The doctors visited frequently and, when they considered that I was strong enough, they broke their news.
My husband had been in the car with me.
The police said that we were stationary on the hard shoulder when we were struck from behind. My seatbelt had saved me from the worst but he had been less fortunate. He had been unbuckled and was thrown against the windscreen. After a momentary panic the news that he was still in a coma elsewhere in the hospital left me feeling concerned but oddly detached.
When I was allowed to see him he looked serene, if not a little the worse for wear, and it was hoped that he would come round naturally at any time.
They wanted to keep me in for another day or two but I elected to go home. My clothes were returned to me and, when left alone, I took the opportunity to examine myself.
I had been on a drip for a number of days and had clearly lost some weight but, if anything, it suited me. I would never be thin but, then again, I had never wanted to be. I had my mother's curves, including her impressive bust, and if I could still attract as much male attention when I reached her age I would be happy.
I sometimes wished I had longer legs but they were well proportioned and I was satisfied with my average height; besides, when I wore heels, I knew I looked good.
I had given no thought to how I was to get home and assumed that a taxi or perhaps even an ambulance might be arranged and so it was with great delight that I saw Penny waiting for me.
She rushed to me and caught me up in her arms.
"How are you? They wouldn't let me visit. They said your memory was impaired; that you needed time and space..."
"Whoa there, slow down."
Her words were tumbling from her with her usual natural exuberance and I smiled, not for the first time, when I contrasted her persona with the cold, clinical, lawyer that she could become when necessary.
She stepped away and looked me up and down.
"You look well. No ill effects?"
"Headaches, but nothing that a few aspirin won't fix; but look at you, you look sensational."
"Why thank you."
She did a mock curtsy and half turned to show off an expensive looking yellow dress which set off her subtly highlighted blonde hair.
"Does this mean you're back in the game?"
"If you mean 'am I over it?' then yes. I thought I was in love but it clearly wasn't reciprocated. But the important thing is that I now have plenty of room in the flat again. You're going to stay with me until you get back on your feet."
"I couldn't impose on you."
"Of course you can. We can console one another."
In truth, I was glad of the offer. I still looked back to our days at University together, and our shared student accommodation, as amongst the happiest in my life. It seemed impossible that it was now more than ten years since we had graduated.
After a few hours in her company I felt almost normal. She cooked a meal and, against doctor's orders, I drank a couple of glasses of wine. Whenever I tried to turn the conversation onto the subject of business she deftly deflected it and made me laugh at trivia.
It was sad then to look around her flat and see the subtle signs of the break-up; the lighter patches on the wall witnessing missing paintings and the gaps in the rows of books yet to be closed.
"Do you remember this?"
She came and sat beside me and showed me a photo album. It contained photos of our student holiday in Munich.
"That's when you started calling me 'Hoss'"
I smiled at the recollection. We had been to the cinema and I had remarked on her resemblance to the actress Nina Hoss and the nickname had stuck through the years. I looked at her again now and appreciated that time had been very kind to her. She had grown more beautiful as she had gotten older.
We drank hot chocolate as we pored over the photographs, each one bringing with it happy memories, and then we decided to call it a night.
The spare room was an en-suite and, whilst I showered, she went to fetch me one of her night dresses. I returned to the bedroom, wrapped in a towel, to find that she had already changed. She sat on the bed, devoid of make-up, her hair still damp, wearing a sloppy tee-shirt.
As she said it she lifted the hair from the nape of her neck and formed her lips into an exaggerated pout but I did not miss the slightly ironic undertone.
I sat down next to her and put my arm around her.
"I'm sorry about Zoe. I thought you guys made a great couple."
"Que sera; perhaps it wasn't meant to be."
She looked downcast and I was about to comfort her when she looked up at me with a wicked smile.
"Oh God, that girl could do great things with her tongue."
We both laughed out loud. Penny loved to try and make me blush but, in reality, her sexuality had never been an issue between us. She had been up front about it since the first day we met but I told her that I was still happy to have her as a room mate.
There was a tacit understanding from the outset that neither of us would have partners to stay over in the room and it had worked perfectly well. I have to confess that once or twice, usually when fuelled with alcohol, my dreams had me imagine Penny with another girl but never in a crude manner.
Had we ever come close? Just once. The heating in the building broke down one evening and, like a pair of schoolgirls, we sat together on the sofa in our night clothes snuggled under a quilt whilst we watched television.
The film had been a real weepie and we found ourselves hugging one another. At the end we broke apart just a little awkwardly but there was definitely something unspoken between us.
If I was ever tempted then Penny would have to be the one but, for her, commitment was everything; nevertheless, I suspect that, just then, the urge had been as strong for both of us but we allowed the moment to pass never to be revisited.
In some peculiar way my behaviour with my mysterious hospital visitor felt like a betrayal of Penny's trust and, without thinking, I hugged her to me just a little more tightly.
She gave me a melting look of beautiful innocence and, before I could help myself, I kissed her on the lips. It was a fleeting touch, something easily dismissed, but the expression on her face suddenly changed. She looked, puzzled, unsure, wondering what had prompted my reaction.
I could give no reason even if asked but my heart was beating madly. For a few seconds I lost myself in her eyes and I felt removed from the world. Somewhere, far at the back of my mind, a warning sounded telling me not to throw it all away but I was beyond recall.
Her eyes opened in shocked surprise as my hand lighted gently on her thigh. I was immediately struck by the warmth and incredible smoothness and my fingers moved slowly upwards beneath the hem of her tee shirt.
She remained frozen, unable to move, as I ventured all the way up to her hip before trailing across the firmness of her stomach. I felt her shiver beneath my touch but then she put her hand firmly on top of mine.
"You mustn't do this. It's not necessary."
The words were whispered and she smiled disarmingly.
She clearly thought that I was trying to help her get over Zoe but I was being driven by my own selfish desires. My behaviour was irrational but I simply could not stop myself.
With her hand still on mine I went to my knees and, to an outsider, it might have looked as if I was proposing marriage. Penny must have thought so because she now looked set to laugh at my preposterous performance.
I knew what I wanted but I could not admit it to myself. Before my courage failed I gently freed my hand from hers and used it to slowly ease her knees apart.
She was so taken aback that, at first, she did not resist.
She was wearing nothing beneath her tee shirt and her sex lay vulnerably revealed. As I stared I could barely catch my breath.
If truth be known I had never been able to find anything aesthetically pleasing about the male form unless it was rendered in marble.
By contrast, I could understand the allure of a female body. The soft curves were almost designed to draw the eye and, at that moment, I was entranced.
Her mons was flawlessly smooth, a pronounced arc with a sharply defined centre line that hinted at a hidden promise.
For a second or two I simply stared and she made no move to try to cover her modesty. In fact, it seemed as if she was daring me. I had cast the die and now she was waiting to see just how far I was prepared to go.
This thought dragged me back to my senses. Clearly the accident had had more of an effect on me than I realized. I was glad that it was only Penny who had witnessed my aberrant behaviour; she, of all people, would understand.
I began to apologize but she put a finger to my lips and gently shushed me. I was grateful that there was no need for words and I was comforted as she drew her finger gently across my face and began to stroke my hair.
I closed my eyes and my head lolled against her thigh. It was firm, warm, somehow reassuring, and it was tempting to rest there but I had embarrassed her enough.
I sighed and made ready to get up but, as I did so, her fingers slyly entwined themselves in my hair. It was seemingly innocent but I was effectively held fast. I opened my eyes and her sex was now scant inches in front of my face.
In the few seconds that had passed it seemed to have swollen; not markedly, but enough to allow the fragile tips of her inner lips to emerge. I found it incredibly erotic and the more so as her scent began to tease my olfactory senses.
In my minds eye I could see my tongue pressing against her opening and I could almost taste her syrupy femininity.
I shook my head, a slight movement intended to gather my senses, but, in response, her fingers pressed just a little more firmly at the back of my neck. Only then did I understand that, whatever her feelings in the past, she had now had a change of heart.
I cast my eyes up to hers and saw the glint of excitement. I had put myself in this position but I now felt a growing reluctance. It was hard to define but there was something about her expression. It was not quite condescension but it no longer seemed like a meeting of equals. She made me feel as if I was only providing what was properly due to her.
My uncertainty must have transmitted itself because she moved forward slightly drawing me more deeply between her thighs.
"Don't tease me..."
Her tone was more lawyer than the friend I knew but it triggered something deep in my psyche. She relaxed her fingers just a little as if testing the efficacy of her voice.
Her sex filled my vision, a forbidden fruit that I could no longer resist. I edged forward but, even now, I could not totally commit. I kissed softly, a hesitant touch at the crease of her thigh.
I had already tasted another woman, there was no mystery in that, and I was filled with the urge to experience it once more, but this was Penny and it felt almost incestuous.
I trailed tiny kisses across her mons, marvelling at the smoothness of her skin, and all the while her scent grew stronger casting itself about me. It bound me more tightly than any physical ties and my tongue moved expectantly in my mouth.
She recognized the moment of transition and took her hand away from my head. Light fell between her legs picking out a single bead of moisture as it oozed from her sex.
There was a hint of command in those two words, and it sent a shiver through me, but I fell upon her willingly. I put the flat of my tongue to the base of her sex catching the heavy droplet even as it formed.
The taste broke over my tongue with its now familiar savour but it shocked my brain like chilled alcohol. I was not sure if this was a reaction to the taste itself or the fact that it was Penny but I was desperate for more.
I licked broadly upwards along the length of her sex and felt it yield to my touch. The tight clamshell now opened to greet me and I was surprised by the inner wetness; that she could become so aroused in so short a space of time was curious.
I kept my tongue extended and found a rhythm which was clearly to her liking. She relaxed and settled more comfortably on the bed and I was conscious of her looking down at me.
Oddly, I had no thought of bringing her pleasure. I was completely caught up in the sensations of my mouth pressed to her sex but notwithstanding this detachment she was becoming more aroused.
She lifted her hips a little, inviting me deeper inside, and I needed no second bidding. I speared my tongue and pushed through the outer portals to the tightness beyond.
My mouth was now sealed to her and I began to suck gently swallowing down the cloying essence. This oral submission excited her and her flow increased to satisfy my new craving.
Before too long her body began to tense and her breathing became more ragged. A suppressed moan escaped her tight closed lips and then my tongue was squeezed with an unexpected violence.
It lasted for a few, almost painful, seconds before she began to tremble uncontrollably. Her mouth opened in a silent cry as her climax took hold and I could feel each pleasurable tremor as it quaked her.
Slowly, her body relaxed but instead of disengaging I stayed in place as she gave up a last, reluctant, trickle of moisture. As the seconds passed, and she spoke not a word, I began to feel ever more awkward.
Finally, she broke the impasse by easing away from me to lie fully on the bed. I assumed that it was an unspoken invitation to join her and I rose stiffly from my knees.
She looked like a languid feline, her hands joined behind her head and one leg cocked leaving her sex lewdly displayed. Oddly, her openness put me more at ease and I slinked up beside her.
At that moment all I wanted from her was a hug, a recognition that something special, perhaps life affirming, had happened for us but she brought me up short. I was only half way onto the bed when she extended her hand and stroked my face.
I closed my eyes and waited for the kiss that I thought must come but her body movement was wrong. I was left slightly off balance and I gradually tipped forward.
"Nice and slowly this time..."
My eyes sprang open as my mouth came to rest on her sex and with both knees raised she had me ensnared.
Her words left no room for misunderstanding but I felt confused; the tenor suggested that this was, for her, now no more than a sexual liaison. For me, it may have started that way but, in my mind, I had allowed it to go beyond that.
I felt a need to talk it through with her but she was already stroking my hair encouragingly. I decided to take the line of least resistance not least because my own state of arousal was reaching a pitch and the imminent prospect of Penny returning the favour made my heart beat wildly.
This time I took things less hurriedly. I teased her inner lips with the tip of my tongue and was fascinated by the degree to which they swelled free. The taste was weaker but I resisted the temptation to delve deeper.
For the next few minutes I worked diligently until I was able to take each fleshy wing gently between my lips and caress it. By now my face was slick with a mix of perspiration and her offering and I was sorely tempted to stop to clean myself up but I did not want to spoil the moment.
She too was caught up in it. Outwardly assured she was beginning to fidget and she exhaled with a series of stifled moans. I began to lick again making my way inexorably towards the apex of her sex.
The slightest pressure of my fingers would have opened her completely to my attentions but I wanted to do it using my mouth alone. Hubris perhaps, or simply a misguided attempt to prove to her that I could be the equal of any of her former partners.
I could feel the bulge of her clitoris beneath my tongue and she gave a elongated groan. As she did so she braced her feet flat on the bed and her sex magically parted.
I could not see but I used my tongue to appraise the sensuous topography. Her clitoris was a firm hemisphere, larger, perhaps, than mine and it seemed to swell even more as it shed its hooded covering.
The exhortation was unnecessary. I was transfixed by the rounded smoothness and the more I licked the more her sex reeked. Unlike the first time I was now in control and I experimented by changing speed and pressure to see what turned her on the most.
She punctuated her breathing with an involuntary series of 'yeses' which helped to guide me and I was able to bear her up and hold her just short of the peak.
It was a playful profanity but I knew she could not take much more. I moved my tongue a fraction to concentrate my attentions at the point at which the cowl of her clitoris was joined and it had an immediate and dramatic affect.
Her back arched and her body began to spasm. It was an intense, quivering, vibration that, having started, seemed to have no end. She gave an uncontrolled shriek of pleasure and then her sex erupted.
Heavy drops of moisture spattered the lower half of my face some of them finding their way into my mouth. Her body was tensed to the degree that it must have been almost painful but she was determined to hold herself at the pinnacle for as long as she could.
In the end her strength failed her and she had to let it go. She made one final effort before surrendering and slumping heavily onto the covers. There were tears in her eyes, a mixture of ecstasy and frustration, as I licked up the syrupy droplets that dappled her sex and thighs.
As her breathing slowly returned to normal I eased away from her sex and moved up the bed a little. Her eyes were closed and she had a beatific smile on her face as I gently rested my head on her exposed breasts.
I waited in pleasurable frustration for her to make the next move and it was a few moments before I realized that she had drifted off to sleep.
In the morning she was gone and I lay chilled on top of the covers. I was, by turns, confused, frustrated and embarrassed. I thought about phoning her at the office but I was unsure exactly what I would say and decided to leave it until she came home.
I dressed quickly, forced down a cup of strong coffee, and then braced myself for a return to work. I had been told not to drive for a few days and so I hailed a taxi for the short journey across town.
Once in the building I was almost overwhelmed by the show of affection and genuine concern that greeted me. It took me more than half an hour to cross the space of the open plan office before I reached the relative calm of my own inner sanctum.
As I looked back out through the one-way glass it came home to me that these fifty or more employees were all dependent upon me for their livelihood and it could all have been snatched away in a heartbeat.
It took the better part of the day to work my way through my e-mails even though they had already been ruthlessly culled by my secretary. The list of telephone calls to be returned was equally daunting but, by making some assumptions about those which were probably simply expressions of sympathy, the task became more manageable.
As I got back into gear I grew increasing concerned that there appeared to be no communications from Tate. I was hoping for something exultant telling me that the contract had been signed but if not that a confirmation that we had not been successful.
I checked my watch and calculated the time in San Diego. Everyone had gone for the day leaving me alone in the office. This was often the case but I knew that, on this occasion, it was partly a reluctance on my part to go back and face Penny.