Second Chance For Loveñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Table of Contents
About the Author
Josey sensed thatpeople were covertlywatching her
She could feel the curiosity of their eyes resting on her. So this was the woman who was living with Tom Quinn. However, she could hardly stand here and announce to the assembled company, “It’s not what you think.”
And Tom wasn’t exactly helping matters, standing so close behind her like that, as possessive as a dog with a bone. No one looking at them would doubt that they were lovers…
SUSANNE McCARTHY grew up in South London, England, but she always wanted to live in the country, and shortly after her marriage she moved to Shropshire with her husband. They live in a house on a hill, with lots of dogs and cats. She loves to travel—but she loves to come home. As well as her writing, she still enjoys her career as a teacher in adult education, though she only works part-time now.
Second Chance for Love
‘MANIAC!’ The driver of the delivery-van almost had to stand on his brakes, swerving sharply to avoid a head-on collision as the white Porsche took the bend too wide, veering over towards the oncoming traffic. ‘Look where you’re damned well going,’ he advised fiercely, though the woman at the wheel would not have heard him.
In fact, Josey had barely even been aware of the near-accident. She had driven all the way from London in a kind of trance. All she had in the car were the few clothes she had thrown into a bag.
Everything else she had left behind her, along with nine years of her life.
She had known for a long time that her marriage was over. But it had come as a bitter blow when Colin had announced, as coolly as you liked, that he wanted a divorce—so that he could marry his secretary. It wasn’t losing him that hurt. No, it was the fact that Paula was pregnant—and that he was delighted.
He had never wanted her to have children, she reminded herself, the bitterness welling up. A baby wouldn’t fit in with their lifestyle, he had said. He worked hard all day, he had said. He didn’t want to come home to a house full of toys and nappies, and be kept awake all night by a baby crying.
Maybe she should have left him years ago. But somehow there had never seemed to be quite enough reason to take such a serious step—vague suspicions that he was having affairs, which she had never quite been able to bring herself to confront him with. She was sure Paula wasn’t the first—he probably seduced all his secretaries. She ought to know—she had been his secretary herself once.
She had been just twenty-one when she had first gone to work for him—and he had been the stuff of every young girl’s dreams: good-looking, urbane and dynamic. Too dynamic for the respectable, well-established firm he was in—he was keen to branch out on his own. He had exercised all his considerable charm to persuade her to take the plunge, and go with him.
It had been fun, at first, watching the small company mushroom with success. But she had always kept their relationship strictly business—she had already had a very nice boyfriend, to whom she was unofficially engaged. Ironically, it was a row with Derek about the long hours she was working that had precipitated the change. Colin had been so incredibly kind and understanding. He had taken her out to dinner to cheer her up—and somehow she had found herself in his bed.
Why, out of all his conquests, had he chosen to marry her? Probably to secure her loyalty, at a time when she would have been indispensable to the business, she mused wryly. And he had probably seen her as a social asset, too—someone to organise the vitally important social side of his life, preside over his dinner parties with grace, making intelligent conversation with all his tedious guests.
And of course she had been beautiful then. She hardly recognised herself now in the thin, pallid creature she had become. Her hair was lank and lifeless, the russet glints it had once held dimmed, and her eyes were dull. She was only thirty-one, but she looked nearer forty. Maybe she couldn’t blame him for looking elsewhere.
It was hard to know when it had all started to go wrong. Maybe it was since she had given up her career. She had been overjoyed when Colin had first suggested that, since the company was prospering so well, she no longer needed to work; at last, she had believed, it was his intention that they should start a family. But she had been in for a bitter disappointment.
In the beginning she had tried to persuade him. But every time she had brought the subject up he had accused her of nagging, and eventually he had begun to get more and more annoyed. She had hated the rows, so gradually she had ceased to even try to discuss the issue.
And gradually they had grown further and further apart. She had already grown disillusioned with their shallow lifestyle, with friends who seemed as disposable as last year’s fashions. If they could even have had a proper house with a garden to tend, and maybe room for a dog, she might have been a little happier. But their ultra-smart City apartment had begun to seem like a prison: she had been bored, with nothing to do but shop and go the hairdressers—and that hollow, aching longing for a baby had never gone away.
With a hand that shook slightly she reached out to the dashboard, and found the half-empty pack of cigarettes. That was something else, she mused bitterly as she fumbled for her lighter. She had only begun smoking a couple of years ago, to calm her nerves. She had tried countless times to give them up—it was a habit she hated—but she couldn’t do without them.
Colin had caught her by surprise, coming home in the middle of the afternoon like that. She had been slopping around the apartment in a pair of old jeans and a faded T-shirt. Somehow that made it all so much worse—he liked a woman to be elegant, and the look of faintly veiled contempt in his eyes had undermined any hope she might have had of dealing with the situation with any kind of dignity.
If Paula hadn’t been pregnant…She hadn’t been able to handle that. She had cried, making her eyes ugly and red, and he had become exasperated. In the end she had fled to the bedroom, packed a bag, and told him he could have his divorce, have the apartment, have anything he wanted. Then she had just climbed into her car and driven off.
She had had no clear idea of where she was going. It wasn’t until she had found herself driving around the M25, the orbital motorway around London, for the second time, that she had given that problem any consideration. And then she had thought of the cottage out in the wilds of Norfolk, left to her by her great-aunt Floss a couple of years before.
She hadn’t been there since she was a child, but she remembered that it was remote, on the edge of a tiny village, miles from anywhere. Suddenly that had seemed enormously appealing, and she had set off, with only a vague idea of how far it was to Cottisham.
Through the fine Norfolk drizzle misting the windscreen, a road-sign showed her that the next turn was to her destination, and she took it. The road was dark, but even if it had been daylight she doubted that she would have recognised it—she would have been no more than about ten years old the last time she was here.
What sort of state would the cottage be in? Aunt Floss had died…oh, it must have been three years ago. For the first time, she began to consider that the place would probably be in a bit of a mess. The electricity would probably have been turned off, and maybe even the water too. But at least she was nearly there—she could just go straight to bed tonight, and sort out any problems in the morning.
Her hand found the cigarette-lighter at last, and she flicked it into flame, bending her head to draw deeply on the tobacco…
The headlights came out of nowhere, straight towards her, and too late she realised that the road bent away sharply to the left. In an instinct of panic she snatched at the wheel, braking hard, and the tyres lost their grip on the damp road, sliding into a lazy treacherous skid. In front of her, the beam of her own headlights stabbed out into nothingness…
She wasn’t dead, then—it couldn’t have been as bad as she had thought it was going to be. She had had an image, fleetingly, of the car tipping over some steep incline and rolling over and over, crushing her. But she seemed to be the right way up, though the car was tipped up at an odd angle, and the windscreen was shattered…And someone was asking her if she was all right.
Damn—how was she going to get to the cottage now? And that was blood trickling down her cheek…Suddenly she realised that she was hurt, and started to scream.
‘All right—steady. You can’t be too badly injured if you can make that sort of noise.’ The voice was calm and competent, and he had reached into the car, unfastening her seatbelt, and was running what felt like an expert hand over her body.
‘Are you a doctor?’ she whispered, looking up to find a pair of intriguing hazel eyes just a few inches above her own.
He laughed drily. ‘No, I’m a vet. You don’t seem to have done yourself too much harm—which is more than can be said for your car. Do you think you can move?’
‘I think so. But my wrist hurts.’
She held it out to him gingerly, but his examination was so gentle that she hardly felt it. Some part of her mind was incongruously registering the thought that he was one of the most attractive men she had ever seen: thick dark hair, shaggily cut, fell over a high, intelligent forehead, and his face was starkly masculine, with a strong aquiline nose, and a lean, hard jaw.
‘Are you really a vet?’ she asked curiously.
‘Yes—but the principle’s pretty much the same,’ he reassured her. ‘I think you’ve broken this. If you can get to my car, I’ll take you to the hospital.’
‘Your car’s all right?’
‘You didn’t hit me—I managed to brake and get out of your way,’ he told her, a faintly sardonic inflexion in his voice. ‘What happened? Didn’t you see the sign for the bend?’
She tried to shake her head, but found it a jarring experience.
‘Steady,’ he advised. ‘You’ve been pretty badly shaken up. Take it slowly.’
Supporting her with one strong arm around her shoulders, the other holding her injured arm steady, he eased her very gradually from the car. It was crazy, but she found herself leaning on him just a little more than was strictly necessary; it just felt so good to have a man treating her with a little tenderness, a little kindness, after so many years of Colin’s indifference.
His car was just a few feet away, slewed across on to the wrong side of the road, and with a small stab of horror she realised just how dangerously close she had come to a much more serious accident. That thought made her feel slightly sick, and she found that she really did need all his support to make it the short distance to his car.
Dimly she took in that it was an old Land Rover: of course—he would need a tough car if he was a vet. An elderly black and white border collie was sitting in the front seat, but he gave it a crisp order, and with a look of mild indignation at being banished it skipped over into the back.
It was a relief to be able to collapse into the front seat. She closed her eyes, for a few moments conscious only of the fires of pain in her wrist and her head. But she had had a very lucky escape. Opening her eyes, she peered across at her own car.
Well, she had certainly made a mess of that! It was tail-up in a ditch, the bonnet crumpled and the offside badly smashed in. It was probably going to be a complete insurance write-off. Well, that was Colin’s problem, she reflected with vicious satisfaction—both the car and the insurance were in his name.
Her rescuer had placed a warning triangle in front of the wreck to alert any oncoming cars, and was coming back with her suitcase and her handbag. She offered him a grateful smile—but what she really needed was something to steady her nerves.
‘Did you bring my cigarettes?’ she pleaded urgently.
‘Your cigarettes?’ The impatient frown that crossed his brow warned her that he didn’t much approve of the habit.
‘They were on the dashboard…’ guiltily she remembered that it had been in lighting a cigarette that she had taken her eyes off the road for just that fatal fraction of a second ‘…and my lighter,’ she begged. ‘It might have fallen down.’
‘All right,’ he conceded grudgingly. ‘I’ll get them.’
Josey watched him walk back to her car, registering the easy, athletic stride, and the impressive breadth of shoulder beneath his green oiled-cotton jacket. She found herself wishing she hadn’t asked him to fetch her cigarettes—he had made her feel about two inches tall, as if she hadn’t felt bad enough already. If only she had been able to give up the disgusting things. Somehow—foolishly—it mattered to her what he thought of her.
Not that he was going to think much anyway, she reminded herself miserably. The glass of the Land Rover’s windscreen reflected her face to her all too clearly. She looked awful; correction—even more awful than usual. Her eyes were hollow and puffy from crying, and now there was a nice graze on her forehead, still trickling blood. She sought in her handbag for a tissue to dab it away as he came back.
He swung himself behind the steering-wheel, tossing her cigarettes and lighter into her lap, making no effort to conceal his contempt. ‘No, I don’t mind if you smoke in my car—just this once,’ he grated, preempting her routinely polite enquiry as if he had doubted whether she would have the manners to ask.
‘Thank you,’ she mumbled, clumsily trying to open the packet with her one good hand. Tears of frustration welled into her eyes.
‘Oh, here, give them to me,’ he snapped, taking them from her. He drew one cigarette from the packet and put it between her lips, and then flicked the lighter for her. ‘You seem pretty determined to kill yourself, one way or another.’
She stared up at him in shock. ‘I wasn’t trying to kill myself,’ she protested.
‘Weren’t you?’ he queried drily, starting up the Land Rover. ‘It was pretty suicidal, the way you were driving.’
‘I…had things on my mind.’ She looked down into her lap. Just at the moment she didn’t feel like telling anyone about her marital problems—least of all this man. He already thought she was a pretty pathetic specimen.
‘What were you doing on this road anyway?’ he enquired. ‘Were you lost?’
‘No. I was heading for the village.’
‘Cottisham? At this time of night?’
‘I was left a cottage there, by my aunt,’ she explained. ‘I was going to stay there for a…a holiday.’
He slanted her a look of surprise. ‘You don’t mean old Florrie Calder’s place?’
‘Do you know it?’ she asked.
He laughed with sardonic humour. ‘Yes, I do. If you were planning to stay there, it’s a pity you didn’t do something about it before—the place is practically derelict.’
‘Derelict? Oh, dear…I didn’t realise…’
‘How many years is it since you bothered to visit the old lady?’ he enquired, a hard edge in his voice.
‘I haven’t been up since I was a little girl,’ she countered defensively. ‘She was my mother’s aunt, really, and my mother died when I was twelve.’
‘She was all on her own. Don’t you think you could have taken a little more interest in her welfare?’
She hung her head, feeling ashamed. He was perfectly right—but it had simply never occurred to her to keep in touch. Even her mother had never been particularly close to the rather eccentric old lady, and after she had died…to be honest she had virtually forgotten her existence, until the letter had come from the solicitor informing her that she had been left the cottage. At the time even that had been of little interest—as Colin had said, it was really not very well located for a holiday home.
‘I…I never thought…’ she mumbled.
‘No, I don’t suppose you did.’ His tone implied that he would have expected no better of her. Turning his attention impatiently away from her, he pulled over for a moment, reached down and switched on the car-phone. First he called the hospital and warned them of their arrival, then he dialled another number. A woman’s voice answered. ‘Hello, Maggie,’ he said. ‘It’s Tom. Look, I’m sorry—I’m ringing to let you know I’ve been delayed. There was a bit of an accident on the road, and I’m running someone to the hospital. I’ll get to you as soon as I can.’
‘Oh…Right,’ came the steady response. ‘Thank you for letting me know, Tom.’
So who was Maggie? Josey wondered dully. His wife? She had sounded as if it was a regular occurence for him to be held up by something or other. It must take a great deal of patience to be the wife of a country vet, she reflected—always on call, never knowing when he would have to go out or when he would be back. She would have to be a remarkably strong woman.
She felt a twinge of envy as her imagination began to paint a picture—of a warm, rambling cottage, with the elderly collie snoozing beside the hearth, and a couple of fine strapping sons who took after their father…
They had set off again. Her head was beginning to ache quite badly, and she felt as if she would have liked to cry. Today had very definitely been the worst day of her whole life.
‘Is there anyone you want to get in touch with, to let them know you’re all right?’ he asked, his voice suddenly gentle.
‘No.’ One single tear escaped from the corner of her eye, and began to track slowly down her cheek. She brushed it away with her good hand. ‘Thank you—you’ve been very kind.’
‘You’re in shock,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry—we’ll be at the hospital in a couple of minutes.’
She nodded gratefully. It would be nice to be able to lie down, and have someone take away the pain. But a strange pang of regret tugged at her heart—once he had deposited her at the hospital, Tom would go away, and she wouldn’t see him again. He probably wouldn’t even spare her another thought, except as the crazy woman who had almost smashed into his car.
Stupid, she scolded herself crossly. The last thing she needed at the moment was to start fancying she was attracted to some total stranger, who had crossed her path by complete chance. And yet…he was very attractive, she conceded, slanting him a covert glance from beneath her lashes. Six feet plus of rangy, well-built male, the kind that no woman could ignore.
And his hands…They were beautiful, with long, sensitive fingers, and strong wrists. She found herself remembering the gentle way those hands had examined her, and a shimmer of heat ran through her…
No—it was all just reaction. The shock of Colin’s announcement, followed by the accident, had left her off balance. And he was so very different from Colin—Colin with his immaculately combed hair, his designer suits, his decaffeinated coffee. She couldn’t imagine this man drinking decaffeinated coffee. He wouldn’t need to fuss with such things, not with the healthy, active life he must lead. So very different…
It was pleasant, this feeling of being close to him, cocooned in the warmth of the car—like some comfortable dream from which she never wanted to wake up…
‘Here we are.’
She opened her eyes quickly to find that he had brought the car to a halt beside a wide porch, with a pair of battered plastic swing doors of the type used so much in hospitals. A sign above the entrance said ACCIDENT AND EMERGENCY. A young nurse had come out to the car, bringing a wheelchair.
‘I don’t need a chair,’ Josey mumbled, feeling guilty for causing such a lot of fuss.
‘Better if you do,’ Tom insisted firmly, climbing out of the Land Rover and coming round to help her out.
And indeed she found that she did. During the short drive her body seemed to have stiffened; she could hardly move, and as he helped her gently to her feet her head swam sickeningly. She dropped heavily into the chair, and half closed her eyes again.
With part of her mind she was conscious of the nurse flirting with him somewhere above her head, but she was past caring. They wheeled her into a small reception area, and straight over to a narrow cubicle, curtained with some ancient flowered cotton.
‘Could you just pop up on the trolley?’ asked the nurse, gratingly bright.
She looked round for Tom, but he had gone—and he hadn’t even said goodbye. But then she heard his voice on the other side of the curtain. ‘Hello, Andy.’
‘Well, hello, Tom. What’s going on? You don’t have enough of your own kind of patients, so you’ve had to start poaching mine?’
Tom laughed; he had a nice laugh, Josey decided-low and sort of husky, from spending so much time out in the raw Norfolk air. ‘No—just some woman who ran her car into a ditch.’ His tone was casually dismissive. ‘I don’t think it’s too serious—fortunately she had her seatbelt on. I think you’ll find she’s broken a bone in her wrist, but apart from that she’s just generally a bit bruised and battered.’ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî