HE DIDN’T say much, but maybe that was best. There was nothing worse than a driver who talked.
Keri settled back in the soft leather seat of the luxury car and stared at the back of the man in the driving seat in front of her. No, definitely no talker he—more the strong, silent type. Very strong—judging by the broad set of those shoulders—and very definitely silent. There had been little more than a nod when he had picked her up from her London flat early that morning, and very little since.
Keri shivered. Outside the snowflakes continued to flurry down—big, fat, splodgy things which melted on your cheeks and clung like stubborn confetti to your hair.
She pulled her sheepskin coat tighter and huddled into it. ‘Brrr! Could you turn the heater up a little? I’m absolutely freezing.’
His eyes intently fixed on the road ahead, Jay flicked a switch. ‘Can do.’
‘And would you mind putting your foot down? I want to get back to London some time tonight.’
‘I’ll do my best,’ he said equably.
He would drive only as fast as conditions demanded, no more and no less. Jay’s face was hidden, but he flicked a glance at the rearview mirror to see the model sliding a pair of fur-lined gloves over her long fingers. If she had been able to see him she would have seen the unmistakable look of irritation on his face. Not that his irritation would have bothered her, of course—even if she had picked it up. He was simply the driver—employed to cater to her every whim and keep close watch on the priceless chandelier of a necklace which had been dripping exquisite diamonds from her long, pale neck during one of the coldest afternoons of the year.
He had watched while the stylists and the photographers and all their assistants had fussed round her, and had observed her blank, almost bored look of compliance as she had let them. He had been pretty bored himself, if the truth were known. Watching a magazine-shoot seemed to involve one hell of a lot of waiting around. The waiting he could deal with, if there was a good reason for it, but this had seemed like a complete waste of time.
To Jay, it had seemed crazy that a woman would agree to wear a flimsy evening dress outdoors on a bitterly icy day. Surely they could have recreated a winter scene inside the warmth and comfort of a studio, and made his job easier?
And then he had seen the Polaroids, and suddenly he had understood. Before the camera she had come alive—and how. He had given a long, low whistle and the photographer’s assistant had flashed him a conspiratorial smile.
‘Gorgeous, isn’t she?’
Jay had studied them. Sure, she was exquisite—just like the diamonds themselves, if you liked diamonds, which personally he didn’t. Framed by the sooty fall of her loose hair, her face was pale as a dusting of frost, her eyes as dark as the bare charcoal branches of the trees. Her lips were full and red—painted crimson, like rich ruby wine—and they parted into a shape of sheer, moist provocation. The thin silver gown had added to the wintry feel of the photograph, and it had clung like sparkling hoar-frost to her body, to the firm, high breasts and the curving bottom.
But she’d looked as if she had been made from ice, or wax—too perfect to be true and not real at all. If you pricked a woman like that, would she bleed? he wondered. If you made love to her, would she cry out in wild, uninhibited passion—or would she just smooth down that perfect hair and flick it back over her shoulders?
‘She’s okay,’ he had drawled, and the assistant had given him another understanding smile.
‘I know what you mean.’ He’d shrugged. ‘Not just a case of out of our league—she’s probably never even heard of our league!’
Jay had nodded and turned away, not bothering to correct him—the day he decided a woman was out of his league would be the day he failed to draw breath. He was here to do a job and get away as soon as possible. He shouldn’t even have been there in the first place, and he had a date that night with a cool dream of a blonde he had been fighting off without quite knowing why—only tonight he had decided that maybe it was time to throw in the towel.
A slow smile of anticipation curved his mouth.
‘How long, do you think?’
The model’s voice cut into thoughts which were just threatening to get erotic, and her question didn’t really help.
‘How long is what?’ he questioned.
Keri sighed. It had been a long, long day and, if the truth were known, she would have liked nothing more than to go home to a hot bath and then curl herself up with a good book instead of go out on a dinner date. Not that dinner with David would be anything other than enjoyable—it always was. True, he didn’t set her pulses on fire, but he knew that and he didn’t mind a bit. Well, that was what he said—but Keri couldn’t help wondering if, deep down, he was quietly working on a campaign to make her change her mind. And she wouldn’t, of course. David fell firmly into the category of friend and was stuck there, and that was probably best. Lovers—at least in Keri’s limited experience—tended to be bad news.
‘I was asking how long it will take us to get back to London.’
Jay narrowed his eyes at the road ahead. The snow was getting heavier now. The skies were pale grey, so pale that it was impossible to see where the falling, swirling snow ended and the sky began. Trees loomed up as they passed—skeletal brooms so inhospitable that you could not imagine them ever bearing fruit or leaves or blossoms.
It was tempting to say that if she hadn’t wasted so much time then they would be well on their way now, but he didn’t. It wasn’t the job of the driver to offer anything in the way of opinions, which took more than a little self-restraint on his part.
‘Difficult to say,’ he murmured. ‘Depends.’
‘On what?’ Something about that lazy, drawled air of assurance was making her prickly. What kind of driver was he, anyway, if he couldn’t throw in a rough estimate of their time of arrival?
He heard the faintly impatient note in her voice and hid a smile. He had forgotten what it was like to be subordinate—to have people tell you what to do and to ask you questions and expect you to answer, just as if you were some kind of machine.
‘On how bad this snow gets,’ he said, frowning suddenly as he felt the treacherous slide of the front wheels. He slowed right down.
Keri stared out of the window. ‘It doesn’t look that bad to me.’
‘You think so?’ he murmured. ‘Well, that’s okay, then.’
He had a faint, almost American drawl, and for a moment she thought she detected a mocking note of humour underpinning it. Suspiciously, Keri stared at the unmoving set of his broad shoulders. Was he making fun of her?
Through a gap in the thick curtain of dark fringe which flopped into her eyes Jay could see the tiny frown which pleated the smooth, pale perfection of her forehead. ‘Would you like the radio on?’ he questioned, as soothingly as he would to a maiden aunt who was in danger of becoming fractious.
He was making her feel…uncomfortable, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. ‘Actually,’ said Keri, very deliberately, ‘what I would really like is to get some sleep, so if you wouldn’t mind…?’
‘Sure. No problem.’ Jay hid a smile which vanished as he drove further into the winter dusk. The flakes of snow had changed from being the innocent ones of storybook pictures—now they were small, and he knew that they would have the bite of ice behind them. The wind was gusting them into bitter white flurries so that they looked like swarms of white bees.
He glanced in the mirror again. She had fallen asleep. Her head had fallen back and her hair was spread out behind it, like a shiny black pillow. The blanket had slipped down and the slit in her skirt meant that her long legs were sprawled out—pretty much the longest legs he had ever seen on a woman. Legs like that could wrap themselves round a man’s neck like a deadly snake. Deliberately, Jay averted his eyes from their coltish display and from the tantalising glimpse of lacy stocking-top. This drive was going to take longer than he had anticipated—far better she slept than distract him.
But the weather was distraction enough. The narrow lanes became more precarious by the second, with the snow falling heavier and heavier, and as night closed in the darkness hid the fall from sight and the car began to slow as it encountered the first drifts.
He knew way before it happened that things were going to get bad—really bad. Instinct told him that, coupled with the experience of having lived in some of the most God-awful conditions known to man.
His windscreen wipers were flicking dementedly, but still it was like gazing into an icy abyss. The road dipped slightly, and he eased his foot back. A dip was good. Slopes ran down into hollows and hollows were where you found people, and they built houses which equalled shelter, and he suspected that they very soon they might need shelter… Except that this was pretty desolate countryside. Unspoiled, he guessed. Chosen for its beauty and its very isolation.