Chapter Four

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She left London under the cover of darkness, driven by one force as the sun started to peek on the horizon—get as far away from reality as possible. She'd thought that by diving headfirst into her new position with the UK-based news service that she could somehow mask the recent turn of events in her life. She'd thought wrong.The frosty air that met her face as she walked silently from her flat to the cab whispered only one destination. After just a few hours she found herself in Chamonix and the shadow of Mont Blanc.

The locale was hardly surprising. She and her father had wintered there several times following her mother's death. Within minutes she was standing at the threshold of her favorite mountain hideaway. Being a last minute arrival, solely at Isaac's command, she'd had to settle for one of their smaller suite with a lesser view. She knew she was lucky to have anything at all. Her luggage was deposited on the bed and she offered the bellhop a tip. Alone, she stood at the window and stared out at the snowy landscape. Her mind reeled as she considered how drastically her life had changed over the course of the last two months. With a heavy sigh she wondered if she'd made the right decision to come.

The dinner hour approached though she didn't have much of an appetite. Maybe just a small cheese tray and a good bottle of wine via room service, she considered. She didn't feel like getting all dressed up to dine alone and the day of travel left her exhausted. She sat in silence for a few moments, contemplating her next move. But the silence was soon replaced by a sound so foreign that it took her a minute to realize what was happening. Tears burned hot trails down her cheeks and she was powerless to stop them. Here, hundreds of miles away from California and Texas and her tiny London flat, she could finally comes to terms with her pain and be that which she was truly afraid to show to the world: a woman lost.

She'd never once allowed herself to cry. Not once. To reveal her feelings would have been admitting how desperate she felt inside. She thought that with time and distance she'd secure some order and peace in her life--some small sliver of comfort and the ability to forgive herself. She studied the platinum and diamond band around her finger, unsure why she still had it in her possession. It made its way onto her finger more times that she cared to admit. When it did, it confirmed a simple truth: forgiveness seemed light years away.

A long hot shower and a good long cry were exactly what she needed. An hour later, Claire was feeling better. Much better, actually, than she'd felt in a long time. Wrapped up tight in fluffy white hotel robe, she lay sprawled across the bed, perusing the room service menu while the television flashed images of Fred Astaire dancing with his famous blond partner. The steam from the bathroom had done more than just clear her cluttered mind and now she wrestled with first class hunger. Her previous cheese tray and wine contemplation had been replaced with a craving for real food. And so with little regard for price or her waistline, she called down and made her request: full on surf-and-turf, complete with dessert and a bottle of champagne. Smiling to herself, she settled in among a mountain of comfy down pillows and waited for what she would later refer to jokingly as her "last supper."

When she finally pushed away from the tiny table in the corner of her suite, not a single morsel remained on her plate. Dessert however, would have to wait, along with the champagne. The bottle sat unopened and she toasted herself with a glass of water from the bathroom tap instead. She crawled back into bed with dry eyes and a full belly, feeling much more like herself. Surrounded by a mass of pamphlets, she studied the multitude of activities and events taking place in and around the ski resort over the course of the coming week. She knew, however, that her meter was running and she would have to return to London in a few days. Isaac had been wonderful...offering her as much time away as she needed. He'd been the definition of generous from the minute she stepped off the plane at Heathrow. She had a sneaking suspicion that his generosity was fueled by something other than professional courtesy. She'd caught him staring at her several times during the few staff meetings she'd attended. As much as she appreciated his understanding nature, a long vacation simply wasn't feasible.

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