The Ultimate Surrender(6)

By: Penny Jordan

She continued to tell herself until the morning Richard came to take her and Briony home from the hospital and commented happily to her, ‘What a piece of luck that Marcus should have been with you when you went into labour…I’ve told him that we shall definitely want him to be Briony’s godfather. After all, he was there when she was born.’

Polly closed her eyes, her skin burning with embarrassed colour. So it hadn’t just been a dream…a nightmare more like; Marcus had actually been there with her all the time. It had been Marcus who had wiped the sweat from her forehead, who had encouraged her to rest, to push…who had told her in a voice thick with unfamiliar emotion that she had the most beautiful, gorgeous little baby girl…Marcus, not Richard…

No one would ever know just how relieved she was to return to Fraser House to find that Marcus was away on business and that he would be away for almost a month…time enough for all her disturbing memories and feelings about the fact that he had been with her when Briony had been born to subside and be carefully pushed away into a place where they couldn’t cause her any harm.

But there was one disturbing postscript to what had happened. By some odd quirk of fate, baby Briony took one look at her father’s cousin and her mother’s private and unacknowledged bête noire and openly and determinedly, in that way that only babies could do, declared her love for him.

It was Marcus she gave her first smile to. It was Marcus whose name she said first, even if Polly had tried to convince herself that that ‘Ma…Mar’ had been ‘Mama’, and Marcus towards whom she took her first faltering steps.

Richard, typically, didn’t mind in the least, and in fact was only too pleased that his daughter adored Marcus as much as he did himself, and by the time Briony was three years old even Polly had to admit that Marcus’s decision to turn Fraser House into an unofficial very luxurious and comfortable ‘home from home’ for his visiting executives had worked wonderfully well for all of them.

Polly was in her element in her role as Fraser’s chatelaine. Her guests thrived on her warm blend of cosseting and cooking, and Marcus had even remarked dryly to her that his chairman was beginning to complain that he had not, as yet, sampled the delights of a stay at Fraser House, adding that the whole board were unanimous in their decision that this year’s official Christmas boardroom dinner should be held there.

As her confidence grew so too did Polly’s cooking skills. She devoured new recipe books as eagerly and avidly as her guests devoured her gourmet meals, and as the Christmas preceding Briony’s fourth birthday approached Polly was forced to admit that she had never been happier.

Gradually, through his contacts, Richard was getting more work, and he still had dreams of one day being asked to exhibit at the Royal Academy, although privately Polly was beginning to sense that he never would. However, his dreams were precious to him, and she loved him far too much to want to damage them or to hurt him.

The murals he had painted in the house were exciting an enormous number of compliments and bringing in fresh work, but whilst his portraits were technically excellent Polly was beginning to see that his work lacked that spark that would have made him great. Still, he was happy, and if Richard was happy then so was she. But she often wondered what Marcus, who collected modern art in a very small but knowledgeable way, really thought of his cousin’s talent. She suspected that, like her, Marcus loved Richard far too much to want to hurt him.

And then disaster struck. On the way home one night from working on a commission several miles away, Richard’s car was involved in an accident and Richard was killed outright. The police brought the news whilst Polly was tucking Briony up in bed. She was on her own in the house for once, Marcus being away on business, and she knew what she was going to be told the moment she opened the door and saw the policeman’s face.

Richard, her beloved, handsome, boyish, loving husband, was dead, and with him too was that special part of her heart that had belonged exclusively to him.

Marcus had to fly back from Australia for Richard’s funeral, arriving grey-faced and haggard, and not just from jet lag, Polly knew—just as she knew that he had never approved of her, and how much he had loved Richard. But now Richard was gone.

At the funeral her aunt, meaning to be kind, no doubt, told her firmly, ‘Polly, I know this seems like the end of the world now, but you’re young—young enough to meet someone else and fall in love again.’

‘Never,’ Polly told her, white-faced and dry-eyed. ‘I shall never, ever love anyone else,’ she told her passionately. ‘That’s impossible. I love Richard far too much for that and I always will.’

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