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Fated Attraction

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«Fated Attraction» - Кэрол Мортимер

Carole Mortimer is one of Mills & Boon’s best loved Modern Romance authors. With nearly 200 books published and a career spanning 35 years, Mills & Boon are thrilled to present her complete works available to download for the very first time! Rediscover old favourites – and find new ones! – in this fabulous collection…A seductive deception…When rakishly handsome Raff Quinlan accidentally knocks down Rhea-Jane, he whisks her back to his country manor to recuperate. Her beauty beguiles him and the passion between them is instantly sizzling! Curious about his mystery houseguest, Raff learns that Rhea-Jane needs a job and offers her a position as his personal secretary…But Raff is unaware that Rhea-Jane hides a secret. And the tighter the desire coils between them, the more dangerous the situation becomes for an attraction built on lies…
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Fated Attraction Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

EPILOGUE

Copyright

PROLOGUE

IN THE gutter.

Incredible. She, who until very recently, although she had taken it for granted at the time, had lived in the pampered, indulgent lap of luxury.

In the gutter.

Among the accumulated paper and empty cans, rainwater rushing by on its way to the drain several feet away, the rain continuing to fall heavily in the dimly lit street.

She couldn’t even be bothered to get up. Her hip ached where she had landed on it heavily, and the throb in her ankle told her it was going to hurt too when she stood up and tried to put weight on it. So she wouldn’t stand up, would just lie here and let the world, a world that had proved itself hard and unrelenting this last week, carry on without her. It didn’t want her and, at the moment, she didn’t want it!

How Jordan would laugh if he could see her now, unwanted, useless, completely defeated emotionally, and lying in the gutter while the rain fell and soaked her. It wasn’t that he was a cruel man, it was just that his prediction that she would fail utterly on her own had proved correct. Even her suitcase had burst open when she had dropped it; all the beautiful clothes, that Jordan had told her time and time again that she spent too much money on, scattered over the road in the mud and the rain. So much for their ‘designer labels’ now!

She began to laugh, softly at first, and then more shrilly, laying back on the tarmac.

‘That’s all I need, a damned hysterical female!’ rasped a voice that sounded more than a little impatient. ‘Get up, woman, before another car comes along and finishes what I started!’

It was like having a bucket of ice-cold water thrown in her face, and she stopped laughing immediately, frowning up at the man who towered over her.

She had briefly forgotten, in her misery, the car that had turned the corner mere seconds ago, the suddenness of its appearance having been the reason she had stepped hurriedly back on the pavement, stumbling as she did so, the force of the water that sprayed over her as the wide tyres drove through puddles seeming to be the impetus needed to make her lose her balance completely, twisting her ankle as she landed heavily on her thigh.

The car had been brought to a halt some yards away, its back lights gleaming like red eyes in the darkness, the engine idly ticking over.

At least the driver had stopped.

Although there was no need for him to be so rude!

‘If I could get up I would have done so,’ she snapped. ‘But you seem to have incapacitated me——’

‘My car didn’t touch you!’ he bit out forcefully. ‘You stepped off the pavement without looking, and when you realised there was a car coming you slipped trying to avoid it.’

It wasn’t so far off the truth, but even so he didn’t have to sound so arrogant about it.

‘Your car hit her, anyone could see that,’ a voice accused.

Amazing. Seconds ago this quiet back-street of London had been empty; now a small crowd had gathered to witness what they obviously hoped was going to be a scene.

The driver of the car glared at the man who had just spoken. ‘As you were nowhere near the scene when the accident happened, I don’t think that anything you have to say on the matter is relevant.’

Heathcliff. That was who this man made her think of. Dark and saturnine, with over-long hair that seemed inclined to curl, although it was difficult to tell with the rain streaming down his face—a face that was all dark hollows and shadows, his eyes glinting with anger.

Was she delirious? What did it matter who he made her think of? He was arrogant and condescending, and she had had enough of both emotions to last her a lifetime.

She moved gingerly, pain shooting through her ankle, her hip aching abominably. ‘I don’t think I can get up.’ She gasped with the shock of the intensity of the pain.

‘She’s broken something.’ That same accusing male voice in the crowd spoke with gloom. ‘I don’t think you should get up, love,’ the man advised her confidingly. ‘Wait until the police get here is what I say, and let them——’

‘Police!’ the driver echoed with scorn. ‘There is no need to involve the police in this.’

‘Of course there is.’ The other man sounded scandalised—probably at the thought of seeing his evening’s entertainment being cut short! ‘You knocked this young lady down …’

‘I did not knock——’

‘Yes, you did!’

‘No, I——’

‘Oh for goodness’ sake!’ the ‘young lady’ cut in crossly, struggling into a sitting position to glare up at both of them, as no one actually seemed inclined to assist her. ‘As you so rightly pointed out,’ she snapped at the driver, ‘if I don’t soon get up off this road I’m going to be run over by other traffic and killed!’

‘Here,’ he bit out impatiently, his arms curiously gentle as he swung her up against his chest. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered as the movement caused her obvious pain. ‘I will be seeing to this young lady’s welfare,’ he informed the crowd with finality.

Much to their disappointment, the ‘young lady’ noted ruefully, before she was briskly carried away to be placed on the warm leather passenger seat of the old-design Jaguar.

‘My clothes!’ she protested before he could slam the door behind her.

Irritation furrowed his brow once again before he glanced back at the suitcase and the strewn clothing.

‘Hell!’ he muttered with suppressed violence, closing her car door with the same controlled emotion.

But he did go back and pick up the clothes and push them haphazardly inside the case.

She watched his impatient movements in the wing-mirror, sure that the more delicate items of clothing—her bras and briefs were made of the finest silks—would be beyond salvation after his rough handling of them.

But the crowd had dispersed now, much to her relief, even the dogged heckler having taken himself off now that there wasn’t any further fun to be had, at anyone’s expense.

But, as the boot of the car was wrenched open and her suitcase flung inside, she realised how very alone she was with this man—a man who hadn’t shown even a glimmer of a gentler side to his nature. He radiated barely controlled anger as he got in beside her, and she realised she couldn’t get out of the car and get away from him even if she wanted to because her hip hurt her so badly and her ankle refused for the moment to support her weight, slight as it was.

If the man turned out to be some sort of kidnapper she didn’t even think a ransom would be paid for her if it were demanded; she very much doubted that Jordan would pay to have her returned to him.

She might have been in the gutter a few minutes ago, filled with frustration and despair, but now she had a feeling she could be in danger!

CHAPTER ONE

‘JANE SMITH!’

She kept her head held high, although she could feel the delicate colour slowly staining her cheeks at his scepticism of the name she had given the nurse at the hospital when that lady had come to take her details before she was seen by the doctor. She had sensed the derision of the man at her side then, but he had at least waited until they were alone before expressing his scorn.

She wondered what his feelings would have been if she had calmly announced her full name.

Which she had no intention of doing.

It was quite a mouthful, for one thing. Another factor dictating his reaction would be whether or not he had heard of her family. If he hadn’t it wouldn’t mean a lot to him. She had also learnt during the last week that using her full name, in certain circumstances, got her absolutely nowhere.

She had to admit she had been more than a little relieved when he had driven her straight to the accident department of this well-known hospital, although she knew without seeing the doctor that she hadn’t actually broken anything, that she was probably just badly bruised. Although that felt painful enough.

She was just relieved she had been wrong about the ‘danger’ she had sensed. The man obviously couldn’t wait to get rid of the responsibility of her!

In the bright lights of the hospital waiting-room he looked even more like her image of Heathcliff than she had first thought. His hair was very dark, not quite ebony, but a rich teak-brown, inclined to curl over the collar of his shirt and ears now that it was dry, eyes the colour of grey slate made even more vivid by the dark bronze of his skin. It was a strong face, unrelenting, and the darkness hadn’t deceived about the hollows and shadows, his face all angles and deep grooves; character-lines, Jordan would probably have called them.

He looked slightly older than Jordan’s thirty years, possibly in his mid-thirties, and the well-worn comfort of the Jaguar he drove was also evident in the worn denims and small-checked jacket he wore. A man who seemed to care little for his appearance, and yet at the same time there was something magnetically attractive about him, his masculinity undoubted, his virility tangible.

Older than her set, out of her experience, at least fifteen years her senior, and yet she felt a certain curiosity to know more about him. Strange …

He had to be married, of course, or possibly divorced. If he hadn’t been one, or both, at his age, that surely only left—— No, she didn’t for one moment believe his inclinations lay in that direction. He might find her an irritant, but that didn’t mean he found all women so.

What would his wife, or ex-wife, be like? she wondered. Probably tall and blonde and athletically minded, as she was sure he was; he certainly didn’t keep as fit as he looked by the odd game of golf, as many men tried—and failed—to do. Or maybe his wife hadn’t shared his interests at all, maybe that was the reason they were divorced.

Ridiculous.

She had the man married and divorced, and she didn’t even know his name!

‘A good English name,’ she stoutly defended what was, after all, part of her name. She stuck out her hand.

‘I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.’

His mouth twisted at her sudden formality given the circumstances, and Jane was made to see herself through his mocking eyes. Small and pert, with a body that could easily be called boyish in the fitted denims and bulky sweater, except that the full swell of her breasts was clearly discernible beneath the woollen garment, and her hair was a long, Titian—as the Duke of York chose to call this particular shade of hair that was also the colour of his wife’s!—riot of virtually uncontrollable curls that reached almost down to her waist, more tangled than usual this evening after the rough treatment it had taken from the wind and rain outside. Sparkling blue eyes the colour of sapphires dominated the beauty of her pointed face, a face bare of its usual make-up because she had felt too despondent earlier to take the usual trouble with her appearance, utterly defeated, on her way back to Jordan and his ‘I told you so’s.

And instead of that she was sitting in a hospital waiting-room with a man who looked as if he would like to take that ‘Titian’-coloured hair, wind it around her neck, and strangle her with it!

‘Raff Quinlan,’ he announced drily. ‘And I have never cared to look into its origins.’

And he wasn’t about to start now, his tone implied.

Raff Quinlan. Even his name was different, interesting.

Her hand dropped back to her side as he made no effort to take it in his much larger one. ‘Am I keeping you from something?’ Her voice was tart at the obvious snub.

He returned her gaze coldly. ‘Yes.’

He wasn’t just blunt, he was downright rude!

She drew in an angry breath. ‘I didn’t choose to be run down by your car …’

‘My dear Miss Smith,’ he exploded, grey eyes blazing angrily. ‘I did not run you down with my car. You——’

‘The doctor will see you now,’ a young nurse cut in firmly, giving Raff Quinlan a reproving look as she wheeled the chair he had insisted on for Jane when they first arrived through to the examination-room. ‘Would you like to accompany your wife?’ she offered as an afterthought.

Wife? Jane raised her eyes heavenwards; as if they looked like a married couple!

Raff Quinlan obviously thought it a ridiculous assumption to have made, too, and was on the point of giving a scathing reply.

Some devil, probably the same devil that made Jordan call her impossible, made her smile sweetly at Raff Quinlan. ‘I would rather you did come with me, darling,’ she told him lovingly, adopting a forlorn expression designed to make him look guilty as she suddenly looked very sorry for herself. ‘I’m a little nervous,’ she added in a little-girl voice.

He looked ready to tell her exactly what he thought of this supposed nervousness, but the young nurse looking at him expectantly prevented him from doing that. His mouth set tightly.

‘Of course—darling,’ this last was added tightly, his movements controlled as he joined them.

Jane smiled up at him smugly as they went down the corridor to the examination-room. His expression promised retribution.

It came quicker than they had both expected, and from an unexpected quarter!

‘Would you like to let your husband help you to undress and get up on the couch, Mrs Smith, while I tell the doctor you’re here?’ the nurse suggested briskly, not giving either of them chance to answer her as she swished out of the room.

Jane had always wondered how silence could possibly be deafening, but the silence that descended over the room once the door had closed, leaving her alone with Raff Quinlan, was definitely of that kind!

She dared a glance at Raff under her lashes, not fooled for a moment by his innocently concerned expression, knowing that his anger towards her had faded to be replaced by mocking amusement.

‘Well, Mrs Smith?’ he finally drawled, his humour somehow making him appear younger. ‘Would you like me to help you take your clothes——?’

‘Out!’ she ordered firmly.

‘But——’

‘Out!’ she repeated with finality, her level gaze brooking no argument.

‘If you’re sure …?’ He grinned at her discomfort, taking his time about leaving the room, pausing at the door. ‘I’ll come back after a suitable period,’ he taunted. ‘The nurse already has her doubts about my husbandly concern: if I just disappear she’ll think I don’t give a damn … What was that?’ he prompted at her mumbled remark. ‘Did you say something, darling? I couldn’t quite hear you, my love.’ He raised dark brows as her mutterings continued.

Everyone in this department will hear me if you don’t leave soon,’ she warned audibly.

His husky laugh echoed down the corridor, and Jane knew her own teasing had been more than successfully turned back on her. Jordan wasn’t capable of understanding her humour, let alone returning it; to be honest, this bantering made a pleasant change. Not that she was about to let Raff Quinlan know that—he was altogether too arrogant already.

Actually, she almost instantly regretted his having left the room, quickly discovering that the bruising to her body was so bad now every movement was an agony. Any help easing off the bulky sweater and denims would have been welcome, even Raff Quinlan’s, by the time she had struggled out of her clothes and slipped beneath the sheet on top of the examination-couch, tears wetting her cheeks in painful silence.

On top of everything else, she felt sick.

Raff took one look at her when he came into the room, and picked up the kidney-shaped dish that stood on the side-table, reaching her side just in time for her to empty the contents of her stomach into it.

She fell back against the pillow once the retching had stopped. ‘I’m sorry,’ she groaned self-consciously.

‘Don’t be,’ he dismissed easily, crossing the room as she closed her eyes weakly.

Jane didn’t blame him for walking out in disgust; she couldn’t bear to see anyone being sick, herself. She must have been more shaken by the fall than she had realised.

Her eyes opened in surprise as she felt a damp cloth against her forehead and down over the heat of her cheeks. Blue eyes looked straight into grey, so close she could see the long length of Raff Quinlan’s lashes.

‘I thought you had gone,’ she told him huskily.

‘No, I—God, you look awful!’ He shook his head, frowning darkly.

She closed her eyes again, smiling faintly. ‘Thanks!’ she grimaced.

‘I just hadn’t realised——’

‘Mrs Smith?’ A young man with hair almost as red as Jane’s came into the room, followed by the nurse. ‘I’m Dr Young,’ he introduced himself confidently.

Jane had already guessed that; possibly because of the badge attached to the white coat he wore that bore the name ‘Dr P Young’ upon it!

‘I’m not Mrs Smith!’ She was tired of that game now.

‘Ah,’ the doctor nodded. ‘Then the two of you aren’t married?’

Obviously! She was being impossible, and she knew it. If only she didn’t feel so sick.

‘No,’ she sighed.

‘Well, it doesn’t matter,’ the doctor dismissed briskly. ‘The point is, you want Mr …? He looked enquiringly at Raff.

‘Quinlan,’ he instantly supplied.

‘Right,’ the younger man said before turning back to smile reassuringly at Jane. ‘All that matters is that you want Mr Quinlan in with you during the examination.’

‘But I——’

‘I’m going to be here,’ Raff cut in firmly, his steady gaze meeting hers with determination.

To be quite truthful, the nausea, and its subsequent result, had tired her to the point where she really didn’t care any more. She very much doubted she would be the first—or the last!—woman Raff would see in her bra and briefs. She tried to remember the colour of the underwear she was wearing today, but for the moment it eluded her; she did know it would match in colour, whatever that colour was. It was one of her foibles … And extravagances, Jordan would have said. Oh, damn Jordan and his preaching! It was doing little to ease the pain as the doctor examined her ankle!

‘Hm.’ He frowned a little. ‘Just badly bruised, I think. Although we’ll X-ray it anyway,’ he announced cheerfully. ‘Just to be on the safe side. Your hip was the other place injured, I believe?’ He briskly pulled the sheet down to examine the injured area.

Jane heard Raff’s sharply indrawn breath, wondering if she could have been wrong about his having seen a woman in her underclothes before.

She looked across at him curiously, but his gaze was fixed on the area being examined by the doctor. A glance down at that spot herself told her why!

She knew her hip was extremely painful; in fact the nausea had begun in the car on the drive here from the pain of it. But she had just been concentrating on getting her outer clothing off earlier without fainting, and hadn’t had the strength to actually look at her hip. She wished she hadn’t bothered now either!

Her side was black and blue with bruising already, not just on the hip-bone but across her stomach and down her thigh too. It looked ghastly. No wonder Raff was staring.

Just when she thought she couldn’t stand the poking and prodding into her flesh any longer the doctor straightened.

‘Well, it looks as if you’ve been quite lucky, young lady.’ His smile had gone now to be replaced by a reproving frown. ‘I don’t think any bones have been broken here either. You sustained the injuries in a fall, I think you said?’

‘Yes,’ she nodded distractedly. ‘I tripped and fell over the pavement.’

The doctor continued to frown. ‘The injuries seem rather—severe, for a fall of that nature.’

‘Well, I——’ Colour flooded her cheeks as she sensed concern behind the question. She glanced at Raff, his mouth tight now as he too sensed the scepticism. My God, the doctor didn’t really think that …! She respected his concern, realised that he probably often had reason for it, but it really was unfair to Raff in the circumstances.

‘I fell in the street and Mr Quinlan very kindly helped me by driving me here,’ she told the doctor firmly. The last thing she wanted was to get involved with the police over what had, after all, just been an accident.

The doctor still didn’t look convinced, but there was really very little he could do about the situation in the face of her insistence. ‘We’ll X-ray the ankle and hip just to be sure,’ he told her gently. ‘And decide what to do with you once we have the result of those.’

That sounded rather ominous. What did he mean, ‘decide what to do with her’?

She wasn’t given the chance to ask either the nurse or the doctor that question before they bustled out of the room in deep conversation together, the doctor presumably on his way to treat another patient, the nurse to organise Jane’s X-rays.

Jane couldn’t quite look at Raff after the implication the doctor had made about him a few minutes ago.

He crossed the room to stand next to her. ‘I had no idea you were so badly marked,’ he spoke quietly.

She grimaced dismissively. ‘I bruise easily.’

He shook his head. ‘You must have fallen very heavily. Or else I did actually hit you with the car …’

‘No,’ she denied as she sensed the doubt in his voice. ‘I only said that earlier because I was annoyed by your bluntness,’ she explained truthfully.

‘Nevertheless, if I hadn’t driven around that corner at speed——’

‘You weren’t speeding,’ she cut in exasperatedly.

‘But——’

‘Mr Quinlan,’ Jane spoke steadily. ‘Believe me, my accident was not your fault.’

His mouth was tight. ‘Nevertheless, I’m responsible for you …’

‘I’m responsible for myself!’ Her tone was a little more vehement than the occasion warranted, but she was more than a little tired of being told she wasn’t capable of taking care of herself. She certainly wasn’t anyone’s responsibility. God, what an awful label to give someone! ‘I’m grateful to you for bringing me here.’ She spoke more calmly now. ‘But there’s really no need for you to delay yourself any longer.’

‘I was only on my way back to my home,’ he said dismissively, his gaze once again on the brightness of her hair.

‘Then your wife——’

‘I’m not married,’ he bit out curtly.

Jane couldn’t help but wonder why that was. Unless, as she had presumed earlier, he had been married and divorced. It was the most likely explanation. For a man who supposedly lived alone he had been in a hurry to get there earlier.

Something about this man raised her curiosity, possibly because she sensed there was no artifice in him—not even the one of politeness! Jordan would find him brash in the extreme, but then Jordan could be brash himself on occasion.

‘Nevertheless,’ she said firmly, ‘the X-rays will take some time, and I really mustn’t keep you any longer.’

‘You——’

‘Don’t bother to dress, Miss Smith.’ The nurse came back into the room, straightening up Jane’s discarded clothes. ‘We need you undressed for the X-ray, anyway.’

Jane had had no intention of even attempting to put her clothes back on in front of Raff Quinlan, even if she hadn’t been hurting so badly that the nausea was never far away.

Perhaps the hospital just wasn’t busy, or maybe it was the time of night, but the X-rays were completed and a diagnosis given within a matter of minutes; there were no bones broken, only the severe bruising. But even that was enough to make Jane shudder at the thought of putting her clothes on again.

Some of her distress must have shown on the paleness of her face.

‘Of course, I think we should offer you a bed for the night,’ the young doctor smiled encouragingly. ‘If only as a precaution.’

For ‘offer her a bed’ Jane knew he meant admit her to the hospital, and she had no desire to spend the night in a hospital ward. But she was sure the doctor was as aware as she was that the address she had given them was that of a hotel, a hotel she had actually booked out of earlier today.

‘Is that really necessary?’ Far from leaving, Raff had gone with her to the X-ray department, and then stayed right by her side while the doctor gave her his verdict on her injuries. Now he spoke with a quiet authority. ‘As long as Miss Smith has someone to take care of her, couldn’t she be allowed to leave?’

The doctor looked slightly irritated by this interruption, obviously still not quite convinced of the other man’s innocence in the affair, although he was holding a tight check on any more even veiled accusations of that nature. ‘I suppose so,’ he accepted slowly. ‘But as she——’

‘Miss Smith has somewhere to go,’ Raff told him arrogantly.

Even Jane looked at him in some surprise. If that ‘somewhere’ was his home, then he could forget it; she may be weak but she wasn’t helpless.

But if seeming to agree to that suggestion would get her out of here without too much fuss she could always make other arrangements once they were outside. After all, she didn’t have to go anywhere, do anything she didn’t want to do. After years of being ordered around she was finally free to make her own choices. Even if the majority of them this last week had been a disaster!

‘Miss Smith? Miss Smith?’ The doctor repeated his query more firmly at her wandering attention.

She looked up to find them all looking at her—the nurse kindly, the doctor enquiringly, Raff Quinlan challengingly. It was the latter that now held her attention.

‘Is Mr Quinlan’s suggestion agreeable to you?’ the doctor persisted.

The poor man was still half convinced she had taken a beating from Raff Quinlan!

And Raff was still fully aware of the unspoken accusation.

‘Yes, it’s agreeable to me,’ Jane finally answered, much to Raff’s unspoken but felt relief, and the doctor’s chagrin.

But he seemed to be resigned to her decision as he stood up to leave. ‘If you have any further trouble, don’t hesitate to either come back here or see your own doctor,’ he advised.

‘By ‘‘further trouble’’, I suppose he meant any more beatings from me,’ Raff muttered grimly in the darkness, Jane now seated next to him in the Jaguar, their departure from the hospital made without further incident after the nurse had carefully helped her to dress.

In truth Jane felt slightly lethargic now, the doctor having prescribed pain-killers to at least help ease some of her discomfort. The last thing she felt like doing now was sorting out a hotel for the night. But it had to be done. Raff Quinlan’s ruffled feelings over the doctor’s implications was the least of her worries for the moment.

She looked about her in the darkness, realising they were fast leaving town—Raff’s home, wherever it was, seeming to be far from the hotels of London.

‘If you pull over at the next corner, I can get a taxi back to a hotel,’ she told him sleepily, those tablets, whatever they were, making her feel very tired.

He didn’t even glance at her. ‘I said you had somewhere to go,’ he said tersely. ‘And you do. You also have someone to ‘‘take care of you’’.’

‘You?’ Jane scorned, her lids becoming so heavy now she could barely keep them open.

‘If necessary,’ he nodded abruptly.

‘It isn’t,’ she said drily.

He gave her a scathing glance. ‘Forgive me if I disagree with you.’

Her mouth tightened at the insult. ‘No.’

‘My dear young lady …’

‘I’m not your dear anything,’ Jane snapped. ‘And I have no wish to go to your home.’

His mouth twisted. ‘You talk as if you usually expect your wishes to be carried out without question.’

Perhaps she did, but she had a feeling, from the little she had learnt of this man this evening, that he rarely considered anyone else’s wishes but his own!

‘I want you to stop the car immediately so that I don’t have too far to walk before I can get a taxi back into town,’ she told him firmly, although she was aware that her voice sounded less than convincing, and that she was feeling sleepier and sleepier by the moment.

Raff Quinlan laughed softly. ‘You don’t look capable of standing on your feet, let alone walking anywhere.’

‘I am—capable, of doing—whatever I have to—do …’

It was the last thing she remembered saying, sleep finally overcoming her as she slumped down in the car seat.

.

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