“Eve!” Julian couldn’t believe what he saw in the snow as he stepped out of the inn. There, just on this side of the bench where they were to have met, was the woman he loved, lying in the snow, moaning. The rose that had been placed so lovingly on the bench hours before was at her side. A pool of liquid red had spread out across the snow from her head. He blinked back the tears as he ran to her, hoping against hope that she was all right. He knew he should be thankful she was alive, and that he could see her moving and hear her cries. But the sound and sight before him was almost too much for him. He couldn’t take seeing his beloved in pain.
Julian reached Eve in record time. He fell to his knees and caressed her, ever so gently, and lifted her head from the cold wet blanket of snow where it had been resting. Supporting the weight of her upper body, he gently ran his fingers over her face. “Eve, please tell me you are all right. I don’t know what I’d do…” Tears fell freely from his eyes as he took in the sight of her. She was so pale, but it was an eerie paleness, a light blue, deathlike pallor that had long since taken over her skin. He knew she needed help, and that she needed it now. Julian leaned forward and placed his arms under her body. Lifting her up with all his strength, he carried her into the inn.
Wendy met him at the door. She had watched him leave with sad eyes just minutes before, only to hear his desperate cries as he headed back toward the inn moments later. “Oh, my goodness – is she all right?” she asked, adjusting the pillow on the couch in the foyer as Julian lay Eve down as gently as possible.
“I don’t know, but she needs help, fast,” Julian cried as he ran his finger through her blood-stained hair. Please call Dr. Bradley for her, Wendy. We don’t have time to wait on an ambulance coming all the way up here.” Dr. Bradley was the Heavenly Trails physician. Julian had met him after he purchased the place. He lived just down the hill from the resort.
The doctor was at the inn’s front door in less than five minutes. He set his bag down by the couch and leaned over Eve. “What happened here?” he asked. “My God, she looks hypothermic!”
“We don’t know, doctor. I just found her out in the snow. Her head was bleeding and she looked so pale…almost blue. She was moaning a little, though, so I don’t think she was completely unconscious. But since we got her back here, she hasn’t made a sound.” His voice broke on those last words.
“Julian, I am going to need to examine her. How about you go wait in another room?”
“I don’t want to leave her,” Julian asserted, but Wendy came up from behind him and gently tugged on his arm.
“The doctor needs to check her out alone, Julian. Why don’t you come into the kitchen with me, and I’ll fix you a cup of coffee? It’s going to be a long night, and you need to be here for Eve.”
Julian nodded and followed Wendy out of the room, taking a final look back at the doctor as he began examining his love…his life. The guilt he felt was overwhelming as he stepped into the kitchen, where the aroma of lobster still filled the room. George had long since put everything away and retired into one of the inn’s many rooms for the night. He had come too far, Julian decided, to head back that late at night.
Wendy proceeded to fix a pot of coffee, as Julian sat down at the tiny table and sobbed. He just couldn’t hold back any longer. “This is all my fault,” he cried. “If I hadn’t concocted this crazy scheme, Eve would be all right now. What was I thinking, having her come way out here, when it was so deserted? And I wasn’t there for her…on the bench, like I had said I would be. I had to go and leave that silly note, trying to be this romantic fool. If something happens to Eve, because of me, I will never forgive myself.” What was he saying? If something happened to Eve, his life would be over, because it would no longer be worth living. Not without his heart. And Eve was all of his heart.
Wendy walked over and placed the cup on the table near Julian. “I know this is a nightmare for you, Julian. But you can’t blame yourself. Eve came here tonight because she loves you. You can’t let her down.”
“Let her down?” Julian slowly lifted his head and met Wendy’s eyes. “What do you mean, let her down? I love Eve… I would never do anything…”
“I know, Julian. I know. But sitting in here moping because you came up with this plan to meet her isn’t going to help Eve out one bit. You have to stay strong for her. You have to be here for her now, all of you. You can’t be saddled with a guilty conscience. What happened was terrible, but let’s hope she will be all right. But no matter what, she needs you tonight. She needs you thinking clearly for her, for both of you. So here, drink this. It’ll make you feel better.” She moved the cup toward his hand.
Julian fingered the handle, and then lifted the mug to his mouth. The warmth of the coffee nearly burned his lips. But he opened his mouth and took in the liquid. Immediately, his spirits lifted a little. He took another swallow and then set the cup down. “Thank you, Wendy, for everything. You are right – Eve needs me to be strong. I have to be here for her.”
As he finished the last drop of coffee, the kitchen door swung open, and in walked Dr. Bradley. Julian sat up tall. “Doctor, how is she?”
The doctor raised his hand as if to calm Julian, and sat down beside him at the table. “Well, there is good news and bad news,” he said.
Julian’s heart raced. He didn’t know if he could handle any bad news regarding Eve, but then he remembered Wendy’s words, and he took a deep breath. “Just tell me, doctor, will she be all right?”
Dr. Bradley rubbed his chin and exhaled slowly before proceeding. “Well, it looks like you got to her just in time. She is in the beginning stages of hypothermia. If she were out in the cold any longer, it could have been much, much worse. But as it is now, warm blankets and a hot bath will do the trick as far as her body temperature is concerned. That’s the good news.”
“And the bad?” Julian didn’t know if his heart could take it.
“Well, the bad news is that Eve has suffered a concussion. She hit her head on something outside, and that is what caused all the bleeding. There is a gash on her head that I stitched up. It wasn’t too serious, actually. Head wounds tend to have a lot of blood and normally look far worse than they are. But what worries me the most is the concussion. She is awake, which is good, but she should be kept awake, for awhile. And every hour of the night, she needs to be awakened, so that she doesn’t fall in too deep a sleep.”
“Can I do this here?” Julian asked. “Do we need to take her to the hospital?”
“Under normal circumstances, I’d say get her to the hospital. However, since I was able to treat her injury, and she is even now starting to thaw out as far as the hypothermia goes, I would say it is adequate for her to remain here…as long as she isn’t allowed to fell into a deep sleep. Do you think you can manage her care for the night?”
Julian nodded. “I will make sure she gets the best of care, doctor.”
“Good,” he replied. “I shall return first thing in the morning. I do think she will be fine, with the right care, Julian. You did well to bring her in as quickly as you could, and to call me instead of waiting on an ambulance. I am going to take off now, but I will check on her once more as I head out. Oh, and Julian, she was asking for you.”
Julian stood up quickly and headed to the foyer with the doctor. The physician bent over Eve and flashed his light into her eyes. Satisfied with what he saw there, he checked her pulse. “She is doing better already, Julian. The blankets have helped. I would advise a hot bath for her in a bit…and a change of clothes. And try to get something warm in her too, some broth or even some cocoa?”
Julian nodded as he dropped to his knees beside the couch, taking Eve’s hand in his. He scarcely noticed as the doctor said his goodbyes and let himself out. He rubbed his hand through Eve’s hair. “Sweetheart, what am I going to do with you? You had us all worried, my love, with your little excursion in the snow.”
Eve tried to laugh. “Julian…” Clasping her hand in his, she smiled. “I…I have no idea what happened…” she began.
“Here, here. It’s OK, darling. It doesn’t matter. You’re safe now. That’s all that matters. I thought I had lost you. You don’t know how happy I am that you’re going to be all right.” He leaned forward and kissed the top of her head.
“Oh, darling, I am sorry. Does it hurt?” He ever so gently fingered the bandage on the back right side of her head.
“It’s all right. The pain is…is better now. The doctor gave me something for it.”
“Good,” Julian said. “Listen, Dr. Bradley said it’s best to get you a hot bath and some fresh clothes. How about we get you into the hot tub? I have it all set up to go tonight.” He sighed, thinking of what he had really planned for them in that room.
Eve sensed his thoughts. “Oh, Julian, I am sorry I…that I ruined your evening...everything you had planned.”
“Nonsense,” Julian replied. “There will be time for all of that later, much later, when you are all better. Right now, I can’t think of anything more important than getting you well. You scared me tonight, Eve Russell, scared me to death. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you…”
She reached up and touched his face. “Nothing is happening to me, darling. I am here, with you, where I want to be, always.”
Julian smiled at her words and bent down to scoop her up in his arms. He carried her to the hot tub room.
Eve’s tired eyes lit up at the sight of the room. It was all decked out like a magical paradise. The gorgeous candles and beautiful rose petals brought tears to her eyes. “Oh, Julian…”
He smiled. “I wanted to make this night perfect for you, my love. But you have made it perfect for me, because you are here, and you are safe. That is all that matters.”
He lovingly helped her shed her clothes, and step into the tub. “Are you going to join me, Julian?” she asked tenderly.
“I don’t think I’d better…” he murmured, but when Eve’s eyes pleaded with him, he relented, and soon had his clothes in a pile by hers. He stepped into the warm water and sighed. “Man, this feels good. This will get you warmed up in no time.” He eased over beside of Eve and put his arm around her. She lay her head down on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Julian’s own eyelids began to droop with the exhaustion he was feeling from this longest of days. Suddenly, they snapped open. “Eve, Eve, wake up!” he cried.
She groaned and opened her eyes. “Julian?”
“Phew. I was afraid you had been asleep too long. The doctor said to make sure I woke you up every hour.”
“I don’t think it’s been that long.” She nodded toward the clock on the wall. “I think it’s only been about twenty minutes or so. We’re OK.” She smiled. “I love you, Julian Crane. I love you for all you have done to try to make this night special for me. I love you for how you have taken care of me here tonight. And most of all, I love you for being you. The real you. The man I once loved, but have come to love even more. The man of my dreams…”
“Eve…” His eyes ignited with a fire he could no longer quench. He turned his head and met her lips with his. After a sweet, gentle kiss, he pulled away and caressed her face. “You’re my everything, dear. I can’t imagine life without you. I am so glad you came up here tonight to me. You don’t know how happy that makes me…but I just wish you hadn’t been hurt. I couldn’t bear to cause you pain, any kind of pain, ever again.”
“It isn’t your fault, honey. It’s mine. I wasn’t watching where I was going. I found your rose, and that sweet note, and I was reading it in the light from the slopes. It was beautiful, Julian. But I was reading it as I tried to walk toward the inn. My foot must have caught on something, and I slipped. I hit my head on something out there…a rock, I don’t know.” She fingered her wound.
“Eve, were you out there all that time? For five hours?” Julian couldn’t believe it.
“No…I had an emergency at the hospital at the last second. A child was injured. I tried to call you when I got to my car but my phone was dead. I knew you would be worried, but I thought if I drove fast enough, I’d get here in no time. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. You must have been so scared.”
“You don’t know the half of it, Eve. I was so afraid that you had decided to stay with TC. You know, I would have been OK with that, if I thought that was what you wanted. But it still tore at my heart like a knife. But that was nothing compared to the scare I got when I opened the door to leave and saw you lying out there in the snow. I thought I was going to die, right then and there.”
“Oh, sweetheart…” Eve’s eyes filled with tears. “I won’t ever leave you again, Julian. Never, ever.” She leaned forward and kissed him. Then, she reached over and picked up the red rose Julian had left for her on the edge of the hot tub, hours before. She ran her fingers across the long stem, careful of the thorns. She brought the flower to her nose and smelled it, smiling at its perfect aroma. Julian clasped her free hand and grinned, grateful for the most perfect of gifts he was given tonight.
After a few moments, they got out of the hot tub. Julian helped Eve dry off and she put clean clothes on, some of the clothes that Wendy had found in her suitcase that she had left in her car at the bottom of the hill.
Julian led Eve to their room. When he turned on the lights, she gasped at the sight before her. There were candles everywhere, and petals…more than a thousand pink and white rose petals adorned the floor and bed. “Oh, Julian…look at this place. Oh, it is a true paradise.”
Julian smiled. “No, Eve, paradise is what we have in our hearts…what we feel for each other now, and always. This is just to try to capture some of the magic I feel for you visually. But the real paradise is in here, and here.” He pointed to his chest, and then to hers.
She smiled, and pulled him in for a kiss. Then, she climbed into her bed of paradise and snuggled up in the covers. Julian sat down on the bed beside her and fingered her hair. “I am going to sit here all night, in this candlelight, and make sure you are OK. Every hour, I will wake you up with a kiss, so that you won’t be too mad at having to be aroused from your sleep. But here, before you go to sleep, have a few sips of this warm broth.” He handed her the cup of broth Wendy had left on the nightstand.
Eve took a few sips and smiled. “My hero,” she said, reaching up and touching his cheek. She closed her eyes, with the smile still on her face.
Julian set her cup back on the nightstand and removed his shoes. He sat up in the bed beside his lady love and looked at the clock on the dresser. He would hold watch over her all night long. And when she was out of danger, someday soon, the two of them would again be able to share in the magic of the paradise they had found together.