It was obvious that the visitor was unsure about what his reception was going to be. He seemed positively scared as he held out his hand to Brad.
“I do hope you’ll forgive the intrusion,” he murmured. “I went to the clinic and was told that Mrs Conway had been transferred home already.” He swallowed as he looked at Carrie. “I - I’m Greg Wilkins. I - I was driving the SUV that hit you. I can’t tell you how sorry I am!”
Brad had risen to his feet as he shook the offered hand. Now he glanced at Carrie, noting with relief that her expression had not changed.
“My wife has no recollection of the accident,” he told the visitor quietly. “And we understand that you were not entirely to blame for your brakes failing. Has your car been repaired?”
“Not yet. I’m driving my wife’s car. I feel really bad about the accident, and felt that I had to drop into the clinic to see how Mrs Conway is.”
“I’m fine.” Carrie said softly. “There’s no need to feel bad. I - I don’t remember anything about it.”
“Nothing at all. The doctor says I may never remember, and my husband thinks it’s good if I don’t. Please don’t let it concern you.”
He bit his lip, seemingly lost for words.
Brad squeezed Carrie’s hand encouragingly, and asked the visitor, “You don’t live on the estate, do you? Are you and your children quite recovered?”
“We live in Greenwood. But my kids go to school here. We - we weren’t badly hurt. I’m afraid your wife got the brunt of the collision! We thought she …” He stopped suddenly, a worried frown on his face, then went on lamely, “…It - it was a bad accident! I tried to swerve to avoid hitting her car but…..” He passed a hand over his eyes and groaned. “I’m so sorry! Everything happened so quickly!”
“We understand,” Brad assured him. “Could I offer you some refreshment? Tea, coffee or juice?”
“Thank you, but no. I - I need to go and fetch the children from school soon. I really just came to enquire - and to apologise!”
Brad smiled. “You’ve apologised a number of times already! As you can see, my wife is alive, and we hope she will be back on her feet in no time!”
He saw the gentleman to the door and watched as he drove away, then he returned to Carrie’s side.
She gave him a half-smile. “That was - awkward for him! I’m glad you were here. You always seem to be able to put people at ease. I’m so proud of you!”
He bent and kissed her lips. “Thank you, my love. But I’m the one who needs to be proud of you! You’re the bravest, most wonderful woman in the world.”
Her eyes sparkled as she gazed at him. “I love you so much, Brad. I’m definitely the luckiest woman in the world to have you as my husband.”
He grinned. “So, its not so bad being married then? I still remember a time when you told me you could never marry anyone! I had the devil of a job convincing you that you were going to be my wife.”
She was silent for a moment, then she mused, “You still don’t see my scars, do you? And now I’ve got even more. And no hair! How can you love a freak?”
His smile faded immediately, and was replaced by a scowl. “Don’t you dare call yourself a freak! You are beautiful, inside and out! I thought you were aware that those scars are hardly visible, and even if they weren’t, you would still be the most ravishingly gorgeous woman to me!” The smile returned. “Or are you fishing for compliments?”
That made her smile too. “With a bandaged head and hardly able to move? I think not! But every time you kiss me you make me feel beautiful!” She raised her chin. “And that is fishing - for a kiss!”
He grinned, leaning over her. “Your wish is my command!”
The kiss was long, and passionate, and she wound her arms around his neck so that he was almost lifting her out of the wheelchair.
The discreet cough from the doorway broke it off.
“Do you two never stop acting like lovesick teenagers?” Max said as he came out onto the patio. “Your wife is supposed to be recuperating, you know.”
Brad laughed. “You said I had to give her whatever she wanted! I was just complying with her wishes!”
Max eyed Carrie critically. “Hmm. Is it the kiss that put a bit of colour in your cheeks? You don’t look as pale as you were. Feeling a bit better?”
“I am actually,” she replied. “And - is it nearly lunchtime? I think - I think I’m hungry!”
Brad’s jaw dropped, but his eyes were shining. “Really?” He glanced at his watch. “About twenty minutes! Or I can get you something now?”
“I’ll wait,” she said. “I - I think I need to use the bathroom first, anyway.”
“Just be warned,” Max said with a smile. “Sarah is putting together a rather - unique and colourful - dessert for us. She insists that you’ll love it, so please just try a couple of spoonsful at least.”
Carrie smiled. “I’m sure Chef is watching her. He won’t let her mix in any odd stuff that will make us sick!”
“Oh, it won’t make us sick!” Max laughed. “But Sarah likes her bright colours, and she’s a bit heavy handed with the food colouring. We may even get bright purple ice cream on our cake.”
The ice cream was not purple, or any other gaudy colour. It was, in fact, white! But Chef had given Sarah permission to sprinkle colourful biscuit balls and chocolate morsels to her hearts content, and she had certainly gone to town on that! It was, however, edible, and Sarah clapped her hands in delight when Brad tasted it and said, “Wow! This is the best dessert I’ve had in a long time!”
Carrie had eaten all of the delicious tuna salad that Brad had helped her with, and enough dessert to please her little daughter. But before the end of lunch she was drooping, and her uncle insisted that she lie down again. He put her on a couch in the music room and Brad played softly on the piano until she fell asleep.
While she slept, Brad went into his study and picked up his mobile phone. He pressed the speed dial for his estate manager.
Tom Arnold was quick to answer. “Hi Brad! What can I do for you? Is something wrong?”
“Depends what you mean by wrong!” Brad replied. “Is there anything I need to know?”
There was a moment’s uneasy silence, then Tom stammered, “I - I don’t think there - there have been any changes since - since we last spoke. Have you had any - complaints or grievances that I need to rectify?”
“No, no. Nothing like that,” Brad said quickly. “I am rather perturbed about something my daughter heard yesterday, so, I intend to draft a letter to every household on the estate explaining one or two things. Just so there can be no more rumours or mistakes concerning my family.” He paused, then added, “Or maybe it would be better if I spoke to each of the tenants personally. Either way, I’ll need a list of their names. I think I have met them all, haven’t I?”
“Not all! A few of them are long-term tenants who still think you’re a recluse!” Tom laughed, then added, “I leased one of the smaller cottages to an electrician that I recently employed. And there’s also the Evans family. They moved in last Saturday.”
“Evans? Oh, yes. I met a lady at the fete who said they’d just taken a cottage here. I need to arrange a dinner with them when Carrie’s well enough!”
“How is Carrie? Roy told me she’s at home now. That’s wonderful! We all thought….” His voice trailed off, and he gave an embarrassed cough.
Brad laughed. “I know what you thought! So did I! But God had other plans! She’s very weak, but she’s a fighter! I’m sure she’ll be up and about again in no time!”
He ended the call by inviting Tom to dinner on Wednesday evening, by which time Tom promised he would have the list of tenants ready. He wandered back into the music room. Carrie was still asleep but she seemed agitated, and he stood for a few minutes gazing down at her. Now and again she would whimper softly and he wondered if she had pain. He went to find Max, found him in the library using one of the computers.
“Max, I think Carrie might have some pain! Could you come and check? She’s asleep, but she’s restless and she keeps crying out.”
Max frowned. “I’ll come, of course. But she shouldn’t have pain, as June gave her medication at tea-time.”
As he got to his feet, they both heard Carrie scream and her voice was terrified as she yelled, “No, no, no, please don’t!”
They both rushed through to the music room, to find her still lying on the couch, but her arms were flailing and she was twisting her head from side to side as she screamed.
She was obviously in the throes of a bad dream, and Brad tried to grab hold of her arms, but with a sudden surge of strength she pushed him away, screaming, “No, don’t. Please, please - no more!”
He stumbled back against, the coffee table and let out a harsh cry of pain as he jarred his back. Immediately Carrie’s eyes flew open and she was gasping.
With a quick glance to check that Brad wasn’t hurt, Max bent over her.
“It’s okay, my angel. You’re safe. It was just a dream.”
Her eyes were wide with terror, but only for a few seconds. Max took her into his arms as her breathing became normal, but she burst into tears and clung to him. He spoke over his shoulder to Brad, “You okay? What happened there?”
“I wasn’t expecting that!” Brad replied, through gritted teeth. “Lost my balance for a second, that’s all! Is she ok?”
Max turned to look at him, saw the pain etched on his face. “She’s fine. But you’re not! Sit down, Brad. I’ll get to you in a second!”
As Brad sank into an armchair, Carrie seemed to become fully awake, though she was trembling from head to foot. She groaned in confusion. “What happened, Uncle Max? Is Brad hurt?”
The doctor put her back against the cushion. “Lie still, angel. It was just a bad dream.”
“I’m not hurt!” Brad told her, but he knew it was a lie. He met Max’s eyes as the doctor straightened up and came towards the chair, and he whispered, “Something moved in my spine as I twisted.”
Max frowned, pulling up Brad’s T-shirt. “Blast!” he swore, as he saw the slight bulge where the vertebrae had slipped. “Keep still, Brad. This’ll hurt!”
Brad had experienced worse pain, but he clamped his hand over his mouth to muffle the scream as he heard the loud click when the vertebrae slipped back into place. He arched his back involuntarily, but Max kept his hand flat until he was sure the bones were not going to move again.
The pain receded quickly, and Brad gave a gasp of relief - just as Sarah skipped into the music room ahead of Nanny.