Dingily ding, dingily ding… The melodic sound of the clock on the dining room mantel grabbed Julian’s attention. He looked up and noted the time – three o’clock. He had two hours until he would be reunited with the woman he loved. His heart swelled at the thought of him and Eve together again. Two more hours. It seemed a lifetime, but it was almost here. Julian scanned the lodge’s vast dining room, making sure everything was in place. It was. The table by the fireplace was all set for a romantic dinner for two, right down to the antique champagne glasses he had brought from home. A bouquet of pink and white roses and a cream-colored candle adorned the table. Pink rose petals accented the white tablecloth that had been placed over the rugged pine table for the special occasion. Julian knew Eve would love it. He wanted everything to be perfect for her…perfect for their reunion, the reunion that would mark the beginning of their future together.
He had missed her so much this past month. It was everything he could do to refrain from picking up the phone and calling her. Julian thought not contacting each other for thirty-one days was a good idea when he had come up with it that night on the ski slope bench. It would give Eve time to be sure of what she wanted, and to find a way to tell TC the truth – that she wanted to leave him for Julian. At least, that is what Julian assumed the outcome would be. He knew after the incredible day they had spent together in his lodge room, that there was no turning back. He saw it in Eve’s eyes, and he felt it in his heart. He was as sure of her decision as he was that the sun would come up tomorrow. He just had to wait another two hours, and all would be right with the world. Everything that had been out of whack for twenty-five years would be set back on track. He and Eve would be together. The future belonged to them.
Julian had taken care of one of their biggest obstacles – Rebecca - immediately after returning from the lodge a month ago. A sizable sum of money in a Swiss bank account had done the trick, along with the revelation that he had just as much dirt on her as she did on him, thanks to a handful of disks and videotapes Julian had confiscated from his father’s safe. Rebecca knew when to pick her battles, and decided it was time to cash in her winnings and sail away to greener pastures. Julian was more than happy to offer use of the Crane yacht to take her to the Riviera destination of her choice.
Alistair would prove to be an even bigger obstacle than Rebecca, but he soon found himself overrun with company problems, bad press, and his never-ending schemes to keep Sheridan away from Luis. The last thing he had time for was his “disinherited” son’s love life, and that was all the better for Julian. The two men forged a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” alliance…which for the time-being was enough for the younger Crane.
With his soon to be ex-wife out of the way, Julian had turned to getting things ready for his life with Eve. His next goal was even easier to accomplish and almost as fun. A day after Rebecca moved out, Julian purchased Heavenly Trails. It wasn’t up for sale, but everything had its price, as he well knew. The owner’s eyes had lit up when Julian walked through the lodge door and presented him with a check for three times what the place was worth. He was gone within the hour, paving the way for Julian to give Eve the kind of reunion she deserved. He knew the right kind of money could have bought him an empty ski resort for the night, but he didn’t want to have to deal with anyone else. He wanted it to be his place…their place. After what happened between them at the lodge a month ago, Heavenly Trails belonged to them as much as the Blue Note and the presidential suite at the Crane Hotel in Bermuda. Julian just made the deed say what they knew in their hearts.
“Just two more hours, Eve…” He was startled out of his thoughts by the sound of footsteps. He looked up to see Wendy, the hostess, walking toward him. Julian had kept a skeleton crew on for the evening to help see to his and Eve’s dinner. But the lodge itself, including the slopes, was shut down for the weekend. It would be just him and Eve, and that’s the way he liked it.
“Mr. Crane, everything in the kitchen is ready for tonight. Your chef has arrived, and it looks like you will be having one delicious lobster dinner for two this evening.”
“Thanks, Wendy. Has the musician arrived yet?” Julian had hired a violinist to serenade them during dinner.
“Not yet, but he called about twenty minutes ago and said he is on his way. You know, I wouldn’t worry if I were you. She is going to love it. What woman wouldn’t want to be treated like a princess?” She sighed.
Julian met her eyes and grinned. “I know, dear. Thank you. I just want the best for her. She deserves nothing less.” His eyes shifted to the clock again. “How are things coming along upstairs?”
“Oh, Amy has your suite fixed up like a palace. The room is just gorgeous…candles everywhere. You should see it.”
Julian smiled. The thought of ‘their’ room suddenly had him feeling a bit dazed. It was the same suite, of course, from the time before. He wouldn’t allow others to stay in it, no matter what it cost him in lost revenue. It was their room – his and Eve’s, and it always would be. Julian even had a plaque put on the outside of the door – Crane Suite. It was sort of a polite version of “Keep Out.”
Wendy blushed as Julian’s eyes caught fire, and the sides of his lips curled up. “I know she’ll love everything you’ve done for her here, Mr. Crane. Oh, I almost forgot. The hot tub room is all decked out too. Tommy really did a nice job in there. It’s a romantic paradise.”
“Good.” Julian smiled. “It looks like every place we are going to be tonight is in perfect order. I can’t thank you enough for all your help.” He nodded at her appreciatively. “Now all that’s left is the place Eve will arrive at first. It has to be just right too.”
Julian grabbed his coat from the hook by the door and picked up a sack on the table right beside it. He bundled up quickly as he headed out the door. The air was nippy, even for late February. He made his way to the bench where they had agreed to meet…the place where they had hashed out their plan those thirty-odd days ago. As per his order, the bench had been swept free of snow. He reached into the sack and took out a single red rose. Julian carefully laid it on the bench, and then placed an envelope next to it…an envelope that simply said “Eve.” He smiled to himself, knowing she’d love the mysterious, romantic note as much as he had enjoyed writing it.
Julian looked at his watch. 3:30. It was getting closer. And there was still more to do. He had to see George in the kitchen about the most important surprise of the night.
After conversing with the chef, Julian headed to the hot tub room. Steam from the tub had condensed on the windows of the room, making it impossible to see anything from outside. The smell of chlorine hit him hard as he opened the door. But as soon as Julian turned on the light, his breath was literally taken away. The room was unbelievable, better than he had ever imagined. Candles of various shapes and sizes were everywhere…elegant cream-colored candles and beautiful pink ones. They adorned the metal tables, stands and floor. A trail of pink and lavender petals led to the hot tub, which was bubbling fiercely. The sack in Julian’s hand began shaking. He took a deep breath. The chlorine had such a calming effect. It settled his nerves. He hadn’t realized how nervous he had been until now. “Keep it together; she’s almost here,” he told himself. He opened the sack and removed a second red rose, which he placed on the edge of the hot tub. As he laid it down, a thorn on the stem pricked his index finger. “Ouch.” He put his finger to his lips. “I hope that wasn’t an omen…” Julian smiled and shook his head. Thankfully, he was a Crane. He didn’t believe in omens.
“Mr. Crane, it’s a quarter to six…would you like us to hold dinner?” Julian looked up from his leather chair at the far side of the dining room to see Wendy standing over him. His eyes shifted to the clock above the mantel and back. He knew what time it was. He had been eyeing the clock every minute since five, without fail. Every minute that Eve had been late. Now it was 45 minutes past the time they were supposed to meet on the slope area bench.
“Yes, tell George to keep it warm. I am sure she’ll be here any minute. It’s probably just traffic,” he said, more for his own reassurance than Wendy’s. He knew traffic wasn’t bad on the roads leading into the mountains, especially on the weekend. But his thoughts weren’t going there. Eve was coming; she was just delayed. That’s all. Maybe an emergency at the hospital kept her over. And if so, she might call. But maybe she wanted to surprise him as much as he did her. And a phone call just took the fun out of it.
An hour later, Julian fingered his cell phone. He thought about calling…but he had promised not to. He had promised never to contact Eve again if she didn’t show up at the lodge. But at the time, he was sure that would never happen. He knew from the moment they had made the deal that she’d be there…knew it in his heart and his soul. And he could tell Eve knew it too that day. So where was she? What was keeping her? Could she have somehow changed her mind about him and their love? “No, she couldn’t have,” he assured himself. “She’ll be here.”
The clock on the mantel continued to tick away the minutes and hours as Julian waited for Eve. He got up out of his chair and began to pace back and forth. The nervousness he had felt initially had given way to uneasiness, and finally to dread. He couldn’t believe she didn’t show. This was just not even something he had considered. He knew she wanted to be with him, and he knew that she was going to tell TC the truth. He had seen it in her eyes. But what if she couldn’t go through with it? Or what if she told him, but he forgave her and still wanted a future with Eve? Julian sucked in his breath. No, that couldn’t happen. He was going to make her his wife. It was the only way it could be…the only thing that was right. The two of them were in love, and the passion they had shared during that precious afternoon a month ago was enough to bind their hearts together forever. Eve belonged to Julian, and he belonged to Eve. There was no turning back.
Julian’s heart didn’t lie. And he knew Eve’s didn’t either. They would have that future they both wanted. Fate couldn’t be this cruel, to steal paradise away from them when they were this close…when he was this close to finally righting all the wrongs of the past. He would make her happy. He would make everything up to her the best he could, and give her the world. He needed her love like he needed the air he breathed. And he knew she needed his love just as much. Eve was finally going to get her life back, to find her true self. And he was going to be there at her side. They were going to share their old but improved, new but revisited selves with one another, and the world. And it was going to be beautiful. At least, that was the plan…
The clock struck ten. The lyrical sound of the chimes brought him back to reality. It was such a beautiful sound, any other time… Julian shook his head and walked over to the hooks near the door. It was time to get his coat, time to leave this private paradise before it drove him mad. As he was buttoning his coat, he turned to look one final time at the room all decked out for the romantic evening that would not be. His eyes teared up. “My sweet Eve. Who was I kidding? I was too late. It was too little, too late.”
He opened the door and stepped out into the cold night air. “Well, Julian. Tonight didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Now what?” He shook his head and blew on his hands as he headed toward his car. After he had walked a few yards, a peculiar noise in the distance attracted his attention. It sounded like a dying animal. He squinted, trying to adjust his eyes to the darkness. What he saw about twenty yards ahead made him stop dead in his tracks. “Oh, my God…Eve!”