The Ultimate Surrender(7)

By: Penny Jordan

Marcus, who had overheard her gave her an unfathomable look—one which haunted her for a long time after Richard’s funeral. Did Marcus, like her aunt, think that she was so shallow, so immature that she would forget Richard? If so she was determined to prove him wrong.


AND that was exactly what Polly did, devoting herself to Briony and to her work. So much so that when Briony was seven years old, following a conversation with one of Marcus’s colleagues and his wife, who had announced that they were so impressed with the standard of Fraser House’s comforts and its cook, they were surprised she didn’t consider opening the house as a small, exclusive private country hotel, Polly had taken this idea to Marcus. And, to her surprise, he had agreed.

And so had begun her unexpected career as co-owner and manageress of Fraser House, a small Georgian country house set in its own grounds where the cognoscenti could enjoy a true feast of all the senses—or so the restaurant critic who had visited them had proclaimed in the article he had written following his visit.

The years hadn’t just brought the addition of an indoor swimming pool and luxury gym area to the hotel’s facilities, but a broadening of Polly’s cooking skills as well.

Now Fraser House was listed as one of the country’s most exclusive small country house hotels, its restaurant ranking with the best of the country’s growing stable of to-be-seen-at eateries.

No one as yet might have approached Polly with an invitation to host her own TV cookery series, nor to write a cookery book, but soon after the hotel had opened one of their first clients had asked if it might be possible for their daughter to hold her wedding reception at the house. Then Polly had felt that they had reached a definite landmark.

As joint owner of the house, Marcus had always remained aloof from its day-to-day running, although, to be fair to him, Polly had to admit that he had always been meticulous about giving her whatever assistance and support she had asked for. He was now on the board of his company, one of its youngest directors, and, much to Briony’s dismay, had spent nearly two and a half years away from them living in Russia, to help with the newly emergent oil industry there.

More recently he had been spending a considerable amount of time in China, and Briony had already extracted a promise from him that if she graduated with a First he would treat her to a trip to China’s Great Wall.

Whilst Richard’s death might have deprived Polly of the love and companionship of a husband, Marcus had seen to it that Briony had never lacked the love of a father figure in her life, and Briony adored him in much the same way as Richard had done.

In fact, sometimes Polly felt almost as though the two of them formed a special magic circle from which she, as Briony’s mother, was somehow excluded. Because she knew that Marcus had never really liked or approved of her? Because she felt, for some obscure and irrational reason, that in some way Marcus actually blamed her for Richard’s death?

Since the beginning of her own first romantic relationship with Chris Johnson, Briony had become increasingly concerned about the fact that her beloved uncle Marcus had no permanent partner to share his life with, and to that end she had been taxing her brain to find someone whom she considered special enough to make him the ideal wife.

Now it seemed, from what she was saying to Polly, she had actually found that someone, and certainly, from the way she was describing her, Suzie Howell did sound as though she was just Marcus’s type. Tall, blonde, leggy—the kind of chatelaine who would be perfect for the house Marcus had announced so unexpectedly only six weeks ago that he intended to buy.

‘But why? You’ve always lived here,’ Polly had protested, white-faced, when he had announced his plans to her. ‘This has always been our home. Yours, mine and Briony’s.’

‘Precisely,’ he agreed coolly. ‘But Briony is now at college and, as you were saying yourself only a few weeks ago, you are increasingly having to turn away prospective guests. With my rooms to provide two extra bedrooms…’

Polly wasn’t able to totally take in what he was saying to her. It had never occurred to her that he might move out of Fraser House.

‘I need a home of my own, Polly,’ he told her crisply. ‘A life of my own. And now that Briony is old enough to start making her own life I feel that my duty to her—’

‘Your duty to her?’ She interrupted him, too shocked to be cautious. ‘Is that why you were living here? Because of Briony?’

There was a small, purposeful pause that drove the colour from her face, but it came back again when he told her almost affably, ‘Well, of course; you didn’t think I was staying for you, did you?’

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