The Ultimate Surrender(3)

By: Penny Jordan

‘Of course he likes you,’ Richard told her heartily—too heartily, perhaps, as he avoided looking at her. ‘In fact he probably wishes he’d met you first,’ he added, before admitting, ‘Not that you’re really his type…’

‘Oh? What kind of girl is?’ Polly asked him, more to stop herself focusing on how very queasy she felt than out of any real interest.

‘Oh, sort of sophisticated and tall, the kind of girl who looks as though she knows what life’s all about, if you know what I mean.’

Polly did, and the kind of girl Richard had just described was as different from the way she was herself as it was possible to be. For a start she was short rather than tall—barely five foot two—and her hair was a soft mousy-brown rather than blonde; and as for knowing what life was all about…

A month later, when it was impossible for her to ignore the fact that Marcus’s angry guess had been right and that she was pregnant, Richard walked into the flat to find her in tears and desperately worried about their future.

‘Don’t worry,’ he consoled her as he took her in his arms and held her tight. ‘We’ll manage…somehow…’

Of course she immediately felt better, comforted by his insouciance and his confidence. Richard had such a warm, sunny nature that it was impossible not to feel buoyed up and infected by his natural optimism and his belief that something would ‘turn up’.

A commission for a portrait via Marcus, together with a generous Christmas cheque from Richard’s parents, who were living in Cyprus where Richard’s father was stationed, helped them to repay the overdraft which had somehow or other built up to alarming proportions despite Polly’s excellently thrifty housekeeping. But the flat was damp and cold, and in the new year Richard caught flu, and then Polly caught it from him and was unable to work. The office sent a letter round suggesting that since she would be leaving work anyway when her baby was born it might be as well if she didn’t return but concentrated on looking after her health. The letter arrived on a raw, miserable February day when Polly was seven months pregnant and the last of the Christmas money had just been used to pay their rent.

The small sitting room of the flat was crammed with things she had bought for the coming baby—all of them second-hand—including the cot that Richard was cleverly repainting. Polly was sitting there on the threadbare carpeted floor, large round tears running down her face and dripping onto her large round tummy, when the door opened and Marcus walked in unannounced.

In her undignified haste to get up Polly caught her foot in the carpet and pitched forward, giving a sharp cry of protest and fear, quickly smothered against the unexpected warmth of Marcus’s expensive cashmere jacket as he caught hold of her, impeding her fall. For a moment, as she stood within the protective circle of his arms her face buried in his jacket, breathing in the raw male scent of him, Polly had the most peculiar and bemusing sense of somehow coming home; of being safe and protected.

It was gone in a second, quickly dismissed by her realisation of just how alien and idiotic her reaction was. She had never felt really comfortable with Marcus, still less as her pregnancy advanced, and she felt sure she could see in his eyes his disapproval of the way their marriage and her pregnancy had taken over Richard’s life, forcing onto him responsibilities which did not allow him full exercise of his artistic talents. So how on earth could she possibly have experienced what she had experienced? It was her imagination—a hallucination—an odd side-effect of being pregnant and poorly. And then Marcus was releasing her, turning his back on her, his face set and unreadable as he headed for the attic and Richard.

It was less than a week later when Richard burst into the flat, full of excitement to tell her of the ‘terrific idea’ that Marcus had had. He picked her up and whirled her round in his arms despite the bulk of her pregnancy, until she was so dizzy she had to beg him to stop.

‘What idea?’ she asked him.

‘Instead of selling Fraser House Marcus says that we should keep it…’

‘But we need the money from it,’ Polly protested anxiously. One thing she had learned about her husband was that he was something of a dreamer, prone to wonderful ideas that he painted for her in all the rich colours of his imagination; but, strong as he was on imagination, Richard was rather weak on practicality, and her heart sank a little as she prepared to listen to him.

‘We need money, yes,’ Richard agreed. ‘But Marcus has come up with this wonderful way for us to make some. You know how he’s just got that recent promotion which involves him spending more time here in the UK and entertaining a lot?’

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