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Authors: Anne Saunders

Lightning Encounter

BOOK: Lightning Encounter
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LIGHTNING
ENCOUNTER

LIGHTNING ENCOUNTER

Anne Saunders

British
Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

This eBook published by AudioGO Ltd, Bath, 2012.

Published by arrangement with the Author.

Epub ISBN 9781445829463

Copyright © Anne Saunders 1971

All rights reserved

Jacket illustration ©
iStockphoto.com

CHAPTER ONE

The tempo of evening seemed to have caught the busy main street unawares; having rid itself of the bustling shopping public, it hadn't had time to recharge itself to meet the cinema going, entertainment seeking section of the community who thronged the pavement, hailed taxis, or hung in agonized indecision in totally inadequate shop doorways.

It wasn't a day for dawdling, unless you happened to be blessed with a huge umbrella. Sadly Karen wasn't. Instead she was lumbered with a suitcase, a tartan holdall and a capacious handbag. Which constituted her entire worldly possessions. Whenever she thought about it she felt like weeping, so she tried not to think about it very often. But this was difficult because she couldn't find a subject of thought that absorbed her to the exclusion of her present predicament.

She had only walked the one street from the railway station, but already she could feel the damp seeping through to her shoulders. She thought this perfectly matched her mood, which was a mixture of dejection and impatience. Yet she had only herself to blame for missing the train connection. She should have read the notice board before going into the buffet for a cup of tea. Funny thing was,
she
hadn't drunk the tea, just stared at it until it had grown cold. She must have wanted it, otherwise she wouldn't have ordered it, or could it be she yearned to be with people who had cut out of the dash and go and had time to sit awhile, perhaps even extend her a friendly smile.

As her suitcase bumped against her leg for the third time, she wondered why she hadn't thought to leave it in the left luggage place. It was bad enough to be impeded by the rain and the indifferent assortment of jostling elbows, without having to bear this self-inflicted torture.

The light from a steamed-up restaurant window attracted her eye, and on impulse she was pushing open the plate glass door; in her overburdened state she found it necessary to adopt a rear attack and fall in with the swing of the door. A lot of other people seemed to share the same idea, not her method of entry, but getting out of the rain to dally in an atmosphere that was pungent, friendly, warm.

All the tables were occupied and she was on the point of turning tail when a sympathetic waiter whispered in her ear: ‘I can fit you in if you don't mind sharing.' She demurely said she didn't mind; she didn't tell him that she welcomed sharing, that a, ‘Foul day!' or, ‘Would you be kind enough to pass the salt?' would be scintillating conversation after a day spent travelling in gloomy silence. The lady
occupying
the seat next to hers on the plane coming over had looked the jolly type, but she had promptly buried herself in a book and hadn't looked up until the sign flashed to tell them to fasten their seat belts and prepare for landing.

The waiter adeptly led her to a corner table. Her feeling of anticipation and pleasure evaporated as she sighted her table companion. She would have preferred a cherubic fatherly type, with a round pink face and a manner of friendly benevolence. Not someone relatively young, around thirty-thirty-two and impeccably turned out. That brief impression was all she got because he used his menu like a shield to ward off her prying eyes.

Ian Nicholson didn't particularly want to share his table; he agreed because he was an accommodating sort of person and it didn't occur to him to do otherwise. Having made his choice he allowed the menu to slip an inch, and was unprepared for the collision of eyes. His were dark; someone once told him they were awesome at first appraisal because their unique colouring, practically jet, made them appear fierce and condemning. The same person had told him they went rather well with his granite jaw, flaring nose, and hair, only a shade lighter than those splendid eyes, rising thickly from a vee-shaped peak.

Hers were jewel green, edged with a double row of back curling lashes. He wondered if
they
were really so green, or if it was her sun tan that enhanced and enriched the colour. Without them she would have been a nondescript as her features, though good, were too regular to make an impression. Yet he felt that if she released her mouth from its line of pinched tightness, allowing it to become mobile, the result might just be breathtaking.

Her hands made a feminine movement to her hair, pushing the ends up and away from her face, as if she was suddenly aware that the flattened, sorry little strands weren't looking their best. Or perhaps she didn't like rain water dripping down her turned-up collar to ice her skin.

He said: ‘Dear me! You are wet.' She agreed that she was and for no apparent reason burst into a laugh, but one which lacked mirth and was a near relation to hysteria. He thought, if you were a kitten I'd mop you dry; she wasn't a kitten but it seemed such a good idea that he got out his handkerchief and proceeded to do just that. She accepted his ministrations as if she knew it was futile to protest and when he was satisfied that he'd removed as much excess moisture from her face and hair as he possibly could, he ordered her to remove her coat. At least it had the ring of an order, although he intended it to sound like a persuasive request. She had the look of one who'd amassed enough difficulties without adding a severe chill and all its
attendant
discomforts.

She was beginning to regard her coat as a liability, anyway, so she gratefully handed it over. He hung it near the radiator to dry off, and regarded her assets, which included a well defined waist, but it was really her legs that riveted his attention. They were superb and he was sorry when she sat down, tucking them out of sight.

At his insistence she ordered the soup. To warm her up and put a bit of colour in her cheeks. She laughed and touched her sun tan and he said all right, she looked as if she might be pale.

In gourmet style a bottle of wine sat beside his plate. He asked the waiter for a second glass, which he filled generously and handed to her.

‘Drink it up,' he persuasively requested, although it still sounded like an order. When she didn't immediately respond he accused her of going coy on him. She replied that she was never coy and picked up the glass with such great deliberation that it was almost a flourish. After several sips the red wine began to take effect, her mouth lost its crippling numbness and grew attractively mobile. He felt immensely pleased with himself for seeing beyond the wrapping, for knowing about the elusive quality capable of transforming her from a misery-drowned kitten into a saucy, damned attractive girl.

‘Now,'
he said decisively. ‘Perhaps you'd like to tell me all about it.'

‘It?' she prevaricated.

He looked significantly at the luggage strewn haphazardly at her feet where she'd dropped it. ‘Don't tell me you're out on a shopping spree.'

She appraised the suitcase and then hurriedly looked away, as if she found the sight of it distasteful.

They skirted glances, but his eyes had a drawing power she hadn't reckoned with. But she didn't want to talk, she did, but about the weather, no not the weather, that, like her predicament, was a damp line; but about the food, the wine, the flowers on the table, the people at the next table. Anything that was vital, exciting, alive. Anything that kept her mind occupied. And yet, confronted with such kindly persuasion, yes it was that now and not an order, she was tempted to succumb; but, she reminded herself sternly, young ladies of newly gained independence don't pour out their troubles to strangers, even though the eyes she had dubbed satanic had acquired a glimmer of kindness.

Besides, it all seemed so very far away, a medieval world away, and she could hardly relate herself to the girl who'd squandered the blue and gold days, thinking they would never run out. If she wanted to tell, she wouldn't know where to begin. With Angela? Even
though
she did think the fair English girl in the bikini was not the beginning, but the end.

She'd fallen asleep while sunbathing, at a time when all sensible people were taking forty winks after lunch, or playing it safe sipping cooling drinks under shady beach umbrellas. Karen spotted her first. Tugging her father's arm she'd casually remarked: ‘Somebody's going to wake up with more than a headache.'

‘We'd better do something about it,' he agreed thoughtfully. ‘Shall I tweak her nose, or tickle her toes?'

‘Neither,' she said. ‘I think our chatter has done the trick. She appears to be stirring.'

‘Hello,' greeted the girl, sitting up to repentantly rub her eyes. ‘Did I drop off? That was foolish of me, on my first day too!' She had very blue eyes, Karen noticed, and a long rope of golden hair. She wore, besides that eye catching bikini, a glazed and smitten look. Karen prepared to meet her father's amused glance, because in appearance he very much resembled a film star portraying a dashing buccaneer, and he was used to females behaving as if they'd had a spot too much sun at first meeting. And second meeting. There rarely followed a third. He'd wink at Karen and say: ‘Time to pull up anchor, sprat.'

They didn't live on the mainland, but on a tiny island, one of the few not yet taken over, although the odd tourist had started to infiltrate, and once every two weeks they came
by
boat, so that her father could sell his paintings. He was an artist, and in an area overrun with artists he was sufficient of his craft to make a comparatively good living. That is to say, if his paintings did not command a high price, they ate well because food was cheap and plentiful. Especially sea food which, luckily, they'd developed a taste for. Necessity had made Karen a versatile cook.

Anyway, on that day, which started her world toppling, the amused and kindly derision was smartly wiped off her face by the look on her father's. It was a look she had never seen there before and at first it was difficult to assess. With a slow awakening of thought she realized it was the exact counterpart of their look: the long string of females who'd danced vigil to his charms.

Her mother died when she was very young and although friends teased and prodded him, he showed not the slightest inclination to get back into double harness. He claimed he had nothing against marriage, indeed his own, though brief, had been unbelievably happy, but he preferred to think of himself as a loner. He'd said it, or thought it, in most of the premier cities of Europe, proving he had a generous coating of immunity to back up his words. Because scores of women, beautiful, talented, once even a titled lady, pursued him with a feminine relentlessness that made
fiction
of all the books she'd read, because wasn't man supposed to be the hunter?

Perhaps Angela had something on the others at that: patience. She hid her predatory instincts behind a facade of indifference, which intrigued him and made him want to penetrate it. Karen was not fooled, despite her youth she recognized it for the subtle ploy it was. And was forced to watch in silent anguish. Just because she wore a counterfeit smile, it didn't follow that her heart was made of cardboard.

‘I don't want to share him,' she thought with childish irritation. A one child/one parent relationship is very possessive. She wasn't spoilt or in the least brattish, although she could have been excused these failings, but she was human. It's human to want to keep what is yours, and her father had belonged exclusively to her for a very long time.

But in the end it wasn't even a question of sharing, and this was the worst anguish of all. It hadn't occurred to her that a daughter almost as old as his love might be regarded as a liability. Until he intimated as much. Not brutally, of course, but word wrapped to sound as if it was for her own good.

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