They were not just large, but were the mesmerizing colour of a bluebell
wood in April, framed by long dark lashes and perfectly groomed brows that
were totally at odds with that appalling hair cut. At odds with
those horrible spectacles which continually slipped down her nose as if
they were too big for her face…
As he stared at her, the certainty that he’d seen her somewhere before
tugging at his memory, she used one finger to push them back up and he
knew without doubt that they were nothing more than a screen for her to
Everything about her was wrong.
Her car, bottom of range even when new, was well past its best, her hair
was a nightmare and her clothes were chain-store basics but her scent, so
faint that he knew she’d sprayed it on warm skin hours ago, probably after
her morning shower, was the real one thousand-dollar-an-ounce deal.
And then there was her voice.
No one spoke like that unless they were born to it. Not even twenty-five
thousand pounds a year at Dower House could buy that true blue
aristocratic accent, a fact he knew to his cost.
He stirred his tea, took a sip, making her wait while he thought about his
‘I’ll organise a rental for you while it’s being fixed,’ he offered,
finally. Experience had taught him that where women were concerned, money
was the easiest way to make a problem go away. But first he’d see how far
being helpful would get him. ‘If that would make things easier for you?’
She carefully replaced the delicate bone china cup on its saucer. ‘I’m
sorry, George. I’m afraid that’s out of the question.’
It was like a chess game, he thought. Move and countermove. And
everything about her -- the voice, the poise -- suggested that she was
used to playing the Queen.
Tough. He wasn’t about to be her pawn. He might be lumbered with Mike
Jackson’s Bentley -- he couldn’t offload a specialist job like that at
short notice as his father well knew – but he wasn’t about to take on
something that any reasonably competent mechanic could handle.
Maybe if she took off her glasses…
‘As a gesture of goodwill, recognising that you have been put to
unnecessary inconvenience,’ he said, catching himself -- this was not the
moment to allow himself to be distracted by a pair of blue eyes, pale
flawless skin, scent that aroused an instant go-to-hell response. He
didn’t do “instant”. It would have to be money. ‘I would be prepared to
pay any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses.’
He didn’t care how much it cost to get her and her eyes out of the garage,
out of his mother’s kitchen, out of his hair. Just as long as she went.
‘That’s a most generous offer,’ she replied. ‘Unfortunately, I can’t
accept. The problem isn’t money, you see, but my driving licence.’
‘Oh?’ Then, ‘You do have a valid licence?’
If she was driving without one all bets were off. He could ground his
daughter for her reckless behaviour – maybe – but Annie Rowland would be
out of here faster than he could call the police.
But she wasn’t in the least bit put out by his suggestion that she was
breaking the law.
‘I do have a driving licence,’ she replied, cool as you like. ‘And in
case you’re wondering it’s as clean as the day it was issued. But I’m
afraid I left it at home. In my other bag.’ She shrugged. ‘You know how
it is.’ Then, looking at him as if she’d only just noticed that he was a
man, she smiled, said, ‘Oh, no. I don’t suppose you do. All a man has to
do is pick up his wallet and he has everything he needs right there in
his jacket pocket.’
He refused to indulge the little niggle that wanted to know whose wallet,
‘And where, exactly, is home?’ he asked, trying not to look at her hand
and failing. She wasn’t wearing a ring but that meant nothing.
‘ London .’
‘ London is a big place.’
‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘It is.’ Then, without indulging his curiosity about
which part of London , ‘You must know that no one will rent me a car
without it. My licence.’
Unfortunately, he did.
‘Oh, for goodness sake!’ Xandra, who’d be watching this exchange with
growing impatience, said, ‘If you won’t fix Annie’s car, I’ll do it
myself.’ She put down her cup and headed for the door. ‘I’ll make a
start right now.’
‘Shouldn’t you be thinking about your grandmother?’ he snapped, before
she reached it. ‘I’m sure she’d appreciate a hot meal when she gets back
from the hospital. Or are you so lost to selfishness that you expect her
to cook for you?’
‘She doesn’t…’ Then, unexpectedly curbing her tongue, said, ‘I’m not the
selfish one around here.’
Annie, aware that in this battle of wits Xandra was her ally, cleared her
throat. ‘Why don’t I get supper?’ she offered.
They both turned to stare at her.
‘Why would you do that?’ George Saxon demanded.
‘Because I want my car fixed?’
‘You won’t get a better offer,’ Xandra declared, leaping in before her
father could turn down her somewhat rash offer. ‘My limit is baked beans
on toast. I’m sure Annie can do better than that,’ she said, throwing a
pleading glance in her direction.
‘Can you?’ he demanded.
‘Do better than baked beans on toast?’ she repeated. ‘Actually, that
won’t be…’ She broke off, distracted by the wild signals Xandra was
making behind her father’s back. As he turned to see what had caught her
attention, ‘…difficult. Not at all.’
He gave her a long look through narrowed eyes, clearly aware that he’d
missed something. Then continued to look at her as if there was something
about her that bothered him.
She knew just how he felt.
The way he looked at her bothered her to bits, she thought, using her
forefinger to push the “prop” spectacles up her nose. They would keep
sliding down, making it easier to look over them than through them which
made wearing them utterly pointless.
‘How long do you think it’ll take?’ she asked not sure who she was
attempting to distract. George or herself.
He continued to stare for perhaps another ten seconds – clearly not a man
to be easily distracted – before he shrugged, said, ‘It depends what else
we find. Your car is not exactly in the first flush. Once something
major happens it tends to have a knock on effect. You’re touring you
She nodded. ‘That was the plan. Shropshire , Cheshire , maybe. A little
sightseeing. A little shopping.’
‘There aren’t enough sights, enough shops in London ?’ he enquired, an
edge to his voice that suggested he wasn’t entirely convinced.
‘Oh, well…’ She matched his shrug and raised him a smile. ‘You know what
they say about a change.’
‘Being as good as a rest?’ He sounded doubtful. ‘This isn’t a great time
of year to break down, especially if you’re stranded miles from anywhere,’
he pointed out.
He didn’t bother to match her smile.
‘It’s never a good time for that, George.’
‘It’s a lot less dangerous when the days are long and the nights warm,’ he
said, leaving her to imagine what it would be like if she broke down way
out in the country, in the dark, with the temperature below freezing.
Then, having got that off his chest, ‘Are you in a hurry to be anywhere in
He sounded hopeful.
‘Well, no. That’s the joy of touring, isn’t it? There’s no fixed
agenda. And now Xandra has told me about the Christmas Market in
Maybridge this weekend…’ – she gave another little shrug, mainly because
she was certain it would annoy him – ‘…well, I wouldn’t want to miss
that.’ A new experience that. Annoying a man. One she could grow to
enjoy and taking full advantage of this opportunity, she mentally crossed
her fingers and added ‘Ho, ho, ho…’