Authors: Jill Mansell
Copyright Â© 2012, 2002 by Jill Mansell
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Cover design by Dawn Adams
Cover illustration by Lisa Mallett
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Originally published in 2002 by Headline Book Publishing, a division of Hodder Headline, London.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Nadia knows best / by Jill Mansell.
To Lydia and Cory, with all my love.
And no, this doesn't mean I'll play another game of Monopoly.
“Ooooohhâ¦ eeeeâ¦” To her horror Nadia realized she was having a Bambi moment. A scary, drawn-out, Bambi-on-ice moment in fact. Except unlike Bambi, she couldn't make it stop simply by landing with a bump on her bottom.
The car carried on sliding in slow motion across the perilously snow-packed road. Despite knowingâin theoryâthat what you were meant to do was keep your foot
the brake and steer
the skid, Nadia's hands and feet were frantically doing all the wrong things because steering into a skid was like trying to write while you were looking in a mirror andâoh God,
Phew, still alive, hooray for that.
Opening her eyes, Nadia unpeeled her trembling gloved hands from the steering wheel and mentally congratulated herself on not being dead. The car was tilted at a bit of an odd angle, thanks to the ditch directly in front of the wall, but despite the best efforts of the snow, she hadn't actually been going fast enough to do spectacular amounts of damage to either it or herself.
Then again, what to do now?
Pulling her hat down over her eyebrows and bracing herself against the cold, Nadia clambered out of the grubby black Renault and inspected the crumpled front wing. Just as well she hadn't borrowed her grandmother's pride and joy for the journeyâthe teeniest scratch on Miriam's Maserati would have meant being beaten with a big stick and sent to stand in the naughty corner for weeks.
Her face screwed up against the stinging onslaught of low-flyingâand actually quite ferociousâsnowflakes, Nadia hopped back into the car. At least she had her mobile. She could dial 999 and ask the police to come and rescue herâ¦ except if she did that, chances were they might want to know where she was.
Maybe phone home then, and at least let the family know she was in a ditch, in a blizzard, somewhere in deepest darkest Gloucestershire. Or, more accurately, deepest
Although it would be dark soon enough.
This dilemma was solved neatly enough by the discovery that her phone was dead, which narrowed the options down to two. Should she leave the car and trudge off through the ever-deepening snow in search of civilization?
Or stay here and hope that somebody elseâpreferably in a Sherman tank or a helicopterâmight come along and rescue her?
Since civilization could be miles away and her feet still ached like mad from dancing last night, Nadia reached over to the backseat for her sleeping bag, wriggled into it like a giant worm, and settled down to wait.
Poor old Laurie, he'd missed a brilliant party. Nadia smiled to herself, thinking back to yesterday morning's phone call. She wondered how hot it was right now in Egypt, if Laurie was remembering to drink only bottled water, and if he'd managed to squeeze in a visit to Tutankhamun's tomb before flying on to Milan.
Gosh, she was hungry. Easing a hand from the cocoon of her sleeping bag, she flicked open the glove compartment. A packet of Rolos and a half-empty bag of gumdrops. Should she ration herself, like people trapped on mountains, to one Rolo a day? Or give in to temptation and guzzle the whole lot at once?
But she wasn't trapped on a mountain and she wasn't going to starve. Compromising, Nadia ate three Rolos and half a dozen gumdrops, then switched on the car radio for company, just in time to hear a DJ cheerfully announcing that there was plenty more snow on the way.
That was the thing about Sherman tanks, they were never around when you needed them.
Less than half an hour laterâthough it seemed like moreâNadia let out a shriek and abruptly stopped singing along with Sting to “Don't Stand So Close To Me.” Actually, it was an appropriate song. The person who had tapped on her window
Male or female? Hard to tell with that hat pulled down over their face. Wrapped up in a Barbour jacket, thick sweater, and jeans, it was either a man or a hulking great six-foot-plus woman.
Hoping it wasn't Janet Street-Porter, Nadia opened the window and promptly wished she could have been wearing something more alluring than a green nylon sleeping bag strewn with bits of gold foil Rolo wrapper.
She also hoped she'd been singing more or less in tune.
Not that this was terribly likely.
“Are you OK?”
He had dark hair, light brown eyes, and snowflakes decorating his black, spiky eyelashes.
“I'm fine. Really warm. Skidded off the road,” Nadia explained, fairly idiotically given the novel angle at which she was sitting.
He inclined his head. “I noticed.”
Nadia peered at the empty road behind him. “Did you crash too?”
“No, I did the sensible thing.” He looked amused. “Abandoned the car before that happened. It's at the bottom of the last hill.”
“Rolo?” She offered him one through the open window. Not her last Rolo, obviously.
“No thanks. Look, there's a village half a mile ahead. Do you want to walk with me?”
“You live around here?” Nadia brightened, then hesitated. Hang on, a complete stranger offering her shelter in the middle of nowhere, seemingly perfectly normal and friendly right up until the moment he reappeared from the woodshed with madness in his eyes and a sharp ax?
How many times had she seen
He shook his head, scattering snowflakes. “No, I live in Oxford.”
“So how do you know there's a village?” She didn't want to struggle through the blizzard on a whim.
The mad ax-murderer seemed entertained by the wary look in her eyes.
“I'm very psychic.”
Oh God, he really
“That's great.” Nadia took a deep breath. “Look, have you ever been to this part of Gloucestershire before?”
“No.” Smiling, he patted the pocket of his waxed Barbour. “But, unlike you, I do have a map.”
“I feel like a refugee,” Nadia muttered as they trudged along the narrow lane, the snow squeaking underfoot. Since hopping along like a ten-year-old in a sack race wasn't practical, she was carrying her rolled-up sleeping bag under one arm and her overnight case in the other.
“You look like a refugee.” Glancing across at her, he broke into a grin and held out an arm. “Here, let me carry those.”
She knew his name now. Jay Tiernan. He'd introduced himself while she'd been struggling to extricate herself from the sleeping bag. In return she'd asked, “What does J stand for?”
“Nothing. It's just Jay.”
Hmm, a likely story. It was probably short for something embarrassing like Jethro or Jasper. Or Josephine.
Then again, Nadia could sympathize. School sports days had always been a mortifying experience, with dozens of sniggering boys lined up roaring, “Go, Nadâ¦ GONADâ¦ GO, GO, GO!”
But Jay Tiernan didn't need to know that. Thankfully, Nadia handed him her overnight bag. Her nose was a fetching shade of pink, her eyes were watering, and her toes numb. Ranulph Fiennes needn't worry about competitionâshe'd be hopeless at trekking across the Antarctic.
“You lied,” Nadia panted forty minutes later. “That wasn't half a mile.”
“Never mind, we're here now.”
“And this isn't a village.”
“It is,” said Jay. “It's justâ¦ small.”
Nadia peered through the tumbling snowflakes at the deserted single street. There were no lights on in any of the cottages. Nor were there any shops. Just a postbox, a bus shelter, and a phone box.
And a pub.
“The Willow Inn,” Jay announced, squinting at the dilapidated sign. “We'll try there.”
The front door was locked. After several minutes of hammering on the wood, they heard the sound of keys rattling and bolts being drawn back.
“Blimey,” slurred the landlord, enveloping them in a cloud of whisky breath. “Mary and Joseph and the little baby Jesus. Fancy bumping into you in a place like this.”
Nadia, clutching her rolled-up sleeping bag in her arms, realized he thought she had a baby in there. Then again, he was so drunk she could probably get away with it.
“Hi,” Jay began. “We wondered ifâ”
“Shut, mate. Closed. Six o'clock we open.” The middle-aged man jabbed vaguely at his watch. “You could try coming back then. No kids mind, this isn't a family pub. Kids? Can't stand 'em.”
“Look, the roads are blocked, we've had to abandon our cars, we've been walking for
,” Nadia blurted out, “and we need somewhere to stay.” Hastily she unraveled the sleeping bag to show him how empty it was. “And we definitely don't have a baby.”
As a rule, batting her eyelashes and widening her big brown eyes had the desired effect, but the landlord of the Willow Inn was clearly too far gone for that.
“Don't do board and lodging neither.” Wheezing with laughter he flapped his arm and said, “There's a stable down the road, you could try there.”
Nadia briefly wondered if bursting into tears would help. Failing that, hitting the landlord over the head before tying him up and locking him in his own cellar.
Jay, his method thankfully more law-abiding, said, “We need somewhere to stay and something to eat. We'd pay you, of course.”
The landlord's bloodshot eyes promptly lit up. “Hundred quid.”
“Cash, mind. Up front.”
Solemnly, Jay nodded. “It's a deal.”
The power outage that had left every house in the street in darkness was still going strong at nine o'clock that evening. The pub, illuminated with flickering candles, had gradually filled up with locals driven out of their homes by the lack of TV, as well as half a dozen other stranded drivers in need of a roof over their heads.
By some miracle the landlord, Pete, was still drinking and still conscious. Well, just about. Cindy, the barmaid, confided to Nadia that Pete's latest girlfriend had walked out on him three weeks ago, precipitating this mammoth binge. Now, evidently cheered by the amount of money he was extorting from stranded travelers, he was wavering precariously on a bar stool, leaving Cindy to do all the work.
Dinner, also thanks to the power outage, was thick chunks of bread toasted over an open fire, tinned ravioli, wedges of cheese, pickled onions the size of tangerines, and stale digestive biscuits.
Nadia, who had given the onions a miss, said, “Yum.”
“A candlelit meal, what could be more romantic?” Jay indicated their rickety wooden table. “Never let it be said I don't know how to give a woman a good time. Pickled egg?”
Nadia smiled; he had a nice voice. She'd always been a sucker for a nice voice.
“No thanks. We need to sort the room thing out. You can't sleep down here.”
Pete's insistence on cash in advance for the only spare bedroom had left Nadia with a dilemma. With only fifteen pounds in her purse, it had been left to Jay to come up with the rest of the money. When Pete had shown them the chilly room, cluttered with junk and taken up almost entirely by a lumpy, unmade double bed (A hundred pounds? Bargain!), Jay had murmured, “It's OK, I'll sleep downstairs.”
But that had been before the others had arrived, turning the small bar into a makeshift refugee camp. Two of them had nasty hacking coughs. It wasn't fair to take the room Jay had largely paid for.
“You should have the bed,” Nadia told him. “Honestly, I'll be fine down here.”
“You might be fine, but you won't get any sleep.”
“I'd feel guilty otherwise.” She watched him refill their glasses with red wine.
“We could both sleep in the bed,” said Jay.
Nadia hesitated. It was the most practical solution, of course. It was just a shame he couldn't have been nice-but-comfortingly-ugly, rather than nice-and-definitely-attractive.
attractive, in fact.
Not that she'd be tempted to do anything naughty, but she didn't want Jay thinking she might be tempted. In her experience, attractive men seemed to take this for granted.
“Just sleep.” Nadia met his gaze. “No funny business. We'd have all our clothes on. And I'd be in my sleeping bag,” she added for good measure.
“Absolutely.” Jay's mouth had begun to twitch. Oh Lord, did he still think she fancied him?
“I have a boyfriend,” Nadia explained firmly, “and we really love each other.”
Jay nodded, to show he understood. “Me too.”