Fergus had more questions concerning the minutiae of the trip which were always answered with patience and a smile. The boy wasn’t the only one in the Beauchamp household all aflutter ahead of the upcoming trip; Claire’s mind had been racing too, although her thoughts were less about surfboards and more on where things stood with her and Jamie. Since their kiss there’d been a definite shift in the mood between them; nothing had been openly declared, but with each passing day simmering emotions moved undeniably closer to the surface. With every small touch or lingering look, it was all the more clear to Claire that she’d completely fallen for the Scot. Unsure if his feelings ran as deep as her own, she was reluctant to let her amorous imaginings run riot, but the care and kindness he’d shown when she was sick had allowed a little hope to sprout. They’d agreed to discuss what their kiss meant - and whether it meant anything more - while they were at the beach house; a plan that both thrilled and terrified her.
Fergus and Claire were meeting the Manny at Euston Station where they’d catch the train to Scotland together. The boy spotted him first, letting out a wild yell and sprinting along the platform towards him.
“We’re going to the beach today and I’m going to make a sandcastle as tall as you!”
“As tall as me? I hope ye packed a big bucket and spade!”
Smiling and laughing as he helped Fergus onto the train, the Manny looked relaxed and carefree. The boy aboard he turned to Claire, blue eyes sparkling in the morning sunshine. Hands settling gently on her hips, he kissed her cheek in greeting; making the doctor’s breath hitch.
“Ye look so bonnie today, don’t know how I’ll be able to keep my eyes off ye”
Unprepared for him to be so charming straight off the bat, Claire was completely tongue-tied. Mistaking her silence for disapproval, Jamie stepped back a pace.
“Sorry, was that too much? I didna mean to make ye uncomfortable”
Blushing as he ran his hands roughly through his hair, some of Claire’s own fears dissipated realising that Jamie was just as anxious as she was. With a reassuring smile she placed her palms on his chest.
“You never make me uncomfortable; quite the opposite actually”
The corners of his mouth turning upward, the Scot covered her hands with his own.
“The last thing I want is for this week to be weird for ye, so if I step over a line ye don’t wish to cross, you just tell me, ok? ”
Touched by his tenderness, Claire nodded and the two boarded the train.
Their seats were in a group of four with a small table across the middle; Fergus claimed one of the window seats, requesting Maman Claire take the other and for Jamie to sit by him. (“So you can tell me when we’re in Scotland, I don’t want to miss it!”). The trip would take almost six hours, so missing the border crossing was unlikely, but the Manny smiled and slid into the seat as asked. At ten o’clock the train pulled out of the station, the boroughs of London soon whizzing past at ever increasing speed. The three chatted excitedly about their upcoming destination, but after about half an hour Jamie grew quiet, a sheen of sweat beading across his brow. Initially waving off concerns about his wellbeing, when he began to turn green and sway in his seat the doctor stepped in.
“I have my medical kit with me; do I need to do an examination or are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
Sheepishly he admitted that he suffered from motion sickness, exacerbated by travelling in a backwards direction. Relived it wasn’t a trip-ending ailment, Claire opened opened a bottle of water for the Scot to sip and helped him move to the seat beside her, gently chiding him for not sitting in a front-facing one to begin with.
“I didna want to disappoint the lad” he whispered, voice weak.
Claire’s heart swelled at the admission and taking his hand, rubbed her thumbs across the back. Jamie’s eyes had been closed, but at her comforting touch a lid cracked open, a faint smile appearing on his lips.
“How do ye know this wasna my plan all along; fall deathly ill so ye’d take care of me?”
The doctor smirked at his attempted bravado.
“You’re a fool if it is. Now get some rest”
By lunchtime the Manny’s colour had returned and the three enjoyed a picnic Claire and Fergus had packed the night before. The boy was far too full of holiday excitement to sit down to a conventional meal and despite cajoling from both adults would only eat crisps and gummy bears. The injection of sugar however, was no match for rising extra early that morning and with the packet of sweets still clutched to his chest, the rocking motion of the train soon had him nodding off.
While Fergus slept, Jamie told Claire about his sister Jenny and brother-in-law Ian who’d be joining them at the beach with their three children. His parents, he explained, usually accompanied them but were in Italy this year celebrating their wedding anniversary. From the way he spoke of his family, the doctor could tell how close they all were, something that made her a little envious having no close relatives herself. Not for the first time, Dr Beauchamp wondered if she’d be enough for Fergus. She had the means to provide anything he needed materially, but did she have what it took to provide a loving homelife akin to what Jamie had so clearly experienced? Would Jenny and Ian see her trying to parent the boy and find her skills lacking? The opinion of two people she’d never met ordinarily wouldn’t have been of concern, but a niggling fear that their impressions could somehow impact Jamie’s view of her sat uncomfortably in her chest. Deciding now was not the time to ponder such serious topics, she pushed the thoughts aside, listening as the Scot explained what to expect when meeting his sister:
“Jen’s a brilliant organiser but she also loves to boss people about, so don’t be surprised if she ropes ye into some task before you’ve even had a chance to set your bags down”
“Well I’m always happy to help, although perhaps less so in the kitchen”
“Come now, ye haven burnt the toast in weeks!”
Raising his eyebrows mischievously, Jamie laughed as Claire shoved him, a smile on her face too.
“Tell me - did Jenny find it a bit odd that the people you work with are tagging along?”
“You and Fergus are a bit more than just the people I work with”
He squeezed Claire’s hand, making her skin tingle.
“Sorry, that didn’t come out how I meant, although surely you’d agree that this is a slightly unusual situation?”
“I don’t think so, we’ve always brought friends to the beach house; Ian used to come as a mate of mine long before he was Jenny’s husband. You’re my friend Claire and you and Fergus are both very special to me, it makes perfect sense that ye’re coming”
“And ah…do you normally bring along female friends and their children?”
The doctor smirked as the tips of Jamie’s ears turned the colour of a flamingo’s feathers. Without looking up he ran a fingertip over the ridge of knuckles on her left hand.
“I’m not in the habit of asking beautiful women and their kids to join me on my family holidays, but if ye know of any who’d like to see the Scottish coast, please feel free to give them my number”
“Oh it’s like that is it?”
Feigning offence, Claire pulled her hand back and began to turn towards the window, but the Manny was too quick; catching her wrist and pulling her toward him, chuckling all the while. Under Jamie’s unflinching gaze, a blush crept down her neck, becoming even more pronounced when he shuffled closer, leaning in until their faces were only separated by a couple of inches.
“Can I tell ye a secret? For ages I needed to ask you about leave for this trip, but I kept putting it off because I didn’t want to go without you.”
Eyes soft, he cupped her jaw with his large palm, thumb resting on the apple of her cheek.
“The night ye were unwell, ye woke just as I was leaving. You held your wee hand over my heart and asked me to stay... After that I thought maybe ye might be open to spending some more time together and that’s when I asked you. I’m so grateful you said yes, because if ye hadna come I’d have missed you terribly”
“I’d have missed you too”
Claire leant into his touch, the same desire she’d experienced at her front door the night they’d kissed washing over her. Since then she’d relived the moment many times, fantasising about the feel of Jamie’s soft mouth on hers and wondering if it’d ever be repeated. She shivered slightly realising that that time had finally come. Watching intently as his tongue darted out to moisten his lips, she moved to close the gap between them.
“Did I miss crossing into Scotland?”
At the sound of Fergus’ voice they hastily broke apart, blushing furiously. After an awkward moment of silence in which the lad repeated his question, what followed was like something out of a farce. Both speaking at once, it was a garbled mix of comments about the weather, distance travelled and names of random Scottish train stations. Clumsily Claire held up a map (it was upside down) and Jamie started pointing out the window and listing things they were passing; none of which was any help in the slightest. At length composing themselves enough to provide a proper answer - and reassuring Fergus that he hadn’t missed the border crossing, the doctor then set the boy up with a game on her iPad. Glancing over at Jamie, his lips were pursed together holding back a laugh. Smiling herself, she rolled her eyes in unspoken acknowledgement of their ridiculous response to almost getting caught.
“Rain check?” the Manny mouthed.
Claire shrugged and smiled coquettishly, sniggering when Jamie narrowed his eyes and smirked in response. Under the table however, she found the Scot’s hand and interlaced their fingers, feeling a surge of happiness when he squeezed back. Their hands remained joined for the rest of the journey.
The wheels really fell off these last few weeks and it was like I forgot how to write or something? Questioning every word and rewriting everything five times or more was painful and I'm sorry it has been so long between updates. Thanks for sticking around xx
Chapter 12: Coldingham Bay
The trio finally arrive at the Manny's holiday house and meet his family.
It was mid-afternoon when the train pulled into the small station at Coldingham Bay. Stepping onto the platform the trio were greeted by the sound of squawking gulls and the smell of salt in the air; two unmistakable signs they had arrived at the beach.
“Mais où est le sable?”
Brow furrowed Fergus scoured the platform, thoroughly confused as to why it wasn’t covered in sand. With a smile Jamie carefully explained that the train would get stuck if they built the station right on the shoreline, but not to fret as they were only minutes away from seeing it. With a sigh of relief, the lad then hopped about impatiently as the two adults gathered the luggage. From the other end of the platform a bearded man and two small girls approached, waving madly; Claire surmised this must be Ian and his girls Caitlin and Kitty.
The youngsters ambushed the Manny who crouched down and hugged them both at once. Beaming, they burst into a stream of rapid Gaelic, which he responded to in kind; laughing as they related an anecdote involving a lot of arm waving and twirling. The doctor hadn’t even realised Jamie spoke the language, a blunt reminder that despite their familiarity there was clearly a lot of things she didn’t yet know about him. Would there be many such moments this week? Switching to English, Jamie turned the girls to face his companions:
“Ladies, I’d like ye to meet a couple of very special people; this is my… this is Claire and her son Fergus”
The lad, who had been hanging back a little, gave a small wave and the doctor held her breath; if the kids didn’t get along it’d make for a very uncomfortable week. Her fears were thankfully unfounded with the girls rushing over to introduce themselves and firing a dozen questions at an excited looking Fergus. While they chatted away Ian walked over and proffered a hand.
“So nice to meet ye at last, Our Jamie has hardly shut up about ye in mon—OOF!”
A swift elbow to the ribs interrupted Ian’s greeting, but wasn’t enough to wipe the smirk from his face. Claire chuckled as the Manny shot his brother-in-law a warning look.
“Its lovely to meet you too; thank you for sharing your holiday with us”
“Pleasure’s all mine; will be interesting to hear what my best friend’s like when he’s down in London trying to pass himself off as a posh lad”
With a broad grin, he ruffled Jamie’s hair, laughing at his brother-in-law’s clear embarrassment as everyone made their way to the car. Claire decided that she liked Ian already.
The Manny had spoken at length about the Fraser family holiday home, a wistful smile appearing on his face as he described the cottage and its surrounds. The second Dr Beauchamp saw it, she understood why. Whitewashed stone walls capped with a black slate roof, chimneys dotted along the roofline and a bright blue front door; it was the kind of house that made you want to pick up a paintbrush even if you hadn’t an artistic bone in your body. The garden was well maintained but had a natural, almost rugged feel to it with bright flowers and leafy trees thriving in the springtime sun. Directly behind the house was the expanse of the bay; a glittery blue-green hue with gentle waves lapping at the shore. Claire didn’t think she’d ever been so instantly enamoured with a place.
Before they reached the front door it was flung open and out bounded the youngest Murray; five-year-old Henry, immediately followed by his mother. Jamie had often mentioned how alike he and his sister were in disposition and Claire had assumed that this similarity extended to their appearance, too. It was somewhat of a surprise therefore to see that instead of a being a tall red-head, Jenny was short - just over five feet at a pinch - with jet black hair, and were it not for the same deep blue eyes and long straight nose, Dr Beauchamp could have easily been convinced they weren’t related at all.
With a welcoming, albeit slightly wary smile, Jenny Fraser-Murray stepped forward and Jamie began the introductions. When greeting Ian there had been a casual friendliness that’d put Claire immediately at ease, but the Manny was far more formal with his sister, introducing Dr Beauchamp as though she were royalty. After reverently annunciating each syllable of her name he began to list her individual academic qualifications, leaving Claire to assume he must have been memorising the diplomas that hung on the wall of her study. With the pride of a child who’d brought a prized toy to school for show-and-tell, Jamie continued on and on.
“…easily the best doctor in all of London, exceptionally talented and highly skilled, the waiting list at her practice is months long…”
Claire’s cheeks coloured at the effusive - and unnecessary - praise. She caught a faint smirk on Jenny’s lips and cringed wondering if it’d be assumed that she’d put Jamie up to this.
“…and did I mention she’s studying French too? She’s a complete natural and a has flawless accent, such a quick learner….”
“I’m sure your sister isn’t interested in a recitation of my resumé, Jamie…”
The Scot seemed surprised that anyone would take issue with such an introduction but thankfully paused the embarrassing testimonial. Eyes sparkling with mirth, Jenny turned from her brother to Claire.
“I hope ye’ll like our wee cottage; I know the kids are excited to have a new playmate for the week”
“Thank you so much for having us, Jamie’s talked so fondly of all the family holidays he’s spent here”
On the surface Jenny seemed comfortable with their arrival, but Dr Beauchamp had the distinct impression that beneath the calm exterior she was being heavily scrutinised. With no way to tell what the result of the appraisal had been, she smiled politely and the group made their way inside the house.
Upstairs were four bedrooms, one of which was a designated kids’ room, outfitted with two sets of bunks with brightly coloured bedspreads. Fergus had never slept on bunks before and smiling excitedly scurried up the ladder like a monkey.
“Will you be all right sleeping up so high, darling?”
“Oui Maman Claire. Look! I can touch the ceiling from my bed!”
The Murray children, who’d accompanied them then began the most important part of the room tour: pulling open every drawer and cupboard to show Fergus all their toys and books. Leaving the kids to their shrieks and giggles, Jamie led Claire further down the corridor to what would be her room for their stay. When he’d first suggested the beachside holiday, she’d had a fleeting thought that they’d be sharing a room. Since then the Manny hadn’t so much as hinted at it being a possibility so she’d dismissed the idea; embarrassed at assuming he’d want to move things in that direction already when heretofore all they’d shared was one drunken kiss and a night in the same bed when she’d been coughing and spluttering like an old engine.
The bedroom - like everything else Claire had seen so far in the cottage - was gorgeous. Light and airy, it was decorated in natural colours with simple but elegant teak wood furniture. The main drawcard though were large windows overlooking the bay, currently propped half way open to admit a soft ocean breeze. The Manny’s enquiries as to whether the room would be adequate were met with a wry smile, how could such a place not be perfect? To Dr Beauchamp’s surprise, he seemed genuinely relieved.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t like it?”
“Well, no; it’s just that this place’s always been a home away from home for me. I wanted ye to like it because I hoped… ye might be able to feel the same way?”
“Planning on inviting us back already are you?”
Jamie’s eyes gleamed in the afternoon sun as he moved closer.
“I’d have ye back here in a minute if that was what ye wanted”
The same heat that Claire had felt on their journey to Scotland bloomed again; exacerbated further when Jamie’s hands settled on her hips. Without thought her palms slid up his chest, fingers splaying possessively. The corners of his mouth curving upwards, he dipped his head until it was level with hers.
“After what happened on the train, I thought about asking ye for a goodnight kiss, but I’m not sure I can wait that long”
Claire’s heart hammered with such ferocity she was convinced it was trying to escape her thoracic cavity. Whilst aware that any number of people could walk in on them and demand answers to something she herself wasn’t even yet clear on, her attraction to the Manny was on the brink of boiling over. They’d been dancing around each other for weeks and his grip on her waist tightening was doing nothing to help matters. It seemed he was similarly conflicted.
“Should we wait? Talk first and decide where things are going? I dinna want ye to do something ye’re not ready for”
Whilst the doctor appreciated his thoughtfulness, Jamie’s soft breath on her face was making her dizzy with want. A conversation about the extent of their feelings could take hours, time they didn’t have in their present position.
“There’s no rule that says what order anything has to be done in, is there?”
“Sound logic mo nighean donn”
Pausing only long enough to wet his lips, the Scot covered Claire’s mouth with his own. Gentle and undemanding, as his tongue caressed hers she sagged against the wall behind, weakened from the relief of finally kissing him again. In the back of her mind there’d been a small fear that she’d misremembered their first kiss as something more than it was, so it was all the more pleasurable to discover that the wine she’d drunk that night had only lessened the memory of how electrifying it was. Hands fisting his shirt and pulling him closer, the doctor deepened their kiss, smiling against Jamie’s mouth as he responded enthusiastically.
When they did pull back, both were a little out of breath and Claire stared up at the Manny dazedly. People didn’t typically keep a record of second kisses, but she decided that if they did, that one would most definitely top the list.
The doctor bit back a smile, not quite sure if he was enquiring about her wellbeing or requesting an evaluation of the kiss itself. The sincere expression he wore though, made her all the more attracted to him and nodding, slid her arms around his neck. Their bodies still pressed tightly together, Jamie tenderly ran his fingertips along her jaw before angling his head and leaning in for another kiss. Claire sighed - a mix of contentment and desire, but the moment before their lips met the Scot’s eyes widened and he jumped back. Confused, she was about to ask what what going on when the half-closed bedroom door swung open and Ian entered.
“There ye are! Did ye not here me calling from downstairs?”
Red-faced, the Manny stalked about the room, straightening objects that were already perfectly positioned.
“No, it’s ah…very noisy up here with the windows open. Hard to hear over the sound of the waves”
Ian eyed the small swells breaking quietly on the sand, smirking as Jamie and Claire furtively glanced around at everything but each other.
“Anyway, we’re all going for a stroll before dinner; do ye want to come?”
A walk turned out to be just the thing needed to burn off all the excess energy they’d built up sitting on the train. The early evening air was crisp and invigorating and Fergus ran up and down the beach marvelling at everything from clumps of seaweed to pieces of driftwood that’d washed up on the shore. Claire loved seeing him so joyful and shared in his excitement with each new discovery. In addition, Kitty, Henry and Caitlin had appointed themselves offical Coldingham Bay tour guides; only too willing to showcase all the important places of interest to their guests.
“This is where the water comes up to when the tide is in”
“This is where seagulls ate Henry’s lunch yesterday”
“This is the boat ramp where our Da fell over and chipped his front tooth last year”
Fergus nodded solemnly as though he’d just visited a historic battlefield. The tour apparently concluded, seconds later he and the other kids broke into raucous laugher and chased waves along the sand. Watching their burgeoning friendship, the doctor smiled and looking over at Jamie saw a softness in his expression that made her heart flutter. There hadn’t been time to discuss what’d happened between them earlier, but for now she was content to just amble along the beach with their new friends and the two people she cared about most.
Thank you so much for all the lovely comments you left on chapter 11, I'm very sorry that I'm yet to reply to any - I have read and appreciated each and every one; it's such a privilege to hear what you think!
Thank you for reading, I won't say Merry Christmas just yet as I'm hoping to fit in another chapter before then...?!
Take care xx
Chapter 13: Swimming
Jamie's plan to go with the flow hits a few snags.
Ever since he was a child, whenever Jamie stayed at the Fraser beach house he’d enjoyed a deep and peaceful night’s sleep. The sound of the waves would lull him into slumber and he’d awake the next day rested and refreshed. Unfortunately all that had gone out the window with the arrival of a certain golden-eyed doctor. Despite being bone-tired, the Manny had tossed and turned well into the early hours; the knowledge that Claire was mere feet away making sleep all but impossible. He had no idea what she’d worn to bed, but as he lay alone in the darkness he pictured her naked, silky hair splayed on the pillow and long limbs stretched languidly across the white linen sheets. Arousal coursed through his veins at the image and he grew hard recalling the softness of her breasts pressing against him when they’d kissed that afternoon. The way she’d moaned into his mouth while her hands greedily pulled him closer. Without conscious thought Jamie wrapped a hand around his cock; eyes screwing closed as he imagined it was Claire touching him, claiming him. It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d sought release when thoughts of her became too much, but somehow it felt wrong with her sleeping in the next room. With a frustrated sigh he climbed out of bed and threw open the window. Staring into the black night he took big gulps of the salty air, willing it to calm his restless mind and body. It was no use, his Sassenach was near and the need to be with her felt more acute than ever.
When the first rays of dawn began to inch over the horizon the Manny gave up on trying to sleep, slipping silently out of the cottage and onto the beach. Deciding to forgo a wetsuit, he ran straight into the water and dived under the choppy waves. The chilly immersion was a definite shock to the system, but he pushed on and with long powerful strokes swam past the breaks through to the relative calmness beyond. Floating on his back, he stared up at the cloudless sky and attempted to order his thoughts. Sleepless nights going out of his mind with lust were obviously not a viable option, but declaring his love for Claire and inviting her into his bed sounded liked the plan of a libidinous teenager, not a man of almost thirty. Recalling the mess he’d made of things with the stupid lie about nightclubbing, it was vital she knew he wasn’t just looking for a quick shag. He dunked his head under the water, cringing at the idea of his Sassenach thinking he’d only asked her to the bay as part of some scheme to seduce her. But wasn’t that partly true? Perhaps, but not entirely, what he really wanted - more than anything else - was the opportunity to build a future with her. To show her how well he could love her - and Fergus - and that they could be a family. Surely that wasn’t too ambitious for a one week holiday? He smiled to himself and started kicking back towards the shore.
A towel around his shoulders, Jamie padded across the soft sand, mind already fixed on jumping into a hot shower and reviving his numbed extremities. Walking through the kitchen he was intercepted by his brother-in-law, who was up preparing breakfast. The Manny hadn’t had a moment alone with Ian since he’d walked in on him and Claire the day before and therefore knew it’d be impossible to pass without at least a few questions.
“Well well well, if it isn’t Romeo Fraser”
“Working on that one all night were ye?”
Ian laughed and filled the kettle while Jamie moved to stand by the Aga to warm up.
“Things seem to be going well with yer doctor”
“She isn’t exactly mine yet.”
“Could’ve fooled me; interrupted you playing cards yesterday, did I?”
The Manny shot him an unamused look.
“No, but things are still a bit…up in the air.”
“She agreed to come away with ye for a week - and bring her lad - so ye must be doing something right”
Jamie shrugged noncommittally, worried he’d jinx the situation by gushing about developments with his Sassenach before anything had been properly decided between them. Taking the mug Ian offered, he carefully added a teaspoon of sugar and stirred it in slowly.
“You haven’t said anything to Jen, have ye?”
“Of course not, although I dare say she’s picked up on something; hard to miss the giant grin plastered on ye face whenever Claire’s around”
The same smile appeared again as Jamie stared out the window wistfully.
“I canna help it, every time I look at her my heart feels like it’s about to burst…”
Expression turning serious, he took a swig of tea before setting down his mug rather forcefully.
“But I’ll not have my sister poking her nose into things that she’s no business with. Ye ken what she’s like when she thinks something’s being kept from her; she’ll haul Claire over the coals and scare her off before anything’s even happened”
Ian chuckled at the Manny’s impassioned speech.
“Your secret’s safe with me, mate”
Inspired by Jamie’s early morning endeavours, a mid-morning trip to the beach was arranged. A fine place for aquatic adventures in summer, Coldingham Bay wasn’t nearly so pleasant in April, requiring a wetsuit for all but the bravest swimmers. Clad in black neoprene the group waddled onto the sand like a raft of penguins; Claire and Fergus wearing spare suits the Fraser’s kept for guests. Comfortable in the water, with much shrieking the girls rushed in with Ian, followed by Jenny who carried a wriggling Henry in her arms. Conscious that it was Fergus’ first time in the sea, the Manny held his hand and hung back a little, helping to build the lad’s confidence by teaching him to leap over the ankle-deep waves first.
“Maman Claire, look I’m swimming!”
Beaming at them both, the doctor waded over and Jamie’s stomach flip-flopped. She looked ever so bonny in her skintight wetsuit and he had to remind himself not to openly ogle her lithe form. Oblivious to his lecherous thoughts, Claire continued to focus on Fergus.
“That’s amazing darling! Can you show me?”
The lad - only too proud to show off his newly acquired skills - jumped and splashed with glee as the tiny waves broke around him. Claire joined in and soon the two were heading into the deeper water. When the bigger swells came she held Fergus by his middle and lifted him up above the foam, giggling as he kicked wildly and spray flew through the air. Instead of joining in the Manny stood rooted to the spot, completely transfixed by the sight before him. In the bright sunshine Claire and Fergus’ chocolate brown curls gleamed. How had he not noticed how strikingly alike their hair was before? There was no reason for it to be, but on further reflection, that wasn’t their only similarity; their mannerisms seemed to mirror one another, too. Comfortable and at ease larking about together, they looked a million miles from the scowling pair covered in jam that he’d first met. The truth of it struck him right in the heart: they had become mother and son.
Icy cold water hit the Manny square in the face, temporarily blinding him. He wiped his eyes to see the doctor and Fergus doubled over laughing.
“What was that for ye wee fiends?”
“You looked like you’d gone to sleep, so we decided to wake you up!”
“Oh ye did, did ye? Well ye’re both gonna pay for that!”
With a comical roar he lunged forward, madly splashing water at them. Shrieking, they tried to run, but only made it a couple of steps before an unusually large wave broke behind them, giving the Scot the advantage. Long limbs swooshing like a octopus’ tentacles he wrapped his arms around their waists and spun around several times before flopping unceremoniously backwards into the surf, submerging them all. Gulps of air were punctuated with loud guffaws as they all flailed about. Eventually righting themselves, Fergus and Claire shook the excess water from their hair, which had the Manny in peals of laughter.
“What’s so funny?”
“You look like a pair of drowned poodles!”
“How dare you!”
In mock outrage, Claire rushed forwards, knocking Jamie off his feet and onto the ocean floor with a thud. Finding the whole encounter highly entertaining, Fergus loudly clapped and cheered - much to the Manny’s chagrin - before demanding to see him “Fall over like an elephant” again. Laughter finally subsiding, with a glint in her eye the doctor proposed a truce and held out a hand to help Jamie to his feet. He accepted, although was extremely reluctant to let go; entwining their fingers and tugging her closer.
“I had no idea ye had such fierce tackling skills Sassenach”
“Better behave yourself then, I’d hate to have to use them on you again”
Claire raised her eyebrows and bit her bottom lip, leaving Manny sure his legs were about to give way. Brushing his mouth over the shell of her ear, he was about to reply with something equally as suggestive when he noticed Jenny narrowing her eyes at them. Not about to give her ammunition with which to interrogate either of them he quickly removed the arm he’d snaked around the doctor’s waist and swam over to Fergus instead. It pained him to do it, but for the rest of their time in the bay he gave Claire a wide berth, conscious that his sister was watching closely.
Returning to the house for lunch, the first priority was to get the kids showered and into dry clothes. The task complete, Jenny set up a movie in the living room so the adults could do the same. Ian took the upstairs bathroom and Jamie, ever the gentleman, insisted Claire take the downstairs one while he went into the back garden to hose down the wetsuits. Half way though the task his sister emerged from the kitchen door, carrying a pile of wet beach towels for the washing line.
“Who’s watching the weans?”
“I’ve put on Frozen; none of them will be moving for the next 109 minutes” she replied with a wry smile as she began hanging the towels.
“So…you and Claire seem quite friendly”
“Well, she is a good friend”
“Cute; ye know what I mean”
“I’m sure I don’t Janet.”
“Ye’re honestly telling me there’s nothing else going on?”
“Hard as it may be for you to fathom, it is possible for men and women to be friends without there being anything in it.”
“Aye I’m sure, but I verra much doubt that's the case here. Your attractive boss just had a sudden urge to visit a wee beachside town in Scotland did she?”
“Claire's hardly my type. To tell ye the truth, I felt a bit sorry for her. She wasn’t able to book anything for the Easter school holidays and as we had the spare beds I suggested they come here. I was just trying to be nice, that’s all”
He was saved from any further inquisition by the arrival of Ian who’d now showered and changed, leaving the upstairs bathroom free for Jamie to use. With a pointed look he left his sister to her task.
Clomping up the stairs, irritation slithered across his skin. Was it too much to ask that his sister keep her neb out of his affairs? Apparently yes. He was desperate to try and woo his beautiful doctor, a task made all the more complicated with Jenny breathing down his neck. With things so precariously balanced, he’d just have to be extra careful so she’d have nothing further to accost him about.
In the bathroom the Manny stripped off and was reaching for the taps in the shower when from behind came a shriek immediately followed by a bang. Alarmed, he whirled around to see a beetroot-faced Claire; the contents of her toiletries bag strewn across the bathroom floor. Mouth agape, her wide eyes swept over him, causing a flush of adrenaline to tingle through his body.
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry!”
Dropping to her hands and knees she frantically tried to collect her items; Jamie moved to help before remembering that he wasn’t wearing a stitch. Turning the exact same shade of red as Claire, he fumbled for something to cover his nakedness, grabbing a bathmat (too small), the shower curtain (too see-thorough) and finally a towel. The doctor meanwhile was muttering to herself as she chased a tube of mascara that rolled across the tiles.
“…didn’t know anyone was in here…going to dry my hair….shit, shit, shit…”
The retrieval of her items becoming more haphazard, she eventually gave up and stood.
“I’ll come back later to sort this out. I’m sorry Jamie”
Shoulders sloping and gaze downcast, she turned to leave. Embarrassment forgotten, Jamie reached out an arm to stop her; knowing instinctively that the sadness in her eyes had to be due to more than accidentally interrupting his shower.
“Ye know as long as ye liked what ye saw I dinna mind ye walking in on me…”
His attempt at a joke fell flat, with Claire crossing her arms over her chest defensively and staring resolutely at the floor. Anxiety sat in the pit of his stomach like a stone; what had happened to upset her? Slowly so as not to startle her, he reached out a hand and interlaced their fingers.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Can ye tell me?”
Sighing she untangled their hands, but thankfully didn’t make any further move towards the door.
“Are you ashamed about the idea of something happening between us?”
“What? No, never! I count my lucky stars that a brilliant woman like you even gives me the time of day. Why would ye ever think I’d be ashamed of ye?”
“I overheard what you said to Jenny… Jamie if you’ve changed your mind about things, just tell me. Please don’t make me embarrass myself all week if this…” She paused, her mouth in a tight thin line. “If this is only one sided”
The Manny recalled with horror that the downstairs bathroom window opened directly onto the back garden. Shit. Words of apology rushed from his lips and Claire nodded politely, but he could see she wasn’t wholly convinced. And why would she be? It wasn’t even the first time he’d managed to make a royal mess of things by saying words he didn’t mean. Mercifully she agreed to let him try and explain. Pushing the bathroom door closed, he locked it for good measure; one interruption that week was already enough.
“My sister has a habit of inserting herself into other people’s affairs and offering opinions whether or not they’re asked for. I said what I did because I want her to back off; it’s none of her concern what we are to each other. The real reason I wanted you to come - what I told you when I asked ye - is that I’d like to get to know you better.”
“I know you did, I just…I was worried I’d been misreading things. And the thought of you inviting us here out of pity…it really stung”
The Manny’s heart sank. He’d been trying to avoid pressuring Claire and keep her away from Jenny’s prying eyes, but all he’d succeeded in doing was to create hurt, frustration and misunderstanding. He needed a different approach. Taking a deep breath, he looked the doctor square in the eyes and tried again.
“That voicemail message ye left me — I’ve listened to it so many times I know it by heart. Ever since then I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to materialise when we could discuss that night together, but I realise now that the longer we leave it, the more chance there is that I’ll do something foolish enough to make ye not want to have that conversation at all.”
Placing his hands on her shoulders, he rubbed his thumbs along the ridge of her collar bones.
“I really like ye Sassenach; being around you, talking to you, kissing you - everything. And I hope it’s not presuming too much to say ye like me a bit too? What do ye think about finding some time alone to talk about what that might mean?”
Jamie’s pulse hammered in his throat as he waited for her response. Had he made the right call? To his immense relief the corners of Claire’s mouth turned upwards and as she gazed at him though dark lashes, cheeks slightly flushed, he didn’t think she’d ever looked more beautiful.
“I’d like that; it's about time we got on the same page. Not that clandestine meetings in bathrooms aren’t a great way to spend an afternoon”
Tension replaced with the familiar crackle of attraction that he felt whenever his Sassenach was near, the Manny smiled, threading his fingers through her damp hair.
“What about tonight, after the bairns have gone to bed? We could take a walk on the beach?”
Despite optimistically hoping Claire would stay and share his shower, with things now settled between them, Jamie had expected she’d leave. It was much to his delight therefore, that instead of reaching for the door, she slid her hands up his abdomen and fanned them out across his chest. It was the first time he’d felt her touch on his bare skin and it was heavenly. Immediately he craved more. Silky fingers sweeping across his hardened nipples he shuddered, breaking out in gooseflesh.
“Sorry, my hands are always freezing”
Blushing, she began to pull back, but unwilling to be deprived of such an arousing touch, the Manny held her palms in place with his own.
“It isna from the cold, lass”
With a coy smile she pressed her mouth his and needing no further encouragement, Jamie encircled her waist with his arms, pulling her flush against him as he kissed her back. Perhaps it was the freedom of being behind a locked door or the relief at having fixed a time to discuss what was in their hearts, but the kiss felt different to any he’d experienced with his Sassenach before. There was a boldness to her, a hint of taking what she wanted and he knew straight away that he’d always let her. Softly moaning as she tugged at his hair, Jamie was completely undone. Dare he hope that this was more than lust for Claire? Tonight he would finally find out.
A very belated Merry Christmas (if you celebrate) and Happy New Year! 2021 isn't off to the best of starts so once again I hope that this can be a little distraction from real life and a vicarious trip to the beach!
This chapter was *supposed* to be done before Christmas, but I couldn't stop tinkering with it. At this risk of this continuing forever, I've got it to a point I'm happy with for now - hope you like it too! Always keen to hear your thoughts, it's so lovely discussing it with you in the comments so if you feel inclined to leave one I'll absolutely reply.
Thank you so much for reading, have a lovely weekend and take care xx
Chapter 14: Card Night
Jamie and Claire are ready to leave for their beach walk...too bad Jenny has other plans for them.
Twisting in front of the bedroom mirror, Dr Beauchamp attempted to tame her curls. The salty air had seemingly given them a life of their own and she hoped with a little product she could coax them into looking more mermaid and less sea monster. Moments earlier, she and Jamie had put a sleepy Fergus to bed and after a story and a goodnight kiss for the lad, had agreed to meet downstairs fifteen minutes later to head off on their walk along the beach. Claire’s heart fluttered thinking of it, both with nerves and excitement. This conversation had been a long time coming and even though there was a chance they were on completely different pages, she was eager to progress things all the same. Applying a dusting of highlighter to her cheekbones, a flick of mascara to her lashes and a spritz of perfume to her pulse points, she felt ready to see where the night would lead.
In the kitchen Jamie leant against the wooden worktop, gazing through the large window out to the bay beyond. The last rays of sunlight hit his red hair making it gleam and Claire’s breath caught in her throat. Since meeting him, it had felt like puzzle pieces she hadn’t even realised were missing finally slotting into place; she prayed that whatever happened tonight wouldn’t threaten the happiness that knowing him had brought so far; she and Fergus needed him too much. The Manny turned and with an intrigued smile sniffed the air.
“Ye smell amazing. Like a field of fresh spring lilacs”
Blushing at the compliment, Claire noticed she wasn’t the only one who’d spruced up for their outing. Gone was Jamie’s black tee, replaced with a sky blue buttoned shirt, its sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Eyeing the way the soft cotton hugged his frame, her fingers tingled with the urge to touch him.
“This is very suave; I feel a bit underdressed in jeans”
“You’d look gorgeous in a hessian sack a nighean. As for me, I can’t be meeting a pretty lass for a moonlit stroll with spaghetti sauce all down my front can I?”
“Pretty lass you say— Anyone I know?”
With a smirk he encircled Claire’s waist with his arms, tugging her closer. At such proximity, she couldn’t resist any longer; sliding her hands up his chest and linking them behind his neck. Sighing quietly, she stood still a moment, revelling in the feeling of being held by him.
“Are you ready to go?”
“Almost. There’s one thing I’ve got to take care of first”
He quirked a smile before briefly moistening his lips and pressing his mouth to Claire’s. Tongue gently moving against hers, their kiss was unhurried and infused with tenderness. So different from their fiery encounter that afternoon in the bathroom, this felt much more intimate, hinting at motivations beyond mere lust.
“Ok, now I’m ready.”
Smiling and rolling her eyes, the doctor turned towards the back door. Barely advancing more than a step a voice from behind stopped her with a jolt.
“God almighty, I didna think the bairns would ever fall asleep! Right then, who’s for a drink, or five?”
Jenny Murray bustled into the kitchen with a look of triumph that only a parent who’d wrangled boisterous children into bed without drawing blood could wear.
“Well actually Jen, we were just going to—”
“Say goodnight? I dinna think so; it’s only half eight. C’mon, Ian’s setting up in the living room”
“Setting what up?”
“The cards of course! Wouldn’t be an Easter holiday without our traditional poker night. Now where did I put that cork screw?”
With an enthusiastic grin she began rummaging through the second drawer, chattering away about previous Fraser family card nights. Claire’s heart sunk; not adverse to spending time with Jenny and Ian, she’d been so keyed up about finally discussing things with Jamie that the abrupt change of plans was jarring. Glancing over at the Manny, his eyes were full of apology, the frustration at his sister’s entrance written all over his face. She discreetly squeezed his hand in reassurance. Having found the cork screw, Jenny breezed out carrying two bottles of shiraz, commanding them as she went to bring the wine glasses.
“I’m so sorry, Sassenach, I should’ve thought of an excuse. Honestly, of all the nights for Jen to insist on family bonding time!”
Claire smiled, somehow knowing he felt the same way made it easier to manage the disappointment of their conversation being postponed.
“It’s fine Jamie, I’m sure it won’t be our only opportunity to talk. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I certainly hope not!”
Retrieving the glasses from the cupboard he then mumbled to himself “…finally get ye all to myself and my clot-head of a sister had to stick her beak in…”
Owing to a relatively mild evening the living room windows were pushed open, crashing waves providing a natural soundtrack to proceedings. The table had been placed in the middle of the room with the Murrays seated on one side and Jamie and Claire opposite. The cork in the first bottle soon pulled, the Manny filled everyone’s glasses while Jenny distributed the poker chips. Ian - it turned out - was a bit of a card shark, easily winning most of the games; much to his satisfaction and the Fraser siblings’ irritation. Claire directly attributed her own poor performance to Jamie’s ability to divine whether she had a good hand from a mere glance at her face; any of her attempts at bluffing met with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye. The way his gaze continued to linger afterwards though didn’t seem at all related to cards.
“So Claire, tell us everything! My brother’s been annoyingly tight lipped on the juicy details!”
A wave of panic swelled as she wondered what Jenny was referring to; surely not her relationship with Jamie?
“I meant about being a plastic surgeon; it sounds awfully glamorous. Does it cost a lot? Do you do celebrities? Oooh can ye tell us which ones ye’ve done work on?”
“Oi! She isna here to give a TED Talk, Janet!”
“I ken that James, but as we’ve heard your same old stories a hundred times over, I thought it’d be nice to learn about something new!”
Relieved to be on familiar ground - and to not have to divulge information about the status of things with Jamie - Claire was actually quite happy to answer Jenny’s questions. Due to doctor/patient confidentiality she couldn’t name names from her own practice, but with her surgeon’s eye she was easily able to speculate on the work done on quite a number of rich and famous people. The others found this both intriguing and hilarious and she felt good discussing the ins and outs of her work in such a lighthearted manner. Belatedly she realised it had been Jenny’s way of drawing her out of her shell without it feeling like an inquisition and not for the first time she wondered how getting someone’s measure seemed to be such an innate skill for the Frasers.
Conversation and wine flowing freely, Claire was welcomed into the fold; melting her earlier apprehensions about intruding on a family holiday. Spending time with the people most important to Jamie brought an unexpected feeling of contentment and she found herself smiling and laughing more than she had in a long time. Never having had close kin it was so easy to want the cosy familiarity that existed between the Fraser-Murrays and the normally stoic Dr Beauchamp felt a pang of longing. Was it too much to hope that one day she would be sitting at that same table as more than just Jamie’s employer?
Pulling herself from such serious thoughts, she looked up to see the Manny once again staring at her intently. Across from them Jenny and Ian began to loudly bicker, the former throwing out an accusation of card counting and the latter protesting that they had no such skill. Taking advantage of their distraction, Jamie shifted towards Claire. Ostensibly it was to sneak a look at her cards, but in reality it provided the perfect cover for his lips to lightly brush the shell of her ear. Voice husky, he whispered;
“Ye look so fucking beautiful tonight”
Biting her lip, she basked in the warmth and intimacy of his breath on her neck. Meanwhile, under the table his large palm skimmed across her leg, coming to rest just above her knee. Gazes locking, she traced a pattern along his forearm with her fingertips and smiled coquettishly when he shivered in response. Jamie had always been open with her in London, but there’d been a marked shift since their arrival in Scotland. Claire daren’t dream that it meant his feelings ran as deep as her own, but whatever they were, she was dying to find out. Tension simmering between them, it felt like the perfect time to call it a night and retreat to the privacy of one of their bedrooms to explore things further. Unfortunately Jenny had other ideas. Tired of her husband’s winning streak, she announced an end to the poker, switching to the much simpler crazy-eights.
“And I think we’ve all had enough of the shiraz, time to move onto the Laphroaig!”
The whisky went down even easier than the wine, and as they all got a little tipsier the card game was frequently forgotten as a giggling Jenny and Ian told stories of cringeworthy moments from Jamie’s childhood. If his face reddened at his family’s ribbing, it didn’t deter his actions under the table. An ankle hooked around Claire’s chair leg pulled her close, allowing his roving hand perfect access to her thighs, which he caressed and squeezed with ever-increasing brazenness. The doctor tried her best to keep her focus on what everyone was saying, but burning up under Jamie’s touch, she couldn’t help but wish she’d worn a skirt to allow his eager fingers greater access.
After half a dozen rounds of crazy-eights the Manny gave an almighty yawn and dropped his cards on the table.
“That’s me done. Barely slept a wink last night; guess it’s all catching up with me now”
Claire’s eyes flicked to his to see if this was a ruse to end the evening early, but his face gave nothing away. Jenny and Ian reluctantly agreed that they’d best stop drinking if they didn’t want to wake with hangovers, so the game was packed up and everyone trooped upstairs. Given his earlier attentions, Claire assumed Jamie would linger in the corridor to talk to her alone or at the very least give her some kind of signal to meet later. Instead he repeated his assertions about being exhausted and bidding everyone adieu, disappeared into his room. Bemused, she said goodnight to the others and did the same.
Not bothering to turn on the light, the doctor leaned back against the bedroom door and closed her eyes. Immediately images from the afternoon flooded her brain; Jamie standing naked in the bathroom, all golden skin and taught muscles. She’d wanted to run her tongue over every inch of him. Had he seriously just gone to bed after everything that’d happened today? Desire thrumming through her veins, she contemplated her next move. Should she stay where she was, knowing already that she’d be awake until the early hours aching for Jamie? Or steal back out to knock on his door; risking rejection if it turned out he was tired after all? Claire sighed with frustration. Another day of flirting with ambiguous intentions was too much to bear; she needed to know where this was headed, even if it turned out to be on a completely different trajectory to where she wanted it to go. Re-opening her door she stepped into the darkened corridor — and ran straight into a solid wall of muscle.
Stumbling backwards, she groped for something to steady herself but grasped only air. Half way to landing face-first on the carpet a pair of strong arms surrounded her.
“Sorry Sassenach! Are ye all right?”
She nodded, belatedly realising that it was a moot gesture with the lack of light. Jamie’s large hands easily spanning her waist, he ushered her into the bedroom. Heart thudding heavily, she considered the reason for his reappearance.
“What happened to heading straight to sleep?”
Despite being fully clothed, Claire could feel the heat radiating from him as he slowly backed her against the now-closed door. Leaning close, he stopped just as their lips brushed together, making her almost dizzy with arousal.
“I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing less than sleeping right now”
Claire’s ‘oh’ of surprise was muffled by his mouth on hers. Hot and urgent the kiss was all consuming; a fiery release after hours of denial. Jamie’s palms roamed her curves, the darkness only serving to heighten the sensation of his possessive touch. The doctor couldn’t get enough; lips never leaving his, she inhaled his deep woody scent, one hand tugging through his hair while the other grabbed at the front his shirt. Fingers working their way between the buttons, she stroked the warm skin beneath, eliciting a groan from him when a nail lightly scraped across his nipple. Emboldened by the feel of his hard length pressing against her thigh, Claire slid a hand down Jamie’s abdomen and began to undo his belt buckle. Instead of encouraging her actions though, he wretched himself away, staggering back a few steps and flicking on a lamp.
The room bathed in light, she registered his furrowed brow and her stomach dropped. A mix of hurt and confusion bubbled up; had she come on too strong? Why had he come to her room if he hadn’t wanted to take things further? The sting of rejection was all the more potent when she realised that this was the second time it’d happened; the Manny also retreating the night she’d first kissed him. What was holding him back now? Humiliated, she crossed her arms defensively and looked at the floor.
“Oh shit, no Claire! I didna stop because I don’t want this. Christ, nothing could be further from the truth!”
Surprised, she looked up; Jamie’s eyes were full of contrition.
“I’m sorry, I’ve gone about this all wrong. Will ye let me explain?”
Briefly she considered saying no, but aware that was more a reaction to wounded pride than anything else, she instead took a fortifying breath and nodded.
“You are by far the most beautiful and sexy woman I’ve ever known and if this was only about us sleeping together I’d have tried to make a move the day we met. But it’s never just been about that, at least not for me anyway. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about on our walk tonight and what I came here to tell you just now. Before I kissed you that is; seems as soon as I touch ye all my other thoughts immediately go out the window”
“That’s quite a flattering assessment; are you saying we’re moving too fast though? Do you want to slow things down a bit?”
“No; sorry, this all sounded a lot clearer in my head. What I’m trying to ask is that if we were to take this further, could you see it being more than a one-night thing? As much as I want you - and I do, desperately - if us being together is just an itch you want to scratch, I’m not sure that we should. Our situation is already complicated enough and I’d never want to ruin things - for you, me or Fergus - because we went in with different expectations. I believe there’s something really good here and I’d love the chance to explore it together. But enough about how I feel, how about you?”
“Most men would be more concerned with having sex first and working out later if it means anything. But I’m beginning to understand that you’re not most men”
“That doesn’t exactly answer my question…”
Stepping close, he threaded their fingers together.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind you’re what I want a nighean. But am I what you want?”
Silently Claire watched him swallow, Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat as he waited for her reply. Heart swelling, she cupped his jaw and rubbed her thumbs gently across his cheeks.
“From the day you showed up at my front door nothing has been the same. Whatever it is between us, it feels right. I want you too Jamie and I’d like nothing more than to see what we could be.”
A grin breaking across his face he reached back and clicked off the lamp.
Whoa it's been a minute hasn't it?! Thank you so much for sticking around after all this time. These last 4 months have been a massive writing slump for me which I'm now attributing to starting a new job that's super boring and not conducive to creative pursuits. On top of this, the story just wasn't coming together and after writing 1/2 of this chapter I decided to scrap it all and start again. I hope you like the result, can't WAIT to chat about it with you if you feel so inclined!
Thank you to everyone that has reached out - knowing you're still interested has been the life preserver tossed into the ocean of writers block for me!
Take care and hope to be back with a new chapter soon xx