The Ultimate Surrender

By: Penny Jordan

She winced as another pain caught her, sharper this time, deeper and lasting a little longer, and this time too there was no disguising what was happening from Marcus. As the pain gripped her she automatically held her breath. She felt sick and dizzy and very, very alone and afraid, and she longed more than anything else for Richard, or, failing that, her aunt, but Richard was in Aldershot painting the regiment’s goat’s portrait and her aunt was in South Africa visiting her eldest daughter.

As sweat beaded her forehead and her whole body was gripped by the necessity to deal with what was happening, Polly had no breath left to protest as Marcus suddenly swore under his breath and started to urge her towards the front door.

‘No…Where…? What…?’ she began, and then stopped as the pain surged again.

She could hear Marcus responding to her question, telling her tersely, ‘Where the hell do you think? Hospital, of course. Can you walk to the car, do you think, or…?’

Only the appalling thought of Marcus actually trying to carry her to the car got Polly there, and she was sure that Marcus must have broken every speed limit there was to get her to the hospital so fast.

By then her contractions were coming so quickly that there wasn’t time for her to do anything other than what she was told as she was whisked from his car onto a trolley and into the labour ward.

Two hours later, when Briony Honey Fraser made her way into the world, Polly opened her eyes to look up into the eyes of the man whose hand she had been gripping onto for dear life all through her labour, and realised, with a bewildering sense of disbelief, that it wasn’t Richard but Marcus. But before she could say anything exhaustion swept over her, and when she eventually woke up to find her adorable new daughter tucked into a little crib at the bottom of her bed and her equally adorable husband sitting beaming with pride and pleasure at her bedside she told herself that she must have imagined that Marcus had been there with her during her labour.

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.

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