The Ultimate Surrender(5)

By: Penny Jordan

The drawing room was enormous, and so too was the dining room, complete with the custom-made dining table and its twenty-four chairs—it seemed the General had never done anything on a small scale and that included entertaining. There was a small library and a pretty morning room which Marcus told her he could remember had been his grandmother’s own special domain, and then another sitting room, cellars and an upper storey as well as the attics.

When Marcus told her how much his board were prepared to pay per executive couple per visit, Polly felt faint with shock.

‘So much,’ she faltered, round-eyed.

‘You’ll have to feed them for that,’ Marcus warned her tersely. ‘And proper food, Polly; these people are used to dining at the very best restaurants and they’ll expect the same standard here. Not that that will be any problem for you, I know,’ he added, totally flooring her both with the unexpectedness of the compliment and his casual acceptance that her cooking skills could rival those of the country’s best chefs.

‘I…’ Polly had begun to feel quite faint. ‘I…’ she began again. Marcus had been walking ahead of her across the large hallway, which already in her mind’s eye Polly could see freshly decorated with a huge bowl of freshly cut flowers on the wooden chest next to her to welcome their visitors. The decorating she knew could be safely left to Richard, who, most unusually for an artist, had no inhibitions or prejudices about turning his hand to such work. The mural he had painted for the tiny cupboard at the flat which had been going to be the baby’s room had taken her breath away with its delicacy and imagery.

‘Yes, Richard would…Oh-h-h…’ The sharpness of the pain she felt made her catch her breath and stop in mid-step, her eyes going wide with apprehension and dread.

‘What is it?’ Marcus demanded sharply.

‘Nothing,’ she fibbed, praying that she was right and that the ominous penetrating pain that was ebbing and flowing with increasing strength and increasing frequency was simply the false alarm she had learned so much about at her antenatal classes. It was far too early for the baby yet. She still had nearly a full month to go…

And so, reassuring herself, she forced herself to walk as steadily as she could to Marcus’s side, and made to climb the stairs so that they could inspect the bedrooms together and decide which ones should be allocated as guest bedrooms.

It had already tacitly been decided that Marcus would have the large bedroom which had been their grandfather’s, mainly because the bathroom and small sitting room which went with it meant that he could be reasonably self-contained there. Tactfully, Polly had chosen for them two rooms as far away from him as possible, not just to maintain their own privacy but also to make sure that Marcus wasn’t disturbed by the baby.

In her heart of hearts she knew the last thing she wanted was to live in the same house as Richard’s cousin, no matter how much Richard might enthuse about the idea. But what choice really did they have?

She winced as another pain caught her, sharper this time, deeper and lasting a little longer, and this time too there was no disguising what was happening from Marcus. As the pain gripped her she automatically held her breath. She felt sick and dizzy and very, very alone and afraid, and she longed more than anything else for Richard, or, failing that, her aunt, but Richard was in Aldershot painting the regiment’s goat’s portrait and her aunt was in South Africa visiting her eldest daughter.

As sweat beaded her forehead and her whole body was gripped by the necessity to deal with what was happening, Polly had no breath left to protest as Marcus suddenly swore under his breath and started to urge her towards the front door.

‘No…Where…? What…?’ she began, and then stopped as the pain surged again.

She could hear Marcus responding to her question, telling her tersely, ‘Where the hell do you think? Hospital, of course. Can you walk to the car, do you think, or…?’

Only the appalling thought of Marcus actually trying to carry her to the car got Polly there, and she was sure that Marcus must have broken every speed limit there was to get her to the hospital so fast.

By then her contractions were coming so quickly that there wasn’t time for her to do anything other than what she was told as she was whisked from his car onto a trolley and into the labour ward.

Two hours later, when Briony Honey Fraser made her way into the world, Polly opened her eyes to look up into the eyes of the man whose hand she had been gripping onto for dear life all through her labour, and realised, with a bewildering sense of disbelief, that it wasn’t Richard but Marcus. But before she could say anything exhaustion swept over her, and when she eventually woke up to find her adorable new daughter tucked into a little crib at the bottom of her bed and her equally adorable husband sitting beaming with pride and pleasure at her bedside she told herself that she must have imagined that Marcus had been there with her during her labour.

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