Ever since Joel Mortimer lost his wife, he's thrown himself into his work and been a dedicated single father to his daughter, Beth. Joel wrongly blames himself for the loss of Beth's mother and their unborn child. He has vowed never to have another child, or put his little girl through any more trauma—until he meets his new colleague, Lisa Richardson.
Though Lisa isn't looking for commitment either, she can't resist Joel, and one night they give in to temptation. But when Lisa finds out she's pregnant, they both have some soul-searching to do.
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NO. THIS couldn't be happening. Especially not today.
The back wheels fishtailed wildly, swinging the car from side to side before slamming it into the side of the kerb.
"No, no, no. You steer into the skid," Lisa reminded herself loudly.
Problem was, she wasn't sure which way that was, because her car was still fishtailing down the hill. One thing she did know, you weren't supposed to brake hard on ice. You were supposed to take your foot off the accelerator and let the car slowly, slowly—
The jolt went right through her as the car hit the kerb again and bounced off.
OK. Calm down. Steer to the kerb. Stay in first gear. Let the car come to a halt.
One last bounce, and the car finally stopped.
And now she was stuck. Couldn't stay where she was, because she was an obstacle—one that might cause someone else to have an accident as they tried to negotiate their way around her on the ice.
Couldn't go back—no way could she reverse up a hill that was covered in ice.
Couldn't go down—the hill loomed below her, a sheet of ice. If she slid across to the other side of the road, the chances were that she'd hit another car on its way up the hill. And she might not be able to stop at the bottom of the slope either, so she could end up driving straight into the path of an oncoming car. A car that wouldn't be able to avoid her on the icy road and would smash into the side of hers, the door buckling in and her body crushed.
Was this what had happened the day her father—?
She wasn't going to think about that. Now really wasn't the time. Or the place. She took her keys out of the ignition with shaking hands and put on her hazard lights.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Not in March. It was supposed to be the start of spring, for goodness' sake, not the depths of winter.
"Lisa Richardson, you can't wuss out of your first day in a new job," she informed herself sternly. 'You're trained to winch out of helicopters. You're going to be clipping people into a safety harness when you're balancing on a tiny ledge above choppy seas. And that's a hell of a lot scarier than driving down an icy little hill."
Except right now it didn't feel like it. Even her hands were stiff with panic and refused to grip the steering–wheel.
"All you have to do is drive to the bottom. You know the main road will be gritted. Just take it steady. It doesn't matter if you have a hundred cars behind you, wanting you to hurry up. Ignore any flashing lights or car horns. Just drive. Slowly. Get to the bottom of the hill. Turn right. Get on the main road out of the village and go to work," she said loudly.
But the pep talk wasn't working. Every nerve–end was jangling at the thought of going down the hill, out of control. She could even see the smash happening in slow motion, hear the splintering glass and screeching of metal against metal. A sound that echoed back and back and back through her past.
I can't do this! I can't! she screamed mentally.
And then she screamed for real as she heard a bang.
It took her a couple of seconds—seconds that felt like hours—to realise that someone had knocked on the passenger window. All her windows had steamed up, so she couldn't see who it was.
She put the key back in the ignition, then pressed the button to lower the electric window until there was a gap of a couple of centimetres. Not enough for whoever it was to put a hand through—she wasn't that stupid—but enough to talk through.
"Are you all right?" a concerned male voice asked. 'Just hit some ice and smacked into the kerb. It caught me a bit on the hop."
Oh, talk about sounding wet. She'd never played the helpless female, batting tear–spiked eyelashes and wobbling her lower lip to get her own way, and she wasn't going to start now. And she certainly wasn't going to tell a complete stranger why she was so wussy about driving on ice. 'Sorry to block your way—I'll move in a second," she said. And she fully intended to, once she'd psyched herself up to driving again.
There was a pause while he seemed to be inspecting her car. 'Looks as if you've cracked one of your wheel covers," the voice informed her. 'Do you want me to follow you down the hill, just in case there's a problem?"
A problem? Did he think that the impact had damaged the wheel or her steering? Oh, no. A road covered in black ice was bad enough. Add dodgy steering, and she was a crash waiting to happen.A crash just like the one that had…
With an effort, Lisa pulled herself together. 'I'm sure it'll be OK." She wasn't sure at all, but she needed to feel back in control.And sounding in control was the first step towards being in control, wasn't it? 'Thanks for the offer, though."
The tremor in her voice must've been obvious, because he said, 'You don't sound very OK. You're new around here, aren't you?"
No prizes for guessing that: her accent was pure south London, and right now she was in the northern part of Northumbria. Miles and miles and miles away. She dragged in a breath. 'Yup."
"This road catches even locals unawares when there's a cold snap,"he said. 'The sun comes out for just long enough to melt the ice, then it freezes up again into what feels like a sheet of polished glass."
He had a nice voice. Calm. Reassuring. It sounded as if he was smiling, and for a second she relaxed and smiled back. 'We don't really get icy roads like this in London." It was always slightly warmer in the capital than it was elsewhere in the country. 'And I've never fishtailed down a hill before."
"It's pretty scary, the first time it happens." He ducked slightly, and she could just see his eyes through the gap in the window. Amazing eyes. A mixture of grey and gold and green, with unfairly long, dark lashes. Was the rest of him as beautiful as his eyes?
Though sitting in a car halfway down an icy hill was the last place she should start fantasising about a complete stranger. Even if the guy wasn't already committed elsewhere, a relationship didn't figure in her plans for the future. No way was she ever going to lose the love of her life and spend the rest of her days in the shadows, the way her mother had. 'Would it help if I drove your car down to the bottom of the hill for you?" he asked.
The coward in her leapt at the idea; she pushed it back. 'That's very kind of you, but I'll be OK." Apart from the fact that Lisa had always handled her own problems, the man was a complete stranger. And common sense told her that you didn't let a strange man get in your car and drive you wherever he liked, even if he did have a nice voice and stunning eyes.
"If you're sure. I'll follow you for a bit. If you're worried about anything, just stick your hazard lights on and pull over, and I'll pull in behind you and sort it out."
he'd definitely earned his Sir Galahad badge. 'Thanks." 'No worries."
A few moments later she took a deep breath, released the handbrake and crawled along the road. The car smacked into the kerb twice more, jolting her, but then she reached the bottom of the hill. To her relief, she managed to stop before the line. And as soon as she turned onto the main road she could feel that the surface had been gritted. No skiddiness. Everything was absolutely fine.
There was a red car following her: Sir Galahad from the hill. She flashed her hazard lights twice and gave him the thumbs–up sign to let him know that she was perfectly OK now. He imitated her sign—but a couple of miles later she noticed that he was still following her.
He was still behind her when she turned off towards the hospital.
And he was still behind her when she pulled into the car park.
Surely he should have turned off by now? Why was he still there?
Stop being stupid, she told herself sternly. Of course the man wasn't a stalker or some kind of maniac. He was just a stranger who'd spotted her looking as if she was in trouble—which she had been—and he'd been kind enough to make sure she reached her destination safely. he'd drive away again in a moment. She was still just a bit rattled from that horrible out–of–control feeling as she'd slid down the hill. Overreacting. Being silly.
But then he parked two spaces away from her.
Too close for comfort.
Lisa took a deep breath and blew it out very, very slowly. So, what were her options? One, she could make a run for it and hope she made it through the hospital doors before he did. Two, she could face him down. Three, she could call the police.
Option one: the chances were, he'd be able to run faster than she could. So, no.
Option two: brave, but foolish.
Option three: and tell them what, precisely? That a man had parked two spaces away from her? Pa–a–a–thetic.
She went for option four. Stay still and see what he did next. She was in a locked car, so she was perfectly safe where she was.
Lisa pretended to be looking in her handbag for something and waited, watching the red car out of the corner of her eye.
The door opened. The driver got out, shrugged a coat on and headed straight for the hospital entrance. He didn't even so much as glance in the direction of her car.
Her whole body went limp with relief—and embarrassment. How stupid had she just been? Convincing herself that her Sir Galahad had turned into a stalker. For goodness' sake! It was obvious that either he worked here or he was visiting someone.
And she'd better get a move on or she was going to be late. On her first day. Not good at all.
She grabbed her handbag and coat, locked the car door behind her and headed for the emergency department.