Danielle Steel: The Kiss

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Chapter 2

Bill Robinson went through customs at Heathrow with a purposeful air, looking as though he were in a hurry. And he was. It took him only a few minutes to collect his bag, and with his briefcase in his other hand, he strode toward the driver from Claridge's, standing discreetly to one side with a small sign bearing his name. He stayed at Claridge's whenever he was in London, and had convinced Isabelle to stay there as well. It was full of ancient traditions, was always cited as the best hotel in town, and he had been staying there for thirty years. In great part, the hotel appealed to him because they knew him.

As the driver put Bill's suitcase and briefcase in the trunk of the limousine, he glanced at the tall gray-haired American, and was instantly aware of a noticeable aura of power and success about him that was impossible to ignore. Bill had bright blue eyes, that shone with a kind expression, and once sandy blond, now graying hair. He had sharply etched masculine features, and a noticeably square chin. He was wearing gray slacks, a blazer, blue shirt, and a dark blue Hermes tie, and his black leather loafers had been perfectly shined before he left New York. There was a subtle elegance about him, he was well dressed without wearing anything remarkable or showy. And as he opened a newspaper to read in the back of the car, a woman would have noticed that he had beautiful hands, and he was wearing a Patek Philippe watch Cindy had given him years before. Everything about him, and that he wore, had a subtlety and quiet elegance to it that drew the right kind of attention to him. But for the most part, Bill Robinson preferred to be a behind-the-scenes man. In spite of his obvious connections in politics, and the opportunities that could have afforded him, he had never had the need to be a front man. In fact, he much preferred things as they were. He was fueled by power and political excitement, he loved the ins and outs of the ever-changing political scene, and had no desire to be publicly known. In fact, it was often far more important to him to be invisible and unseen. He had no need or desire to make a lot of noise, or draw attention to himself.

It was in fact an aspect of his personality that he and Isabelle shared. In her case, it manifested itself in shyness, in his it was one of the tools he used to wield his power behind closed doors. And although one might have noticed him walking into a room, just by the way he looked, or the way he seemed to take over without saying a word, he commanded respect and attention more by his silence than by anything he did or said. And in just that same way, people noticed Isabelle without her saying a word. She was actually uncomfortable when attention was focused on her, and it was only in private one-to-one conversations like theirs that she felt free to be herself. It was one of the things he loved about her, the way she opened up with him. He knew her every emotion, every reaction, every thought, and she had no hesitation anymore in sharing her deepest secrets with him. It was something Isabelle told him she and Gordon had never shared.

Bill checked into Claridge's, and Thomas, the concierge, instantly recognized him, and was pleased to see him again. Bill found himself engaged in polite conversation as he chatted amiably about the weather and recent local elections with the assistant manager, who escorted him to his room. It was a large, sunny suite on the third floor, decorated in flowered chintzes, pale blue silks, and antiques. And he waited only an instant after the assistant manager left the room. He picked up the phone as he glanced around the room. And he smiled as soon as he heard the familiar voice.

“How was the trip?”

“Very easy,” Isabelle smiled when she heard him. They had synchronized their arrivals, and she had checked in twenty minutes before. “How was yours?”

“Fine.” He looked like a boy, as he smiled. He had that all-American boyish quality that had always attracted women to him. “It felt like it was taking forever, I couldn't wait to get here,” he said, as they both laughed a little nervously. It had been nearly six months since they'd last seen each other in Paris. He had planned to come back sooner, but unexpected political complications had kept him away longer this time, and he was anxious to see her. “Are you tired? Do you want some time to relax?”

“After an hour's trip?” She laughed. “I think I'm all right. How are you?”

“Hungry. Do you want to go out and get something to eat?” It was three in the afternoon.

“I'd love that. We can go for a walk afterward. I haven't moved all day. I've just been sitting on the plane.” She was excited to see him, and he could hear it in her voice. Their meetings always filled them both with anticipation, and when they met, they talked endlessly for hours and hours, just as they did on the phone. There was never any awkwardness between them, no matter how long it had been since they last met.

“How was Teddy when you left?” As always, he sounded concerned. He knew what a constant worry Teddy was for her.

“Sleeping. But he had a good night. And Sophie called from Portugal last night. She's having a great time with her friends. How are the girls?”

“They're fine, I think. They're coming over here in a few weeks with their mother. Nobody tells me anything anymore. I can tell where they are by the charges on my American Express bill. Cindy's taking them to the South of France, before they go to Maine to see Cindy's parents.” And then he was going to meet up with them in the Hamptons at the end of the summer, as he always did. But he had his own plans before then. He was going to be working in Washington all summer. Cindy no longer asked him to join them anymore, she knew it was a lost cause, and would have been stunned if he'd wanted to. “What's your room number?” he asked, glancing at his watch. They had time for a quick lunch, and he already knew he wanted to take her to Harry's Bar for dinner that night.

“Three fourteen.”

“We're on the same floor,” he observed. “I'm not sure where you are. I'm in three twenty-nine. I'll pick you up on the way out. Ten minutes?”

“Perfect,” she smiled shyly then, and there was a moment's pause. “I'm happy to see you, Bill.” For a moment, she sounded very French, and he felt suddenly very young. She meant something to him that he couldn't have explained. She was what he had always thought women should be, but couldn't have defined if he'd had to put it into words. Gentle, loving, patient, understanding, interested in all his doings, compassionate, funny, kind. She was like an unexpected gift in his life, as he was in hers. He was the life preserver she hung on to when everything else around had vanished over the years. There was nothing she could count on anymore, Teddy's health was a constant worry to her, and she knew that she could lose him at any moment, and Gordon was simply the man she shared a house with, and who had given her his name, but she often felt that he was no longer a part of her life. Except for occasional public appearances, he no longer had any need for her in his. And, as was appropriate at her age, Sophie had flown the nest. More than ever these days, Isabelle felt alone. Except when she was with Bill, in person, or on the phone. He was her mainstay, her joy, her laughter, her comfort, and her best friend.

“I'm happy to see you too,” he said gently. “I'll pick you up in ten minutes. We can figure out our plans then.” He knew they were going to the Tate the next day, and there were some private galleries she had mentioned she wanted to visit. He was planning to take her to dinner both nights. He would have liked to take her to the theater as well because he knew how much she loved it, but he hated to waste hours of precious time that he could spend talking to her. It was Tuesday afternoon, and they had until Thursday night. She had said she might be able to stay until Friday morning, but it depended on how Teddy was. And she felt she should be back in Paris for the weekend. It was like a race against time, and an extraordinary gift to have these few days. They had never been able to do anything like this. And he had no ulterior motives, no intentions or plans. He was just looking forward to the opportunity to be with her. There was something wonderfully pure and innocent about what they shared.

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