Vicky nearly clapped her hand over her mouth in horror. The word she'd meant to say was 'no'. 'Where' was tantamount to saying 'yes'.
'Come with me and you'll find out.'
Tempting. Too, too tempting. Just as she was about to grab her self-control with both hands and throttle it into submission, he added, 'As a friend.'
A friend? She'd never actually had a male friend. Except Seb and Charlie, and they didn't count because they were her brothers.
The word—coupled with the look in those deep, dark eyes—undid her. 'OK.'
He smiled. 'Good. By the way, you'll need to wear jeans and trainers.'
Hmm. She had running shoes, the ones she used at the gym. But jeans... She never wore jeans. Always suits. 'Why?'
'You'll see when we get there. So shall we synchronise off-duty?'
That sounded so cool and professional, it couldn't possibly be a date. Vicky relaxed and took her PDA from the pocket of her white coat. 'Fine.'
'Next Wednesday?' Jake suggested.
This was too close to a date for her comfort, but she swallowed the panic. He hadn't meant it as a date. 'I can do that.'
'Pick you up at your place?'
Her hesitation must have tipped him off, because he added, 'Not because I'm going to stalk you. But because it'll be quicker.'
'All right.' She gave him her address.
'Ten o'clock. So the rush hour is over.'
'Ten o'clock.' She typed 'JL' next to the date and time in her PDA. 'I have a ward round to finish, unless there was anything else?'
'No. See you later, then.'
Vicky made a noncommittal noise, and left his office.
Several times over the next three days she was tempted to cancel the arrangement. Except it wasn't a date...was it? All the same, she bought a pair of jeans. And at three minutes to ten on Wednesday morning she was leaning against the window-sill of her living room, which overlooked the road. Ninety seconds or so later, she saw a small red car pull into the parking space nearest to the gate, and Jake climbed out.
She'd seen him in a suit at work. She'd seen him in his swimming gear. But she wasn't prepared for the sight of Jake in a pair of faded denims, a crew-necked black sweater and sunglasses. He looked positively edible, and she had to take six deep breaths before she was able to answer her door and maintain her façade of being cool and professional.
He gave her a long, appraising look, then nodded in approval. 'You'll do.'
It was one of those bright, warm April days, so she didn't bother with a coat. She made sure her door was double-locked, then followed him to his car.
He wasn't playing classical music on the stereo, she noticed. So maybe that bit in Theatre had been a pose, something to impress.
As if he guessed what she was thinking, he said, 'This is what I drive to rather than work to.'
'Who is it?'
'Keith Urban. Aussie country rock.'
She'd never heard of him. 'It's nice.'
For a moment, she thought she saw him grin. Amused, because she was being so polite. She hated people laughing at her. She folded her arms. 'So where are we going?'
'You'll see when we get there. Sit back and relax,' he advised.
There was nothing else she could do. Obviously, he knew exactly where he was going, so he didn't need her to navigate. Sitting doing nothing made her uncomfortable—she never lazed around like this—but she hadn't thought to bring a journal with her.
That was when she realised she'd expected him to make conversation. Except he didn't. He just drove and hummed along to the CD. In some respects, that was good: there was no pressure to be polite. But Vicky grew more and more keyed up, trying to work out where they were going. It wasn't immediately obvious from the signposts; the M25 circled London so it could lead to just about anywhere. But when they turned off onto the A127... 'Southend? We're going to the seaside?'
'It's the nearest coast to London,' he said.
The seaside. Vicky couldn't ever remember going to the seaside as a child. They'd always had a week skiing at Klosters in the spring, then a week in Derbyshire with some distant relatives where her father had taken the boys climbing and Vicky had been stuck tagging along with Mara and a bunch of girls who'd liked dressing up and had regarded her as weird. That had been when Vicky had discovered a book of card games and had taught herself poker—then had fleeced her brothers of their pocket money until they'd agreed to make their father take her climbing, too.
After their father died, they hadn't gone skiing any more. She hadn't had the heart for it. And the idea of going on holiday with Barry, Mara's husband, hadn't borne thinking about. She'd used studying as an excuse to get out of family holidays, and the habit had stuck.
'Don't look so worried. You might even enjoy it,' he said softly as he parked the car.
'Sorry. I don't usually spend my days off like this.'
'You spend them studying.' He smiled at her. 'Well, today you're playing hookey. Recharging your batteries. And you'll be so relaxed that you'll catch up with your studies in record time tonight.'