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Loren shuffled out of baggage claim at just after ten in the morning with her head down and pulling her silver bike carrier behind her. Before reaching the concourse, she ducked into the ladies room and recoiled when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.
“Yikes.” Dark circles shaded her eyes, and she splashed cold water on her face, then pinched her cheeks to get some color back in them. She traded her team warm-up jacket for her favorite of Graham’s pullovers, a dark gray Burberry with patched elbows, and headed out to the concourse. After passing through security unnoticed, she neared the airport exit, eyeing a small group of photographers. Loren ducked her chin and caught up with a larger group of travelers heading in the same direction.
Don’t see me. Don’t see me. The clamor from the paparazzi began and passengers scattered like pigeons in all directions. Walk fast. Don’t look up, just keep walking. Cameras were shoved in her face. Photographers shouted at her.
“Congratulations on winning the time trial, Loren. Too bad about the road race.”
“Was your team leader, Amber Moll upset that you took fourth, ahead of her?”
“Did you and Graham Atherton break up over his affair with Cortney Goodwin?”
That comment brought her head up, and Loren was blinded by a camera flash. An arm went around her shoulders, and she turned to the tense face of her friend, Anthony Ainsworth.
“Just keep walking,” he grumbled, shielding her as they forged through the gauntlet. Once they reached the doors, airport security had restored order and Anthony took over pulling the cumbersome bike carrier. She shot a glance over her shoulder.
“What the hell was all that about?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he told her. “I can take your duffle.”
“No, it’s okay. Thanks.” She slung the strap over her head and hugged it to her chest as he directed her to cross the pick-up/drop-off lanes to where his Range Rover was parked in the taxi area. The front passenger door burst open, and a young woman with a blue-black pixie cut jumped out, darted between a few cars and grabbed Loren in a rib-crushing hug.
“Charlotte, you’re hurting me,” she groaned, and Cece let her go.
“I’m sorry, but, it’s just… look!” She pointed to a headline on page two of the crumpled newspaper in her hand.
Atherton Leaves Her! Is the Actor’s whirlwind romance with the Pro Cyclist over?
The short article featured a photo of Loren, sitting alone in the International terminal waiting area, with her hands over her face.
Loren rolled her eyes. Just wonderful. I hope Maggie doesn’t see that. She didn’t bother reading the copy and handed it back to her friend. “Yes, Charlotte, he left me. In the airport, to fly back to California.” Cece grimaced as Anthony put his arm around her shoulders.
“I told you,” he said. “She would have called one of us.” Loren peeked over her shoulder to the exit where several people with cameras were on the sidewalk, watching them.
“That explains the ruckus back there,” she said. “Why are you guys here and not Graham’s driver, Jim?”
“Ah, well…” Cece made a face. “Graham sent me a text this morning asking if we could retrieve you.”
“And yet you still thought he broke up with me?”
“I don’t know!” she whined, putting up her hands.
“I don’t get you,” Loren muttered and headed to the Rover.