She followed him out of the car. The seaside. The sound of the wind whipping the water into froth. Seagulls shrieking. Maybe it was the school holidays or something, because there were children on the beach, making sandcastles.
Vicky had never made a sandcastle.
Almost as if Jake had read her mind, he dived into the nearest shop and came out with two buckets and two spades.
She frowned. 'What are those for?'
'Challenge. Loser buys lunch.'
'What sort of challenge?'
He grinned. 'Biggest sandcastle wins.'
She knew the theory, but practice was another matter. She hadn't played with sand since nursery school. Her first bucketful of sand was fine. The second was missing a corner, and the third collapsed completely. And somehow Jake was already on the second storey of his castle.
He must have seen the dismay on her face, because he stopped. 'Change of rules. We're working as a team.'
'It's OK.' This was the sort of thing Jake ought to be doing with his kids, not with her. Not that he had any kids—well, to her knowledge. But he was clearly the sort of man who wanted children, wanted a family. Unlike her. She wanted her career. First, last and always.
'I have an unfair advantage, because I spent two weeks at the seaside every year,' he said. 'Nan used to find us a bed and breakfast somewhere on the east coast, usually wherever Mum had a summer season booked. I used to sit backstage while Mum sang at night, but we used to spend the days together on the beach, making sandcastles and looking for shells and poking around in rock pools and skipping stones. I even found some fossils when we went to Whitby one year. I found some jet, too.'
Simple, childish pleasures. Vicky had never had that. Her father had always been too busy with the estate—and when he hadn't, he'd tended to concentrate on Charlie. Mara had only wanted to do girly things—things that had bored Vicky rigid—so she'd found a hidey-hole in the attic at Weston where she could read. All she'd needed had been her torch, a glass of milk and the doorstep sandwiches Cook had wrapped in greaseproof paper and smuggled up to her.
'Sounds like fun.' She strove to keep the wistfulness from her voice.
'It was. We didn't have much money after my parents died, but Nan always saved up for our holiday. She said there's something about the sea air that blows your troubles away.'
'I don't have any troubles.'
He could see that. 'I guessed this one really wrong.'
'How do you mean?'
He'd made a mess of it. May as well finish it with honesty. 'You didn't strike me as the sort who ever went to the seaside. I wanted to give you a day with a difference.'
'It was a nice thought.'
'And so far you've hated every second of it.' All he'd done had been to deepen the gulf between them. Of course the daughter of a baron wouldn't do English seaside resorts—she'd do Monte Carlo or St Tropez. She wouldn't eat fish and chips straight from the paper, or lick sugar from her fingers after scoffing doughnut rings, or dangle a fishing rod over the end of the pier. She'd eat caviar and lobster thermidor and elegant puddings with spun-sugar decorations. 'Come on. I'll drive you back to London.'
To his surprise, she said, 'No. Show me what normal people do at the seaside.'
He stared at her. 'Normal?'
'People who don't have to watch what they do or say in case a reporter or a photographer is nearby.'
He hadn't thought of that. 'You mean, you get followed by the paparazzi? They're here?'
She shook her head. 'They don't usually bother with me. Charlie's the baron, so he gets most of it. And Seb used to be the darling of the gossip rags, because he was out partying all the time and never dated the same woman twice. But now they're both married and respectable.'
'But you're their sister. Why aren't the paparazzi after you?'
'Because there's no story in someone who just works and studies.'
Was that why she was so driven? As a way of hiding from the spotlight? 'Aren't you ever tempted to—I dunno—rebel?
Do something outrageous?'
'No. I did that when I was little.'
Something in her eyes made him wonder. 'How little?'
'You ran away?' he guessed.
She shook her head. 'Cut up my tutu and ballet slippers. And I told my mother if she made me go back to ballet class—or if she put rags in my hair once more, to give me ringlets—I'd cut off all my hair. I'd already done my fringe so she'd know I was serious.'
Jake chuckled. 'Wow. You were scary even then.'
'I'm not scary.'
She sounded offended. He winced. 'Um. Not with patients. But the standards you set...the rest of us have a hard time keeping up.'
'Your problem, not mine.'
And now she was back to freezing him. 'Vicky, I didn't mean it as an insult. I admire your strength of character.' He admired a few other things about her, too, but he didn't dare tell her that right now. 'Can we rewind?'