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Memories of Love

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The plane descended towards Edinburgh, it was a grey driech day in Scotland the type of rain that never really fell, it just drizzled, it was enough to make it feel like winter had arrived, even though it was mid-September. Claire gazed out of the window, she could see the iconic forth rail bridge below her, its rust-coloured iron shining up at her, majestic on this dull Scottish day.

She was jittery, she felt anchorless, her stomach had not settled since she made the unusually impulsive decision to head back to the one place where she felt safe, warm and cherished. The place where she had felt at her happiest, her best. The place where she felt love and where she found love. She wearily closed her eyes and let her memories envelope her.

Henry Beauchamp moved to Fife with his wife, Julia and their six-year-old daughter Claire, to take up a position as Finance Director at a distillery owned by Brian and Ellen Fraser. The Fraser family had warmly welcomed the small family from Oxfordshire and had busied themselves to arrange both family accommodation and schooling for their daughter Claire.

Brian and Ellen were known and respected in the county, they employed almost 300 staff at their distillery in Markinch. It had been the site of the old Haig Whisky distillery before it went into receivership. Hundreds of jobs were lost, and the local community suffered significantly as families struggled to make ends meet. The Frasers had owned and run successful distilleries up in the Highlands but had not previously ventured into the lowlands of Fife.

Their intervention and philanthropy had been welcomed not only by the community but by the council and the Scottish government. Brian had reemployed many, if not all, of the workers and had set up an interest free loan scheme where workers could apply for loans to pay off debt they had incurred as a result of their job loss. Brian Fraser was a man who had earned the love and respect of his workforce and the county.

Henry, Julia and Claire, settled into a large, detached stone cottage on the High Street in Falkland which overlooked the famous Falkland Palace. The spacious cottage had a large open plan kitchen/diner with a family room at the very end. Julia loved this part of the house; she could busy herself in the kitchen whilst listening to Claire chattering excitedly to her father the moment he stepped through the door. They would sit by the wood burner with foaming cups of hot chocolate and entertain each other with their tales of the day. There was also a formal sitting room which when adorned with the Beauchamp’s stylish furniture looked chic but warm and welcoming. In the summer the outside of the house was crammed with window boxes spouting masses of red geraniums complimented by seas of violet lobelia. The house at various times of the year would have jasmine, honeysuckle and a wash of white roses tumbling down the front of the house delivering the sweetest of aromas.

Claire’s little room was decorated with fairy lights, shades of pink, purple and white everywhere, it overlooked the palace which when lit up was simply magical, a real-life fairy tale. The palace was inspired by the grand chateaux of France, and one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland. One of its most famous residents was Mary Queen of Scots, the history bewitched the young honey eyed Claire. Every evening at bedtime, Julia or Henry would create a fairy tale, one which always included the palace in some shape or form. The young Claire would nestle into her Mum or Dad ready for the tall tale ahead. Falkland for the Beauchamp family was home.

The plane grounded suddenly, and Claire was rudely jolted from her comforting memory.

When the plane finally ground to a halt, she rose to wrestle her small case from the overhead locker. She had another suitcase to be collected of course, she had packed for a long visit but in truth she had no idea how long she would remain in Fife.

She made her way across the tarmac to the airport terminal, cursing the Scottish rain as she went, this would send the thick mop of curly hair into a ball of frizz if she didn’t get a move on.

She stood at the carousel patiently waiting for her luggage, completely unaware of the stir she was causing.

She really had no idea how beautiful she was. She was tall and slim with long legs which were the envy of her fellow models. Her hair was the darkest richest brown and was a blaze of natural curls which she never tamed. Her alabaster skin, amber eyes and full lips were initially what got her noticed by Elite 1, however she soon moved from photographic to catwalk to TV advertising and the rest followed.

She often carried a pair of ugly framed glasses with her, with just clear glass. Whenever she thought that someone was about to recognise her from the Chanel commercial, she would stick them on. The member of the public would grimace and realise that it could not possibly be the world-famous model, Sass Alexander.

‘Excuse me, Miss? Are you Sass Alexander?’ A small voice asked

Claire turned to see a young girl of around 15 looking up at her with wide hopeful eyes.

‘Yes, I am. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?’

‘My name is Lesley, and I am your biggest fan, would it be okay if we take a wee selfie?’

Claire smiled and said of course, she pulled her arm around the young girl and took her phone from her hand.

‘Let me Lesley, my arm is longer, and we will manage a better angle’. Said Claire.

‘Now, Lesley, lift your chin up and stick it out slightly to give your face definition’ Leslie squealed at the advice from one of the world’s top models.

A few minutes later, a delighted and excited Lesley was on her way, no doubt posting her picture with Sass Alexander on her Instagram page. The cat would be out of the bag. She had landed in Scotland. Mind you, who would care? Falkland was in the back of beyond, no-one would put two and to together and stalk her from there.

She had not really kept in touch with anyone from Fife after she left. Her two best friends had moved from Fife, Nancy moved to Sydney, Australia and Carole’s family had moved to New York.. Neither of these friends kept in touch with anyone from the old town although the three of them were still as thick as thieves and thanks to Claire’s job, she did manage to see them quite often.

After collecting her luggage, she ventured outside for the long trek to the car hire building. She pulled her stylish woollen Louise Kennedy coat tighter and cursed herself for forgetting how biting the east coast wind could be.

She collected her car from Avis and made her way up to Falkland, over the new Queensberry Crossing. It was chilly outside, and the wind was blowing a right old hooley, but her hands felt warm and clammy on the steering wheel. It all felt so strange, but truth be told, the moment she landed on Scottish soil her soul felt nurtured.

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The Mercedes Claire had hired made good time, the traffic was on her side and in just under the hour she drove slowly into Falkland. Luck was shining on her as she managed to bag a parking space on the town square right outside the picturesque Covenanters Hotel, her home for the next few days, weeks or months. For as long as it took her to heal. Claire made a mental note to forward the car hire bill to the assistant that she shared with Jilly. Claire had a sponsorship deal with Mercedes, and they refunded the cost any time she hired a Mercedes worldwide.

Jilly!! Good grief, she had left in such a rush she had not thought to call her mother’s best friend to let her know of her plans. Later, once she was settled, she would make the call. Jilly would understand, Jilly always did.

As she stood in front of the Hotel, she would not allow herself to look left. Her heart ached at the thought of her precious family home being occupied by others. She knew she would have to walk past the Cottage at some point but right now she did not have the courage or the will to do it.

The house was rented to a young family, The Claytons. Claire had not wanted to sell when her parents died, that would have been too hard. She continued to spend time at the cottage for a wee while after their death, it brought her comfort, the memories were everywhere. She imagined them on holiday, they would scurry through the door smiling regaling tales of their travels. No, she had not wanted to sell then. Would she feel different now? After all, nearly 5 years had passed.

She thought about the Clayton family, there was now no-one on the planet that she could officially call family. How bloody sad was that?

At least she had good friends in Carole, Nancy and Jilly, these women were her rocks. All played a very different roles in her life, all critical and precious to Claire. Jilly was the one she could not live without though. If Claire ever lost Jilly, well it did not bear thinking about. It would be too much, just too much.

Claire took a deep breath, pulled her shoulders back and lifted her head up looking slightly defiant, she had to put her best foot forward and prepare herself to meet people from her ‘happy time’.

The hotel was run by the Baird family. Claire had known them throughout her childhood and at the time was friends with their daughter Mary, but they had not kept in touch. For a very good reason too. She prayed that Mary Baird would not be the first person she saw.

She had no sooner stepped through the door when she felt the wind being crushed out of her as two arms wrapped firmly around her.

‘My goodness lassie, you are a vision’ gushed Mrs Baird

‘Welcome back Claire, do you still answer to Claire?’ she asked a little shyly

‘Oh yes Mrs B, Sass is just a professional name. So lovely to see you after all this time' said Claire, who was speaking very rapidly and could feel her emotions rising and tears forming at the recognition and kindness of Mrs Baird.

Claire had been 17 when she left Falkland and she was now almost 23, of course she had transformed from an awkward teenager into a confident woman. Mrs Baird, on the other hand, had not aged at all. She was as Claire remembered, elegant and polished oozing kindness and genuine warmth.

‘I was so sorry to hear about your Uncle Claire. I know what he meant to you; it is a cruel blow after losing your Ma and Pa not so long ago.’

Any chance of Claire being able to suppress the tears that threatened to spill were completely redundant at the mention of Lamb and her parents. They came tumbling out, flowing freely.

Clare fumbled for a tissue, trying to pull herself together. Mrs Baird realising her insensitivity came to the rescue.

‘Right my love, I will have that case taken right up to your room. I want you to get yourself into the sitting room and dry out by the fire. Here’s a wee hanky to blow your nose. Have you other luggage? Give me your car key and registration and I will get Angus to get that too. Come on now, let’s get you a wee whisky to warm your bones’. There was a flurry of activity and people appeared from nowhere and leapt into action at the command of Mrs Baird.

A member of staff had scurried into the spacious sitting room before Claire and lit the fire, at least that would take the chill out of the air. The room was swathed in beige and burgundy, giving it an air of shabby chic opulence.

It had high ceilings and the surrounding walls housed books of all shapes and sizes, many of them had seen better days but it added to the mood of the room. Two fashionably faded leather sofas laid out in an L shape were complemented, with a sturdy low flat topped wooden chest placed between them supporting a stylish autumnal posy of purple and green fresh flowers, laced with golden leaves. The room was warmly lit and there were two heavenly scented Nostara candles flickering on the mantle. On the right side of the the fire was a winged back chair which was covered in what Claire thought to be the Baird modern tartan, this is new thought Claire as she cooried in to get warm and pulled a tartan plaid over her lap.

Glaring down on her from above the fireplace was good old Archie McNab, a highland chief. Mrs Baird had found the portrait in an antique shop years ago, brought him home and gave him prime spot in the sitting room. Archie was a dour looking chap, fierce and formidable looking. Claire, Jamie, Jenny and Mary became obsessed with finding out his story. She smiled to herself at the memory and then her gut ached, and she pushed the memory back inside her virtual box of special thoughts.

The room like Mrs B, felt kind, it soothed her.

She relaxed by the fire; whisky firmly in hand, her face now flushed as she warmed up. She wondered if the whisky was from the Fraser distillery. That made her tear up again, was it the memory of her father or the memory of Jamie? She would not ask about Jamie. She could not, not yet at least. She was here to heal though and reluctantly; she knew that closure with Jamie was all part of that process.

Mrs Baird observed Claire from the reception desk, kicking herself at her insensitivity. The girl had grown ever more beautiful, more so than she remembered. The lad will be beside himself when he sees her. Of course, she had let it slip to Jamie that Claire was visiting. She never quite knew what happened between the two and why they did not keep in touch. All she knew was that young Jamie had refused to return to the Highlands when his parents and siblings moved back. He wanted to stay here and make his way, working at the Distillery, which he would eventually take over. Mrs Baird fancied that he was waiting on a certain young lady to return. He had been a shadow of himself for the longest time and only in the last year had he started to move on with his life.

Claire’s parents died just after her 17th birthday. They were coming back from a wedding at a local stately home turned hotel called Balbirnie House, it was a cold dreary November night when a drunk driver came from nowhere and hit them head on. They died instantly. Lamb was in Egypt at the time and immediately rushed to Scotland to assume guardianship of Claire. His initial intention was to take her to Cairo to live until he could finish his tenure at a university there.

However, Brian and Ellen Fraser, sensing that Claire was too raw to handle any further trauma, persuaded him to let Claire live with them until she completed her exams the following summer. Ripping her from School to live in Egypt was an enormous upheaval at the best of times, never mind for a young girl whose world had totally fallen apart. Lamb agreed, he appreciated the time to organise his life to accommodate Claire. He wanted to return to the UK and resume living in London and, in time, he hoped Claire would join him there when she finished her exams. By then she would be thinking about university as well and perhaps as this was a change that she was expecting then it may not be as daunting for her.

That was settled then. Claire would live with Brian and Ellen and their three children. Jenny, Willie and Jamie who was Claire’s best friend in the whole world.
Claire and Jamie had been inseparable from the day they first met. They would scamper about the town on their bikes running messages for locals and the elderly. Claire’s mother ran PR campaigns for the Palace and as a result of her hard work had increased the visitors to the palace tenfold and so they had the freedom of the outside of the Palace and were able to run around the orchard, play hide and seek in the magnificent gardens. They played tennis, football, went swimming in the lake, hiking and camping up Falkland hill, life was one huge, varied adventure for the intrepid pair. Hide and seek turned into kiss chase as they entered their teens, squeals, blushes and mild protesting.

Where you saw Claire, you saw Jamie and vice versa. That was just the way of things.

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Claire unpacked and lay on her bed, just staring up at the ceiling.

She was devastated when only a few years after her parents were killed, her Uncle Lamb collapsed at home and died in hospital from heart failure. Claire had been on a modelling assignment in Milan when she took the call.

Stricken and desolate she found it impossible to focus on what needed to happen next. David, her favourite photographer had gathered her close, offered her comfort and sympathy when she needed it most and then taken control and booked her a flight back to London, sadly she was too late.

She was now woefully alone on the world, no cousins, aunts, or uncles. She had not really made close friends in the modelling world, often running from catwalk to catwalk and country to country, it was hard to sustain close friendships.

She had several casual good friends through work who she would link up with for cocktails and gigs but not a best friend, no-one she could tell her darkest deepest secrets with.

Clare’s mind wandered; she’d had an urge to come back for a few reasons. She was clearly traumatised by yet more grief, and she needed a happy place and frankly Falkland was it. Glorious memories of her parents, her town, her school, her friends, and Jamie.

She finally admitted that she owed it to herself to find out why Jamie had cheated on her when she was going through such a desperate time. Had he used her? Had it only been sex to him? It did not make sense. She needed to know if it was real, if even for such a short time. Had she confused friendship with something more? You don’t have sweet loving sex with your friends do you? At least Claire hadn’t back then or done so since.

Claire pulled out her phone to call Jilly, but it went straight to voicemail. Jilly was Claire’s mother, Julia’s best friend, she now was the closest thing to family that Claire now had. She loved Jilly and Jilly loved her, unconditionally.

Julia and Jilly met when they were in their early twenties and both working in media. Julia was a PR junior for a film company whilst Jilly worked in the music business. They ended up sharing a flat near Kensington High Street in West London. Between music gigs and film premiers they were living the dream, two single beautiful successful women making their way in life.

Jilly had built a successful music management company and personally handled 3 or 4 globally successful recording artists. Julia had been equally successful in her career, spearheading major public relation campaigns for award winning films but in truth was happy to take a step back from work when Claire was born. Being the best in the business she was still asked to manage major brand PR campaigns on a regular basis, some of this she could do from Scotland but occasionally she had to travel. She could pick and choose which had suited her down to the ground.

When Claire had been approached by Elite Models, it was Jilly who managed her affairs and negotiated her rate and would often harangue Elite if she felt they took advantage of Claire. Jilly was in her late 50’s, a petite, dynamic, energetic, attractive blond with an air of elegance and authority about her. She was divorced and childless so Claire, along with Jilly’s numerous nieces and nephews played a huge part in Jilly’s life.

You felt safe when Jilly was around, she was fiercely protective of those she loved, and she did not care who she stepped on in order keep them safe. It was Jilly who had stepped in and organised everything when Claire’s parents and Lamb died. When Claire’s parents died, Claire felt the love of the village but when Lamb died, she felt bereft with grief and if Jilly and her family had not been there.........well Claire dreaded to think what would have happened if Jilly had not been there. She loved this woman desperately.

When she was not working or travelling Claire spent many evenings and weekends at Jilly’s house just off Belsize Lane a very fashionable part of north London. They were special times, cooking, swopping clothes, listening to music, watching movies, making cocktails.

Occasionally they would venture out to Home House, a private members club in the heart of town. Three Georgian townhouses linked together fusing 18th century splendour with 21st century style. It encompassed a luxurious hotel, elegant drawing rooms to take tea or sip wine, a collection of intimate restaurants and a magical garden beautifully lit, to relax and have cocktails, all in the centre of Marylebone. A home from home, a discrete hub for the glitterati and colourful characters of London to dine, dance, revel and relax in private.

It gave Claire comfort to know that her mother had also experienced this life with Jilly, it gave both Jilly and Claire a sense of joy. For Jilly and Julia back in the day, it was a life lived to the full and in a way, Claire was reliving it with Jilly all over again.

Claire felt her tummy rumble, she had not eaten since the morning, and it was now almost 9pm. She wondered if the Stag Inn was still serving food. Her parents loved the food there, it was where they went on date nights. They would stagger home hand in hand, giggling and necking after too much wine. Claire would watch for them at the window and when she spotted them making their way across the Square, she would climb back into bed knowing that they were on their way home, all was good.

She decided that some space from Mrs B, might be needed, she was kindness personified but Claire felt a bit overwhelmed and emotional by the attention. She wanted a little space and time to herself.

Claire had a quick shower and applied some light make up and massaged a tiny bit of oil to her hair to separate and calm her unruly curls. The air was nippy for September, so she pulled on dark blue jeans, a crisp white soft cotton shirt and her favourite Max Mara cashmere cream jacket. One of the benefits of modelling is that you are always allowed to keep the designer clothes. She grabbed her cream Prada bag and made her way over to the Stag Inn, just a short walk from the Covenanters.

As soon as she opened the door the peaty smell of the fire hit her, and she smiled at the memory of winter Sunday lunches at the Stag. Huge plates of roast beef with the best roast tatties ever, roasted carrots, lashings of beef gravy, topped off with home-made Yorkshire puddings.

She quickly nabbed the seat by the fire and grabbed a menu praying that they were still serving food.

The place had not changed. The Stag Inn was compact, only around 6 tables in the snug part of the Inn. There was a bar, peppered with several tall bar stools, which was as long as the room itself.

It felt like stepping back in time, a huge imposing stag’s head, mounted on dark wood, was above the fireplace, the furniture was upholstered in various tartan cloth, there were several flickering LED candles positioned around the snug giving off a very romantic atmosphere.

The other parts of the Inn were more modern, they used to have music and sports blasted for locals. Claire was not ready to face anyone yet, she was happily ensconced in the snug.

Claire caught the eye of a young twenty something honey haired barmaid and before Claire could make her way over to the bar, the barmaid came bounding over with notepad at the ready.

‘Hello and welcome to the Stag Inn, I’m Mae. If it’s food you are after best be quick as chef is just about to close’ she said quickly, her accent was quite thick, and it took Claire a couple of seconds to register what she had said.

‘Oh gosh the pressure the pressure! I will take the Thai Chilli Noodles please with a glass of Cabalie, the red, not the white’.

Odd that the menu had not really changed, even odder that Claire remembered it, she had hardly glanced down before making her choice.

The Cabalie was the red wine that her parents always favoured, and it had become a firm favourite of Claire’s, Jilly’s, and Lamb.

Many a night the three of them would reminisce with their favourite glass in hand, playing music and looking at photographs of much happier times. Claire’s mind went to her sad place, a cruel twist of fate that just as she had accepted that her parents would never return and that she accepted the gap in her soul and the pain that went with it, she had lost her dear loved Uncle. She sat up and started to berate herself.

‘Every day I get out of bed, brush my teeth, have a shower, style my hair, get dressed and face the world. You can do this Beauchamp; you can do this. One foot in front of the other, there is no choice’. she muttered to herself.

You don’t ever accept the loss of the ones you love; you just get used to it. It sounds harsh saying it like that, but it’s true. The loss and the gaping hole in your being are now part of you. The aching pain that rests heavy on your chest every minute of every day, becomes normal for you. Claire knew that she was now at the start of another painful desolate journey. It’s a sadly familiar journey and the feeling of emptiness and isolation was indescribable. Friends trying to be helpful would say to her, ‘Life goes on Claire, life goes on’

Yes, indeed it does go on but it's not the same life. Not the same life at all.

The young barmaid bounced back with a large glass of red wine and some cutlery and placed them on the table, jolting Claire out of the little ‘conversation’ she was having with herself.

‘I don’t think I have seen you here before. Are you on holiday?’ asked Mae

Claire looked up at her. She was a beautiful fresh-faced girl, probably the same age as Claire. She reminded Claire of a young Billie Piper, she had that effervescent energy, one that was not forced but came naturally to some lucky people. She had a sweet attractive face, beautiful big brown eyes with sweeping natural lashes and a smile which was wider that the river forth itself. A warmth emanated from her, and Claire could not help but smile back.

Claire was trying to remember the last time she felt as carefree as Mae and not burdened by loss and grief. She experienced moments of happiness, of course she did, it would be a lie to say otherwise. However, there was always a black cloud hovering above her.

‘Oh, I used to live here many years ago as a girl, I haven’t been back here for several years. I am just reacquainting myself with some of my fond memories, and this place is one of them’ Claire returned Mae’s warm smile.

‘How long have you worked here?’ asked Claire

‘Oh, I don’t work here actually, my boyfriend bought this place a couple of years ago from the Murdoch’s. Said it held special memories for him too. I am a nurse but offered to cover a shift as a favour to the regular barmaid whose boyfriend came home early from the oil rigs. What a soft touch I am!’ bubbled Mae

‘I could have left him in the lurch but at least this way I can spend a wee bit of time with him. This isn’t his main job, he works so hard, and I think it’s important that we support each other’, Besides, I live over in Dunfermline so it’s not exactly around the corner. Mae was beaming from ear to ear just thinking and speaking about her boyfriend.

Lucky girl thought Claire.

The noodles were delicious, and Claire washed them down with a cold glass of water and the smooth red wine. It was so good to eat carbs and not worry. Claire had no intention of returning to work anytime soon and if that meant she could eat and drink as she pleased, she was going to savour every delicious moment. She was thin, probably too thin and she was aware that yes as a model that brought her more work but to be honest, as a woman her body left her wanting. She felt better with a little fat on her bones.

She had always associated food with social or family occasions. Every evening the Beauchamp’s would sit around the table and chatter about their day, her mother would always pack picnics for Claire and her friends for their biking expeditions, cookies, pears from the tree in the garden. In fact, Julia made it her life mission to use up every pear that fell from that tree.

They had pear tarts, sticky toffee pear pudding, pear, sage and hazelnut bread and of course the traditional homemade pear cordial. It was a running joke to see what new recipe Julia would conjure up to make the treat feel like it was the first time they had all tasted a pear.

Truly special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries always involved some fancy food of some sort. Claire’s mother encouraged them to try different dishes, from Lebanon, Argentina, Hong Kong to name a few and of course from around Europe, although the goose blood soup from Sweden was a step too far.

Claire was smiling to herself at the memory of ‘Operation Pear’ and could hear Mae busying herself behind the bar.

Suddenly Mae squealed with delight ‘Bubs! I thought you would not be home until well after closing!’

Turning, Claire witnessed the beautiful Mae jump into the arms of her very tall boyfriend. He looked equally happy to see her and bent down, wrapped her in a bear hug and kissed her sweetly on the lips.

Mae’s boyfriend realising they were being watched, looked up and his cool blue eyes locked with Claire’s.

The blood drained from her. You know that moment when you have had a lucky escape? When you are so shocked that your blood wants to burst out of your body, you become aware of the million nerve ends that are tingling all over your body, from head to toe, your heart hammering so hard that you feel you may pass out and wishing that someone would put out the fire that had engulfed you. A feeling of spiralling out of control, unable to stop the emotion or the panic.

Her mind working overtime transported her back to when she had experienced this feeling before, the moment when she saw Jamie kissing and declaring his love for Mary Baird.

After what seemed minutes, but was probably mere seconds, Claire chastised herself, come on, woman, you are not the same naïve gawky teenager you were 5 years ago. You are a woman of the world now, a strong independent woman in charge of your own destiny. Get a fucking grip.

Claire turned away and dredged her wine glass.

In a New York minute Jamie extricated himself from his adoring girlfriend and made his way over to her table.

‘Sassenach?’

‘Hi Jamie’ Jesus was that all she could say? How often had she thought of this moment? What she was going to say, how she was going to say it. She was now having trouble forming a bloody sentence.

Why had she not prepared for this? Bloody hell, why hadn’t she rehearsed all possibilities with Jilly?

‘Mrs Baird told me you were coming but she didn’t tell me when’ Jamie bent down to hug her and Claire pulled back. Jamie tried to disguise the hurt and moved to the other side of the table and pulled out a chair.

‘What’s that? No, let me guess Cabalie?’ Smirked Jamie.

‘Am I that obvious?’ Claire could not help but smile back.

‘Aye well you did say that when you were old enough to drink, the first thing you would do was to try that red wine and find out what all the fuss was about’.

He rose and went over to the bar and pulled the opened bottle of Cabalie wine from the shelf and picked up a spare glass. He turned to Mae and whispered something to her, Mae turned and looked over giving Claire a warm smile and made her way towards the table.

‘Claire! I can’t tell you how pleased I am to finally meet Jamie’s best friend! He never stops talking about you! I thought we had met before but now I realise that it’s the photographs that I recognise you from’ Claire smiled feebly, trying to prevent her lips from wobbling. Mae really was a sweetheart.

To be honest Claire was used to women locking up their boyfriends and husbands the moment she arrived on the scene. Being ostracised at dinner parties was the norm for her, a real-life Bridget fucking Jones.

Single models were always out to steal someone else’s man. It’s our life ambition don’t you know?

The beautiful Mae, on the other hand was just delighted that her boyfriend had been reunited with his childhood chum.

Mae continued to clear up leaving Jamie and Claire to ‘have a wee blether’ as she put it.

It was the same Jamie, he was broader, more rugged. He was merely a boy when she left and now there was a man sitting before her. The dark red hair, chiselled features and the beautiful ice blue eyes were the same though.

‘I must say, you were the last person I expected to see here. How are you?’ Claire could not be certain that the words had actually left her mouth as he just gazed at her saying nothing.

‘I am good Claire, thanks, hope you are too. It’s been a long time’

Claire could not read his mood; things had changed. She had known everything about this boy and here and now she could not tell what he was thinking.

One thing was clear though. Jamie Fraser, unlike Claire Beauchamp, had most definitely moved on with his life. He had found happiness with a gorgeous, warm-hearted, charming nurse and that confirmed the thoughts she had harboured over the last 5 years. She had loved him, but despite taking her virginity, he had not loved her back.

Jamie refilled Claire’s glass and poured a class for himself.

‘It’s very fine to see you Claire’ whispered Jamie softly.

Very fine? thought Claire, where are we? In the middle of the last century?

‘Well Jamie, it’s very fine to see you too’ Claire raised her glass to clink with his.

‘I was so very sorry to hear about Lamb. My Da told me. I know it’s a daft question but how are you doing? Are you looking after yourself?’ He looked straight into her eyes, not moving from his target.

Claire took a deep breath ‘Well it’s official, no mum, dad, uncle, auntie, brother, sister, niece, nephew or cousin. Oh and no granny or grandpa, just to make it a full sweep’ Her bottom lip trembled.

‘Sorry, don’t mean to sound like a bitter sad little victim, it’s all a bit overwhelming to be honest. To the outside world I have it all don’t I? The face of Chanel, trotting all over the globe, designer clothes, money in the bank. I would give it all up tomorrow to be the number one person in someone’s life’. Claire stopped and took a slow deep breath, steady Claire steady, she thought. She could not believe she had let the least sentence leave her lips and decided to go easy on the wine, she knew from bitter experience that alcohol and loss were not good partners. Seeing Jamie just reminded her of yet another thing that she had loved and lost.

Jamie glanced over at Mae who was engrossed in conversation with another customer, he gently covered his hand over Claire’s and stroked her knuckles. Claire’s heart lurched as she was transported back to her 17-year-old self with raging hormones.

‘Didn’t mean to get so emotional Jamie. This town brings back so many memories, so far, I have catapulted from happy to sad to confused and back again. All part of the process, right?’ Smiled Claire rather sadly.

‘Claire, are we friends?’ asked Jamie gently.

‘Yes, I suppose we were Jamie, we were friends’ she replied.

‘Are we friends now Claire? Can we be friends now? You left so suddenly and that last week you could barely look at me let alone speak to me? I was at a loss, I knew you were grieving but you let me in, you let me in to help you, we shared something unbelievably special and then all of a sudden, I was out in the cold. You left without so much as a cheerio and to this day I could not work out what had happened. We were close, more than close and you meant the world to me, you knew that right? You changed your number and did not respond to my letters, I was devastated when you left and shut me out Claire’

Claire sighed, ‘I thought I meant the world to you Jamie, until you proved otherwise’.

Jamie’s eyes shot up in surprise ‘what? I could never do or say anything to hurt you Sassenach’.

Mae called closing time and Claire signalled to Mae for the bill.

‘Look, Jamie, it’s late, I have been travelling all day and I am just exhausted. Besides, I know Mae is looking forward to spending some quality time with you’ those last few words stuck in Claire's throat and it surprised her.

Claire pulled out her credit card in anticipation of the bill, for the second time that evening, Jamie covered her hand ‘Keep your money Sassenach. Or should I say Sass?’

She chuckled loudly and Jamie laughed back at her.

‘Nice touch using my nickname and one of my middle names as your professional name. should I feel honoured?'.

‘Yes, you should you bloody Scot! Look, when you have time Jamie, let’s chat some more. There are a few things I need to say to clear the air but right now is truly not the time’

‘Okay Sassenach, I hear you, let me know when. I am working at the Distillery during the day and do the odd night here, so you know where to find me. I will take time off to suit you, there are things I need to get off my chest as well’.

He slipped his business card over the table to Claire. 'Just in case you deleted my number' he grinned.

Jamie stood and this time he did not falter, he stepped forward and wrapped his two strong arms around her, placing a soft lingering kiss to the top of her head.
,
Claire wanted to break down and weep.

Chapter Text

The next day Claire woke up late, feeling completely refreshed. It was such a treat to sleep in a place with no sirens, trucks or noisy street life. The autumn sun shone brightly into her bedroom. She pondered on her conversation with Jamie.
She could not quite reconcile why she was more than a bit disappointed that he had a girlfriend, she really did not know why? She had not seen or contacted him in almost 5 years. What did she expect? For him to live his life as a monk? She had been tempted to contact him many times, but she was just never sure what to say, or where to start?

To make it worse Mae was a lovely person, and she was clearly besotted with Jamie and he with her. Claire could not be unhappy for Jamie because deep down she still thought of him as her best friend.

Claire knew that she needed to come clean with him and tell him what she saw and heard between him and Mary Baird that fateful evening. When she thought about that night, the memory made her feel ill. Over the years she had created two boxes in her mind. A happy memory box where she went to when she needed comfort and love. To feel light and happy and wanted.

The sad memory box is where she never wanted to go, if she went there, her head could get stuck in that box, and she would gasp for air and light. When the sad memories came, her mind automatically grasped them and placed them quickly in the sad memory box. To stay and fester with no light or love to keep them strong or visible. The memory of Jamie and Mary was in the sad memory box and Claire needed to find the will to unlock that box and air that memory. However, lying in her room that morning she could not help but open that sad box and relive the sadness.

When Ellen and Brian had begged Lamb to let Claire remain in Scotland to finish her exams, Claire had moved in with the Fraser family. Claire and Jamie’s relationship progressed from friends to boyfriend and girlfriend. Well, they always had been really but now with hormones raging and battling for attention on both sides it was becoming impossible to control their teenage lustful urges.

One evening when Ellen and Brian were out at the Covenanters celebrating a neighbour’s wedding anniversary, Claire and Jamie were left alone in the rambling Fraser house. Claire had sneaked into Jamie’s bedroom, and they had kissed the face of each other for at least an hour, leaving their lips red raw. She could have cried with relief when Jamie’s hand slid inside her knickers. God she was aching for him and thought that he would never get there. Feeling bold (and haven taken instruction from Carole who had lost her virginity just after her 17th birthday) she cupped Jamie between his legs, hoping that it would lead to more. That, as they say, is what kicked it all off. Before they knew it, they were clawing at each other’s clothes and in no time, they were rolling underneath the covers. Jamie entered her gently though, asking all the time if she was okay, did it hurt? Did she want to carry on?

Claire felt that she had an unreachable itch that needed to be scratched! Truly, that’s what it felt like to be honest, nothing sexier than that. If she could have described in in a sexy way she would have but she couldn't. When Jamie entered her slowly and gently, she felt it sting a little, even though she was sopping wet, but after a minute or so when they got into a gentle thrusting rhythm she felt wonderfully stretched, and yes that itch was being scratched quite beautifully.

Claire had no expectation of sex really; however, she did recall the hilarious ‘sex’ talk that Julia had given her just after her 16th birthday. Smiling to herself, the thing she remembered most from that talk was Julia telling her to ‘join in! Just join in Claire, you will enjoy it so much more, just join in and have fun. So, Claire Beauchamp aged 17 ¾ joined in with vigour and as a result, after months of grieving and emptiness, she experienced unadulterated joy and happiness and a feeling of euphoria that she never wanted to end. Afterwards, they had cooried down, each peppering the other with gentle kisses.

It’s odd when you remember your first time. You don’t remember it step by step, but you do remember the feeling afterwards. Claire felt that EVERYONE would know. She ached from the welcome intrusion of Jamie inside her, but she was sure that when she walked into the anniversay party, everyone would say, Is that Claire? Why is she walking in that funny way? Has something happened? They would know for sure. She felt so utterly grown up and well, like a woman at last. No longer a child, she had made that leap from childhood to womanhood in just under two hours.

‘Sassenach, do you think we should make an appearance at the party? I don’t want anyone to think we are up to something! ‘murmured Jamie nuzzling into her neck.

‘We are up to something Jamie Fraser and if I go to the party with this little smug satisfied look and a red raw face glowing with happiness then everyone will know that Claire Beauchamp just lost her virginity to Jamie Fraser’. She kissed him on the tip of his nose and smiled sweetly up at him.

‘Why don’t you go? Just show your face and hurry back. I’ll have a bath and do some studying’ Claire suggested.

Reluctantly Jamie had a quick shower and dressed ready to head round the corner to the Covenanters to join the party. The sooner he was there, the sooner he could return to his girl.

Claire made her way back to her own room. For the first time in months, she felt some sort of peace. She had loved and adored this boy for so long and she now felt a sense of belonging and peace to combat the feeling of loss and desolation.

After half an hour Claire grew anxious to see Jamie, she was bloody aching for the boy. My god she thought, how did I live without sex for so long, I want to do it again already, she giggled to herself.

She took a quick shower and pulled on a tight fitting black woollen dress which accentuated her slim figure. How she wished she had curves like Nancy. She put a bit of light kohl around her large honey coloured eyes and applied mascara. She finished off with a bright red lipstick applied to full round lips. She tried to hide the redness with some foundation, she was fooling no-one. Hopefully the party room would be dimly lit and not a soul would notice. Claire left the Fraser house and made her way over the cobbled square towards the booming music.

Upon entering the function room, Claire could not see Jamie at first. Her eyes desperately scanned the room for the tall red headed scot. Eventually, her eyes landed upon him at the far end of the function room by the Bairn’s Den. He was deep in conversation with Mary Baird whose parents owned the hotel. Claire and Jamie knew Mary well as she was the best friend of Jamie’s older sister Jenny. In fact, the Baird’s were the reason that the Frasers visited Fife and discovered the redundant Distillery, Brian Fraser and Bob Baird had been school friends up in Inverness. Mary, Jenny, and Jamie had practically grown up together, spending their school holidays together almost every year.

Claire’s attention peaked when she saw Jamie slip his arm gently over Mary’s shoulder and slowly guide her out of the function room towards the Den.

The Den was a separate room at the back of the function room that the Baird’s had set up for the bairns, when boring functions were on, the bairns would head back there to watch telly, play table tennis, computer games. As the bairns became teenagers it was used to listen to pop music and watch movies. It was a place where the bairns could play and relax whilst their parents had a good time. The parents, or the teenagers, would take it in turns to supervise the Den.

Claire made her way through the throng of dancers; she was still uncomfortable being in a place where so many people felt happy. Come on Claire, head up, shoulders back, lippy on and look forward. She chastised herself, willing not to let unhappy memories cloud tonight of all nights.

As Claire reached the Bairn's Den she heard Mary sobbing, she was talking quietly to Jamie, Claire could not make out what she was saying. She was terribly upset though, her little heart seemed to be breaking.

She absolutely heard the next voice though, that was unmistakable. Jamie spoke loudly, so that Mary would hear him over her sobs.

‘I don’t care Mary. I don’t care. I love you, and I will always love you. Nobody can change that, and nobody will’. he said looking down at Mary.

Claire pushed her head forward to peek around the door, she had to check again that it was her Jamie.

It could not be her Jamie. It was impossible.

She continued to stare, she witnessed from a side angle Jamie taking Mary’s bonny face in his hands and kissing the top of her nose.

She pulled back frozen to the spot. Her heart and mind racing, she was convinced she could actually hear and not just feel her heart pounding. She was hot and nauseous and seriously thought she would crumble to the cold stone floor if she did not get out of there.

She ripped off her heels and pushed her way back through the dancers, and threw herself through the doors into the empty square. She took a huge gulp of autumn air and sobbed.

What an idiot Beauchamp. What a fucking first class clown you are girl. He just felt sorry for you, everyone feels sorry for you. What boy would turn down sex, you were so forward with him, don't you realise Claire, you offered it on a plate.

Claire chastised herself for visiting the sad box so early in the morning. It made her feel vulnerable and so she lay in bed a little later to try and gather herself.

It was just after 9.30am when she ventured down to breakfast to find Bob Baird in attendance. Giving her a huge bear hug, and planting a soppy kiss on her cheek, Bob declared that she needed fattening up and that a Bob’s Breakfast was on the menu.

Minutes later a full Scottish breakfast was staring up at her. Claire fought the urge to giggle. She imagined Jodie at Elite having a god unholy fit at the fried concoction in front of her. Bob’s breakfast contained Lorne sausage, crispy bacon, tattie scones, black pudding, a fried egg, and beans which had clearly been cooked in the fats of the bacon and sausage. What the heck Beauchamp, just go for it girl, get some meat on you, something that a man can grab hold of. How many times had she heard that?

Claire’s wee belly was so full she could hardly move. The breakfast was just scrummy. She's not had a Scottish breakfast since she had gone south. Henry always asked for a Scottish breakfast on his birthday. Claire smiled at the memory.

She decided that she could put it off no longer. Bracing herself she pulled on her woollen coat, left the hotel, and turned left. And made her way towards her childhood home.

Upon reaching the large attractive stone cottage, she chapped on the door and waited, heart in mouth hands clammy.

An attractive young woman with beautiful blue eyes, answered the door looking harassed, with a babe in arms.

Claire immediately felt guilty for not warning the young mother that she was dropping by.

‘Hi there, I am so sorry to bother you. I am Claire, Claire Beauchamp, your landlady. I just wanted to say hello and to ask if everything is okay?’

‘Miss Beauchamp, oh lass welcome. Please do come in for a cup of tea’ gushed the young mother.

‘No truly, I can see you have your hands full, it’s Mrs Clayton, isn’t it? Perhaps another time, I am here for a little while so there will be plenty of time for us to catch up when your hands are not so full and please do call me Claire'

‘Oh, that would be braw Claire, thank you and please call me Samantha’.

Samantha was in awe of the beautiful young woman standing in front of her. She knew that Claire was one of the world’s top models, she was front cover of every magazine known to woman, and Samantha had conjured up a ‘type’ in her mind. Claire Beauchamp was a type indeed. She was warm and friendly and Samantha had surmised that everything Claire said seemed to be wrapped in a blanket of warmth and comfort. Samantha wanted Claire as her new best friend.

‘Well then Samantha, that’s a date. Hope to see you soon. I am at the Covenanters so if you need anything just give me a shout’ smiled Claire with more than a tinge of relief that she had taken this important step.

Claire felt good that her family home was being enjoyed by another young family. She knew that she would not be selling this house any time soon, it was the only thing on this earth that held any good memories for her.

Right, it was only 11.00am am on a brisk Saturday morning. What next?

She donned her walking boots and headed past the Stag In towards Falkland hill. She borrowed a rucksack from Mrs B and filled it with water, energy snacks, her Bose headphones, a book, and a blanket.

It was another hour before she reached the top of the Hill, she stopped to chat to a couple of ramblers who were on their way down. Everyone in Scotland stopped for a chat, she realised that it was completely alien to do that in London. The autumn sun was strong, and she reached the top quite breathless. She turned her face to the sun and let it rest on her face. She took a deep breath and said, ‘Love you Lamb, thank you for loving and protecting me you sweet man. Claire then dropped some ashes into the ground. She wanted part of Lamb to remain in the Kingdom of Fife.

The top of Falkland Hill had always been Jamie and Claire’s place. It overlooked the beautiful countryside for miles and miles, it had its fair share of tourists, but Jamie and Claire had found a little secluded spot at the far end of the Hill where the view was not as beautiful, that was why it was more secluded. She headed over to their spot.

One summer Jamie and Claire had camped up there with their friends, they must have been 15 or 16 years old or so. There was Claire with her best chums, Nancy, and Carole. Jamie had invited his pals, Davie Murdoch, and Jim Stewart; Claire knew them from school. Davie was a little older and was designated the ‘grown up’ of the group. Falkland Hill was literally 10 minutes’ walk from where they lived but it was the first time that any of them had ever stayed out overnight on an adventure. Carole had brought her guitar; in the evening the boys got a campfire going and warmed up hot dogs on it. Hot dogs in a roll with HP sauce washed down with a bottle of Irn Bru and Julia’s freshly made pear tarts. Tasty food, laughter and a singsong around the campfire, how very grown up and independent they all felt.

Next day however, it lashed down with rain from the moment they opened their eyes. They were all ravenous and wanted their bacon rolls for breakfast. Jim had the grand idea to set the camp stove up in the tent to fry the bacon. To stay dry, they stayed in the boys’ tent, playing cards all morning before lighting up the stove again to warm baked beans for lunch.

Claire’s father nearly had a fit when he arrived to find them cooking beans on a lighted stove within the tent. The rain had battered the Kingdom all day, so Henry decided to go and rescue them before the tents subsided down the hill.

The bedraggled campers returned home less than 24 hours after they had left on their big adventure. Claire however, felt as if she had been on a gap year, she had never had such responsibility before and she had savoured every moment of their trip alone up Falkland Hill. She was quickly brought back down to earth when Henry reminded her that she had allowed a stove to be lit within a flammable tent! Rain or no rain that would have been a wee towering inferno and an adventure that none of them would have enjoyed. She still had a lot to learn about responsibility.

Claire laid out her blanket and lay down gazing up at the clear sky. The air was fresh on her skin, but she felt toasty and warm in her Barbour jacket and a part of Lamb had been scattered in her favourite place, Fresh air always lifted her spirits. Whenever she felt the sad box taking over, she would take herself out on a walk. No matter which city she was in. She would pull on a warm coat and her sketchers and take off on an adventure to lift her spirits. That with getting as much sleep as possible, thanks to herbal melatonin, eating well, spending time with her friends and family, all these things contributed to keeping Claire as resilient as possible.

Inevitably, her mind turned to Jamie. It dawned on Claire that she could not remember if Jamie had ever said that he loved her. Did he ever say those three words? No, if he had, she would have remembered. You remember your first time, right?

Her sad box burst open. He loved Mary though, she had heard that very clearly and had seen Jamie kissing her tenderly. In the way he had been kissing Claire only half an hour previously.

Claire’s mind was going ten to the dozen. Jamie loved Mary; she didn’t even know he was seeing Mary? Why did she not know? Did Jamie confess to Mary that he had cheated on her by sleeping with Claire? Was it just sex for Jamie and he now regretted it because he upset the woman that he loved? That was why Mary was crying.

Claire was mentally prepping herself for the conversation she needed to have with her childhood best friend. That had to be next on her list but she really needed to pull herself together.

Chapter Text

Claire logged Jamie’s number into her phone and looked at it periodically that morning, wondering when she would muster up the courage to be honest about what she had witnessed that fateful night. Whatever had happened Jamie and Mary were surely no longer together. So much for love’s young dream. To be honest the dream was still alive, it just involved Mae and not Mary Baird.

She lay her head back down onto the hard ground and closed her eyes, the fresh air whipped around her cheeks, the feeling of warmth on her face and the silence made her feel at peace. That feeling was not something she could claim often, if ever. Was this peaceful warm feeling because she had finally stepped off the treadmill and was for the first time in numerous years not planning three weeks ahead? Or was it because she had come back to the place where she had truly felt happy. Either way, Claire relished this wonderful feeling and was determined not to let it fall from her grasp.

Claire heard a slight rustle nearby and opened her eyes to see Jamie striding with purpose up to their 'special place', heather and bracken crunching underfoot.

‘Old habits die hard eh Sassenach?’ Jamie grinned at her, almost laughing

Claire could not help but flash a cheeky smile back. Jamie was still as handsome as ever. Whether she willed it or not her whole being rejoiced at the sight of this beautiful man. It had never been any other way. He was casually dressed in baggy blue jeans and a Barbour jacket with a white t shirt underneath.

‘We should call each other in the morning so that we avoid turning up at popular beauty spots dressed exactly the same way!’ Claire giggled looking up at him, the sun, blocked slightly by his large frame.

Jamie plonked himself down beside her his broad smile lighting up his face. They then sat in silence, neither quite knowing how to proceed. It hung in the air, this was their special place, where they played as children, kissed as teenagers. It’s a place that only they knew about.

Eventually Jamie broke the heavy silence.

‘I can't put into words how wonderful it is to be here with you again, Sassenach’ said Jamie, not looking directly at Claire but gazing at the East Lomond Hills across the vast glen.

He stopped, as if to compose himself. His voice was low, and so very earnest, Claire could tell that he was emotional.

‘You can’t imagine how many times I’ve sat here alone wishing that you were right here by my side. I could always share my worries and joys with you. I was desolate when you decided to go and live with Lamb so suddenly. For so long I wished you back here with me and I had frankly lost hope that you would ever return to Falkland.’

‘I’m sorry that I left so abruptly Jamie. I had no idea what to do when I witnessed what I did. My heart was broken, I was confused and not thinking straight. It’s hard for me to talk about it. It wasn’t only my heart that was broken, I was totally broken’.

‘Please Sassenach, tell me. I need to know what it was I did, or didn’t do, to drive you away’ pleaded Jamie.

Claire took a deep breath. She did not have time to plan how to tell this story, to relive it was so very painful. As if sensing her unease, Jamie tenderly took her hands in his.

‘It was always easier when we touched Claire. I am listening. Talk to me please'.

Before she knew what she was doing Claire was caressing Jamie’s knuckles with her thumb, deep in thought. Every nerve alive.

It all came tumbling out. What she had seen with him and Mary and what she had heard him say to her. How she had run back to the Fraser household, devastated, thinking that their lovemaking had meant nothing to Jamie. She decided to go to Lamb early and leave him to make his life with Mary.

Jamie’s hands squeezed hers tightly before looking up at her with tears threatening to spill from his beautiful blue eyes.

‘How Claire?’

‘How what?’ said Claire quizzically

‘How could you think I would play you false sweetheart? How could you think that I would make love to you and within the hour decide that I loved someone else? Is that how little you thought of me lass? We have known each other since we were bairns, and you think I would do that to you? The person I love most in the world?’

Jamie was still emotional, but his emotion was now intermingled with anger.

‘Well like I said, I was distraught and not thinking straight but I know what I saw, and I know what I heard. What was I supposed to think Jamie?’ replied Claire defiantly.

‘That may be so Sassenach, but sometimes what you see and hear in a moment can be taken out of context. I cannot believe this is why you left me! Holy mother Sassenach, I am so fucking angry right now’ Jamie’s voice had risen, and his face was now a shade of crimson.

‘Well, I was fucking angry then Jamie Fraser so that kind of makes us even stevens doesn’t it. Perhaps you would like to give me that ‘context’ you are talking about, and you can put me out of my wretchedness, and I can finally move on with my life instead of feeling like the world’s biggest failure in love’.

Claire was now fighting back tears, anger, frustration, hurt.

Jamie huffed loudly, ‘That night, the night of the anniversary party. Mary had declared her everlasting love and affection for Jenny. Mary asked that they be more than friends. Mary wanted her and Jenny to be girlfriends’

Claire’s head whipped round to Jamie.

‘What?’ she shrieked.

‘Aye, it was a right old stramash. Jenny did not know what to say and stormed off in embarrassment. Mrs B found Mary crying and asked her what was up. She came out there and then to her mother, in the middle of a party’

‘What did Mrs B say?’ asked Claire now totally intrigued.

‘Told her to dry her eyes and stop being so daft. Told her that she was unlikely to be the only gay person in the village and promptly got on with the party arrangements.’

‘That led to you telling you love her….how?’ questioned Claire sarcastically

‘Her mother ignored her all evening, Jenny ignored her all evening, she felt that everyone had turned against her. She tried to speak to Bob but he brushed her off saying he was too busy to talk. It was a momentous and meaningful moment for her Sassenach, and no-one took the time to talk to her. She felt unloved and cast aside. I have known her since she was a wean, she’s a gentle soul. It upset me to see her so forlorn so I gave her what friendship and comfort I could’.

Claire sat speechless. He did not love Mary; he had not betrayed her. He had not gone from her arms straight to another. Her emotions were somersaulting, and pinging off each other. She did not know if this was a happy box or a sad box moment, this moment could not fit into any compartment.

Of course, she was happy that Jamie had not cheated on her. On the other hand, she was devastated that she had let her emotions get the better of her and not trusted him enough to let him explain. The fact that Jamie had now moved on with another, sat squarely in the sad box.

‘So sorry Jamie’, said Claire reaching for his hand.

‘No! No! Sorry will not cut it Sassenach. You thought I would do that to you? After all we had been through, after we made love and I told you that I loved you! I can’t believe you thought so little of me Claire.’ Jamie was visibly angry, and his voice was trembling.

‘When?’ screamed Claire.

‘When what?’ screamed Jamie back.

‘When did you say that you loved me?’ tears now ran freely down her cheeks.

At the sight of Claire’s tears Jamie softened and took her hand.

‘What do you mean when Claire? I have loved you my whole life, well to be honest I cannot recall my life without you in it. Every plan I made was with you in mind, every step I took I considered you, you were my every thought, my every ambition, my every dream’ Jamie could not believe what he was hearing.

‘Why didn’t you say it?’ cried Claire ‘You fucking said it to Mary Baird!’

Jamie stopped. ‘What do you mean? I never said it? I must have said it, Claire. I thought it every minute of every day woman’

Claire sobbed. ‘You didn’t! You didn’t!! But I heard you say it to another woman, and it broke my heart. I thought you had found someone that you loved, and it was not me’.

Jamie gently took her by the shoulders and with one hand tenderly tilted her chin upwards.

‘Well, Sassenach, I am telling you now. I love you; I always have. I love nobody the way I love you'.

Chapter Text

‘Why did you not wait Claire? Why always so indignant and headstrong? I mean it is one of the things I love about you but how could you believe I would play you false like that? Did you think so little of me?’ huffed Jamie angrily.

‘I’m sorry, I truly am. I wished I had waited to hear you out, but I was so stunned to hear you speak those words to Mary when I had not even heard them from you. I hurt myself as much as I hurt you Jamie’ Claire pleaded with him.

‘Really? How do you make that one out Claire? Huh? You had control over your actions. I had no idea what was going on! You fled without a word at the crack of dawn without so much as a cheerio. My phone number was blocked. At least I presume it was blocked, no-one with a beating heart could have ignored my texts begging you to speak to me. I called you a thousand times or more, every day for 18 months. I prayed that one day I would miraculously get through. My weekly letters of course went unanswered, probably unopened too. The worst though was the number of times Lamb turned me away from your front door!! I would stand for hours by your house hoping to catch a glimpse of you. I felt such a fool when my Da told me that you and Lamb had moved. I was devastated Claire, broken hearted, lost and devastated. I had no fucking idea where you had gone! You vanished from my life completely with no explanation’ Jamie’s voice was rising now.

‘I wasn’t happy either, I promise you. My heart was broken too, and I went through indescribable loss’ Claire was now crying gently

‘YOU!’ raged Jamie!

‘It was your decision!’ He fumed, his face now red with rage.

‘It was not my decision to lose our child!’ sobbed Claire

Jamie stilled immediately, stunned by her words.

‘Our child? You lost our child?’ asked Jamie, anger replaced by shock and tenderness.

‘I’m so sorry Jamie. I should have told you’ She whispered, not quite believing how the words had tumbled out of her mouth.

‘You can tell me now’ he said, taking her soft hand into his and caressing it tenderly.

‘When I arrived in London, I was so distressed, I thought you had betrayed me. I wasn’t eating or doing much of anything really, except crying and feeling sorry for myself. I had dropped out of school and was in no rush to get back, I made no attempt to make friends, I just shut myself off completely from everyone I loved. Lamb and Jilly were at their wits end.

I was four and a half months pregnant before I realised. My periods had stopped when mum and dad died so it did not occur to me that because I did not have a period I could be pregnant. Thinking back, some of it made sense. I was constantly nauseous, and I had strange cravings, but I thought that was down to lack of food, and my body willing me to eat’ Claire’s voice was thick and heavy with emotion.

Jamie pulled Claire close and kissed the top of her head. ‘Oh Claire, my poor Sassenach, what am I to do with you? Whispered Jamie into her soft, sweet smelling brown curls.

‘When I found out I was pregnant, I was petrified. Jilly and Lamb said it would be fine though. Whatever I wanted or needed both emotionally and financially, they would help and support me. I needed a bit of time to get used to the idea myself and then I was going to let you know.

Whatever had happened between us I knew neither you nor your family would turn their back on a child of theirs. I knew everyone would love my, sorry I mean our, child. Despite what I had witnessed between you, and Mary I knew that our child would be enveloped in love and would be cherished by two loving families.

A week later, I started to bleed profusely. Luckily, I was at Jilly’s in Belsize Lane and there is a hospital nearby, she rushed me to A&E and that is where I lost our baby.

Claire took a deep breath as if to summon up courage. 'So, it happened all over again. The moment I felt love again, the moment I felt that someone was mine to love and be loved in return, whoosh, taken from me. No questions, no explanations, no nothing, had you fooled Beauchamp, nope not this time. Nothing going into your happy box, just another contribution to the big fat box of loss’ Claire laughed sarcastically to herself.

She turned to Jamie; his blue eyes were brimming with unshed tears.

‘I wish I had known. My heart aches at the thought of you going through that Claire. I am glad that you know I would have loved our child, with all my heart. It was a child made from love’ tears now ran freely down Jamie’s cheeks.

He stood up and pulled Claire up beside him. He took her in his arms pulling her tightly, flush against his body.

Claire felt crushed by this monumental squeeze but did not care. Jamie was full to the brim with emotion and hugging the life from her. He was crying softly but reassuring her at the same time, lovingly caressing her hair, and whispering softly to her.

‘You have always been a brave wee thing Sassenach. You are a survivor, and I am sorry that you feel alone in the world. Please tell me though, you know that you always have me. You do know that don’t you?’

Claire gazed up at him. Despite working in fashion surrounded by the most beautiful people on the planet, Jamie was the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes upon. There had never been any comparison in her mind, not now, not ever. This was a man who was beautiful both inside and out. How could she have doubted it? What a fool she had been, a young impetuous , hormonal teenager who was wracked with grief. She only had herself to blame for the lost years.

Was this the moment where she asked in what way he would always be there for her? Of course she could not. She could not hurt Mae, or face the alternative, which was rejection from Jamie.

Chapter Text

The rain started to drizzle, and a thick blanket of Scottish grey mist hovered over them. Jamie and Claire scurried over a mound and finally spotted a tiny makeshift shelter. It was not lost on either of them that they had built shelters just like this when they were young whilst out seeking their next adventure. The lopsided shelter was thatched with heavy branches and dried out heather, inside there was a sheet of tarpaulin weighed down by rocks at each corner, it was just enough to cover them both and shield them from the lazy Scottish rain.

They scooted down inside the shelter and at once became aware of how close they were to each other.

She felt like a raw open wound, her eyes red with crying, the redness matching her nose which she had been blowing incessantly. However, she felt lighter having shared the pregnancy and miscarriage with Jamie and felt soothed and reassured by his reaction. She had expected no less of course but the way she had blurted it out to him was not what she had planned. Well Beauchamp, it is out now she berated herself.

There was an air of trepidation, neither one knowing what to say or which direction to take. Claire desperately wanted to apologise for her lack of contact after she lost their baby. How could she explain that she had hit the floor again? It seemed that was all she seemed to do; at the time she was spiralling in a tycoon of constant despair. From her parents, to Jamie, to losing the baby. She was determined that losing Lamb would not pull her back down, to that dark place that she found impossible to navigate. No, she was going to face her innermost insecurities and ghosts and take control, even if it hurt. The one thing she was absolutely certain of was that she would cope, no matter what life threw at her. She owed it to Lamb to do whatever it took to move forward and be happy. It was a promise that she had made to him and one that she was determined to keep. She was a survivor; she knew it and she would prove it.

Claire nudged Jamie gently. ‘I am so sorry that I avoided you for so long, I had no right to hide the truth from you. Lamb was only trying to protect me; I was in no fit state to see anyone for several months to be honest. I went into hospital, a specialist hospital, called the Priory for a while to help me cope with life, loss, the universe, and all that was conspiring against me. It was intensive and emotionally very challenging, but it taught me essential coping mechanisms that I needed to perfect so that I could just exist in the real world.

I was working with Jilly, just as a runner at a video shoot, when the art director offered me a small modelling job. It was easy, mindless, I could switch off, just follow instructions, pretend to be someone else. Someone else dressed me, did my makeup, my hair. Turn left, right, sit down, stand up, smile, pout, laugh. I was just learning how to operate day to day without falling apart.

I began to build a good reputation as a model, I was easy to work with, didn’t complain or demand, or grouch about the hours, after all I had nowhere to be, neither did I have anyone waiting for me. Changing my name made it easier to play that role, the role of someone else. I was living the life of Sass Alexander, the hardworking model who smiled and was helpful and bought pain au chocolate for the crew when we worked at the weekend.

My first few jobs were so successful that Elite approached me, they are world class at what they do so I thought why not. I left the commercial detail.to Jilly and that’s when my modelling career took off.

For the last few years, I have acted at being someone else. Not exactly the career I hoped for but there you have it. When I became the face of Chanel it all catapulted to another level, I continued playing my role but to a wider audience. Sass Alexander, the famous model and closet actress. Only when I was with Lamb and Jilly was I Claire, the real me. The flawed creature with more baggage than Heathrow airport'.

Jamie listened intently to each and every word. That huge empty void he had struggled with for so long felt at least partly filled. His heart had healed a little and for that he was thankful, he knew that he had a journey of recovery ahead of him too. His heart ached for Claire, she had been through too much in her young life and deserved joy and happiness and he was determined that she would find it.

Jamie put his hand over hers and whispered to her,

‘And now here Claire, this is your home where you belong, we all know and love the real Claire Beauchamp. You are not flawed; life has just been unnecessarily cruel to you. Tell me, if Lamb had not died, would you still have come back?’ he asked.

‘Yes, Jilly and I had been talking about it. She knows that there were things left unsaid, questions unanswered and truths that had to be told. It was always the plan to come but the loss of Lamb just crushed me and suddenly, I felt in desperate need of something or someone to anchor me, so I decided on impulse just to hoof it north hoping I would find that something. I didn’t really have a plan to be honest. I am winging it'.

‘I’m so glad Claire. Just so happy you are here, of course not happy about the circumstances but you get my meaning.’ Jamie gave her a lop-sided smile.

The rain was now hammering down and seeping through the amateur shelter, so they decided to make a run for it down the hill, arriving ten minutes later at the Stag Inn soaked through to their skin.

‘Come Sassenach, I’ll light the fire and put the kettle on’ Jamie made his way upstairs to the living quarters and Claire followed him.

Since she had last been at the Stag Inn, the living area had been redecorated and modernised. She plonked herself in the sitting room.

The room was spacious with light thick oak wooden floors, a huge velvet royal blue sofa wrapped its way around one corner of the room and was complimented by crush velvet cream cushions. Claire was fascinated by the artwork, there were two large blue and red ‘Rothko’ type prints hanging on the widest wall and the smaller wall was decorated with Andy Warhol black and white photographs in black frames all different shapes and sizes. There was an expansive chimney breast painted the match the velvet sofas. Against it stood a large grey marble fireplace which hosted two cast iron candlesticks at one end. The chimney breast was offset by a huge round star shaped bevelled glass mirror, the contrast of the deep blue and the glass was simply breath-taking. The windows had white wooden slatted blinds fitted which gave the room an open airy feeling.

At the other end of the room there was a slim iron console table which supported three photographs in thick chunky silver frames, one photograph looked like a recent one of Jamie and his siblings, Jenny, and Willie, all three of them dressed up. The lads in their Fraser kilts and Jenny in a slinky black evening gown with her Fraser tartan sash draped over her shoulder. The second photograph was a stunning black and white one of Ellen and Brian, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, it was the third photograph however that stunned Claire. It was of their two families, the Frasers and the Beauchamps. The photograph was a wonderfully happy one. It was taken at the Markinch Highland games, an annual event which included highland dancing, tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, and a variety of other things like cake stalls, art, crafts, competitions for best vegetables, face painting and of course the most popular tent of all, The Fraser Whisky tasting tent!

Both sets of parents, with wee drams in hand, were sitting on a high grassy bank with the four children sitting further down. Claire and Jenny had taken part in the highland dancing competition and were decked out head to toe in cute tartan skirts with matching waistcoats, long tartan socks and white frilly shirts, the two boys were in kilts, fresh from their attempt to win the sword dancing competition, sadly they were knocked out in the first round, much to their joint relief. Claire was of course next to Jamie in the photograph, and he had put his two fingers behind Claire’s head to pretend that she had bunny rabbit ears. Every single person in the photograph was laughing, great big wild smiles with eyes disappearing into their faces in a moment of pure and utter joyfulness. Claire felt herself well up at the cherished memory of the happy times that they all had. She realised that the tears were happy ones.

Jamie strolled into the sitting room carrying a tray with two large mugs of hot tea and a plate of highland shortbread.

‘Wow, Jamie, what great taste. This is such a beautiful room.’ Gushed Claire

‘Thanks Sassenach, I have to confess that my mother had a hand in it. When they family left to go back up to the Highlands, she made sure I was in a comfortable home and not existing with a table, chair, and telly.

‘It’s changed since the Murdoch family lived here,’ said Claire.

‘Aye it has, mind you it was difficult for Kath to keep beautiful things with those rowdy unruly lads. Her and Rab have a beautiful house just up the road now that the lads have flown the nest. They have an online craft beer business. They set it up when they sold the Stag Inn to me and Da. You’ll see Davie Murdoch tonight, he’s coming in for a quick drink, come by and say hello. He will be chuffed to bits to see you.’

Claire looked up and took the steaming cup of tea from Jamie, their hands brushing slightly and Claire shivered.

‘Thanks, I will drop by. Will be lovely to see him’

They settled into the large comfortable sofas, sipping their tea, nibbling on the mouth-watering shortbread, whilst drying out.

Looking around Claire could see no obvious signs of Mae in the flat. She recalled when she met Mae that first evening, she had said that she lived in Dunfermline which was several miles from Falkland. However, when she went to the loo earlier, she did spot a washbag which could have belonged to a woman.

Claire finally plucked up some dutch courage, ‘So, how long have you and Mae been together?

Jaime startled slightly and blushed at the unexpected question, ‘Och, not long, 5 or 6 months perhaps, we don’t live together, it’s not overly serious, although I suspect her friends would have one arm up my back and marching me to the Kirk! I can state quite categorically Sassenach that there is no danger that Jamie Fraser will marry any time soon’ he chuckled.

‘I am glad to see you happy, really I am’ said Claire with warmth in her voice, she meant it as well but was secretly relieved that the relationship with Mae was not serious. She thought that Mae felt differently though, Mae's feelings for Jamie were obvious for all to see.

Jamie looked over at her, his eyes full of genuine concern, ‘I wish the same for you Claire, your happiness is so very important to me, truly’.
Claire thanked Jamie for the tea and biscuits and made her excuses as she had a masseur coming to her hotel that afternoon. She arranged to meet Jamie back at the Stag Inn that evening to surprise Davie.

She was looking forward to seeing Davie, he was slightly older than the rest of the gang and had always seemed so grown up, even though he was only older by a couple of years. Jamie told her that he had taken a loan from his father and had bought a music venue in the neighbouring town of Kirkcaldy where he promoted local music artists but also spotted new talent and had ended up managing three or four bands. He would have a lot in common with Jilly mused Claire. According to Jamie, Davie had become very successful, his music venue was packed to capacity most nights, he was becoming a bit of a local celebrity and heart throb with no shortage of admirers.

Claire decided to make more of an effort that night, what the heck, you are the face of Chanel, why not look like it for a change.

As a model, experts had taught her how to apply her makeup and she had honed her craft over the years, how to accentuate, shade and hide. Her makeup was applied to perfection. The eyes were dark and smokey, the darkness of the makeup accentuating their unique honey colour. Every curve of her flawless creamy skin had definition and purpose, cheekbones, jaw, nose, forehead, everything had something to say. Her lips were last, the shape of the cupid bow defined and enhanced, she applied a nude lip gloss which gave off a natural glow to the overall effect.

Her hair was dark, curly, and wild, the curls defined and separated with a hint of oil to avoid any frizz.

It was all trickery of course but it was her trickery and it had been a while since she had looked forward to going out. She remembered Davie so fondly, it would be another step in the journey to rediscover the real Claire Beauchamp.

With make up at full tilt and diamond earrings in place, she decided to downplay her outfit. She opted for black palazzo trousers and jewelled Manolo Blahnik black flats, a luxurious N.Peal champagne coloured cashmere sweater cascaded over her very slight curves. She draped her Max Mara cream cashmere jacket over her shoulder and made her way over to the Stag Inn. Casual chic.

Davie Murdoch had arrived at the Stag Inn and was chatting to the barman. He was tall, over 6ft, slim, short cropped black hair, cute dimples that went along with his equally cute smile, his piercing bluey green eyes could give Jamie Fraser’s eyes a run for their money any day of the week.

Davie was leaning lazily across the bar, when he felt a wave of fresh air from the doorway, he glanced sideways out of idle curiosity.
‘In the name of the wee man and his dog’ he muttered in disbelief just as Jamie entered the bar.

‘Who the absolute fuck is that?’ Davie could not take his eyes of the honey eyed curly haired elegant beauty standing, looking slightly nervous, in the doorway.
‘Davie, you must remember Claire?’ Said Jamie who felt a little uncomfortable at Davie’s reaction.

Davie, still drooling, was speechless, which to be frank was unusual for him. He walked over to Claire and without waiting for an invitation, pulled her into his arms and whispered softly into her right ear, ‘What the hell took you so long to come home Beauchamp?’

Chapter Text

Davie’s warm breath caressed Claire’s ear sending a million shivers down to the very tip of her toes.

‘Jesus H Roosevelt Christ’ she thought when the fuck did he grow so handsome?

Davie was tall and slim, still quite gangly to be honest, but it suited him. He was not as tall or as broad as Jamie. God he was firm though, his lithe body felt fit under Claire’s touch.
His hair was cropped and jet black which contrasted with his pale skin, he had an impish smile and the way he smiled gave the impression that he knew most women were a sucker for dimples. Davie possessed an air of confidence that immediately put Claire at ease, she felt protected. There was no awkwardness or a feeling of questions unanswered hanging in the air, just an abundance of joy and pleasure to see her, and for that, she was grateful.

Davie continued to hold Claire for a moment too long, but she did not feel uncomfortable, after all they were childhood friends.

Davie pulled back gently and took Claire’s shoulders between his big soft hands his kind eyes boring into Claire’s honey gold.

‘You were always a desperately bonnie lass but now, Claire, you’re the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. You are just ravishing’ Davie gushed whilst Claire developed a patchy red nervous rash on her neck out of sheer embarrassment.

‘Why thank you kind sir, you haven’t turned out too badly yourself’ retorted Claire, attempting to be calm, cool, and collected. She tried not to dwell on the way Davie had uttered the word ‘ravishing’ to her in his Fife accent as it was doing all sorts of things to her. Oh, it was so good to be back in Scotland and back in her home town.

A nearby cough interrupted their cosy reunion.

‘Well, if you two are quite finished perhaps I can get the lady a drink? Your usual Claire?’ Jamie was trying not to sound annoyed, but truth be told, he was not hiding it very well at all.

Claire turned to look at him, Jamie still took her breath away. The tips of his russet curls were still slightly wet, he wore a slight shadow of facial hair which made him look more rugged than he had a right to look, he wore baggy jeans, Ralph Lauren if Claire was not mistaken, which lay fashionably on his hip, with a tight black tee shirt which accentuated his physique. He is a bloody god thought Claire to herself and feeling suddenly quite warm.

She snapped herself out of her little day dream.

‘My usual?’ thought Claire, slightly irritated at the attempt by Jamie to make it sound as though they had had weeks to get reacquainted and that he already knew her. She arrived two days ago and had been in the pub once, why was Jamie waving a bottle of Cabalie red wine asking her if she wanted ‘her usual’. What was he playing at?

‘Thanks Jamie, I don’t actually have a usual, an Aperol Spritz would go down a treat right now though’ Claire smiled sweetly, right back at you Fraser, she thought.

Davie wrapped his arm protectively around Claire’s tiny waist and guided her slowly to a table by the roaring fire.

‘Right, Sassenach, I want to hear all your news, every last detail, I am not moving from this spot until I have a detailed history of your exact comings and goings since you left this one-horse town,’ laughed Davie.

A crash came from behind the bar and a sheepish Jamie looked over.

‘Sorry folks, soapy glass, I’m an amateur behind the bar, I should leave it to the professionals’ laughed Jamie, not convincingly.

Claire was also surprised when Davie used her nickname of Sassenach, only Jamie had ever called her that. She glanced over to Jamie and saw that he had a look of pure thunder on his face.

Jamie eventually came over to the table with the drinks and was clearly put out that Davie was sitting next to Claire with his arm casually draped across the back of her chair. Jamie sat opposite and took in the sight before him.

Claire and Davie chattered for the next half an hour, Davie never taking his eyes off her.. He stroked her arm affectionately every now and then, he was clearly captivated by her.

Claire seemed equally enamoured with Davie, although she did her very best to include Jamie in the conversation, he was uncharacteristically quiet and made little attempt to contribute to the excited chatter emanating from Claire and Davie..

‘Right then Davie, are you off then pal? I promised Claire some supper and I know you have some lassie waiting for you’ Jamie asked rather curtly.

Davie laughed, ‘are you mad man? I have the most beautiful woman on the planet at my side, who also happens to be one of my best friends, I have not laid eyes on her for 5 years and you think I am leaving here to spend time with anyone else? Nah, a quick text and I am free. You can be so glaikit at times Jamie’.

Davie trotted off to make a phone call leaving Claire and Jamie alone at the table.

‘Nice to see Davie after so long’ said Claire, trying to break the invisible sheet of thick ice that had suddenly appeared between them.

‘Aye, quite the player is our Davie’ muttered Jamie.

‘Is everything okay Jamie? You seem a little out of sorts’ whispered Claire.

‘I’m fine Sassenach, to be honest, I was not expecting to be sharing you this evening, I was hoping to carry on our conversation from earlier’ Jamie seemed nervous, and Claire could not quite work out why.

His hand was tapping against his thigh, always a sure sign that he was anxious about something. He was smiling slightly as he was speaking, this was another trick he used to mask his worry.

Davie Murdoch bounced back to the table. ‘All done, I am yours for the night doll! He planted a playful kiss on top of Claire’s head’
‘Jamie, why don’t you give Mae a call and ask her to come over? Would be good to see her’ chirped Davie.

‘Nah, she’s out with her pals tonight and I was hoping to catch up with Claire a wee bit more. Mae didn’t want to be a wee gooseberry’ Jamie huffed, wishing that Davie would take the hint and just do one.

Davie Murdoch was a music man, a promoter, a hustler, he had the face of an angel and the hide of a rhino. He had his sights set on Claire Beauchamp and Jamie Fraser was not going to elbow him out of the way. He had allowed that to happen when they were bairns, and he was determined that history was not going to repeat itself. Jamie Fraser had his chance and he had blown it. Davie had no idea how Jamie had blown it, but he had. This was Davie time, and he was going nowhere.

Claire had a wonderful evening, the three of them took a trip down memory lane, laughing at the capers and scrapes they had got themselves into. None of them had talked about their lives now, there would be time enough for all of that. This was healing time, the restoration of friendships, and the reconnecting of souls.
Jamie, seeing Claire so relaxed and happy, had relaxed a little too, it warmed his heart to see her smile and laugh. That was in abundance this evening.

He had decided not to let this be the Davie Murdoch show. Claire was his best friend, his Sassenach, and he was not going to sit idly back and let Davie Murdoch winch his Claire, he eventually joined in with gusto.

The food was incredible, Jamie told Chef that Claire loved seafood, so they feasted on chilled tomato, gazpacho with crispy basil Scottish langoustines and avocado followed by Cannelloni of scallop and sea trout with crème fraiche & seaweed sauce with pink grapefruit, all washed down with a few chilled bottles of Lobster Shack white wine.

The bell sounded for last orders and Claire declared that she’d had enough food and alcohol and needed to go home and lie down. As a model, she rarely feasted on tasty food lathered with butter with lashings of alcohol, she was feeling incredibly decadent.

Davie leapt up offered his arm and insisted on walking her the few hundred yards back to the Covenanters Hotel.

‘Och, Davie no bother, you order your taxi back to Kirkcaldy, and we will wait here with you, then I can walk Claire back to the Baird’s’ insisted Jamie.

‘Ah yes Jamie but then I wouldn’t be able to make a date with this beauty for tomorrow.’

Davie turned to Claire and playfully took her hand.

‘Claire, how do you fancy a trip to the beach at St Andrews? We’ll hop on the Harley Davidson, take a long leisurely walk along the sands and then we can book a table at that seafood restaurant that overlooks the ocean, we can snuggle down and have seafood by the seashore. What do you say?’ Davie, the promoter, had a way of making everything sound so alluring.

Claire glanced at Jamie who looked as though he was about to combust. Claire felt a giggle starting, she did not know why. Well deep down she did. Deep, deep down she knew that Jamie was jealous, and she was glad of it.

‘Oh Davie Murdoch, you utter charmer, Harley Davidson, speed, excitement, the beach, good food and great company, count me in lad. I am yours for the day’ said Claire giving Davie the most bewitching smile.

Chapter Text

I remember the day that I woke, and realised she had gone. I ran from room to room, my heart racing, gripped with panic, refusing to believe what my Ma had told me.

Gone? It made no sense to me at all. We love each other.

Claire had been quiet in the days leading up to her departure but to be honest I thought she was expecting her period. She was always a bit short tempered and withdrawn for a few days prior to that.

On my bended knees, I pleaded with my Da to go after her and stop her before she could board that flight. They looked at me with such pity, it made me feel even more wretched and pathetic.

I called her mobile phone constantly. At first it would ring out and flip to voicemail, so I left countless messages pleading, nay begging, her to speak to me. Was she sick? Was she grieving? was Lamb sick? Was she having a breakdown? I was desperate, for anything that resembled an explanation. Of course, she never responded, eventually the line would just go dead. No connection, nothing. I did not have Lamb’s number so I could not call him and there seem to be no number listed in the directory.

Ma and Pa claimed not to have his number, not sure I believed either of them. Neither did I have Jilly’s number, I had met her a few times but there was never any reason for me to be in contact directly with her., I didn’t even know her surname or the name of her Company which made tracking her down impossible. I did have Lamb’s address though, so I penned Claire love letters every week for the next 24 months, just hoping and praying that one letter, sentence or a word would get through to her.

Neither Claire nor I were a fan of social media, our friends were here in Fife. We did follow a few bands on Instagram but the day she left she deleted her account. Another route closed.

I was bereft, I could not eat, I could not sleep, I was a shell of my former self. Of course, I failed my exams so did not make it to university. If Ma and Da were upset, they did not show it. Da eventually sat me down and gently probed me on what my plan b was. I could not think straight to formulate any kind of meaningful plan. My heart was aching and my life shattered.

Claire occupied every waking part of me. She was the last thing I thought about at night and the first thing that entered my waking mind ever morning. I craved the evenings because I could go to bed early and just lie and think about her. I would close my eyes and my mind would wander to our last night together. The closeness, the warmth, the laughter, and the overwhelming feeling of pure love. I had never felt anything like it and have not since. You see, I could not remember a time without this beautiful creature in my life, this was such unfamiliar territory, it scared me because I could not, and frankly did not want, to see a way forward out of this thick dark fog that enveloped me.

I decided to take action. I took a job at the Covenanters waiting tables, shifting beer barrels, anything the Baird’s needed doing I would do it. I needed every single Scottish pound so that I could save up and go after her. It took about three months, but I persevered, and I would not be deterred.

I did go to London to look for her, I tracked down Lamb to a townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush. He was shocked to see me; we had only met once or twice but he knew exactly who I was.

He explained that Claire was not there, she was away but he was not at liberty to tell me where she had gone. He was kindly and he looked at me with a mixture of pity and grief when I pleaded with him to tell me. That surprised me, looking back I can understand why.

I went back every day for two weeks and every day Lamb told me the same thing, he never wavered from his script. I felt like such a sap, a sad sap.

I returned home to Falkland to earn more money and from then on returned to London every weekend I could.

I continued to knock on Lamb’s door but got no response and spent two whole days standing in MacFarlane Road, Shepherd’s Bush, waiting for Lamb to return. Little did I know that they had moved house and I was standing outside the wrong house, in the relentless lashing rain. No forwarding address. Another route closed dead.

Life went on after Claire left but it was not the same. I wanted my old life not some second-rate imitation, I wanted to be with the woman I loved and have always loved, and that woman was Claire.

I had knuckled down workwise though. Da encouraged me to start an apprenticeship in Marketing at the Distillery. It was a good way to get a qualification, having let myself down badly with my Highers. I started at the bottom and worked my way around the various departments getting acquainted with the business. I found a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Slowly but surely, I got back on my feet. My heart was still broken but my mind was co-operating with life.
I still missed her dreadfully, but I had taken a step back into the real world. When my parents and siblings relocated back to the highlands, I refused to go with them. Of course, I said it was my apprenticeship, but we all knew the real reason I would not move. If she ever came back, I need to be here.

Davie’s parents were selling the Stag Inn, I had a nice inheritance from my grandparents which had been put in trust until I was 21, that was more than enough to buy the pub and even after hiring staff to run it, it would provide a tidy regular income which would supplement my meagre salary at the Distillery. I was junior management and still very much learning the ropes. Of course, the main reason for buying it was that if Claire ever returned to Falkland, she would surely visit a place that held such happy memories.

 

My third lonely year was coming to an end, I was in the newsagent on the High Street when I saw her. The lass in front of me had picked up a copy of Elle Magazine and there she was. I thought I would pass out on the spot at the sight of her. She was shining from the front cover, dressed in a scarlet red halter neck top which amplified her breasts. Her long chocolate brown locks had been styled into generous waves. She was not smiling which only enhanced her cupid bow and made her lips look even plumper. Her mesmerising eyes, smoked with grey glittery kohl, the large pools of liquid gold were recognisable anywhere and they stared deep into my very being.

Well then, at least I knew what her occupation was and after a wee bit of detective work, I knew her name, Sass Alexander. No wonder I could not find her. Not only had she changed her phone number, address but also her fucking name! I still had no way of contacting her, she was an enigma, no social media presence, no Wikipedia, nothing. My heart warmed at her choice of professional name though. I allowed myself to feel a little happier that day. I was still part of her.
I had also finally accepted that she did not want me to find her, and I had to respect that no matter how much it hurt.

6 months ago, Davie introduced me to Mae. Davie was dating Mae’s sister Maggie. Aye parents with a sense of humour and obviously big Rod Stewart fans.
Maggie had been lucky enough to last for 3 or 4 dates with Davie before he moved on. To be honest, I was not keen at first, we went out on a few double dates with Davie and Maggie, and I eventually found myself having fun.

When Davie finally moved on, I continued to see Mae. We live miles apart and as a Nurse she works shifts so we don’t see each other often but we do see each other regularly. I have told Mae I am not looking for a serious relationship. Like Davie, I was very open and honest to Mae about that.

Mae is fun, a great girl and a good laugh, she has an amazing appetite for life which I really admire. I do not love her though and I know I never will. You cannot force love. You can love to be with someone but not be in love them. We don’t make love either, we have sex, it’s fun but completely devoid of all emotion. It is an act of expression, release, and enjoyment, not an act of love. It’s two 23-year-old youngsters doing what comes naturally. Love does not enter the equation, well not for me anyway.

I think she may have some feeling that the relationship has run its course, she wanted sex the night I saw Claire again for the first time. I just could not, my mind was too sad, joyous, confused and brimming with hope. It would not have been right, I would not have been thinking of Mae and I would rather disappoint her than use her.

She got the right hump though, telling me that the only reason she had worked the shift was to get her ‘reward’ at the end of it.

To be honest, I have been lacking in that department for a wee while. Ever since Claire appeared on the telly in the Chanel advertisement. Luckily, I was on my own, so my tears of frustration, loneliness and love were witnessed only by me. Seeing her on my HD tv brought her back into my life, m sitting room, my home, her smile, her walk, her magnificence. From that moment on it felt wrong to have sex with Mae as my mind was so infatuated with Claire.

Mae deserves someone who will love her, unconditionally and that person will never be me. It would have come to a head sooner or later because I can feel that she wants more, much more than I am able or willing to give. As much as I do not want to hurt Mae, I will hurt her more by staying with her.

When I saw Claire on Friday, I genuinely thought I would pass out at the sight of her. She was as I had always remembered. Her hair was an abundance of wayward dark curls which framed her flushed creamy skin. Her large amber eyes sparkled as she smiled softly at me, looking as nervous and emotional as I felt.

When I got close to her, I could hear her breathing anxiously, it took every ounce of will I possessed not to draw her into my arms and weep. When I moved forward to touch her, she suddenly recoiled. I almost crumbled right there and then. I don’t know how I kept it together.

I cannot express how I felt after seeing her and talking to her.

It was like the sun had come out on a dreich day, my body feels lighter, every nerve I have is alive and hammering for attention, I have more energy, more energy than I have had in years, I can’t stop grinning, I have been running on a diet of love and adrenalin, I didn’t want to sleep that Friday night in case I woke up and discovered it was all a dream.

When Claire told me about our bairn, I felt a tsunami of raw emotion. The happiness we lost is crushing my soul, but more heart-breaking is that she experienced another death. She has had too much to bear in her short life. The extreme highs and low's of emotion I felt was staggering, the deep yearning to protect her was overwhelming.

I am determined to give her space, to let her decide her next step, I want her more than the air I breathe but she stayed away for a reason and that reason was because she did not want to be with me. I must respect that, as much as it feels like my limbs are being torn from my body, I must respect her choices and give her space but also all my support and love. As long as I am walking this planet, she will never be alone.

But now, I was raging, fucking raging.

She will not be a notch in Davie’s belt, over my head body. Don’t get me wrong, Davie is always up front with the lassies, letting them know he is only out for a good time. Some hear the message, but 80% do not and think they convince themselves that they will be the one to tame him. They always fail and inevitably get hurt or angry, sometimes both. I know that Claire has probably met men like Davie before, she’s travelled the world and is wise to men like Davie. How can I be sure though?

Now, more than ever I needed a solid plan. My plan is pure and simple, first protect Claire, second let Mae know that our relationship has run its course.

Chapter Text

As it happened, I did not meet Davie that Sunday, his Nan, Hannah (Han the Nan we used to call her) took a bit of a turn and ended up in Victoria Hospital, quite rightly Davie was concerned and wanted to see her straight away.

Hannah was a feisty wee Scottish lady, in her 70's, barely 5-foot tall, grey coiffured hair and never without her lipstick. She had ruled us all with an iron rod when we were little. I hoped that as soon as she was on the mend I could go and see her too. Davie would let her know I was back. I looked forward to a good telling off, it meant that Han the Nan was on the mend.

I was up and about around 10am on Sunday and had decided to have a late breakfast and fit a run in first as the Scottish weather was so fresh.

I had never joined a gym; Mum could never understand why people would spend well earned money to join a gym just to take in the smell of stale sweat whilst running on the spot!

‘For goodness sake Claire, just run around the park and save your money’ Julia would chide. It had always stuck with me and so I had never joined a gym and never would.

However, for the sake of my spirits more than health, wherever I was in the world, I would try to get out into the fresh air for a run. It’s a great way to see a city, particularly if there is a river or a lake you run along. Even hotel gyms were a 'no go' zone for reasons I had never quite fathomed.

I donned my earphones and set off, the fresh morning air whipping harshly across my make-up free cheeks. I realised as I ran that morning, nothing could ever compared with the rugged breath-taking beauty of Scotland and the lush Lomond Hills

I was humming along to Harry Styles, Watermelon Sugar High, when I suddenly felt a sharp tap on my shoulder, I stopped totally startled.

‘Claire, so sorry but I was shouting on you!’ gasped Jamie looking extremely apologetic.

I looked at him, a wave of joy swept over me and I could not help but smile, even though he had scared the shit out of me.

‘Well hard to tear me away from Harry Styles’ I giggled.

I suggested to Jamie that we run together and he readily agreed. We took our usual route, one that we had not run together in almost 5 years, it was comfortable and easy and both of us remembered the way.

A cool 7km later we arrived back at the Stag Inn, crimson faced, huffing, and puffing.

‘Sassenach, I need to talk to you about something important, how about I rustle us up some breakfast and we can chat? Suggested Jamie, who had come over very serious all of a sudden.

‘Sure, give me 10 minutes to shower and change and I will be right over, my date with Davie has been postponed because Han the Nan is in the Vic’ quipped Claire.

Freshly showered, an aroma of Chanel No 5 wafting seductively in the air, her curly mop of dark hair still damp, cheeks flushed and pink with the heat of the shower. Dressed in black jersey palazzo pants with a matching baggy black sweatshirt with ‘HAPPY’ emblazoned across the front, in a pink that matched her rosy cheeks. She rapped firmly on the door to Jamie’s apartment.

She stood on his doorstep, barefaced and beautiful. Claire Beauchamp was still the most breath-taking woman Jamie had ever laid eyes on. His heart pounded and his face flushed at the thought of what his was about to confess.

Jamie dished up breakfast and Claire munched approvingly into her tangy smashed avocado with coriander lime and chilli, flavours catapulting around her mouth.

‘So, Fraser, what is so important? I am intrigued’ she asked in between mouthfuls.

Jamie took a deep breath, he had to be honest, it may backfire spectacularly, but he had to express what was deep in his heart. They had already wasted too much time on miscommunication.

‘I wanted to let you know that when I see Mae at the end of this week, I will be ending my relationship with her’.

Claire went to say something, but Jamie slowly raised his hand to silence her.

‘Please Claire, just let me finish, I need to say this Sassenach, truly I do, whilst I still have some courage.

Things had started to change with Mae after I saw you in the magazines and your bonny face appeared on TV, right in my sitting room, I couldn't escape you, I didn't want to.

Don't get me wrong, I never ever forgot you, you were always in my heart. I tried so hard to move forward, and I convinced myself and everyone else that I was living a normal life. I was doing a good job at pretending as well, quite the actor. Then, I caught you staring down at me from the newsagent’s shelf. I knew I was kidding myself. I was merely existing, playing a role, being the Jamie that everyone expected me to be. I never felt whole though, I was not me. I was outside just peering in at someone else playing at life. Does that make sense?

Clair, dumfounded, nodded silently, yes; she knew only too well how that felt. To live with half a heart and to bury the rest, just to put it somewhere safe, knowing that one day, you will come back for it.

Jamie gently took her warm hands in his and squeezed gently. ‘What I want to say to you Claire, is that I still love you, with all my heart. I have loved you from the moment I set eyes on you, and I am vexed to my very soul that I could ever lead you to believe that I didn’t.’

Jamie looked deep into her eyes and sighed deeply, trying to contain his emotions. Claire could feel his hands trembling.

‘I do love you, with every fibre of my being. You see I thought it every single day and I thought I told you every day, or at least showed you every day. I am so sorry I let you down Claire. I hope in time you can forgive me.

I don’t expect anything from you Sassenach. You have built a successful career and you have a glamourous life, jetting from city to city. If you have come back here though it’s because you are looking for something, friendship, history, memories or perhaps love? I can offer you all of those things Claire if you will let me.

I realise that you may not feel the same way but at the very least I hope you know that I love you more than words can say. If friendship is all you can offer then I will accept that, I will accept any part of you that I can. I want you in my life, no matter what.’ He seemed to lose his courage and dropped her hands. taking a step back towards the bay window.

Claire gazed up at him, her bright amber eyes brimming with big fat tears.

‘Oh Jamie, you don’t know how long I have waited to hear those words come from your lips’ she stood up and walked over to him and slipped easily into his arms.

He wrapped them around her and they both sighed. Her body flush against his, she felt protected for the first time in years, she was home, safe, she felt at peace. Claire could not find any more words. She was overwhelmed by a tide of sensations, regret, happiness, grief, anger. An atlantic wave of passions rushing through her veins.

Jamie stroked her hair gently and pressed his lips softly against the crown of her head. His relief was palpable.

‘Oh god Claire’ he gasped, his voice quivering and pulling her closer, never wanting to let her go. Hold it together Fraser you great big bairn, hold it together. He chastised himself.

Claire sniffed, ‘So Fraser, when you are a single man, you give me a call huh?’

‘Aye Sassenach, I will.’ replied to Jamie, his voice thick with emotion.

Claire, safe in his arms gazed up at Jamie.

‘Let us take it slowly, start over. Forget the past, we can’t change that but we can create a new future. We are different people now Jamie, we need to take time to get to know each other, learn about each other. For all you know I could be a horrible person’.

Jamie grinned ‘Aye, you might be at that Sassenach, but frankly, I don’t think I care’.

She giggled and punched his arm playfully, ‘Right’ Claire said brightly, 'so the first thing I have learned about the grown up Jamie is you can now cook! Lets finish the banquet, shall we?'

Jamie laughed, a deep throaty genuine laugh. ‘As you wish Sassenach. As you wish’.

Chapter Text

That week, come rain or shine, Jamie and Claire met every morning at 7.45 am for a brisk run before Jamie went off to work, nothing more than a jog, taking their usual route, no time for breakfast afterwards, no public displays of affection.

However, they could not help themselves seeing each other. Jamie dropped by the Covenanters to see Jackie about something or other and just ‘happened’ to bump into Claire, so he stayed for a coffee. Jackie Baird smirked to herself, don’t know who they think they are fooling. She gave them privacy in the drawing room, gently closing the door as she left as if to ward off the other guests.

They had agreed that before they took the next step Jamie should speak to Mae first. They did not want any local gossips to reach Mae first and of course with Falkland being such a small town that was highly likely as both Jamie and Claire were easily recognisable. They were simply two friends running, then on the Wednesday they were joined by Liam who rented Claire’s parents’ house with his wife Samantha. A wee running club had formed, perfectly respectable.

Mae was due at Jamie’s on Friday night. He was dreading the conversation, he knew she would be devastated, this was his future though and it was best for both him and Mae.

Mae arrived at the Stag Inn around 7pm on Friday evening, Jamie was already in the bar and signalled to her as she entered, to carry on up to the flat above. Mae looked beautiful, her silky strawberry blonde locks were blow dried to perfection, her big soft brown eyes were complimented with chocolate brown eye shadow. She was dressed casually in jeans and a dark chocolate brown v necked sweater, which highlighted her eyes, she skipped upstairs in her leopard skin converse trainers.

Aye she was bonnie thought Jamie but for the life of him he could feel nothing, she deserved so much more.

Mae beamed at Jamie, assuming that the invitation upstairs was an opportunity to immediately get a wee bit cosy. She bounced upstairs taking two at a time, readying her dark plumb coloured lips for a passionate kiss from her handsome sexy man.

Jamie came in behind her and gently closed the door. He turned and looked at her, not making any move towards her. Mae felt the atmosphere change immediately.

She sat down nervously. ‘What’s the matter darlin’ you look upset?’ She prompted.

Jamie rubbed his hands nervously, his voice quiet ‘Mae, I don’t know how to tell you this, it’s not easy’ he faltered slightly. He looked at her bonnie face, full of worry and concern but there was no turning back.

‘I can’t go on seeing you. I am sorry lass’ said Jamie, softly but firmly, finding some courage.

Mae’s big brown eyes widened in shock and dismay ‘Why Jamie? Why?’

‘Mae, I don’t feel for you the way that I should, the way a man should feel about his girlfriend, I am sorry. You are a braw lass, and any lad would be lucky to have you. It’s just that I don’t feel that way. I’m sorry, truly.’ Said Jamie gently, who was now standing by the bay window as far away from her as he could manage.

Mae put her pretty head in her hands and sobbed loudly. So hard that Jamie could already see what was either mascara or dark eye shadow seeping through her damp fingers.

Jamie felt like a wretch, he hated to see her hurt. However, he loved Claire more. You cannot force yourself to feel what you do not. Life didn’t work that way.

Mae looked up at him, her mascara now running freely down her cheeks.

‘Jamie, you can’t leave me. You can’t leave me, not now’ She cried even harder.

Jamie looked at her quizzically, something in the way she said it made him freeze.

‘I’m pregnant’ she sobbed, ‘We are going to have a baby’

Jamie’s face stilled. He pursed his lips and looked at the sobbing mess in front of him.

‘Oh aye? How do you make that out then lass??’ Said Jamie with zero emotion in his voice.

Mae stopped suddenly. ‘What do you mean? I am having your baby Jamie Fraser; you know full well how that happens’ she snapped.

‘Lass I ken how bairns are made. I am just not quite sure how this bairn was made unless it was the immaculate conception.’

Jamie was trying not to be cruel, but this was a low desperate blow. He had not had sex with Mae since Claire had appeared on his telly, in his sitting room and that was over 8 weeks ago.

‘You utter bastard’ spat Mae

‘You ken fine well that it happened the night of Minnie and Andy’s engagement party or were you too drunk to remember!’ she was standing now, hands clenched by her side, her bonnie face now contorted with rage, she was spitting nails at Jamie.

‘I remember well Mae, but I also remember that you have had a period since then. Now I might not know much about these things, but I am pretty sure that when a woman has a period that makes her not pregnant’ Jamie was beginning to get irritated, and his voice was rising.

Mae was livid and had started to sob again, ‘How would YOU know! You bastard! You never come near me so how the hell would you even ken!’

‘For fucks sake Mae, I am not daft, I see things in the bin when you stay over. Jesus, I can’t believe you would make something like this up, in fact I think you’ve had two periods since that engagement party. What’s more, you claimed to be on the pill, in fact I’ve seen you take the bloody pill, and I always used protection, so sorry lass. This is an elaborate tale. If you are having a bairn, and I 100% doubt that you are, then the bairn belongs to someone else not me. If there is a bairn, it is the responsibility of the father, not me. That is the end of it, and I refuse to take part in your pathetic drama any further’. Said Jamie without emotion.

‘Fuck you Jamie Fraser, I am having your baby and you will take responsibility’ she shrieked.

‘No, I won’t’ said Jamie calmly. ‘I don’t want to have a bairn with you. Not now, not ever’

Jamie knew that last comment was needlessly cruel, but it was true. He was incensed that Mae was trying to pull a stunt like this.

Mae leapt forward and slapped Jamie hard across the face with such force he almost stumbled.

‘I think that’s us done don’t you think Mae? Said Jamie desperately trying not to lose his temper.

Mae grabbed her bag and coat, not bothering to fix the brown mess all over her face and stormed out of the room. She creamed over her shoulder, ‘You have not heard the last of this you bastard’ and the door slammed behind her.

Claire had just left the Covenanter’s to walk over to the Stag. She had dressed up a little, donning her favourite Vampire’s Wife green velvet dress with black heeled boots. She was feeling slightly apprehensive about what Jamie had to do this evening but that was superseded by the aching she had just to see him. He occupied her every thought, she had to have him back and she just hoped that this evening would not be too heart breaking. There was never an easy way to break up with someone. Claire felt wretched for Mae.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a sobbing Mae running out of the Stag pub at speed. Mae stopped in her tracks when she saw Claire. Pulling herself quickly together she walked towards her. Claire stilled, trying desperately for her face not to give anything away, like sympathy. She did not want Mae to know that she was aware that Jamie was going to break up with her.

Mae still looked like a chocolate mess, but she was hell bent in saying something.

‘Oh Claire, nice to see you. Sorry I can’t stop; I am not feeling so good so am heading home. That’s what happens when your hormones are all over the place. This baby is draining the energy from me.’

Claire felt as though she had received a hard punch in the gut.

‘Sorry to hear that Mae, don’t let me keep you’ Claire answered flatly.

It was fight or flight time. Claire recalled what had happened last time when she had run. She would not let history repeat itself.

Claire tried to remain calm, at least on the outside. Inside she was shaking from head to foot, and she had started to feel clammy.

There was no sign of Jamie when she entered the Stag, so she made her way up to the flat above. She knocked gently and Jamie answered, he looked drained but grinned widely when he saw her.

‘So how did it go?’ asked Claire.

‘The bloody cheek of the woman! Said she was having my bairn. I can tell you right now Claire that it is not true. I have not slept with her in 2 months, and she has had periods since then. Not to mention that she is on the pill, and I always used protection, I would never leave the contraception to anyone else. If she is pregnant, I’m sorry for the lass but I ken that it’s not mine and I will not be responsible for someone else’s bairn, she must think I am a total muppet’.

Claire let go of a breath that she did not know she was holding.

He looked at her quizzically, ‘You knew?’

‘Yes, I bumped into her outside. She told me.’ Said Claire

‘Wee besom. Yet, you came up here to speak with me Sassenach. You did not take her word for it and that makes my heart want to explode. Come here my wee green vision, get those boots off and get cosy. I want to kiss you until your lips are red raw.

Chapter Text

The lights in Jamie’s flat were low, the wood burner was cracking gently and radiating heat. The voice of Richard Hawley was soothing in the background, a musky woody smell wafted in the air, mingled with the heavenly scented diptyque vanilla candles that Jamie had lit and placed around the flat. Mid-week, he had called his mother and shyly asked her to remind him which candles were Julia’s favourites. He had skipped off work and driven all the way to Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh and bought every candle in stock. Ellen Fraser had parked that thought for later.

If, and when, the time came when he and Claire reunited, he wanted her to feel safe, warm, loved and be reminded that this was home.
They had kissed. Frantically at first and then tenderly, followed by a tidal wave of emotion. They had laughed, cried, hugged, touched, and had totally exhausted themselves, making up for 5 years of separation. There was not one moment when they were not touching each other.

They were now sitting on the sofa, Jamie had grabbed Claire’s legs and placed them over his lap, he wanted to look at her. Her face was flushed, her perfectly applied make-up was non-existent as Jamie had kissed it away with her tears, her dark chestnut curls were messy and fell softly around her face.

Jamie looked at her and was overcome with love, hope and nostalgia ‘Sassenach, I can’t believe you are here, in my arms. I have missed you so much.’ choked Jamie
‘I am so sorry Jamie, I feel like such a fool, I robbed us of so much, but I was young and grieving and my emotions were going haywire.’ Whispered Claire, still sniffing slightly.

Mae’s allegation was still there, however, hanging in the air between them.

‘Jamie, what if it’s true? What if Mae is having your baby?’ Asked Claire softly.

Jamie sat up straighter as if to assert himself, ‘Sassenach, there are many things that might and might not be true. What I can truthfully say is that I remember the last time I was with Mae, and I am telling you that she has had two periods since then. I’m not worried and you should not be either.’ Jamie was firm.

‘But…just hypothetically speaking Jamie. What would you do?’ Claire was not letting this drop.

‘Well, if it was proved beyond doubt that the bairn was my responsibility, I would of course accept that and provide in the right way. I always took precautions though Claire and I know that she was on the pill. It’s not true but I will stand up and be a father if it is proved. I would be there for the bairn, but I will not play happy families with Mae. I only want to raise bairns with you. No-one else. After what you went through, it breaks my heart that you had to hear that from her. It couldn’t be easy, and I am so sorry.’ He leaned towards her, gathered her gently in his arms drawing her towards him. She moved like soft putty in his embrace and positioned herself on his lap.

Jamie stared at her, his hand fondling the side of her cheek. ‘You are my priority. You and only you. I will not let anyone ruin what we are about to create Sassenach, this is our time.’ His thumb delicately sweeping over the top of her cheek whilst his cornflower blue eyes bore into hers.

‘I love you, always have, always will. It’s you and me now.’ Said Jamie, his gaze never wavering from her.

Claire, nestled further into him and smiled, closing her teary red rimmed amber eyes. She was home, she was safe, more importantly, she felt loved.
It was 10pm when they reluctantly tore themselves away from the flat and each other and made their way downstairs to the bar.

Jamie had insisted they come up for air, claiming he could not trust himself to keep his hands from ravishing her. Truth be told, both Jamie and Claire wanted to tumble into bed, make sweet love and never get up. However, they wanted to take this slowly, everything had happened so quickly, they needed to catch their breath.

She had tamed her hair and reapplied her makeup, her green velvet Vampire’s dress was still slightly crumpled but it was passable. Both sets of lips were looking slightly swollen, at least Claire’s lips could be masked with some make-up. The state of their lips however was eclipsed by the wide smile on their faces.

Claire grabbed a seat by the fire and Jamie sauntered over with a bottle of Cabalie and two large fishbowl glasses. After filling both, he looked lovingly at Claire.
‘A toast Sassenach. To the two of us, and a bright future’ grinned Jamie.

Claire beamed back at him, his wide smile, chiselled features with a light shadow of scruff, those russet curls just turning at his collar. Could she love him any more at this moment? She thought not.

‘To love, to trust, to home, to the Beauchamp-Frasers’ chimed Claire as she raised her glass to his, their eyes locking.

Tanya the bartender was calling last orders as Davie breezed into the bar.

He strode over to their table and stood glaring down at them, his attractive blue-green eyes looking much more green than blue.

‘You okay Davie pal? You look a wee bit peely wally’ smiled Jamie smugly, like a cat with the cream.

‘For fucks sake!’ glared Davie.

I was away for a fucking week, and you have swooped in on her again!’

Jamie laughed ‘oh come on Davie, all is fair in love and war man. It’s not as if you will be on your tod for long. The lassie’s love you.’

‘Aye but I fancied dating a super model, for fucks sake Jamie give someone else a look in man!’ fumed Davie.

Claire laughed ‘Excuse me! I am actually here you know! Davie, how is Han the Nan? On the mend I hope.’ She elegantly brushed aside the adolescent tiff that Jamie and Davie were having.

‘Nae pressure Claire but you will be sending her back into the Vic when I tell her you have chosen Jamie over me, yet again. She had her dear old heart set on the two of us taking her out for a posh afternoon tea!’

Claire laughed again, ‘Well I am sure we can arrange a posh afternoon tea Davie. Steal a chair and join us, won’t you?’

Davie looked around for a spare chair, finding one he dragged it over to the table, gesturing to Tanya for another glass.

After helping himself to a generous glug of red wine, Davie looked thoughtfully at Jamie.

‘So, I hear you ended things with Mae.’

‘News travels fast. How did you hear?’ asked Jamie.

She was down at the Club, caused a bit of a stramash. She was shooting her mouth off to anyone that would listen, that she was having your bairn, but you had dumped her when you heard.’

Jamie stiffened, ‘Tis not true Davie, she is trying to trap me. If she is having a bairn, then some other chief is the father. I broke up with her and then she told me about the alleged pregnancy.’

Davie smiled ‘Dinny worry, I believe you. If she is having a bairn, then she shouldn’t be necking as much lager as she was. She was absolutely steamin’ when I saw her.
She did herself no favours, bleating about being pregnant as she downed pint after pint of the amber nectar. One of her pals pointed out that alcohol was not good for the bairn and that’s when it all kicked off, she started lashing out at anyone and everyone. I had to call over the bouncers, she was absolutely blootered and totally out of control.’

‘Poor Mae, she must have been terribly upset’ said Claire, did someone see her home?'

Jamie’s heart swelled, could his Sassenach be any more perfect?

‘Aye, I called her sister Maggie and she drove over to collect her. Nice girl Maggie.

He sighed ‘now that you have made the terrible decision to run about the doors with himself, I might give Maggie another wee call and rekindle things’ pondered Davie deep in thought but thinking aloud.

Despite Claire having a huge sympathetic heart, Jamie was having none of it, there was no pity in his voice, ‘Frankly I don’t care how upset she is, I don’t take kindly to being lied to, if she is out there getting hammered then there is no bairn, what kind of woman does that if she is pregnant?’

The door to the bar slammed and, in the doorway, looking worse for wear, swaying from side to side and finding it difficult to stay upright was a very inebriated Mae MacKay.

Chapter Text

Mae faltered in the doorway of the snug. She looked like she had been dragged through a hedge backwards. She had clearly fallen at some point as the front of her thick black tights were ripped and her leather jacket skewed and torn at the cuff. Her hair looked like a burst couch and her face tearstained and contorted as she squinted angrily into the bar. It was a sad sight.

Davie looked beyond her to see if Maggie was with her, but she was very much alone. Davie sensing a scene, leapt up out of his chair and made his way towards her, he took her gingerly by the arm and gently but firmly led her out of the bar before she could lay eyes on Jamie.

Claire sat there open mouthed whilst Jamie seemed frozen to the spot with embarrassment. He reached over to Claire and grabbed her hand.
‘Come Sassenach, I don’t want you subjected to unnecessary upset.’

Claire stood and Jamie draped a protective arm around her shoulders which made her slightly emotional. She was so used to fending for herself, it was an unusual feeling to have someone looking out for her, protecting her. Claire had taught herself to be independent and had never wanted to rely on anything or anyone. This was unfamiliar territory, but she enjoyed the feeling that it opened up.

She leaned gently into him and was pleasantly surprised at how they moulded into one another so naturally. They left the bar and made their way back upstairs to Jamie’s flat.

The soft lights in the flat were still on, the log burner almost out. Jamie rushed to resurrected it and it roared into life again instantly warming the room.
Jamie stood with his back to Claire staring into the fire. He was thinking back to the moment that Claire knocked on his door, just after Mae had left.

She stood there, breath-taking in her log elegant dark green dress, it curved around her bust and nipped her waist and fell to the floor, it flared at the elbows with a little ruffle. The colour was a beautiful contrast to her dark curls. She was right in front of him, and he was a free man, free to love her, free to pledge everything he was, and everything he had.

Even after Mae’s bombshell, he was still feeling hopeful, he knew deep in his heart it would be okay. He had not fully registered that fact that Mae had told Claire about the pregnancy and yet no matter how much that must have hurt, she still came to him, to listen. He stood staring into the fire trying to make sense of all that had happened in the last few hours.

‘Care to share what is on your mind?’ asked Claire

Jamie turned and looked at the beauty before him, running his hand nervously through his hair.

‘Och, Sassenach, you don’t deserve all this hassle. I am just grateful that you didn’t bolt after her first outburst. I was hoping that as she and I had not been together for too long she would take it in her stride. I mean I know she might be upset but no-one wants to be on a one-sided relationship, right?
I know she likes a drink, but I don’t think I have seen her in that state before. Goes to show that she isn’t pregnant though. She’s a nurse and knows the dangers, what a daft lassie.’

Claire got up from the armchair she had settled in and made her way across to him. She wrapped her arms around his middle and squeezed.

‘Do you have any holiday left to take this year?’

‘Aye, why?’ answered Jamie.

‘Well, I have been asked to do a photo shoot for a Whisky brand. I was going to say no but it’s only a couple of hours away at Gleneagles in Perthshire. I thought you might want to come along, save me from lecherous photographers, see me in action, get an insight into my world? We could then take some time to explore the countryside, the accommodation is paid for, good food, good wine, fresh air. What do you think? A few days rest and relaxation?’

Jamie visibly relaxed, grinning. ‘Sass Alexander that is a bloody brilliant idea and the answer is yes! When do we leave? Jamie beamed.

Jamie’s phone buzzed; it was Davie.

Mae hammered and crabbit. She is sleeping it off in my spare room. Called my wee Sister, she will stay at mine tonight, canny trust Mae. You owe me big time. D

Jamie read out the text to Claire. She sighed. She won’t go quietly Jamie, she will not give up until she proves something, anything.’

Claire looked up at him, tears starting to swell.

‘I’ve tried not to think ahead Jamie, tried not to imagine if you are the father to her child before we have a chance to rebuild. It will make it so hard. A child with another woman will massive obstacle between us. I feel such an utter cow for even contemplating that a child could be a barrier to my happiness but that’s how I feel. I am so sorry.’

‘I know Sassenach, I know. I ken in my heart that she isn’t pregnant and frankly I hate myself for wishing that a life didn’t exist, but I know that if there is a bairn, it’s not mine and I don’t want it to be mine. That makes us equal if we are bad then we are both bad.

I know what I know Sassenach. Let’s not worry about what we can’t control right now. What was it you told me about your happy and sad box? Let’s start planning things to go into your happy box. I know some fine places around Gleneagles that we can explore. Let’s start planning and live according to us and no-one else. This is our life, and we will create our own big box of happiness full of our memories.

They spent the next couple of hours in each other’s arms, kissing sweetly, telling stories, reliving yet more memories but filling each other in on those lost years.
Jamie explained the Distillery business to Claire. How it was important to him to earn his position and to work his way up the ranks through merit and not just because he was Brian Fraser’s son. He described his vision to expand the brand internationally and put Markinch on the map once more.

Jamie listened intently as Claire shared experiences from her modelling career, it felt therapeutic to share her new world with her old world. Of course, she only gave him the good parts, travelling the world, making good money, and keeping the designer clothes. She did not share the lecherous photographers, the sexual predators, of both sexes, the long boring days, and the repetitive nature of the work, being recognised, adored, and vilified, in equal measure as the face of Chanel.

Claire eventually made her way back to the Covenantors, as much as she wanted to stay cooried deep in Jamie’s arms all night, she had reluctantly pulled herself away. It was important that they took this this slowly. Neither of them wanted this relationship to be about memories or merely physical attraction. It had to be real, something that could be sustained and that meant taking it slow.

The next morning Jamie woke feeling hopeful for the first time in years, he felt refreshed. peaceful, invincible. He smiled to himself, dreamlike, knowing he would be seeing her soon.

As he lay in slumber, a warm pair of familiar arms wrapped gently around his middle and he sighed pleasurably, all was good with the world.
He suddenly realised that the hands wrapped around his torso were rough in texture and not the smooth hands he had been dreaming of. He shot up in bed to find Mae lying completely naked beside him, her clothes in a heap on the floor at the far side of the room.

‘Mae what the fuck are you doing here?’ fumed Jamie.

‘I know you love me, and I know you won’t turn your back on me Jamie’ She was half screaming and half sobbing. He glared at her wondering if she was still under the influence of drink.

Jamie was too angry to feel sympathy. She can’t just wander into his bed for fucks sake, it’s just not right.

A second later he heard the front door to the flat slam shut and a familiar voice sweetly filled the air.

‘Jamie, are you there? I have bacon rolls and fresh coffee from Campbells!’ Claire shouted through to the bedroom.

Jamie’s blood ran cold as he pulled on his jeans. He had no idea how to explain this one to Claire. Fuck.

Jamie rushed bare chested into the sitting room ‘Claire, before you say anything, I have to let you know…….’

Before Jamie could utter one more word Mae appeared behind him, wearing Jamie’s shirt from the previous evening and obviously totally naked underneath. She smiled at Claire.

Mae looked like she was the proverbial fat cat with the double cream.

‘Good morning, Mae, glad to see you looking better than you were last night’ chirped Claire staring directly at her, completely unfazed.

Mae visibly bristled at the slight from Claire. Clearly that blow had not landed.

Jamie, mortified, looked behind him. ‘Mae what are you doing? I’ve told you once, you can’t just sneak in here whenever you like and climb into my bed, I won’t stand for it, do you hear me? You don’t live here, you never have!’ Jamie felt that he had t repeat himself once more just so Claire could hear it.

Jamie was panicking wildly, and he had broken out into a horrible clammy sweat. He knew how this must sound to Claire right now.
‘You didn’t say that to me earlier this morning Jamie’ said Mae cattily ‘When you told me you were glad that your bairn was in my belly, and you made love to me again’

‘What? Are you mad woman? I didn’t even ken you were there! Out now, if you don’t dress right now, I will dump on the street with your clothes in your arms, I am warning you Mae’

Mae, huffed and stormed back into the bedroom slamming the door behind her.

Jamie rushed to Claire, ‘Sassenach, it’s not what you think, I swear to you sweetheart, on my life and on the lives of those I love and hold dear’ begged Jamie.

Claire stepped towards him and laid her soft hand gently on his cheek.

‘I know’ she smiled up at him.

‘I saw her let herself in to the flat though the side door, she got the key from the key box. I would have come earlier but I am ravenous and thought that if we were going to have a scene we might as well have something to sustain us’ Claire turned the oven on low, wrapped the bacon rolls in tin foil and placed them inside the oven, to be enjoyed when Mae had left.

The bedroom door opened, and Mae came storming out. ‘You bastard, this is not the end and don’t think it is’ spat Mae as she went to leave. However, before she reached the door Claire shouted out to her.

‘Mae wait.’ Mae turned round in surprise, and she watched cautiously as Claire move towards her.

Claire reached into Mae’s coat pocket and fished out the key to Jamie’s flat.

If looks could kill Claire would have been several thousand feet under the fine Scottish peaty earth.

‘I don’t think you will be needing this. Sorry Mae, but you can’t just let yourself into Jamie’s flat whenever you like. I am so sorry for what you are going through but there are boundaries. You know what boundaries are don’t you Mae?
I don’t have to want to call on our local police constable, do I? Unlawful entry for starters. Goodness knows what else you tried to do in there without Jamie’s consent. You are supposed to be a pillar of the community Mae, it would not look good if you were carried off to the klink for breaking and entering or touching someone without consent. Take some time to think about it dear Mae.’ Said Claire firmly.

Mae’s worried ashen face glared at Claire as Jamie stood by mesmerized by the new fierce Claire.

‘This is not the end,’ she huffed, ‘he will pay for the bairn’