Loren was in the back garden at her house cleaning her training bike when her mobile rang in her back pocket. She looked at the caller ID and frowned. IDC is calling me? then pressed the answer icon.
“Loren? It’s Pippa.” Her brows knotted and remained silent. “Pippa Davies, from media relations,” the woman continued.
She smacked her forehead. “Pippa! I’m so sorry! How are you? Are you still meeting up with us tomorrow night?”
“Oh, yes! Thank you ever so much for inviting me.” She paused. “Are you sitting down? I have some brilliant news!”
She raised a brow. “What’s up?”
“I received a terribly odd telephone call just a bit ago and I’m afraid it might be someone having a laugh with me, but I reckoned I’d inquire with you because I would be quite–.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just a bit excited.” She took a deep breath. “Loren, what happened this morning?”
She blinked. “Well, Ingrid and I had a bit of a slip on our training ride, and then I had a…” Her eyes narrowed. “What is this about?”
Pippa squeaked. “I received a telephone call from a rep from the RH Group.”
“Are you having a laugh? They represent some of the biggest names in Hollywood!”
“But what does that have to do with me?”
“Someone stopped to help you change your tire this morning, yes?”
Loren’s mouth popped open. “Uh, y-yes.”
“OH MY GOD!” Pippa screeched. “Is it true? Did you meet Graham Atherton this morning?”
She put her hand to her forehead. “Oh, my god.”
“They rang me to get your telephone number so Graham Atherton could ring you!”
“Oh, come on,” she scoffed. “It has to be a…” But I didn’t tell anyone. Her eyes grew wide and she lowered her voice. “Are you serious?”
Loren sat down heavily on the damp earth. “What do I do?”
“I told him I would ring you and ask if I could relay your mobile number. May I?”
She covered her mouth with her hand for a second, glancing around the patio. “Uh, okay. He can call me if he wants.”
Pippa shrieked again. “I am so happy for you!”
As Loren dressed after her shower, her thoughts were occupied with what to tell Maggie about what happened recently. She heaved a sigh and glanced at her watch.
Band-Aid theory. You can do it. She picked up her mobile to begin a video call while moving to the desk near the windows.
“There’s my birthday girl!” Maggie sang when the video connected, but her expression changed to a deep frown. “Are you alright? You don’t look so good.”
Loren patted her cheek. “I’m fine. Nothing a bit of tea and a soak can’t cure.”
“What happened on Sunday?” Maggie narrowed her eyes. “Is Graham with you?”
“He’s here. He just went downstairs for a minute.” She glanced away, shrugging. “And nothing happened on Sunday. It’s just the tabloids trying to spin something.” Her aunt’s expression didn’t change, and Loren rolled her eyes. “Leave it alone, Mags.”
“Uh huh,” she muttered. “What do you have planned for today?”
“Honestly, I just want to sit here and stare out the window.” She changed the screen to share the misty view.
“Wow. Is that Central Park?”
“That it is.” Loren turned the camera back to her. “Fortieth floor penthouse on West 63rd, courtesy of Benny Wallace.”
“Damn. Maybe I should find myself an actor.” They both chuckled, but Loren’s didn’t last long. “There’s something else, isn’t there,” Maggie said.
“I got an early birthday present. A letter from Aaron.” She scrunched her nose. “His name is Adam, now.”
Her aunt’s mouth popped open. “You’re joking.”
“No. I’m sending you a copy of it now.” She grabbed her tablet to pull up her email and after she pressed send, Maggie’s tablet pinged almost immediately. Her aunt’s brows knotted as she read and when she was done, she looked up with tears in her eyes.
“Maggie!” She put a hand over her ear. “My virgin ears!”
“Oh, stop it,” she laughed but let it fade. “He was in Philadelphia? Do you know what he’s talking about?”
Loren nodded. “Yes, and I was a little freaked out, but I had to focus on the race.” She bit her lip as she opened her email again. “I emailed him back the other day, and I just sent you his reply.” The bedroom door opened behind her. Graham walked over and leaned down to see the screen.
“Hey.” She gave a distracted wave as she was reading, then looked back to Loren. “O’Connell is my maiden name,” she said.
“I imagine that’s why he chose it, but I’ll ask him about that when I see him.” She sat back and pressed her lips together as her aunt’s mouth dropped open again.
“You’re going to see him?”
“I talked to him last night.” Her eyes slid away and she swallowed hard. “Mags, I’ve started to remember more and none of it is good.” She glanced at Graham. “We were going to meet up today, but I’m starting to freak out.” He brushed her hair over her shoulder.
“You have to do what’s best for you, love,” he said. “You can’t think about hurting his feelings, but I’m certain he’ll understand.” Loren worried at her fingernail before looking to her aunt again.
“I need to know what’s real, and he’s the only one who can tell me.”
“I know, kitten, and I’m sorry I can’t help you more,” Maggie said, then glanced at her watch. “Poop. I have to get to work, but call back later, okay? Randall and the kiddos would love to hear from you.”
“I will.” Loren sat back in her chair after disconnecting and stared out the window. Graham touched the back of her neck.
“You’ve got your thinking face on.” She gave a soft smile, then pressed her lips together.
“I need to be in control, and I’m not.”
“Loren, you can’t control everything.”
She shot him a look. “I know I can’t, but I should be able to control my reactions. With everything that’s happened… ” She sighed, and Graham put his arm around her shoulders.
“Darling, you’ve spent years winding yourself up so tightly,” he said. “You’ve been able to function, but I don’t think you’ve actually lived.”
She raised a brow. “And then you came along, and my whole world started to unravel.”
“You make it seem like that’s a bad thing,” he said, his mouth somewhere between a frown and a smirk.
“In some ways it is, but I think my remembering was only a matter of time,” she replied, making a face. “James told me I had to stop looking down into the hole I dug, because if I looked up, I would see how many hands were reaching for me, to help pull me out.” Graham reached for her hands and squeezed them.
“I’ve got strong hands, you know,” he said. “I can change out a bike tire pretty quick.”
Loren Mackenzie padded into the gourmet kitchen, and the view out of the windows halted her steps. Mist clung to the fields of the Ridgeway.
“Like a scene out of a horror movie.” She shivered then smothered a sneeze into the sleeve of her thermal so she wouldn’t wake Graham. “My head feels like it’s going to explode,” she groaned and grabbed a tissue from the box on the counter. Eyeing the canister of tea next to the tissues, she bent down to rummage through the cabinet in search of the electric kettle. After filling it with water and pressing start, she opened the enormous double-door refrigerator, jumping away when a can of Ryzak recovery drink fell from the shelf to land near her foot. The bright red leaping horse logo brought forth an unpleasant taste in her mouth as she chucked the can in the trash.
Another shudder went down her spine at the freshly-remembered photoshoot in New York, thanks to her friend and agent, Ron Hudson. Last night, he had emailed a mock-up of the new promo using one of the photos, along with a note that the commercial she shot with Jon Haskins, IDC’s men’s team leader, would be unveiled during training camp.
Loren heaved a sigh and grasped the lemon juice for her tea when her mobile pinged on the counter.
“Speak of the Devil.” Her eyes narrowed at the text. Nice work on giving cozy a new definition? She opened the attached photo and her jaw dropped. The grainy shot was of them kissing with his hand was up her shirt in what Graham had assumed was a hidden alcove.
‘Hunky actor, Graham Atherton gets cozy with girlfriend, pro cyclist, Loren Mackenzie while on holiday together in Iceland.’
“Oh my god.” She rolled her eyes and plopped down on a stool at the island. “Hunky? Really?” Her mobile buzzed another text from Ron.
Never fear. I’ve taken care of it.
“You better have,” she muttered as she typed.
You’re up early, Lancelot. Hunky? Are they kidding?
Loren smirked at his reply.
Late. I’m up late. TTFN
After a quick glance at the still not boiling kettle, she swiped through her photos when she came to a video of her best friend and teammate, Cece Taylor, skipping around on a snow-covered street. Loren snorted with the laughter in the background when her friend slipped and fell on her bum.
I’m glad they came with us. Her smile softened at a photo of Cece hugging her boyfriend, Anthony Ainsworth, Loren’s pseudo big brother. She swiped the screen again and gazed at the face of a man with a grin much like her own.
And then there’s my real big brother. Adam’s jaw was wider and his eye color was a tinge more brown than gray, but there was no denying the resemblance in their dark auburn hair, high cheekbones, and tapered nose, including the sprinkling of freckles.
I’ve missed him since he moved out, even though we text all the time. She and Graham helped him move out of the house on Vineyards shortly before they were all supposed to visit their aunt and uncle in Rochester for Christmas. Adam begged off, claiming something with work.
“Yah, well, if you went, you could have drawn some heat off me,” Loren told his picture. Instead, Maggie and Randall cornered her almost as soon as she and Graham arrived, demanding a more thorough explanation of the events surrounding the death of Felix Lalonde. With a sniffle, she shoved the dark thoughts away and started a video she took dancing with Graham on New Year’s Eve with Cece and Anthony in Iceland.
Twenty-four hours of darkness was strange, and the foursome found themselves in a nightclub at noon, then skiing under the lights at three in the morning. Loren touched a picture to enlarge it, focusing on Graham grinning ear to ear as he stood in the middle of a hotel room made of ice.
He loved that hotel suite, but soaking in the volcanic hot pools was way more awesome. Her smile vanished at remembering how Cece and Anthony also asked some hard questions. It took several false starts for her to explain why she hadn’t spent more than an hour in the house in Enfield. They were visibly shaken when she told them about the tiny camera in the ceiling light fixture in her bedroom, and the one the police found just above the fireplace in the living room.
Felix took my sanctuary from me. The soreness in her throat ratcheted up as her gaze went around the great room. A natural stone fireplace dominated the wall opposite her and before it, a nest of giant bean bag chairs, similar to the ones at Benny and Alejandra Wallace’s New York penthouse. An ‘L’ shaped sofa sectional took up the center of the room, surrounding a square, concrete top coffee table.
The huge argument we had over that thing when I wanted to acid wash it like Claire and Jared’s kitchen counters but Graham wanted to keep it natural. A crooked smile formed, recalling how they made up on top of it. Her humor faded though, taking in the remainder of the room. The colorful Art Deco prints and heirloom dining set were things they chose together.
I thought I could feel at home here. The kettle began to whistle and she hurried over to the counter to silence it. “Enough wool gathering.” She got up, poured hot water over a tea infuser in her thermos, then headed back into the bedroom.
Pale light filtered through sheer drapes over the glass doors on the far side of the room. A red velvet chaise lounge and glass top coffee table faced the outside, with more abstract artwork in bright colors on the dove gray walls. Further into the room was the king size bed, featuring a luxuriously soft pillow-top mattress, flanked by dark wood night tables with matching lamps Loren found at an antique shop in St. Albans. Then she drank in the man on the bed.
Still asleep and sprawled out on his stomach, he faced the doorway where she stood. Lopsided eyebrows. Perfectly straight nose. The corners of his full lips turned down in sleep. Sable brown hair curled at the ends. Sideburns melding with a close-cropped reddish-brown beard. Her gaze continued over his broad shoulders and muscular back, trim waist and hips, then down his slim legs that ended with his large feet hanging off the end of the bed.
Graham Atherton. A-list actor. My knight in a shiny Jaguar. How did I get so lucky? He shifted, and his movement pulled at the white sheet barely covering his naked bum. Seriously, what if there’s a fire? Her giggle turned into a loud sneeze, and Graham woke with a sharp inhale, popping up on his forearms.
“Who? What? Oh.” He let out a groan and flopped back down.
“Sorry,” Loren murmured, moving to the bedside. He turned over to his back and yawned, causing her to yawn back. “Stop that!” she laughed. Graham coughed, then cocked his head.
“Why are you dressed?” he rumbled. “You should be naked in bed with me.”
“I have to see Dr. Pallas this morning,” she replied, tracing her finger along his shoulder.
“Oh right.” A familiar pinched expression came over him. “I am rather proud of you for sticking with it. I know it’s not easy.”
“Oh ye who only went to two appointments,” she teased, leaning over to kiss him.
“I know, but I’d rather talk to you about all my shit,” he croaked. “You understand me better.”
“She’d understand you just fine if you gave her a chance, but I get it. She’s my shrink.” Loren dropped her chin, her hair falling over her face. “Still, I appreciate you went with me.” He moved her hair to uncover her smirk. “But I’d rather be naked in bed with you.”
“Would you now?” he chuckled, pulling her down on top of him, only for her to turn away and sneeze again. He touched her forehead with the back of his hand. “Bless you. You feel a bit warm, love.”
“That’s your fault,” she purred and kissed him again. His hands wandered under her thermal shirt to touch her skin, making her writhe away. “Cold hands! Cold!”
Graham pulled back, frowning. “You’re not usually this warm.”
“I’m fine, really, but I do have to get going.”
He kissed her nose. “Enjoy the drive in your new car.”
“Oh, I will.” She shot him a grin and scooted off the bed.
“Ah, any suggestions on what to make for dinner with your brother tonight?” His question turned Loren around.
“Make whatever you’re in the mood to make,” she said, then pointed at him. “Just no cream sauce!” they laughed in unison. She started for the door but turned back to him, her smile gone.
“I love you.”
“I know,” he said, and his come hither look made her want to jump back into bed with him.
“Would you stop that.”
“Stop what?” His eyes narrowed further.
“Stop giving me the smolder,” she answered, clenching her teeth.
“Is it working?”
Loren folded her arms over her chest. “Yes, but no.”
“Damn bloody shrinks,” Graham muttered, and her laughter echoed through the house.
Out in the garage, the rising door slowly revealed a royal blue hood with orange and white racing stripes to the morning sunlight. Loren breathed in the new car smell sliding into the smoke gray leather driver’s seat of her Mini Cooper Clubman.
“My first new car.” Pressing the ignition button, the engine growled to life. She depressed the clutch, pushed the gear shift into first, then gave it some gas. The Mini jerked forward and stalled.
She pursed her lips. “Damn parking brake.”