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There was always a spark between Raoul and Crystal, but he is her late husband's brother and she is determined to keep her distance. Yet as sleigh rides and toasty log fires bring her closer to Raoul, Crystal must confront the way he makes her ...
There was always a spark between Raoul and Crystal, but he is her late husband's brother and she is determined to keep her distance. Yet as sleigh rides and toasty log fires bring her closer to Raoul, Crystal must confront the way he makes her feel—and the heartwarming way he connects with her son.
Gusting winds had shifted from the southwest to the northwest, meaning a full-scale Colorado blizzard was on its way. Soon 10,000-foot Crystal Peak, her namesake, would be whited out along with the other surrounding peaks.
Crystal, who'd been put on skis as soon as she could walk, had been born in this 9,600-foot ski mecca and recognized the signs. The temperature had already dropped to the twenties. Soon the town of Breckenridge would be covered in even more snow, after several recent storms, the last one blanketing the area a few days ago.
It was good news for her father's business. Skiers from around the world flocked here and spent a lot of money on ski clothes and equipment. She'd worked part-time for her father while Philippe finished kindergarten; but now that he was a first-grader she was working full-time.
She gave him a huge hug, forcing him to reciprocate before opening the back door for him. "I've missed you today. Hurry and fasten yourself in. I want to drive us back to the store before the storm hits."
"Can't we just go home?"
That's all he ever wanted to do lately. Just go home and play quietly in his room
"This won't take long. You need a new coat. This afternoon a shipment of parkas came in. There aren't too many in your size, so we need to get you in one you like before they're put out on the racks and taken." With Christmas in nine days, the last-minute rush for gifts would bring the shoppers in droves.
"I don't want a new coat."
"I know you don't, but you've grown and the sleeves are too short." Just now she'd almost said that the parka he was wearing had been bought in France, where they used to live, and he'd outgrown it. But she caught herself in time, afraid he'd go all quiet. She had a hunch he was hanging on to it because it was the one he'd brought with him when they'd left Chamonix.
Crystal needed to do something quick to help her son. Since school had started in the fall, he'd been less communicative. All she heard lately were troubled sighs coming out of him. He'd been a different child since his father's death fourteen months ago. Eric Broussard, one of France's great skiers, had taken a fatal fall during the downhill race in Cortina, Italy, and had died at the young age of twenty-eight, devastating everyone.
Two years earlier the Broussard family had already been plagued by the death of Suzanne, the wife of their son, Raoul. The Broussards were an institution that owned and ran the 100-year-old premier alpine mountaineering guide club in the French Alps. The two brothers had been very close. Probably—and this was Crystal's private theory—it was because they'd never competed. Raoul lived for climbing and mountaineering. His wife, Suzanne, had shared his passion for the mountains. Eric only wanted to do one thing. Ski.
News of his passing sent the French ski world into mourning for a favorite son, but the hardest hit of all was to Crystal, who had to explain to a little five-year-old boy that his daddy wouldn't be coming home.
Crystal had been two years younger than Eric when she'd met and dated him. That was at a time when she'd been a member of the national women's ski team and had one bronze medal to her credit. After their marriage, they'd settled in Chamonix, France, where Eric had been born and raised on skis.
Two months after the funeral was over, Crystal had moved her and Philippe back to her parents' home in Breckenridge, hoping it would help both of them to recover and move on. To her chagrin, Philippe had slowly gone into a shell and nothing seemed to bring him out of it, not even her two younger, fun-loving sisters, Jenny and laura. They were in their early twenties and came and went from the house between ski races.
When Crystal had brought them back to Colorado, Philippe had a tantrum the first time her father tried to take him skiing. Crystal realized it was too soon. Maybe Eric's death had put him off skiing forever. She hadn't tried to get him on skis again. He'd skied with her in Chamonix, but she didn't know if he'd really liked it or just did it because she did.
Lately she'd been doubting her own thoughts and feelings where he was concerned. Her boy was never enthusiastic about anything. At first she hadn't expected enthusiasm or excitement from him. But this depression seemed to be growing worse despite all the love her family gave him. According to his new teacher, he didn't even try to make friends with the kids in his first grade class.
The one time this fall she'd invited a boy for a play date after school, Philippe had been unwilling to share his toys or play at the nearby park. After the day had ended in disaster, she hadn't tried it again. The other boy's mother reciprocated, but Crystal knew it hadn't gone well because she hadn't called to make another play date.
It worried her he never wanted to talk about his father. He always brought up his uncle Raoul, the adored uncle who phoned once a month. But whatever they talked about, Philippe kept it to himself.
In the beginning he'd had conversations on the phone with his cousin Albert, but since school had started, things had changed. He didn't articulate his wishes or worries and closed up if she tried to get him to discuss his feelings. Not even the grand-mere and grand-pere he loved had the power to bring a lasting smile to his face or eyes. They'd flown over two different times to visit, once bringing his loving aunt Vivige with them, but he still remained aloof.
Molly, the mother of three and one of the long-time employees at her father's store, had suggested earlier today that maybe he was upset having to share his mommy with her family. The comment had gotten Crystal thinking, deepening her guilt that she was failing her child somehow.
Here she'd believed that living with her parents and sisters would help Philippe feel secure and loved. She'd originally planned to get a condo close to their house. But a year later she was still staying in their family home because she'd hoped the closeness would help him to heal, but nothing seemed to be further from the truth.
What if Molly were right?
The thought devastated Crystal that he might be feeling shut out because of his perception that she paid too much attention to her own family. If she moved them to a nearby condo, maybe Philippe would like having her all to himself and he would start communicating more without anyone else around. Whatever it took, she was willing to try it because the next step was to seek professional help. They both needed it.
Tonight after she'd put Philippe to bed, she would discuss it with her parents and start looking for a new place. She would decorate it with the few furnishings from their condo in Chamonix that were still in storage. Philippe could help her.
Maybe seeing the things would make him open up. Naturally, when they'd first come back to Breckenridge, she'd tried to re-create Philippe's bedroom to make him feel at home, but if he saw everything else, maybe that's what he needed. It had to work. She was desperate!
Crystal drove into the town center of Breckenridge and parked around the back of the store. "Come on, honey." Grabbing his hand, she led them inside the rear entrance. They walked over to the load of new parkas hanging on the rack ready to be rolled out on to the floor.
She lifted two and held them in front of Philippe. "Which do you like better, the blue or the green?"
He studied them for a minute. "I guess that one." He touched the navy coat. It would be a nice match with his blue eyes, a shade darker than Eric's.
"All right. Let's see how it looks on you."
When he'd shed his other coat, she put it on him. "This looks terrific on you. Come on. Let's go find Grandpa and see what he thinks."
The store had at least a dozen customers keeping the staff busy. Molly was with a group of skiers, but she was the first to notice them come out of the back room. "Hey, Philippe. I like that parka on you. It fits you perfectly."
He muttered something indistinct and averted his eyes.
Crystal sent Molly a silent message that she was sorry for her son's lack of manners and looked around for her father. "Where's Dad?"
"He said he had an errand, but he'll be back."
She'd heard that before. When he got talking to one of his friends, it might be several hours. "I guess we'll go on home and show Nana. He'll be there later."
As they turned to walk into the back room, Crystal heard a male voice behind them say, "Eh bien, mon gars. Tu me souviens? "
The French spoken in a deep, familiar voice caused the blood to pound in Crystal's ears.
Philippe could never have forgotten him. As for Crystal.
Both of them swung around at the same time. "OncleRaoul!" her son cried out in sheer happiness, echoing her unspoken response.
Philippe had said his name so loudly, every head in the store turned in his direction. He pulled his hand away from Crystal's and flew into the arms of Eric's thirty-two-year-old brother. Her son threw his arms around his neck, clutching him for dear life. The next thing she knew Raoul was rocking him. She didn't know which one of them was squeezing harder.
Over Philippe's shoulder Raoul shot her a glance from eyes she'd always thought of as midnight-blue. At the moment they were neither friendly nor hostile, yet she felt their deep penetration like she'd been injected with a near fatal dose of electricity.
"I was hoping to find out you hadn't left for the day." He spoke English in a cultured voice with less of a French accent than Eric had done. "The family told me you've been working for your father since you returned from Chamonix."
"Yes." She was so astonished to see him, she couldn't find the words.
She took an extra breath, wondering what he'd meant by that remark, which could be taken several ways.
As if reading her mind he said, "I'd imagined that if nothing else, you would have gone into coaching some new upcoming sports star." He flashed one of his beautiful rare smiles. "There isn't a female champion who skis like Crystal Broussard. You have a style no one's been able to imitate." "Had, you mean."
"No," he responded on a more sober note, not letting it go. "It will always be there because you honed it into an art form. The ski world lost a true star when you stopped competing. I, for one, am sorry that happened."
Crystal found it hard to swallow because his comment stunned her. With the problems in her marriage followed by Eric's death, that part of her life seemed to have taken a backseat. For Raoul to bring it up now wasn't only a surprise, it was flattering, especially coming from him.
That was because he was such a revered athlete in his own right and always meant what he said. Little did he know the idea of becoming a coach had touched on one of her secret dreams. It shook her to realize he was the first person to recognize that need inside her.
In the past, while Suzanne had been alive, they'd often been on the same wavelength and she'd enjoyed that aspect of their relationship. Sometimes it had even upset her because she hadn't experienced it with Eric and didn't like feeling guilty about it.
"Thank you for the compliment, Raoul, but I've had my son to worry about."
"That's understandable, but it seems to me you could still do both. In fact I wondered why you didn't go back to competition after Philippe was born."
"You mean in Chamonix?"
"I wanted to, but being a mother is a full-time job."
"For some women maybe, but you could have managed both." His dark eyes flashed. "You're too gifted."
Raoul really believed in her.
But when she'd talked to Eric about it, he'd clutched her under the chin. "You're the one who didn't mind us getting pregnant before we'd planned to," he'd said. "If we're both gone, who'll take care of the baby? I'm not keen on hiring a nanny."
Soon after Philippe was born, Eric hadn't been keen on much of anything but skiing. It eventually ruled his life. Without conscious thought she'd tried to be mother and father to their son.
All the while she was remembering the past, she'd been staring at Raoul. She couldn't help it. His black hair was longer than she remembered. It had a tendency to curl and looked slightly ruffled from the wind outside. He was an inch taller than Eric, who'd stood six feet two—the brothers were quite different in body build and coloring.
Eric had been born with the natural lean body of a skier. He and their sister, Vivige, a terrific skier in her own right, resembled their father in that regard and were dark blondes.
On the other hand Raoul, standing there in his black bomber jacket, possessed a more powerful build and had a darker olive complexion like their mother. Both men had the stamp of the good-looking Broussard family, and it had been bequeathed to her adorable Philippe, who clung to his uncle.
The sight of Raoul brought intense pleasure and pain in equal waves, plus too many other emotions Crystal didn't dare examine right now. She noticed the lines around his wide mouth had deepened since the last time she'd seen him. A year ago the whole Broussard family, including Philippe's three cousins, had driven to the airport in Geneva to see her and Philippe off to the States.
There was a haunted look about his Gallic features that was new. If she wasn't mistaken, she thought he'd lost a few pounds. The changes only made him more attractive, resurrecting more feelings of guilt for finding him so terribly appealing. That guilt had lain dormant while she'd been here in Colorado.
Posted December 13, 2011