The Ultimate Surrender

By: Penny Jordan

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?’

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.

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