Lucy Gordon

Daniel and Daughter

A book in the Simply The Best series, 1997


'Oh, hang this rain!' Lee Meredith muttered. 'What possessed me to drive in the pitch-dark in the middle of a downpour?'

But she knew she'd had no choice. It had seemed a good idea when the fashion editor of Modern Lady had said she wanted the autumn clothes photographed by a waterfall. But the waterfall had been a hundred miles away, and as Lee had clicked the shutter for the last time the heavens had opened. Despite the treacherous conditions she had to get home tonight. She was due at her studio the next morning.

The rhythmic dunk-dunk of the windscreen wipers was hypnotic, and she had to fight to stay alert as she stared into the darkness. At last she stopped at a transport cafe and had a cup of coffee to keep herself awake. To complete the job she went into the rest room and splashed cold water onto her face. Then she freshened her make-up and drew a comb through her blonde shoulder-length hair, with such vigour that the curls danced. It might seem illogical, since there was no one to see her, but it was a matter of pride.

Lee had found that the company of models could become intimidating, so now she used the tricks she'd learned from the glamorous young women to transform her attractive face into beauty. She was five feet two, built on dainty lines, and presented an appearance of feminine fragility that came from another age.

The inner reality was a shrewd woman who'd learned survival in a hard school.

The cast of her face was naturally youthful, which had once annoyed her. It had been maddening to be taken for fourteen when she'd been a wife of seventeen and the mother of a year-old child. But now, at twenty-nine, there was a certain satisfaction in knowing she looked several years younger. Her petite figure and mass of honey-blonde hair completed the effect. It would be a clever man who could guess Lee Meredith's true age, and he would have to get close enough to look into her dark blue eyes and see the pain and disillusion that she concealed behind laughter.

When she was back on the road she drove slowly and carefully. The conditions were dangerous, and she was too tired to react fast. If only those windscreen wipers weren't so soporific. If only…

She saw a car come out of a side road and swing round to face her. For what seemed like an age she stared at it in bewilderment, trying to work out why something seemed strange. Only after several seconds did her weary brain register the fact that the car was driving straight towards her on the same side of the road.

She slammed on her brakes and slowed, but she knew she couldn't stop in time. The other car continued, straight in her path. At the very last second the two vehicles swerved in the same direction, their front wheels connected and they came to a forcible halt.

Lee let out her breath slowly, discovering that she was unhurt. Luckily there was no other traffic on the road. Her temper rising fast, she flung open her door to plunge out into the downpour.

From the other vehicle came a howl of unutterable despair. It might have been an animal keening over its slaughtered young, or it might have been a man bewailing the fate of his brand-new car. The two sounds were indistinguishable.

Through the rain and darkness Lee could just discern that the car was the latest model of an extremely expensive make. It was a beautiful vehicle barring the ugly dent in the front, which exactly mirrored the one in her own.

A man appeared. He was tall and lean, but with his hair plastered to his skull it was hard for her to see more. 'I don't know what country you come from,' she snapped, 'but this happens to be England and we drive on the left.'

'I'm aware of that,' he snapped back. 'I'm English too, and I'm perfectly familiar with the rules of the road.' His voice had a vigour that didn't suggest age.

'No one would guess it who saw you drive,' she said with heavy irony. 'I take it you're not going to deny being entirely responsible for this accident.'

'I most certainly am.'

'What?' Lee shouted above the noise of the rain. 'You were driving on the wrong side of the road.'

'I don't deny that,' he shouted back. 'I merely deny being entirely responsible. You had a long stretch of clear road to see me, yet you did nothing until the last minute.'

The sheer effrontery of this took Lee's breath away. While she was struggling for an answer a tall woman in a headscarf emerged from the other car. She ran over to the two combatants and held a large umbrella over them in protective fashion. 'That's better,' she said. 'Now you can fight in comfort.'

They both glared at her. Even in the heat of the moment Lee's professional eye noted that this was one of the most beautiful young women she'd ever seen. But she gave her only a cursory glance before returning to the fray.

'Am I to blame because you don't know your left from your right?' she demanded.

'No, madam, but you are to blame if you weren't paying attention to the road. You could have taken avoiding action before you did-'

'If you'd been driving properly there'd have been nothing to avoid.'

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and rubbed his head until he was no more than dampish, enabling Lee to see that he was younger than she'd thought. He could have been in his late thirties, with a lean, strong-featured face that would have been handsome if it hadn't been rigid with outrage.

'May I remind you,' he said, breathing hard, 'that the first rule of the road is to act as if all the other drivers are fools?'

'Well, you said it-'

'And to be ready at all times to take evasive action.'

'You were driving on the wrong side of the road!' she yelled.

'I know that. The point is that I didn't know it at the time. I thought I was on the right side of the road. You, however, knew I was on the wrong side, and should have reacted earlier.'

'You mean I should have done your thinking for you? Why can't you do your own? Didn't you get beyond the third form, or something?'

The young woman gave a suppressed choke and was silenced by an infuriated glare from the man.

'Why didn't you take avoiding action earlier?' Lee demanded.

'Because,' said the man, speaking with difficulty, 'I thought you would. I thought you were on the wrong side of the road-'

'Well, I wasn't,' she said, wondering if she was in a madhouse. 'I was on the right side, and you're damned lucky it was me and not a ten-ton truck.'

The beautiful young woman poked the man's arm. 'She's right, you know,' she hissed.

'What?' The man stared as if unable to believe he'd heard properly.

'She's right. You were driving on the wrong side of the road.' She turned to Lee. 'I'm sorry. You see, we've just come back from France, where they drive on the other side. We came off the ferry tonight and-'

'Phoebe,' the man growled, 'if you can't be more helpful than that, just get back in the car.'

'Oh, no, please let me stay,' said Phoebe quickly.

'Then keep quiet and behave yourself.'

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