Atherton Leaves Her! Has the Actor’s whirlwind romance with the Pro Cyclist run its course?
“Yes, Charlotte, he left me. In the airport, to fly back to California.”
Loren Mackenzie knew the headline in The Sun was an exaggeration, but the World Champion time trialist still felt the sting. As her pro cycling season draws to a close, Loren looks forward to taking a break from training and a reuniting with her boyfriend, Graham Atherton. However, rumors and innuendo begin to swirl around them, and secrets they have kept from each other shake their relationship to its foundation.
A trip to New York City affords Loren a bittersweet reunion with a love she thought was lost. But reliving the fractured memories of her childhood has left her afraid to dig deeper; the monsters that dwell in the dark corners of her mind are all too real.
Meanwhile, obsession and greed churn into a storm on the horizon, threatening Loren and those closest to her. When the tempest hits and the dust finally settles, what is uncovered tilts the axis of her world.
Loren must find the strength to believe that even in darkness, there is still light, there is still hope; there is still love.
It’s not over. It’s not.
Loren Mackenzie let out a sigh, her eyes following the blinking lights of a jetliner as it disappeared into the distance over Kennedy International Airport. He’s just going back to work in California and I’m going home, to England. She let out an even longer sigh. Two more races and I get to take a real break. How perfect would it be to just go lie on a beach somewhere with him?
Her gaze refocused on the reflection of a man approaching her in the window; his long, confident stride and athletic form quickening her pulse. She turned to face him, but her smile dissolved into a hard frown when he was stopped by a group of fawning teenagers, begging for autographs and selfies with him.
Yep, I had to fall in love with an A-list actor. As Graham Atherton separated himself from the group to continue toward her, Loren forced a smile, but it didn’t stick as he stopped again to become engrossed in his mobile. He looked up from the screen to continue on his way.
“Sorry about that, love,” he said to her. “Just a text from Ron. He said he’ll ring you when he gets into London to discuss setting up a meeting. Is that alright with you?”
She squinted an eye. “So I have people now?”
“I do come as somewhat of a package deal. All that, you know.” He thumbed at the disbursing crowd behind him. “And Ron’s a bit more than just my agent. He’s my best mate and I trust him.” Loren merely nodded, turning back to the window as Graham came up behind and wrapped his arms around her.
“Talk to me, love.”
“It’s just, this is the longest we’ve been physically together, and I don’t want it to end.” Her shoulders drooped. “I’m sorry I’m whining. I’m just tired.”
“No, darling, you’re not just tired,” he murmured. “You’ve been completely shat on.” He kissed her neck then tightened his arms around her. “You won the time trial Championship in Richmond, but you had to put up with all the nonsense from the press. And then losing the road race, which even that BBC reporter, Theo Arnold agrees was not your fault.” Graham came around to face her with pinched brows.
“But if that weren’t enough, you had to deal with me throwing your past in your face.” He cupped her cheek. “I still feel awful for that, and I want to help you, but I have no idea how.” Loren kissed him, then put her arms around his waist and held him close.
“I just want this, and more of it when I see you again.” He gave her a squeeze then drew away to glance around them. “Graham?”
“Grab your bag and come with me.” He bent to pick up their carry-ons, then led her to a private seating area, far away from prying ears and eyes. He took a seat on the small sofa across from her and held her hand with both of his.
“Darling, I know how hard it was for you and your aunt to talk about what happened to your mother and sister, and I’m awfully proud of you for doing that,” Graham said and glanced down at their clasped hands. “I also know Maggie gave you all of the photos and documents she found in the attic, and you have the file my father’s man put together.” He grimaced. “I want to ask that you don’t look through all that again by yourself.”
She blinked. “Is that all?” she chuckled softly. “Here I thought you wanted to have a quickie or something.” His stare was somewhere between being shocked and wanting to laugh; his laugh won.
“I love you.” But his mirth died out as his bright blue eyes studied her. “I have a present for you, and I was going to save this for your birthday, but it’s burning a hole in my pocket.” He removed a small red velvet box from his jacket and her jaw dropped.
“What are you doing?” she whispered.
He leaned in closer, smirking. “I’m not asking; I’m giving. That’s all.” Her hands shook as she took the box and opened it. Nestled inside was a platinum ring of two clasped hands holding a red stone shaped like a heart, capped with a crown.
“It’s a Claddagh. I’ve always wanted one,” she said, smiling at him. “What’s the stone?”
“It’s a garnet,” he replied. Taking the ring out of the box, he slipped it on her left ring finger, the hands facing outward. Graham held her gaze as tightly as her hand. “With this crown, I pledge to you my loyalty. With these hands, I offer you my service, and with this heart, I give you mine.”
Loren couldn’t speak as her brain reset. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything, love,” he chuckled. “The stunned look on your face says it all.”
“I didn’t want to cry in public, dammit,” she hiccupped, covering her mouth with her hand. He pulled her into his lap and cuddled her close. She stared at the ring as her thoughts spun around. “Wait a minute,” she muttered, leveling a scowl at him. “You had this with you the whole time we were together, and you’re just giving it to me now?”
“Well, yes and no,” he replied, not looking at her. “It belonged to my great-grandmother, so I’ve had it for a while, but it needed to be resized. It’s a complicated process, you know.” Loren huffed a chuckle and kissed him, then moved off his lap to the sofa but kept her legs draped over one of his.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you.” She settled her head on his shoulder, breathing in his scent and grazing her lips against the scruff on his jaw. “I don’t want you to go,” she whispered.
“I don’t want to either, but we both have jobs to do.” Graham held her tighter. “I’ll be home before you can miss me.”
I miss you already, and squeezed her eyes closed against the sting.
“Loren,” he cleared his throat, “about the file–.”
“Who am I going to talk to, other than you or Maggie?”
“You can’t talk to Cece about it?”
“How can I talk to her about something I’ve never told her?”
“Perhaps you should,” he said and Loren let out a breath.
“I need to talk about all of this with my brother, my real brother,” she replied. “I need to find him.” Graham moved back to see her, the corners of his mouth curling down.
“I know I have no right to ask this of you, but will you wait until I come home to do that?”
“Yah, I can wait. Hell, I don’t even know where to start looking,” she grumbled, and he kissed her forehead.
“I do love nothing in the world so well as you,” he murmured.
“Je connais,” Loren whispered, sliding her arms around his neck and kissed him.