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Game Changer

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Hair piled on top of her head, with tendrils falling around her ears, whispering against her neck. Eyes lined and lids shimmering in hints of rose-copper. Gold and diamond earrings that dropped elegantly from her lobes. Velvet dress in a luminous cinnamon blush that skimmed along the lines of her body, the deep vee of the neckline reaching almost to her navel, skating along the curve of her teardrop breasts.

Claire turned and looked over her shoulder at the mirror. The back of the dress plunged even deeper than the front, revealing an unblemished canvas of ivory skin. The velvet fabric hugged her waist and her arse in exactly the right ways. She felt sexy, and that was something she hadn’t felt for a very long time. 

She finished applying her lipstick, remembering when she had tried this dress on for Frank, eager to show him what she planned on wearing to his colleague’s wedding. He had taken one look and told her that he’d be embarrassed to be seen with her in front of his friends from the university. She had hoped to reignite some passion between them, but instead he had lectured her, saying that the dress was far too revealing and provocative. Too right , she thought with a smirk, glancing at herself in the mirror one last time. What will Jamie think of it? The thought had come to her unbidden, and she immediately willed it back to the recesses of her subconscious. What does it matter anyway, Beauchamp?

“All right then,” she said to an uninterested Fez. “Time to see what the night ahead holds in store.” She grabbed her phone and clutch, and headed out the door of her apartment.

Twenty minutes later, Claire alighted from an Uber in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library. She walked up the steps of the majestic, century-old building feeling confident and desirable as the summer breeze met her exposed skin—far more than she was used to having on display. As she passed the threshold into Astor Hall, her senses were enveloped in sound and color; the buoyant buzzing of the arriving crowd, the elegant flowers and candelabras that filled the white marble room, and the tones of the jazz band playing standards on the stage to the right of the entryway. 

“Well, I’ll be damned.” Claire spun around at the sound of Gillian’s voice to find her grinning like a Cheshire cat. “For once you took my advice! You look incredible. More than incredible. Just wait until Jai—”

“Gill, show me to the bar,” Claire said, quickly tucking her arm under Gillian’s elbow and cutting her off before she had the chance to say another word. Gillian quirked her brow as she snagged two flutes of champagne from a passing waiter and handed one to Claire. “Now this is a good way to start the evening. Here’s to letting go and to having a great night. Cheers!”

“I’ll drink to that,” Claire said, clinking her glass with Gill’s before taking a sip. Her eyes scanned the room, taking in the sight of the glammed-up crowd, and trying not to be too obvious that she was looking for one person in particular. It didn’t work.

“He’s not here yet,” Gillian snickered as Claire opened her mouth to defend herself. “And don’t try to tell me you don’t know who I mean.”

Claire took another, longer sip of her champagne and narrowed her eyes at her friend over the glass. “Fine then. Shall we mingle?” She turned, but before she could take a step, she saw him.

Jamie entered the room with the resplendent air of a Highland warrior from centuries gone by. Her eyes were immediately drawn to his kilt— his kilt!— in a tartan of bluish grays, browns, and yellows, drawn together with thin red stripes. His auburn locks curled to the collar of his white dress shirt, the fabric fitted snugly over his broad shoulders and biceps, and worn under a fitted gray waistcoat. To complete the look, he wore a pair of black, laced-up combat boots with socks that peeked out over the top.

For the first time in her life, she truly understood the meaning of the word breathtaking. He was breathtaking . She was incapable of inhaling or exhaling, and felt a first hint of dizziness before she finally recaptured her breath at the touch of Gillian’s hand on her forearm.

“Claire, dear. You’re spilling.”

She looked down to see that she had been holding her champagne flute askew, allowing a trickle of bubbly to make its way down the glass and to the floor, thankfully keeping clear of her dress. “Oh,” she said vacantly, then looked up again to see Jamie, who was now talking to John Grey just inside the entrance to the hall. 

Gillian glanced from Claire to the object of her gaze and took the flute from her hand. “I’m going to go find some napkins, but when I come back, I expect you to be talking to him, ” she whispered over her shoulder as she walked away.

Claire couldn’t tear her eyes from Jamie. He was now walking with John towards the Duncan brothers, the team owners, who were extending their hands to greet their two star players. As eager as she was to talk to him, she also would have been happy to stand at a distance and just observe him—his brilliant smile, easy confidence, and the graceful way he moved his towering frame—for the entire evening. 

“Dr. Beauchamp, you are looking exceptionally attractive tonight.” Cl aire startled at the voice in her ear, and at the smell of cigarettes and hard liquor that accompanied it. “What are you looking at over there? Is there someone who’s caught your eye?”

Stephen Bonnet was in her personal space, as he so often was, and making her feel uncomfortable. His voice oozed charm, but underneath there was something disingenuous about him. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was, but she always felt the need to be on her guard whenever he was around. 

“I’m just admiring the wonderful job they did in putting this event together,” Claire answered in as neutral a voice as possible, fixing her eyes on a nearby floral display. She hoped he’d pick up on how disinterested she was and leave her alone.

“I thought you were checking out my friend Red over there, but I guess I was wrong.” Stephen moved closer to her, and Claire automatically took a step back. She truly didn’t want to cause a scene, and discreetly looked around for the best way to make a safe and quick exit. Wasn’t Gillian supposed to be coming back?

“Can you please not stand so close to me?” She kept her voice polite even as anger flooded her body with heat.

“What’s the matter, Doctor? I’m just trying to have a friendly conversation,” Stephen said, stepping even closer and placing his cold, bony hand on her shoulder. 

At his touch, she snapped. “Get off of me, Bonnet! Go fuck yourself!” Claire spat out, nostrils flaring.  She quickly pushed past Stephen and saw a flash of red and plaid coming from the opposite direction. 

Jamie grabbed Stephen’s elbow and growled, “I’m no’ going to punch ye right now because I dinna want to give ye the satisfaction of getting me suspended from the team. But I best not see ye touchin’ a woman who clearly doesna want to be touched, not ever again. Stop drinking and get out of here.” He shoved Stephen away without letting him say a word in response, and turned quickly to Claire, who had been watching in a haze of adrenaline.

“Are ye all right, Claire?” Jamie asked, the worry for her written on his face. He put his arm around her shoulders and led her to a high-top table in a far corner of the room, depositing her into a seat. “Did Bonnet hurt ye?”

“I’m all right. Just angry and a little rattled.” She closed her eyes and concentrated on slowing her breath. Jamie was running his fingers in a circle over the center of her exposed back.

“I promise he willna come near ye again, Sassenach, if ye dinna want him to. I dinna trust the man. Has he tried anything like that wi’ ye before?” 

“He’s always struck me as unpleasant and. . . not to be trusted. But, no, he’s never hit on me or tried to touch me before.” Jamie’s hand was still on her back, no longer circling, but just there; warm, comforting, and protective. She looked up at him gratefully and said, “I’m ok now. Thank you for stepping in.”

“You never have to thank me for anything, Claire. Besides, it looked like you had him sorted before I even got there,” he said, smiling, before turning more serious. “If you decide to file a complaint with the team, ye can count on me as a witness.”

It was something she hadn’t thought about yet, but she knew that she likely would wind up following through on it. “Thanks, I might. But I want to put this behind me for tonight and just try to enjoy myself.” 

“All right then. Let’s enjoy ourselves.” His hand drifted down her back, as his eyes drifted from her face to her neck, and then down the front of her dress, unconsciously seeking the end of the pearly skin. She traced the path of his eyes with her own, and thought she saw a flicker of desire before he tore them away from her figure, turning his head to survey the room. 

“Would ye mind staying put here for a wee bit?” he asked. “I’ll be right back. Dinna go anywhere.”

Jamie walked off and disappeared into the crowd in the great room, leaving her guessing as to what he was planning. She still felt the warm imprint of his hand where it had been resting on her skin, and she was once again struck by how kind and gentle this giant of a man was. There was probably no one else in the world who could have helped her regain her composure as quickly as he had just then. 

“Hello to the good doctor! How are you this fine evening?”

People seemed to be making a habit of disrupting her thoughts. Luckily, this time it was John Grey, who couldn’t be more different than Stephen Bonnet. She had treated John quite a bit during her tenure with the team as he was a pitcher who was prone to overworking his shoulder. They had developed a congenial and comfortable rapport. 

“Hi John. It’s good to see you outside of the stadium.”

“Likewise. Uh, was Jamie just here? I thought I saw him with you. We were talking to the Duncans when he suddenly ran this way. It looked like something was going on with Bonnet?” he inquired while sitting down on the bar stool opposite Claire. 

“Yes, he was here a minute ago, but he said he’ll be back shortly. And everything is fine now, it’s just—” she paused, feeling somewhat flustered, but continued on, “it’s just that he saw Stephen making an unwanted pass at me so he—”

“Ah, the hero at work again,” he said with a knowing laugh. “Classic Fraser. Let me guess, he warned Bonnet in his best Scottish Batman voice that he’d better stay away from you.”

Claire’s heart plummeted to her stomach. So, Jamie did this all the time. He didn’t come to her aid because of any special feelings he had for her. No, he did it because he was a bloody hero. What a fool she was!

“Yes. It was something like that,” she managed to choke out. “He really seems to be quite the upstanding citizen.” 

“Oh, he is. Jamie Fraser’s the most honorable person I’ve ever met. We met playing Double A ball in Binghamton and have stayed close ever since.” John spoke of Jamie with a look of wistful reverence on his face. 

“Grey, do I hear you telling Dr. Beauchamp all of my secrets?” The man in question had appeared—seemingly from nowhere—carrying a large tray with several plates full of food and two tumblers of whisky, which he promptly set down on the table while sliding into the seat next to Claire’s. Turning to her, he said, “I ran off to the kitchen to gather up something for us to eat instead of waiting for the waiters to come around with their wee snacks.”

“This is perfect! I’m famished,” Claire said, hungrily eyeing the plates piled high with appetizers.

“I also grabbed us each a dram,” Jamie said, holding a glass out to her with a grin. “We have a day game tomorrow, so I’ll limit myself to just the one.”

“I’m actually working at the hospital tomorrow at 8. So one will do it for me, too.” She clinked her glass against his and toasted “Cheers!” while Jamie replied, “Slainte!”

John cleared his throat loudly to get their attention, but the couple seemed to have forgotten that he was there. Rolling his eyes, he stood up from the table and said, “Well, I suppose I’ll head to the bar and get my own whisky then.”

“Sorry, mo charaid !” Jamie called after his friend. “I didna know ye were here or I would’ve gotten another!”

They looked at each other and burst into giggles. 

“Oops,” said Jamie with a shrug as he popped a shrimp into his mouth.

And just like that, Claire was enchanted again, despite the sting of disappointment she had felt when thinking of him mere minutes before. He certainly inspired strong emotions in her. 

She could see other players being approached by fans looking for selfies or autographs, and was grateful for the anonymity afforded by the dark and obscured corner where they were seated. 

“This building is really something else, aye?” Jamie asked as he glanced at the massive arched windows above. “It almost feels like a museum or university that ye’d find back home.”

“Well, it’s built in the Beaux Arts style that originated in Paris. So it’s very European. That’s probably why it’s one of my favorite places in the city,” Claire explained. She picked up a spring roll and took a bite. “Mmm, that’s delicious.”

“And what are yer other favorite places?” Jamie asked, leaning closer so that he could hear her above the din of the crowd and the band. “Hmmm. It’s hard to choose. There’s Central Park, of course. Sometimes you can lose yourself there so thoroughly that you completely forget you’re in New York. But my favorite of all is The Cloisters. It’s a museum of medieval art, housed in actual medieval buildings that were transported here from France and Spain. It’s simply . . . magical.”

Claire was leaning so close to Jamie that she could feel the heat emanating from his body without them even touching. But how she longed to touch him.

She had been sipping her whisky as they chatted, and she realized that it was making her lightheaded. Flushing at the thought that the alcohol would make her do something she might regret, she considered putting some space between them. But she found it damn near physically impossible to move her body. Her pull to him was stronger than gravity.

“I like the way ye get excited about things ye love,” Jamie said in a soft voice, so deep and low that she could only hear him because of how near his face was to hers. His aqua eyes, barely an inch away, were flecked with gold from the candlelight, and were trained upon her with longing. Claire breathed in the whisky on his breath when he spoke, and it heightened her intoxication. 

The intensity of his gaze was so overwhelming that she had to avert her eyes for a heartbeat. She had just glanced down at the table and was trying to regain her composure when she heard someone behind her say, “Jamie! Finally! I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

GIllian’s sharp voice hit her like a splash of cold water. She and Jamie practically jumped apart at the sound.

“Oh! Hello, Claire,” Gillian said with a cloyingly sweet voice and a sparkle in her eye. Claire could’ve killed her for the smug grin on her face. “I didn’t see you there, hiding behind Jamie like that. But I was looking for you, too.”

“You were looking for me ?” Claire asked with a touch of agitation. She was still reeling from the heated connection that she and Jamie had just shared, as well as from Gill’s sudden reappearance, which had torn them from it. “You left me an hour ago saying you’d be right back with a napkin.”

“Gillian,” Jamie interjected, awkwardly standing and gesturing to the third seat at the table. “Would ye care to join us?”

“I wish I could, but I can’t. I was supposed to have the night off, but who do you think they called in to put out all the fires that have been springing up? So now I’m in charge of rounding up the players for the VIP meet and greets. Yours is in fifteen minutes, Jamie. It’s just down that way,” Gillian explained as she pointed to the hall on the left, “in the periodicals room. Don’t be late. I mean it this time.”

Jamie glanced at his watch before telling Gillian, “I’ll be there at 9:30 sharp. Ye have my word. How long will I need to be down there?”

“Just half an hour, and then you can get back to the party. Unlike me.” Turning to Claire, she said, “I’m sorry, hon. I know I sold this to you as a girls’ night out, but duty calls. It looks like you’ve got yourself pretty well-situated, though.” And with a playful wink towards her friend, Gillian was off.

Claire shifted uncomfortably in her chair next to Jamie, acutely feeling the loss of the intimacy that had existed between them moments ago. Unsure of how to recapture it, she did what she’d always done when she was feeling emotionally overwhelmed: she looked for an out.

“Well . . .” she began hesitantly, slowly rising from her seat, eyes squarely on the table before her. “I know you need to be somewhere soon. I’m sure you want to spend some time with your teammates before you have to sign autographs, so I’ll just—”

“Ye’re sure? What makes ye so sure of that?” he asked, quickly wrapping his hand around her wrist to keep her from leaving. “Nah, I’d rather spend the rest of my time with you.”

Claire breathed an internal sigh of relief at the words. 

“I was actually wondering if you’d care to dance,” he said.

“To dance?” she asked, lost in his eyes and the memory of her dream from last night, dancing under grand arches in Jamie’s arms. But the reality was that she was not much of a dancer, and she was instantly petrified at the thought of spearing one of Jamie Fraser’s toes with her heels, and landing him on the injured list.

“Well, we are in a ballroom, and there’s a dance floor, and a band.” He stared directly into her eyes as he shrugged and gave her a crooked smile, and there was no way on earth she could say no to that. 

“Ok. Let’s dance then. I hope you’re a good leader,” she said tremulously, her breath shallow with anticipation. 

Jamie put his hand low on her back to lead her away from their table, his fingers sliding down until they found the edge of the fabric. As they walked, the band transitioned from one tune to the next, and Claire stopped short when she heard the opening bars of the song.

It's not the pale moon that excites me

That thrills and delights me

Oh no, it's just the nearness of you

“What is it?” he asked, stopping with her and leaning in to hear her response over the hum of the crowd.

“This is . . . rather this was my Uncle Lamb’s favorite song. He loved standards from the ‘30s and ‘40s. We could be in the middle of a dig in the Mongolian desert, and he’d be singing Hoagy Carmichael to the camels as he worked,” she said, the bittersweet memory clearly playing in her mind.

“Mmphm. Maybe yer uncle is sending a message. Letting ye know he’s watching over ye,” Jamie said, as they continued walking, brushing past couples on the outskirts of the dance floor until they made it to the less crowded middle. Claire wasn’t a particularly spiritual person, but she liked the idea of Lamb’s presence being there tonight. Perhaps he was letting her know that he approved of the gentleman who was making her heart quiver.

They faced each other, and Jamie’s hand rested warmly on her right hip. He held her left hand close against his chest. She slid her fingers up his shoulder-- Christ, he was tall- -until she reached the back of his neck, his curls tickling her wrist. They began the softest, most gentle sway to the music, Jamie guiding her in the pace and direction of their movement. 

It isn't your sweet conversation

That brings this sensation

Oh no, it's just the nearness of you

Jamie bent his head to her ear, his breath immediately sending a wave of goosebumps down her neck and arms. “I didna get to say it earlier, Claire, but you look absolutely beautiful tonight. Truly, ye’re stunning, mo nighean donn .” She didn’t understand his last words, but knew intuitively that they were meaningful to him.

Claire pulled her head back slightly, grazing her check against his stubble. Suppressing a shiver, she told him, “Thank you. You look pretty spectacular yourself. I... like the kilt.” That may have been the understatement of the century.

His mouth broke into a broad smile, and he suddenly raised her hand and spun her around once, before pulling her back in towards his body, tighter and nearer than before. She gasped in surprise and they both laughed breathlessly, Claire reveling in the feeling of weightlessness that was washing over her heart and mind.

When you're in my arms

And I feel you so close to me

All my wildest dreams came true

They continued their dance, and when her laughter subsided, she rested her head against his chest, breathing in his scent--wool, sweat, Tide, and something indescribable that was purely Jamie. She felt him place his chin gently on top of her head, and heard him inhale as he leaned his nose deeper into her hair, taking a sniff of his own. 

This was far better than her dream from the night before. She felt in sync with his body, and graceful in a way she had never felt in her life, wrapped in the strong arms of this magnificent, considerate, worthy man. She wished she could dance with him all night.

I need no soft lights to enchant me

If you will only grant me

The right to hold you ever so tight

And to feel in the night

The nearness of you

As the song came to an end, they moved their bodies ever so slightly apart to look at one another before Jamie reluctantly removed his hand from hers and checked his watch. 

“I wish I didna have to go, but it’s time. Will ye wait for me, Claire? Please? I’ll be back in half an hour. I--I dinna want the night to be over for us just yet.”

Nodding her head, she told him, “I’ll wait for you, Jamie. I’ll be over by the table when you’re done.” She lowered her hand, which she had realized was still resting around the curve of his neck. They departed the dance floor together, Jamie’s hand again finding her lower back, just brushing her bare skin. They walked to the edge of the hall, where he said softly, “I’ll see you soon,” and turned to head to his meeting. 

Claire watched him walk off, and saw that he had only made it three steps before being approached by fans asking him to sign all manner of paraphernalia. She chuckled, thinking that he might once again wind up on the wrong side of Gill’s wrath if he were late.

But once he was out of her vision, her mind started racing. Their evening together had been blissful, but it was also confusing as hell. She could no longer delude herself into believing that they were “just friends.” And she could no longer deny her attraction to him. It was all-consuming, and pulsed through her veins like fire. 

She had good reason to suspect that he felt similarly, from the absorbed way his eyes held hers, to his choosing to spend almost the entire evening with her, to the way she felt . . . certain stirrings coming from beneath his kilt when they were dancing. A thrill shot through her to remember it.

But even if he did want her, she couldn’t have him. She was a doctor. She was, technically, his doctor. She knew that she wasn’t willing to forsake her oath or risk her job, so why was she doing this?

Because it was the most powerful thing she’d ever felt in her life. That was why.

The tears had started to burn before she’d even finished the thought. She had never been drawn to someone with her whole heart and soul the way she was drawn to Jamie. She had never been with someone who elevated her the way that Jamie did. She had never felt this deep, magnetic connection with a single other person in the world. Not until Jamie.

The power of her feelings frightened her, and for a moment she considered walking out of the library and catching a taxi home. But she owed it to Jamie to wait. They needed to have an honest discussion about whatever it was between them, and she could tell him the reasons that a relationship wouldn’t be possible. At least not right now. She hoped, fervently, that he would understand.

Claire tried to distract herself by looking over the silent auction items and listening to the remarks by the President of the Mets Foundation about the work they were doing to support local communities, but her eyes kept drifting across the room to where Jamie had disappeared. 

Shortly after the President’s speech, the catcher, John Myers, stopped to talk to her as she ordered a seltzer from the bar. He insisted on showing her his swollen, blistered finger, which she examined briefly and then told him to visit the med suite first thing the next day.

Claire was surprised to find that the time passed relatively quickly, and that there were only five minutes left before Jamie would be done with his meet and greet. She tried not to reveal her eagerness as she moved nonchalantly back to the table where they had sat earlier.

For the first time that night, she took out her phone, and quickly checked her texts and emails. Her eyes kept drifting to the time and then up to search the room for his face. When Jamie was fifteen minutes late, she figured that he had gotten hung up, so she decided to look at the news to further pass the time.

When he was thirty minutes late, she couldn’t sit still any longer, and decided to walk around the hall, wondering if perhaps he had waited for her at the wrong table. She didn’t see him anywhere. Her stomach became knotted, whether with worry or anger, she wasn’t sure. 

At the one hour mark, she was thoroughly miserable. She remembered that after the game the next afternoon, the team would be leaving for a twelve day road trip. It seemed more and more likely that she wouldn’t get to have the conversation she had hoped to have with Jamie before he left.

After waiting for one hour and fifteen minutes, she decided that what she was feeling most definitely was anger, and enough was enough. There was no way his meeting had gone on this long. Where the devil was he? 

Claire grabbed her clutch and headed for the exit, holding back tears of disappointment while she walked through the now almost-empty hall. As she did, she heard the deep rumble of laughter coming from above. She glanced up and saw that there were a number of people continuing the party on the second floor atrium, among them a group of men, tumblers of amber liquid in hand, standing just next to the balcony. And in the middle of that group, she spotted the unmistakable red mop of Jamie Fraser.

What the hell had happened to “I dinna want the night to be over for us just yet?”

The pent up frustration made her blood boil and she headed to the stairs, ready to give him a piece of her mind. But she could get no farther than the first step, where she was stopped by a security guard. “I’m sorry, ma’am. This is a private party, only for special guests of the Duncans.”

The sound of Jamie’s voice floated down to her, and she looked back up to see him, glass raised in a toast, beaming at the group circled around him. “To a World Series victory!” she heard him say to roars from his new friends.

Claire’s heart dropped, and she turned and dashed out the front door of the library into the now rainy summer night, taking the stairs by two and praying that she wouldn’t fall. Luckily, a vacant cab stopped as soon as she put her hand out at the curb, and she hopped in, instructing the driver to take her to Brooklyn.

As the car pulled away, she looked back at the beautiful building, thinking with disbelief about the fact that only four hours previously, she had sauntered up the steps, feeling like she would own the night ahead of her. Instead, she was borderline harassed by Bonnet and essentially ditched by Gillian. 

And, worst of all, she was forgotten by Jamie. She flushed with a fresh wave of hurt, but she wasn’t going to allow herself to cry for him. After Frank, she had sworn that her days of crying over men were behind her.

In truth, she was almost as furious at herself as she was at Jamie. She had worked so damned hard to rebuild herself after the divorce. She had taken the pieces of her shattered spirit, and reassembled them into the self-possessed, confident woman she was today. 

But all it took was one evening of bliss in the company of the most enchanting man she had ever met, one moment of allowing her heart to open again, to demolish that illusion. 

Who was she? Was she the confident, poised woman she had worked so hard to become? Would she ever be capable of loving and being loved again? Was she destined to always crumble at the slightest hint of abandonment?

As her taxi rambled over the Williamsburg Bridge towards home, she leaned her head back against the seat, trying to make sense of her confused heart. She sat stock still, focusing on her breathing. And when she shut her eyes and listened closely she could hear—beyond the pulsing anger, past the throbbing ache—the faint but insistent drum of his name.