Ultimatum, p.1

Ultimatum, page 1



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  Sally Wentworth - Ultimatum

  She wanted her husband alive…

  Casey's heart overflowed with joy the day she said "I do" to Reid Lomax. In the rosiness of a whirlwind courtship, life with a world champion power-boat racer seemed so glamorous.

  Until her brother's near fatal accident, on the eve of her honeymoon—in the very sport that her new husband loved and fully intended to pursue.

  The risk to Casey's dreams of "forever" was clear, and in her young determined heart, so was the solution. Reid would have to choose—between his passion for racing and his passion for her.


  It had been one hell of a day! Casey Everett peered out of the rain-splashed window of the commuter train at the electric lights that glowed in the darkness, trying to make out whether she was near her station yet, but nothing looked familiar. She sat back with a sigh, wishing she was home. Just about everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong today. First her car wouldn't start, and by the time she had got to the station the car park was full, so that in desperation she'd just left the car and run to catch the train. But of course she'd missed it, and this in turn had made her late for a whole series of appointments that she had set up with the heads of buying departments of several big London stores, the last one of which had kept her waiting until after the store had closed before he would see her. And then, to really put the cap on an entirely dismal day, there had been a breakdown on the line and she had had to wait for almost an hour before it had been put right and her train had come in.

  What she would most like to do now, Casey decided, was to get home, have a hot bath, then go straight to bed and forget that today had ever existed.

  The train slowed and drew into her station at last. Several other passengers, all looking as fed up with British Rail as she was, also got out and queued to hand in their tickets before hurrying out of the station. Casey followed them, waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road to the station car park. The rain had stopped, but the night air felt damp and cold. She had parked— abandoned, almost—her old car at the far end of the car park after being unable to find a space anywhere. Although there were plenty of spaces now; most of the commuters had retrieved their cars and driven home, leaving the place empty until tomorrow. There were just the few people who had been delayed by the breakdown as she had, and they were hurrying away. There were just two cars left at the very far end, her own and the one in front of it, which had its nose parked against the boundary wall. Casey's footsteps slowed and her heart began to sink as she only now remembered that she had parked so closely behind the other car that it had no chance of getting out.

  Oh no! She groaned inwardly, just hoping against hope that the other driver hadn't got back yet and she would just be able to drive away. But she might have known that today of all days she wasn't going to be that lucky. As she drew nearer she could see a man sitting in the other car and, as it became apparent that she was heading in his direction, he got out, shut the door and leaned against it with his arms folded, watching her.

  She took a few more faltering steps forward and then stopped. Even though he was leaning against his car the man looked very tall, and there was an aura of angry menace about him that made Casey suddenly feel afraid. 'I—e… is this…?' Her voice dried in her throat.

  The man moved forward from a block of shadow into the weak light given by the street lamp, and Casey gulped. He wore a black patch over his right eye, giving him a strangely piratical appearance. And right now he was a very irate man indeed.

  'I suppose I should have known it would be a female,' he observed in scathing anger. 'Do you realise, woman, that I've been waiting for over an hour for you to move this damn car?'

  'I'm sorry. There was a breakdown on the line, or————- '

  'You shouldn't have parked it there in the first place,' the pirate cut in furiously. 'If you hadn't arrived by this train I would have called the police and had it towed out of the way.'

  The fact that he was entirely in the right and she in the wrong made Casey feel guilty, but perversely that made her angry. 'Kit hadn't been for the rotten train breaking down I'd have been here ages ago and you'd never have known anything about it,' she retorted.

  He gave her a contemptuous look, a look somehow made even more derisive by that eye-patch. 'Typical female reasoning,' he said acidly. 'Well, now that you are here, how about moving your damn car out of the way?'

  Casey gave him a tight-lipped glance, and fumbled around in her bag for her keys, had a moment of blinding panic when she couldn't find them, but gave a sigh of relief as her fingers closed over them at last. Then, of course, she dropped them on the ground.

  The pirate made a very audible sound of exasperation, but made no effort to help her as she groped for them, getting her gloved hand soaking wet in a puddle.

  'Er—do you have a torch?' she had to ask eventually.

  With a muttered imprecation he jerked open his car door, reached across to the parcel shelf and took out a big, powerful flashlight, which revealed the keys half under the car and in the deepest part of the puddle. Taking off her glove this time, Casey fished them out and he held the torch while she found the right key and inserted it in the lock.

  'At last. Now perhaps we can get going!'

  He walked back towards his car while Casey hurriedly got into hers and put the key in the ignition, wanting nothing more than to get away from the horrible, bad- tempered… The key turned, the engine gave a sad, whining sound—and died. Casey stared at the dashboard speechlessly, unable to believe it. Frantically she tried again, but this time the engine didn't even make a sound. Oh no! Not this, too.

  Her door opened and the pirate stood there, tall and blackly menacing in his dark overcoat. 'Having trouble?' he asked in a voice of deceptive calm that heralded a full scale thunderstorm.

  'It—er… the battery seems to be flat,' Casey admitted weakly, mentally cowering from his anger.

  'The battery is flat, is it?' he repeated, again in that mild tone. 'And did you by any remote chance leave your lights on this morning?'

  'Why no, of course not. I…' Casey's voice trailed off as she realised that the light switch was in the 'on' position. Slowly she lifted apprehensive eyes to look at him.

  The pirate's jaw tightened and then he let rip with the full force of his anger. 'Of all the stupid, forgetful, feebleminded idiot females it has ever been my misfortune to meet, you take first prize, lady. Not only do you park where you're not supposed to, but then you don't even have the sense to turn off your lights. I have never…'

  But Casey had had enough. Pushing open the door, she got out, put her hands on her hips and faced up to him. 'How dare you speak to me like that ? Anyone could have forgotten to turn their lights off and have their battery go flat. I was in one hell of a hurry this morning and I..

  'Couldn't be bothered to look for a proper parking space,' the pirate finished for her. 'Dear God, save me from all brainless females,' he said scathingly. 'And now I suppose you expect me to push your car out of the way?'

  Casey realised that was true and hastily bit back the extremely nasty comment she had been about to make. 'Er—yes, please.'

  He gave her a glowering look. 'You do realise that you're parked so close behind me that there's no room to get in between the two cars?'

  It was such an obvious comment that Casey took it as a rhetorical question and stood in silence while the rotten man made the most of her discomfiture. Then, with something like a snarl of annoyance, he took off his well cut overcoat, revealing an equally good suit. 'Do you think you might just, possibly, be capable of taking off the handbrake?' he asked sarcastically.

  Casey glared at him, but did as he asked while he climbed on to the boot of his car and
put his feet against the front of hers.


  'Yes, it's off.'

  'It had better be.' He braced himself and she could see the muscles in his legs as he exerted his strength. Hastily she ran to the side of her car and began to push too. The car rocked a little but didn't move.

  Panting, the pirate relaxed. 'Are you sure you let the handbrake off?' he asked suspiciously.

  'Yes, of course. Look for yourself if you don't believe me,' she added antagonistically.

  He did too, climbing down to have a look inside the car, and then walking round it. When he got to the back he groaned. 'No wonder I couldn't shift the darn thing; the back wheel is in a deep pothole.'

  Casey went round to look, not daring to say a word in case he really lost his temper. 'Look round for a piece of wood,' he ordered shortly.

  Where on earth was she supposed to find that? Casey looked about her rather helplessly, then gingerly groped her way into a piece of rough ground that lay between the car park and a small river that cut deep into the ground. She could have done with the torch, but the pirate, of course, had taken that for himself and was searching along beside the wall. Her foot slipped in some mud and she struggled to retain her balance, her ankles catching against something that projected from the ground. 'Ouch. Oh, hell!' Her tights had caught on the thing and she bent to free them, but in the end had to just pull, leaving a big hole. And they were new tights, too. Damn the man, she thought, perversely blaming the pirate. But when her hand touched it, she found that the object was a piece of wood and she gave a cry of triumph. 'I've found something,' she called.

  The torchlight came hurrying back and the pirate examined her find. 'Hm. It looks pretty solid. Let's just hope it's strong enough. Here, hold the torch.' After two or three heaves the plank came free from the earth that half covered it and he carried it over to wedge it under her back wheel. 'OK, let's have another go.'

  This time he took off his jacket too, but as he climbed up on to the boot it began to rain again, large spots that soon soaked through the thin material of his shirt. He cursed and began to push, Casey adding her slender strength, and this time the car really began to move. His muscles straining, the pirate made one last tremendous effort and the car came up out of the pothole, leaving enough space for them to get between the cars. He slid to the ground, his chest under the damp material heaving from the exertion.

  He stood there for a moment, getting his breath back, and Casey turned to look at him, realising that he must be immensely strong to have moved the car. He was tall, about six feet two inches, but his overcoat and jacket had disguised the broadness of his chest and the strength in his arms and shoulders.

  Feeling her eyes on him he turned his head to return her look, his left eyebrow rising sardonically. 'Seen enough?' he asked jeeringly.

  Casey drew herself up. 'I'm afraid you're getting awfully wet,' she said huffily.

  The pirate gave a harsh laugh. 'Wet. Cold. Splashed with mud. Dirty. You name it. And all because of you,' he told her derisively. 'Come on, one more push should get it out of the way.'

  They pushed again, and as her car was none too clean, they both got greasy as well.

  'Good, I should be able to get my car out now.' Shrugging himself into his jacket, the pirate got into his car, started the engine and manoeuvred it away from the wall.

  Casey watched, getting steadily wetter and wetter. Then she had a sudden fear and ran forward. 'You're not going to leave me here, are you?' she wailed.

  The electronically controlled window purred down and the pirate looked at her. 'Charming as I find your company,' he told her mendaciously, 'I have absolutely no wish to continue our acquaintance.'

  'But you can't just drive away and leave me here like this. What about my car?'

  He looked across to where her old estate car stood forlornly under the lamp. 'Well, if you really want my advice—I'd push it in the river and forget all about it.'

  'Why, you…'

  But he held up a hand before she could really let fly at him. 'But as I see that it's evidently your pride and joy, I'll stop at the nearest garage and tell them to send a mechanic round with some jump leads to get you started.' He lifted a dirt-stained hand in farewell. 'Goodbye, lady. Somehow I just can't feel that it was nice meeting you.'

  He drove away then, his wheels splashing her as he went past, and Casey looked after him angrily, watching his tail-lights as he drove across the huge car park to the entrance, out of sight on the other side. Glumly she turned away and got into her car to wait for the mechanic, wondering when on earth she would get home that night. Her hair was wet and she felt thoroughly miserable, so that it was a small miracle when a car pulled up beside her only ten minutes or so later. Quickly she got out and walked over to it. 'Thanks for coming so quickly. My battery's flat and I…' Her voice trailed off as the other car's window wound down and she saw the pirate's now familiar face looking out at her. 'You—er— came back?'

  'Yes.' Parking his car against the wall again, he got out and took out a briefcase and his overcoat, swinging the latter over his broad shoulders.

  'W-what happened?'

  With tight-lipped menace, he turned to face her. 'They lock the car park at nine o'clock. That's what's happened.'

  Casey stared at him blankly. 'You—you mean—we're locked in?'

  'That's exactly what I mean. Because of your incredible thoughtlessness and stupidity, I can't even get home now that my car is free,' he told her with scarcely contained anger.

  'But surely there must be someone who has a key? The station—the man in the ticket office must have it.'

  'He doesn't. That was the first place I tried. It seems that the man in charge of the car park takes the key home with him every night. And no,' he added before she had a chance to interrupt, 'it is impossible to get in touch with him at home because the ticket seller happens to know that he always goes out on Wednesday nights and he could be in one of a dozen places. So,' he paused eloquently, 'thanks to you, our cars will have to stay here for the night. And we'll just have to hope that they don't get vandalised. Not that you would be likely to notice with that heap you call a car,' he added sneeringly.

  'You don't have to be so downright nasty,' Casey told him angrily. 'It happens to be the best I can afford.'

  Her voice had risen and he gave her a sharp look. 'I beg your pardon.'

  She calmed down at once. 'It—it's OK. Look, I'm sorry about all this. I really am.' He didn't answer and she asked unhappily, 'What do we do now?'

  'Try and get a couple of taxis, I suppose. Unless you have someone you can phone to come and pick you up?'

  'No.' Casey shook her head. 'I live alone.'

  'A taxi it is, then. Come on, there's a pub half a mile down the road. We might as well phone from there.'

  Casey collected her things from the car and began to walk along beside him, their feet splashing in the puddles. For the life of her she couldn't think of anything to talk about—anything that wouldn't make him angry again, that was—so they walked along in a grim sort of silence, Casey having to hurry to keep up with his long strides.

  The lights of the Axe and Compass looked more than welcoming. Casey gave a sigh of relief as she stepped inside out of the rain and went to stand in front of the big log fire that burned in the saloon bar. Her companion went to speak to the barman and then came over. 'I've got the number of a local taxi firm. I'll order a taxi for you at the same time, if you'll tell me where you want to go to.'

  'Thanks. To Barham Ford,' Casey told him, naming a small hamlet a few miles north of the town. He nodded and walked away while Casey went over to the bar to order a couple of double whiskies, then carried them over to a table near the fire. She took off her coat, but her hair and feet were soaked. Casey grimaced as she caught sight of herself in an etched mirror on the wall; her long blonde hair, which she had carefully blow-dried early that morning, had now gone into a mass of curls that clung to her head and dripped down on to the
shoulders of her sweater. And her feet looked terrible; her shoes covered in mud, her legs splashed and dirty, and a big hole in her tights where she had caught them on the piece of wood. Yeuk! Casey hated not to be clean and tidy, and could quite happily have burst into tears. Instead she sat down at the table and took a large swig of the whisky, which didn't make her look any better but certainly made her feel a whole lot warmer.

  Looking up, she saw the pirate come back into the bar and her hand stayed poised in mid-air. She hadn't really looked at him as a person before, but now he stood under the bright electric light and she was able to take a really good look at him. He didn't seem quite so menacing any more; there were no shadows to harden the planes of his lean face, and his hair was shown to be a dark brown and not black as she had thought. It looked as if it would be thick, too, once it had dried. But he had a hard face, his jaw, beneath his thin-lipped mouth, had the strong thrust of determination. He looked like a man who was used to getting his own way—and who was quite capable of ruthlessness if he was crossed. But perhaps it was only the black patch over his eye that made him seem like that. Who knew, without it he might have given an entirely different impression. But his body was lean and hard so he would always be strongly attractive, and handsome too, but for that one flaw. He walked across the room to join her, and Casey couldn't help wondering just what had happened to his eye.

  But she tried to keep the curiosity out of her face, saying brightly, 'I thought we might have time for a quick drink. I hope you like whisky.'

  'Thank you, yes. But you really shouldn't have.'

  'Oh, nonsense. It was the least I could do in the—er— circumstances,' Casey protested.

  Sitting down beside her, he said wryly, 'There's no point in hurrying over your drink; we're going to have to wait some time for a taxi. The firm only have two in operation this evening because of illness among their drivers, and both of those are out on calls with more people waiting.'

  'Oh, no!' Casey lifted appalled eyes to meet his.

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