The Ultimate Surrender(8)

By: Penny Jordan

Staying for her? No, of course not! But for him to put into words the enmity she had so often sensed but hoped she had only imagined…

‘No. No, I didn’t,’ she acknowledged in a thick, choked voice. Yet it seemed that with Briony’s departure for college both she and Marcus were unanimous in believing that it was time for Marcus to establish a life of his own away from Fraser House. With a wife and family of his own? That was certainly Briony’s idea…

‘Does Marcus know that you’re planning to marry him off?’ she asked her daughter now, as she stood up straight and dusted herself down.

At thirty-seven she still had the same slender, small-boned body she had had at eighteen, although these days it was healthily honed and toned by her three-times-weekly gym workouts, and her once mousy hair was now skilfully highlighted; only the previous week her stylist had finally persuaded her to allow her to chop her smooth, shoulder-length bob into a far more adventurous and modern style which she had insisted was perfect for her.

‘Too young for you?’ she had demanded when Polly had uncertainly raised her doubts. ‘Polly, you’re thirty-seven, not fifty-seven,’ she had scolded her gently. ‘Thirty-seven is young…’

‘Try telling that to Briony,’ Polly had commented ruefully. ‘She’s eighteen, and she won’t want a mother who looks as though she’s trying to pretend she’s her sister.’

‘Listen to me,’ her stylist had told her firmly. ‘There is no way this style is anything other than absolutely perfect for you.’

As perfect for her as Briony seemed to think this young woman she had met was perfect for Marcus? This young woman. Determinedly Polly reached for a cloth to start wiping out the cupboard she had just emptied.

‘Anyway, what I was going to say to you is…’ Briony reached to the bowl on the table for an apple—one of their own, which had come from the trees in the small orchard behind the kitchen garden, an old-fashioned English variety which it was almost impossible to buy anywhere now but which Polly particularly cherished for its unique sweet-tart flavour. You could have a dinner party and invite Suzi to come and then she could get to meet Uncle Marcus and—’

‘A dinner party!’ Polly interrupted her daughter a little explosively. ‘Briony, this is a hotel and…’

‘And it’s half term, and you are never busy then,’ Briony reminded her. ‘And Suzi could recommend you to some of the people she knows and that way you would get more business,’ she pointed out craftily. ‘After all, when Uncle Marcus goes you’re going to have two more rooms to let…’

Polly gave a small sigh. Organising a formal dinner party at short notice was the last thing she felt like doing right now, but, knowing her determined daughter, she suspected that it might be easier to give in now and thus save the time she might otherwise have wasted in trying to reason with her.

Quite where Briony got her determination, her stubbornness from, she wasn’t really sure. Richard had had the sweetest nature imaginable and, as Briony and Marcus repeatedly pointed out to her, she had no backbone at all when it came to confrontations.

‘I’m not sure that Marcus is going to like this,’ she warned Briony. ‘You know how he hates being manipulated.’

‘Well, yes,’ Briony agreed, ‘but if I told him that it’s a special dinner for me, and that Chris is going to be there…’ She made a small face. ‘You know how fussy he’s always been about the boys I go out with, and he hasn’t really had much of a chance to meet Chris yet, since he was away on business when Chris and I first met and both of us have been away at college ever since…’

There was a good deal of truth in what her daughter was saying, Polly had to acknowledge. Whilst Marcus couldn’t exactly be accused of playing the heavy father with Briony, he certainly was very protective of her.

‘So, who exactly am I supposed to be inviting to this dinner party?’ Polly gave in.

Giving her a beaming smile, Briony responded, ticking the names off on her fingers.

‘Well, Uncle Marcus of course, and Suzi and her parents. Well, they are Chris’s godparents,’ she reminded her. ‘And Chris is staying with them whilst his own parents are away on business. That’s four. Oh, and you and me of course…’ She paused and gnawed at her bottom lip. ‘Oh, and I suppose we should really invite Suzi’s boss, otherwise he’s going to be left on his own, and—’

‘Suzi’s boss? Polly interrupted in bemusement. ‘But I thought you said she worked in the Caribbean…’

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