The little church had been filled to capacity and the wedding had gone off without a hitch. Julie had looked magnificent, a flowing white, long-sleeved dress with a bodice of silk and lace. A diamond studded tiara which had belonged to Mark’s mother, and which Carrie had worn at her wedding to Brad the year before, adorned Julie’s bronze curls. Jessica and Vicki as bridesmaids had been dressed in dark, almost navy blue, the same shade as the suits that Mark and Brad, his best man, had worn. The little flower girl, Julie’s niece, had been in white too, with a sash of dark blue around her waist.
The reception was held in the banqueting hall at the back of Conway Manor. The huge hall was now only used occasionally, usually when the weather was bad, for any functions that the tenants of the estate held. Flowers embellished the long tables which were overflowing with food, a buffet lunch fit for a king. It was a cold and blustery morning in November but the hall was centrally heated and warm, and it appeared that everyone was having a lovely time.
There had been a small incident after lunch, when one of the guests from the estate had partaken of too much alcohol, and fallen into the fountain. The icy cold water had done much to sober him up, and he had spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping it off on a couch in the library of the mansion, while his soaked clothes were put through the dryer! But it hadn’t put a damper on everyone else’s enjoyment. Even Brad, who usually had no tolerance for drunkards, merely smiled and said, “If he vomits, he can clean it up himself! My staff are not there to clean up after him! In any case, he shouldn’t have been drinking so early in the day!”
It was almost seven o’clock before Mark and Julie were whisked away to the airport in the chauffeur-driven limousine to catch their flight to Barbados for their honeymoon. Julie’s parents, who lived in Wimbledon, left just after eight, opting to return home instead of staying over in the mansion.
“Thank you so much for your hospitality, Brad,” her father said as he shook Brad’s hand. “And for everything! I would never have been able to afford a wedding like this for my daughter if you hadn’t offered to foot the bill!”
Carrie felt her husband stiffen beside her, knowing how much Brad disliked talking about his wealth.
“I’m sure that Julie and Mark will be very happy!” she said lightly. “We’ve been expecting this marriage for ages. They’ve certainly been engaged for long enough!”
Brad forced a smile to his handsome face. “I’m pleased everything went off well. Please feel free to visit us again, whenever you like.”
When everyone had gone home it was already half past nine, and the whole family helped the staff clean up the hall. It was all finished within half an hour. Carrie could see that Brad was tired. He was an expert at hiding his back pain these days, but he had been on his feet for most of the day. He had even joined the youngsters in a game of ‘Twister’, much to his doctor’s chagrin.
“Why don’t you go up to bed darling?” she asked quietly as he sank wearily into an armchair in the lounge of the mansion. “You look absolutely exhausted.”
He smiled, pulling her down onto his lap. “I am tired,” he said. “But Nanny has decided that we all need some cocoa! Have the twins gone up to bed?”
“Not yet. Vicki and Luke are playing some sort of game with them in the library. I checked on Sarah, and she’s fast asleep. She was so good during the ceremony, and made a big hit with the guests.” She smiled, stroking his hair back from his forehead and revealing the scar left from a freak accident several months ago. “A few people said she looks just like you!”
He laughed. “Does she now? How is that possible?”
“I didn’t correct them! Let them think whatever they want! Someone even said she has my eyes! Even Christopher just smiled, and didn’t tell the lady that she’s adopted!”
“She isn’t really adopted. No one needs to know the circumstances. Sarah is a Conway! You’re her mom and I’m her dad!” He grinned. “I suppose the next wedding we’ll have will be Luke and Vicki. If we keep nudging Luke! His pride is stopping him, of course. Money can be a curse sometimes!”
“I can understand him,” Carrie admitted. “When I first came here, I was also nervous about the luxury I saw. It’s quite daunting for Luke that he can’t even afford to give Vicki a ring, yet her brother bought him a brand-new car for his birthday!”
“I had to!” Brad exclaimed. “That old jalopy he had kept breaking down! I was worried about Vicki’s safety when they went for a drive!”
“Nonsense!” Carrie retorted with a bright smile. “You knew he couldn’t refuse to accept it because it was a gift! The same as when you gave me my Golf!” She kissed him on the scar. “It’s hard for Luke to know that the woman he loves has more money than he does. He must wonder if people see him as just a gold digger!”
Brad frowned, but the glint in his eyes showed amusement. He looked his wife straight in the eyes. “Is that what you thought that people were seeing you as? Is that why you went to Glasgow to run away from me?”
She sighed good-naturedly. “Oh Brad! You know very well why I went to Glasgow. Let’s not go through that again! It had nothing to do with money, or what other people thought!”
“But I like to hear it! I like to hear how you loved me so much then!”
“I love you now,” she said simply. “It doesn’t matter anymore why I left. I’m your wife now. I’m here, and I love you with all my heart, and always will!”
He, was still kissing her when Ellen Craig entered the lounge, pushing the tea trolley with the mugs of steaming cocoa. Her husband, Carrie’s Uncle Max, who was also the family’s physician, followed closely on her heels. Only Max ever called the beloved housekeeper Ellen. To all the Conway’s she was Nanny. She had worked here for over thirty years and was treated as one of the family.
“Don’t you two ever get tired of kissing?” she asked now, smiling at them.
Carrie raised her head, the dimples in her cheeks deepening. “Never! I have to stop my husband from straying to all those other females who want him.”
“No chance of that happening,” Ian said as he came into the lounge, grinning at his eldest brother and sister-in-law. “He’s only ever had eyes for you!”
Brad chuckled. “Nice to know that the ladies want me! But Carrie knows she’s the love of my life. No one could ever measure up to her, as far as I’m concerned!”
“I’m certainly glad to hear that!” Max said gruffly. “You’d have me to deal with if you ever hurt her.”
Brad laughed out loud. “And if she hurts me, she’ll have my Nanny to deal with! Nanny has always spoilt me rotten!”
“Not rotten, my boy. You were a perfect child!” Nanny said, smiling fondly at him.
“And now I’m a perfect adult!” Brad said, laughing again. He met Ian’s eyes. “Can I help it if Nanny thinks I’m the best thing since sliced bread?”
“Oh, I didn’t say that,” Nanny retorted. “Sometimes you are a perfect pain! But we love you anyway!”
They were laughing when Vicki, Luke and the eleven-year-old twins breezed in.
“I won!” Jamie shrieked. “I beat Mr. Matthews at Maths!”
“You cheated!” Kyle accused.
Luke laughed, but said, “No Kyle. Your brother beat me fair and square.”
“Did he?” Vicki asked, giggling. “Really? Or did you let him win?”
“He beat me fair and square!” Luke repeated. “I messed up. Give credit where it’s due.”
“I won!” Jamie was beaming. “I beat my teacher!”
“Well done!” Brad said, holding up his hand for a high-five. “I’m very proud of you. Come and have some cocoa. It’s late. Time you boys went to bed. It’s been a long day.”
“But I’m sure everyone had a lovely time,” Nanny said. “And Mark and Julie are going to be very happy together.”
“Where are Chris and Jessie?” Carrie asked. “I thought we’d finished clearing up!”
“We’re here!” Christopher called from just outside the lounge. He was grinning as they came in. “Jess was just helping me cover the amplifiers and put the microphones away. We were way-laid while I was showing her a disc I made.”
Christopher was seventeen now, studying sound engineering at college and music was his forte. He knew he would never play the piano as well as Brad, (not many people could!) or the violin and flute as well as Vicki, or even the guitar as well as Ian, but he was excellent with sound arrangement. He could even tune any of the instruments when needed.
“We were listening to it,” Fourteen-year-old Jessica said. “It’s quite good!”
“Quite?” Chris gave his sister a friendly push. “It was brilliant, as usual!”
While they were drinking their cocoa, they all spoke about the wedding. Brad had stood beside his brother at the front of the little church, whispering jokes when Julie and her father had been fashionably late. He had made good natured jokes during his speech at the reception too. And no one, not even his wife, had known how tired he actually felt, how much pain he was really in.
Brad knew that he was referred to as ‘the miracle man’ by many of the tenants on his estate, those who had watched him grow and knew the tragic circumstances that had led to his inheritance of the land they lived on. They knew all about his severe spinal injury and his struggle to walk again after the car accident that had killed his parents, and left him with seven siblings to raise. They knew about his allergy to painkillers and antibiotics that had been inherited from his biological mother, and a few of them even knew of his constant pain.
It had only been in recent months that Brad himself had realised how miraculous his life really was. There had been the shooting in a London theatre after he had spent two hours in concert for charity, playing classical and modern piano pieces! He had thought he was dying then, as one of the bullets had narrowly missed his heart, shattered ribs and left him unable to breathe. Then, just a month after that, he cheated death once again. He himself had caused the freak accident when he had sailed over the head of his horse, which he should never have been riding, and landed face down in a ditch of muddy water, almost drowning and hitting his head on a large rock. He had been unconscious for days afterwards. His brother Mark, a brilliant young medical doctor, and Max, his own physician, had both said he was extremely lucky. He had escaped with only slight swelling on the brain and also with no further damage to his ribs or, more importantly, his already fragile spine. He himself had preferred to call his ‘luck’ a blessing, another miracle from God. Although for a time he had been terrified that the blow on his head had caused brain damage. That would have been disastrous for Brad, whose passion for writing successful crime and detective novels necessitated being able to think clearly and use his imagination.
He had considered himself the most fortunate man alive when Max Craig had brought his niece, a state registered nurse, to care for him after his second spinal operation. Carrie had been a shy, introverted woman then, and had fought hard against his relentless love for her, and hers for him. A nurse did not get involved with her patients, and it was this that had made her take a position in Glasgow when it had arisen. So, she had left, loving him, longing for him, and yet fears from a jaded past of her own keeping her from him!
In the months she had been away Brad had had several ‘accidents’ but it was only when Jessica had been raped, by a man wanting revenge on Brad himself, that he had begged Carrie to come back. She was a qualified psychologist and had experienced the violence of rape herself when she was the same age as Jessica. His love for her had demolished all her fears and they had been married a year now. They were still as much in love as they had ever been. And, because Carrie was unable to conceive children of her own, Sarah, the baby they had been blessed with under strange circumstances, had added to the miracle.
“Do you need your pills, my love?” Carrie asked, watching Brad pull his shirt over his head when they had gone up to their room. He had only bothered to unfasten the two top buttons, and now flung the shirt onto a chair with the rest of his clothes.
“I’m too tired to think about pills,” he answered, climbing between the sheets. “You must be exhausted too! Is Sarah going to sleep all night, do you think?”
“She usually does!”
She was sitting at the dressing table, brushing her honey-gold hair. She turned her head and looked across at her husband. He already had his eyes closed, but she knew that he wouldn’t sleep until she was beside him. But first she went through the open door of the nursery adjoining their room and looked down at the dark-haired infant who was still sleeping peacefully in her cot. Sarah’s hands were flung out above her head as she slept and Carrie smiled, pulling the blanket a little closer over the eight-month old baby. The room was warm but she knew that Sarah would probably kick the blanket off during the night.
She slipped into bed beside Brad a few seconds later and he turned on his side towards her, drawing her close to him.
“Goodnight, my love,” he muttered, and kissed her as she snuggled in to his arms.
This was how she nearly always slept, wrapped in his arms, feeling loved and protected. But for the past few months he had occasionally been plagued with horrific nightmares which left him sweating, gasping for breath. And very often screaming in fear and in pain!