In Chicago, Claire's mother left her on her father's doorstep when she was eight months old. "Surprise, Jack! You have a daughter. Her name is Claire. I can't do it." It wasn't signed. Jack knew the only woman he'd ever loved had left Claire. They settled into a quiet life in his small art studio.
Jack made pieces melding the worlds of art and medicine together. He'd planned on being a surgeon, but seizures ruled that out. Jack settled on art as it was his second love and he was good at it. He'd started making a living when Claire appeared. Jack was able to make enough for the studio he lived and worked in, plus a little extra. It wasn't much, but it was enough to take care of them both. They had a simple but fulfilling life. Claire loved watching her father and became fascinated with art and medicine herself. She was smart, thrived at school, skipped grades, and graduated at sixteen.
The only thing Jack loved more than creating art was Claire. He gave his life to save her. It was soon after her graduation. They were attacked one evening on their way home from a gallery opening. Jack was shot trying to protect Claire. The attacker ran off, leaving them alone. As Jack died, Claire sobbed. Unable to do anything to save him, she promised, "I'll do the thing you were never able to do, Father. I'll become the best plastic surgeon there ever was. An artist with a blade. I'll make you proud."
Claire had no one to take her in. She knew what she had to do to keep the promise. She applied and was accepted into Northwestern. She worked hard and studied harder, taking both art and science. Plastic surgery is a form of art. She needed to understand the lines and mechanics of the human body in order to put it back together again. Claire excelled and quickly made her way to the top of her class. Soon Claire graduated and started her residency. She got a job in a small practice with aspirations of opening her own clinic one day. At work, she was able to assist surgeons who helped soldiers wounded in battle and also those who were victims of violence and domestic abuse. Aiding helped Claire hone her skills and keep her busy so she wouldn't have time for anything else.
Claire knew she never wanted to fall in love. She'd seen the hurt that Jack had gone through. It pained her to know he'd done it to himself. Then, after seeing it happen to her classmates, it solidified her resolve. Claire would never be vulnerable. She'd never rely on anyone but herself. She had her work and it was enough. Claire was perfectly happy the way she was, alone.
Claire moved her way up the ranks of the clinic, becoming indispensable. Soon she finished her residency, passed her boards, and got her own clients. When the owner of the clinic decided to retire, he handed her the keys. At twenty-nine, she was the youngest in Illinois to have her own practice. Claire aspired to become the premier plastic surgeon. In two short years, it became a reality. She was able to pick and choose her cases. She tried to help as many people as she deemed fit. Her career allowed her a beautiful penthouse apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. Her life was perfect and she was content.
Every month she would take on a charity job. One day in mid-July, Claire was at the hospital helping a soldier who'd been injured by a grenade. It was there she met Rylen Forrester. Rylen was the patient's best friend since Scott had no family of his own. Claire chose people to help those who had no one. She knew what it was like to be alone. She used to wish she had someone to look out for her. She liked the fact she could be that person for someone in need.
Claire sucked in her breath when she saw Rylen. He was a striking man with piercing blue eyes and too long charcoal hair. He flashed a perfect dimpled smile with stark white teeth as she entered the room. She'd met many attractive men before, but they never gave her butterflies the way he did. She was surprised to find herself so attracted. Claire nodded in his direction and proceeded to ignore him while she talked with Scott about his surgeries. She found herself giving side glances in Rylen's direction.
As she left the room, Rylen followed. He immediately asked her out. She replied she was too busy for dating. He shrugged and looked unconvinced. Rylen pursued her over the next few months, showing up at places he knew she'd be and sending her flowers. She had to give the guy credit; he was persistent. Finally in October, she agreed to a date so he'd leave her alone. That was all it took. Claire tried not to rush into things, she really did, but there was something about Rylen Forrester. Claire fell so hard, so fast, it shattered her world. This wasn't supposed to happen, Claire wasn't supposed to fall in love.
Rylen had grown up in the military and was used to doing things on his own. He was proud to serve his country but wanted his own family. He figured he'd find the right girl quickly. He'd never had problems meeting women. The old adage of a man in uniform was true. But none of them struck a chord until he met Dr. Claire. She entered Scott's room a commanding presence. He knew she could be his equal and that was what'd been missing with all his other relationships. She took her job seriously. After looking online, saw she had made sacrifices after her father had been killed. She understood pain, loss, and knew what it was like to have a bad day. She'd strived to become the best in the business and he respected her for it.
Rylen never felt so connected to a woman after one date. They'd gone to a trendy place she wanted to try, a restaurant he never would've chosen. He was just glad she'd accepted. They had so much fun talking and laughing as the place closed up around them. Not wanting to call it a night, they went to the nearest bar. The date lasted ten hours and it was heaven. He walked her home but didn't kiss her. It had taken him long enough to get her to go out with him, Rylen didn't want to push his luck. He needn't have worried because Claire texted him before he'd even made it home. Rylen loved that Claire didn't care about the rules. She even apologized for making him pursue her for so long. Intending to go slowly, they made plans for next weekend. Rylen wanted to show Claire he was a good guy. He respected her job, her time, and her as a person. However, he also wanted her to know how interested he was. She got the memo.
As they grew closer, Rylen couldn't believe how perfect Claire seemed. He had a nagging feeling something wasn't quite right. Even his friends thought she was perfect and urged him to put a ring on it. She was everything he had ever talked about wanting. Since Rylen couldn't figure out what was wrong, he pushed it aside. After eleven months of dating, he finally asked for her hand. They were married on the anniversary of their first date.
Their honeymoon was amazing. It's also when Rylen figured out her flaw. Claire was possessive. She'd get jealous of him even talking to someone else. She wanted him all to herself. Rylen chalked it up to the honeymoon since it was expected they'd spend lots of time together. Even more when he discovered her incredible sex drive. But Rylen needed a little time of his own. He needed time to meditate and organize his head for the day. Claire made it extremely difficult.
Back in Chicago, Rylen brought up the subject. He explained the importance of having time to himself in the morning before he started the day. Claire didn't like it. Rylen pointed out she hadn't let him put his stamp on the apartment and she relented. Everything seemed to be fine, for a while.
Bit by bit she reverted. Claire wanted Rylen with her all the time. She cut back at work so they could spend more time together. She insisted he was on his own too much. It became stifling. Then Rylen had to go on a last-minute work assignment. As he packed his things, he told Claire he didn't know how long he'd be gone or when he'd be back. They got into a fight. She smashed his favorite coffee mug throwing it at his head. Rylen believed she understood what it meant being a military wife when they'd married. To be fair, he hadn't expected to be deployed. Now that he had, Rylen was looking forward to some time away. He didn't want to leave after their fight, but he had to. He said he was sorry, he loved her, and he'd call when he could. He ran his fingers through her long blonde hair and left.
Over the next six months, Claire barely heard from Rylen. His job required him to be in remote areas with poor connections. It was difficult for them to speak regularly. During their short, odd hour conversations, she lapped up his voice like a starving kitten. To keep herself from worrying, she threw herself more into work.
When Claire didn't hear from him for two months, she marched down to the military office. She demanded to know where her husband was and why she hadn't heard from him. They informed her Rylen was MIA. A series of IED bombs had gone off and he was presumed dead. Claire denied it and decided to go find him herself.
Everyone concluded she was crazy, but Claire was determined to find him. She knew he was alive. Rylen's a fighter, he'd find his way back and she'd be there to find him. Claire prepared her practice so others could run it while she was gone. She'd worked too hard to lose it so easily. When she found Rylen, she'd need it to help pay for medical costs. In her deepest heart, Claire knew he was hurt. That's why he hadn't contacted anyone. He couldn't.
Reluctantly the military hired her. At least she could help people while she was on the hunt for her husband. It allowed her greater access through the regions of Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. Claire searched in all their hospitals, helping out where she could. Claire's reputation proceeded her. She was greeted warmly wherever she went. They allowed her mobile clinics to travel to remote regions and help those without access to bigger cities.
Claire never held onto anything so tightly not until she met Rylen. Not in her whole life, not until him. She had to find him. She knew he was out there somewhere and that's what kept her going. After almost a year of searching, Claire found herself in Turkey's central Anatolia. At the clinic, a man asked about house calls. His daughter cared for a man they'd found on their herding route. He'd been badly injured and needed extensive help. He wasn't mobile so Claire decided to go to the sheep herder's home to look after the patient. She had a feeling and she'd learned to trust them after months of searching.
When she arrived, she was amazed that the man survived at all in their home. No electricity, no plumbing, no modern conveniences were available. The man stared at her with one piercing blue eye. It was out of place among the browns she'd been seeing lately. His voice had a familiar lilt to it and Claire knew it was Rylen. She found him at last.
He didn't recognize her. He could barely speak English at all. Claire knew the only way she'd get Rylen back is to return to the US. Bringing him home would jog his memory. She'd fix him up and then have Rylen all to herself again. Claire knew it would take some convincing to get Esen, the caregiver, to let him go. She'd fallen in love with Rylen, the man she'd come to know as Can.
It wasn't easy. Esen knew nothing about Western medicine. After a few days of thoroughly confusing Esen, Claire convinced her to allow Can to come to America. Can was apprehensive, of course. He didn't remember who he was, but Claire was kind and helped him feel at ease on the journey. Claire put him in the best room at her clinic, where he would stay until he remembered her. Claire thought about taking Rylen home but decided it might be too much. What if he'd fallen for Esen?
After the first round of surgeries, Can recovered in his room. Claire went to assess how soon he'd be ready for round two. He seemed in good spirits, having just gotten off the phone. Claire absentmindedly trailed her finger up Can's arm before unwrapping the bandages. He inhaled sharply. He remembered Claire, Turkey, the IED car bomb, being found by sheepherders, Esen, all of it. Rylen remembered why he went to Turkey. He recalled how painful his recovery was and how patient Esen was with him, especially those first few months. He realized he didn't love Claire anymore. He couldn't go back to her even if he wanted. There was news from Esen. He was going to be a father. "Claire-bear." Rylen breathed out the nickname he'd had for her and Claire stopped. She knew he'd remember. Rylen debated telling her everything but found he needed to.
Claire sucked in her breath so sharply, it whistled. Her face grew dark with anger as she paced the room muttering. Rylen couldn't make it out. Not until he saw the flash of a scalpel at his throat. Claire hissed in his ear, "If I can't have you, no one can."
Rubies appeared on the front of Rylen's hospital gown. He peered into Claire's emerald eyes. The look on her face told Rylen everything he needed to know. She really had loved him. He wasn't just a possession of hers. As Rylen quickly faded, he garbled out, "I forgive you."
Claire started wailing, realizing what she'd done. A nurse rushed to the room to see what all the fuss was about. Upon seeing the blood, she quickly called security and the police. When they arrived, Claire had draped herself over Rylen's dead body. Her long blonde hair staining red with his blood. The scalpel lying forgotten on the floor. She was led away in handcuffs to serve her life sentence for murder.