The Ultimate Surrender

By: Penny Jordan

‘I am not a child,’ Polly retorted, flinching as though he had struck her, reminding him through gritted teeth, ‘I am nineteen years old.’

‘Like I said…a child,’ Marcus returned scathingly, before he instructed, ‘No, leave those and just go and get in the car.’

Much as she longed to object to his high-handedness, Polly thought better of it, which was how she found herself somehow or other installed at Fraser House, its 'For Sale’ sign firmly removed and a team of cleaners produced from out of nowhere to attack the neglect of the months it had been empty.

It was the kitchen which converted Polly to Marcus’s seemingly impossible idea. Large and surprisingly well equipped, considering the age and solitary lifestyle of the General, it possessed a deliciously warm range and a central heating system which produced gallons of scaldingly hot water—something which had been in very short supply at the flat. And then, of course, there was the garden, large enough for an army of children, and the bedrooms—in need of a fresh coat of paint, perhaps, but each of them with the most wonderfully sturdy country-style furniture and enough cupboards and dressing rooms for every single one of them to have its own en suite bathroom, which Marcus told her firmly was an absolute necessity for his executives and their wives.

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?

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