The Ultimate Surrender

By: Penny Jordan

Briony looked at her.

‘Do you know, Ma, you almost sound jealous?’

‘Jealous of Marcus’s women-friends. Certainly not,’ Polly declared immediately.

‘No, not jealous of them,’ Briony quickly corrected them. ‘No, I meant you sounded jealous of the fact that Uncle Marcus has had someone in his life…’

‘Someone—you mean several someones,’ Polly reminded her grimly.

‘Oh, come on, you aren’t really being fair,’ Briony objected. ‘There have only been a few, and all of them have lasted for quite a long time. Have you never, ever been tempted yourself, wanted yourself to…you know…meet someone? I mean, I know how much you loved Dad,’ she added hastily. ‘Everyone knows that. But there must have been times…’ She paused and bit her lip before saying defensively, ‘Well, you were only very young when Dad died, and, well, these days it isn’t…Women can…’

‘If you’re asking me if I’ve ever missed having sex—’ Polly stopped her pithily ‘—then yes, sometimes I have, but I’ve never missed it enough to…I loved your father very much,’ she told Briony simply, not wanting to delve too deeply into the exact whys and wherefores of her decision to remain single and celibate.

But then, to her dismay, as though somehow with uncanny and certainly unwanted perception she had actually picked up on her private thoughts, Briony reminded her mischievously, ‘I know you’re no sexpot—remember the time we celebrated the first year of the hotel being in business and Uncle Marcus gave you that gold bracelet? When he went to put it on for you he started to kiss you, and you backed away from him as though he was the devil incarnate!’ She chuckled. ‘Poor Uncle Marcus. That must have been the one and only time he got that kind of reaction from a woman…’

Remember it…? Somehow or other Polly managed to force her lips into some semblance of a smile, at the same time ducking her head as she made a totally uncoordinated swipe at the interior of the cupboard she had emptied. Of course she remembered. But she hadn’t imagined that Briony would have done so. After all, she had been very much a child at the time—far too young to have noticed…registered…

‘When were you thinking of holding this dinner party?’ she asked her daughter huskily.

‘Well, it’s Wednesday today. How about Friday evening?’ Briony suggested. ‘You’re never very busy at half term, as you’ve always said this is the kind of place grown-ups come to relax, not to bring their children, and since Chris and I will be going back to college on Monday…’

‘Friday it is, then,’ Polly agreed hollowly.

‘Great. I’ll go and give Chris a ring so that he can organise things at his end. What time shall I tell him? Seven-thirty for eight?’

‘Yes, fine,’ Polly agreed.

As she watched her daughter slide her long legs off the table and hurry to the kitchen door, it wasn’t Friday evening’s proposed dinner party that was causing her to frown anxiously but the memories which Briony’s innocent comment had provoked.

She still had that gold bangle Marcus had given her. He had brought it home with him from the Middle East and the gold was heavy and of extremely fine quality, set with a sprinkling of exquisitely fine small diamonds. It was the kind of gift any woman would have been delighted to receive and to wear, but she had never done so. If she should be foolish enough right now to close her eyes and let her thoughts go back to that warm late spring evening she knew she would almost be able to smell the scent of the freshly mown grass coming in through the open French windows of the small sitting room which Marcus had insisted she retain for her and Briony’s own personal use.

‘I don’t need my own sitting room,’ she had protested when their plans for the reorganisation of the house had still been at the drafting stage.

‘Maybe you don’t, but Briony most certainly does,’ Marcus had insisted. ‘Fraser House is her home, Polly, and she needs to be able to grow up feeling that it is a proper home. It’s what Richard would have wanted,’ he had told her firmly, when she had been about to demur. And of course she had given in, and had been glad that she had done so in later years when she had recognised that he had been right to pinpoint Briony’s need to feel that at least a small piece of the house and her mother were hers exclusively.

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