“Just ahead. To the left.” Hand in Jamie’s, Claire was leading him through the downtown streets. She had suggested that they grab a coffee for dessert, and, apparently, knew just the place.
“If we get there, and it’s just a Starbucks… I’ll no be very happy…”
He saw the flash of her teeth in the beaming streetlight. “Now, you know I have better taste than that.” Jamie could practically hear the eye roll in her voice.
“If ye say so…” Jamie remarked, pushing his shoulder against hers. Teasing her.
Claire pushed back. Teasing him.
“This way, dear.” Pulling his arm sharply, she led him into a small, dim shop.
It felt…cozy, Jamie thought, with its wood floors and brick walls, all different shades of brown. A few people were littered about on squished armchairs and unsteady bar stools, but, altogether, the place was fairly empty. The aroma of strong coffee, however, was a promising sign.
Jamie leaned over, and whispered in Claire’s ear. “Are ye sure this is a good place?” He was only half-teasing.
She bumped him on the shoulder again. “Hush! It’s amazing! Best kept secret in town, in my opinion.”
“Here. You go find a seat. I’m going to order for you. I won’t steer you wrong. Promise.”
“Sure,” he repeated, rummaging in his pockets for his wallet.
“Stop. My treat!” Before he could argue, she had skipped to the counter.
Sighing, Jamie wandered over to the back corner, sinking into the spongy leather sofa.
Christ, I’ll never be able to get up from this thing…
He watched Claire as she dropped money in the tip jar, and scampered over to him, hips swaying slightly. Jesus…
With a flourish, she presented him with the extra huge coffee cup.
“God, Sassenach. This coffee is as big as my forearm.” Jamie held up his arm for comparison. He wasn’t exaggerating. “How much did this cost ye?”
She plopped down beside him, the cushions practically eating her. “None of your business. I said it was my treat.”
“Well, will ye at least tell me what it is?” Flaring his nostrils, he took an exploratory sniff of the drink. Strong, with a hint of sweetness. Remind ye of anyone, Fraser?
“It’s my favorite. Just a vanilla and cinnamon latte. But, they make it perfectly here. I love it.” To prove her point, she closed her eyes and took a long drink. Her subsequent blissful sigh gave Jamie feelings inappropriate for a public area. “Ahhh…”
Clearing his throat: “Ahem, well, cheers.” He lifted his ridiculously large cup in a salute, and sipped.
The concoction was just as he predicted. A lovely, sweet flavor doused his tongue before being overwhelmed by the bitterness of the coffee.
When he came up from his drink, he saw Claire watching him expectantly. “Well…?”
“Its very good, Sassenach. Sweet, but no too sweet.”
She beamed. “Great! I’ve got a question though.” Jamie raised a brow. “What does ‘sassenach’ mean?”
“Oh, weel, it’s Gaelic, ye ken?” She nodded, urging him to continue. “It means ‘Englishman.’ Or woman. It’s no normally a verra positive nickname, but…”
“Weel, my mother’s family is from Scotland, but she was born in England. My father always called her that. I didna ken it was….mean until I was much older. I’m sorry.” He felt… vulnerable telling this story. Did that mean he felt the same about her as his father did about his mother? If so, that would be truly embarrassing.
But, Claire just laughed. “Don’t be. It’ll be our little secret. People with think you’re calling me names, but only we’ll know the truth.” Her little wink made his heart beat a little faster.
“Aye. An inside joke, then.”
“Exactly! So, I’ve got another question for you.”
“I’ve never really gotten to know an artist before. I’m curious. Where do you get your ideas for your art?”
“Weel, sometimes it’s nature. Sometimes it’s dreams. Sometimes it’s people. So, I guess ye could say it’s a little bit of everything.”
Her eyes were wide in fascination. “Do you paint more realistic stuff, or…?”
“I suppose it depends. I dinna think I have a set style. Yet, anyway. Picasso wasna abstract artist at first, ye ken. I think… I just like color. No matter what I do: realistic, abstract, whatever. It’s the colors that matter.”
“You know, I would love to see some of your work sometime.” She placed a hand on his forearm, and squeezed gently.
“Aye. I… um… I’d love to show ye sometime.” Beaming. That was the only way Jamie could describe Claire’s smile then. It was beaming.
“Claire!” The deep voice coincided with the dinging of the bell above the door. A small, lithe man appeared before them, a handsome smile on his face.
Claire jumped, throwing herself into his arms. “What are you doing here?”
They spoke. Jamie knew, because he could see their lips moving. But all he heard was his own pounding heart in his ears. Surely, she would have mentioned a… a boyfriend.
Blush rose on his face, chin to forehead. He was hot. His jaw clenched in a painful way. His fingernails dug into the palm of his hand.
Jamie was absolutely, undeniably jealous.
“Jamie? Jamieeeee?” Claire’s voice separated him from his thoughts. Clearing his head, he saw her arm looped tightly around the small man.
Unsure that he could form words at that moment, Jamie replied with a noise. “Hmmm?”
“This is Fergus. My cousin. Fergus, this is Jamie.”
It was obvious, then. The pointed features that once drew him to Claire were present in this man’s face. The same dark curls fell roguishly on his forehead.
You’re an arse, Fraser.
“Hey, nice to meet you, Jamie.” The man, Fergus, held out his hand, an amiable squint in his eyes.
“Nice to meet ye, too.” Jamie grasped his hand in a shake, feeling quite ashamed. But, this all went unnoticed by Fergus.
“Well, I’ll leave you both to it.” He turned to take his leave, but instead made a complete 360. “Oh, I almost forgot! Marsali said dinner on Tuesday, Claire. She’s making…something or other. You’re more than welcome to bring Jamie.”
“Oh, okay. Thanks!” He blew her a kiss, before turning his attention to the barista at the counter.
“The two of ye seem very close.”
“Oh! Yeah, we grew up together. Remember I told you about Lamb? That’s his son.”
“I thought your uncle was a bachelor?”
“Oh, he is. Lamb had a short affair with Fergus’ mother. They never wed. She lost custody of Fergus when he was young. Drug habits. So, he lived with Lamb. He’s like a brother to me.”
“That’s wonderful, truly. I dinna ken what I’d do without my brother and sister, even when they’re being arses.”
Claire chimed a short laugh. “I understand that. Family is important.” He felt her warm hand rest gently on his. “Friendships are as well.”
“I told you, you don’t have to walk me to the door.” The complaint was half-hearted; Claire was grinning the whole time.
“I’m a gentleman.”
“Of course you are. But it’s unnecessary.”
“And, it’s too late. We’re already at the door.”
“Well, thank you, gentleman.” Her face grew serious. “I really did have a wonderful time tonight.”
“Me too.” Deep breath. “At the risk of sounding like a fool, I’ve got to ask…”
Her head cocked to the side. “Yeah?”
Another deep breath. “Wasthisadate?” Smooth.
Before he could feel embarrassed, her hands came up to cup his cheeks, cool against the blush the rose there. It was slow motion, almost. Her eyes closed first, the dark lashes brushing her cheekbones. Then, she moved forward. Slowly, slowly. At the last second, her lips puckered slightly.
And, she kissed him.
Though a seemingly long kiss, it was quite chaste. She could have been nude, though, with the way Jamie’s blood was pumping. When he regained all motor function, he wrapped his arms around her lacy waist, pulling her a bit closer.
It wasn’t close enough, of course.
She broke away first, looking up at him through her lashes. “Was…did…did that answer your question okay?”
“Oh, um, aye. Um…yes.”
She giggled at his flustered speech, and he smiled back. “Will you text me when you make it home?”
“Aye, of course.”
“Well, then. Goodnight Jamie.”
He felt emboldened. Leaning down, he placed a quick peck on her lips.. “Goodnight, Claire.”