It was early in the morning that Carrie turned in his arms and muttered his name, and he was awake immediately.
“I’m here, my love,” he said, kissing her on her forehead below the bandages.
She smiled, and stretched, and sighed softly. “Sorry. Did I wake you? I was having a lovely dream. What time is it?”
Brad lifted himself up on one elbow and glanced at the clock radio. “Just after five.” He smiled down at her. “You are so beautiful!”
She gave a little laugh, stretched again, rolling onto her back. “Oh Brad, that’s silly. You can hardly see me in this light. But it’s nice to know you’re still attracted to me!”
His eyes widened. “When have I ever not been? You’re absolutely gorgeous! How are you feeling this morning, my darling?”
“Stronger, I think. And you? Any pain?”
He hesitated, then he gave a short laugh. “If I told you no, you’d know I was lying. Pain’s just a way of life for me. But it’s no worse than usual. Do you need the bathroom? I’ll get the wheelchair.”
He started to get out of bed, but she pulled at his arm. “Not yet, Brad. Just lie here with me. It’s still early.”
As he turned back to her, she snuggled against him, and his lips automatically found hers. After a moment she slid her arms around him, holding him as tightly as she could, and he was surprised at the increased strength she seemed to have today.
They lay together for about twenty minutes, quietly chatting. Then Brad shaved, dressed and helped Carrie walk to the bathroom. At her insistence, he ran the bath water and sat with her, assisting while she relaxed in the bubbles. Only when she was dry and in her clean pyjamas and gown, did she allow him to sit her in the wheelchair, and by that time, she was breathing heavily, exhausted, but refusing his suggestion that she lie down on the bed again.
“No, Brad. I want to come downstairs for breakfast. Has Nanny been for Sarah yet?”
“I doubt it,” he said. “It’s only just after six. She lets her sleep as long as she can. I’ll check.”
He opened the door of the adjoining room very quietly, but Sarah was already sitting up in bed, rubbing her eyes. When she saw him, a bright smile crossed her face.
“Daddy! I waked up! ”
“I see,” he said, coming into the room. “Good morning my sweet angel.” He bent to kiss and hug her and she wriggled in his arms.
“I need to wee, Daddy!” she giggled, slipping out of bed, and he laughed as she ran into her own little bathroom.
When she emerged, he nodded towards the open door. “Go and kiss Mommy good morning!”
Her eyes widened in delight and she ran into her parent’s room, squealing, “Mommy!” He laughed again, and was about to follow when the door from the passage opened and Nanny stepped into the room.′
“Good gracious,” she said as she saw Brad. “You’re an early bird this morning, up and dressed already. Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
“Good morning, Nanny. Hmm, think I did, thanks. And you?”
“I always sleep well,” she replied. She opened the top drawer of the compactum and withdrew underwear for Sarah. “Is Carrie any better today?”
“She’s bathed, and in the wheelchair, wanting to come down for breakfast! I hope that means she’s feeling a whole lot better. Sarah’s just gone in to say good morning.”
Nanny smiled. “I thought I heard her squeal of joy!” A slight hesitation before she said quietly, “Vicki told us Sarah was playing with a boy called Lucien, and it was him who made her think Carrie isn’t her real mom. I - I hope I haven’t done the wrong thing now but I recently employed a woman part-time who told me she has a foster-child called Lucien. She and her husband are negotiating with the welfare authorities to adopt him.”
She looked rather apprehensive as she went on, “He’s apparently had a number of foster parents for a year and a half. It’s rather a sad story and the woman desperately needed a job so that they can convince the welfare that they can afford to take on this child permanently. He has a heart condition and none of his other foster parents could cope with his numerous hospital visits and everything. So, her husband took a better paying job about a month ago with Tom Arnold, and now they live on the estate.”
When Brad made no reply, she muttered, “I always make it clear to any new staff that they are not to discuss any of this family with anyone, so I hope they haven’t spoken about Sarah in front of the boy.”
“They could hardly have said very much,” Brad said with a shrug, “as no one knows the full story about how we got her. I will rectify that very soon!”
“You’re going to tell everyone she’s Barbara’s child?”
Brad sighed. “Most of them know that already it seems! Or that she isn’t Carrie’s! At any rate, I’m going to make sure that neither Sarah nor Carrie are hurt by rumours again.”
He was silent a moment, then he said, “It sounds as if these people need a bit of financial help. Is it possible for me to see this family, maybe later today?”
She frowned. “Grace is a lovely woman, very quiet, Brad. She’s only been with us a few days and only works until two o’clock. She’ll probably be frantic if she thinks she has to meet with the supreme ruler of this place.”
“Good heavens! Is that what your staff think I am, the supreme ruler?!”
Nanny laughed. “My staff all know that you are the kindest man in the world! But you haven’t met Grace yet. She’s very shy, and they’ve only lived on your estate for a few weeks. I don’t think she’s used to such - opulence! But she does know that you write and apparently she loves your books.”
“I like her already!” He grinned. "I’ll phone Tom and ask him to arrange for me to see her husband - what’s his surname?”
“Peterson. I think Grace called him Doug when we chatted, but I’m not positive. Do you - want to see the child too?”
“May as well. But won’t he be at school?”
“A nursery school, I think. He is supposed to start Grade One when the new year starts, but they don’t know whether he’ll be well enough.”
“I’ll let you know when I’ve spoken to Tom, if I can see this Peterson guy today. Can you let the woman know that I’d like to meet her too, when her husband arrives?”
They went through into the main bedroom and Nanny greeted Carrie and chatted to her for a few minutes before she took Sarah off to get her washed and ready for breakfast. Brad took Carrie down in the wheelchair. A couple of very pretty female staff were still busy setting the table in the dining room, and Brad greeted them by name, and gave them a dazzling smile.
When they’d gone, Carrie gave a little ironic smile as she looked up at him and said quietly, “You know that half the female staff here are in love with you, don’t you? Should I be jealous?”
He grinned, pulling one of the chairs back so that he could position the wheelchair at the table. “They all know I only have eyes for you, my darling. It just gives them something to talk about in the kitchens when the lord of the manor notices them!” A laugh, then, “The staff here call me the supreme ruler. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? I think they must be in awe of my temper!”
“What temper? When you get angry you just get quiet, hardly raising your voice!”
He shrugged. “Because I’ve learnt that it’s more effective to keep it under control and not try to kill people and go bananas!”
“Kill people? Oh, Brad, you’re so funny. You’d never hurt a fly!”
He looked at her. And he seemed to be choosing his words with care as he answered. “No, Carrie. I would never hurt you! But there have been times in my life when I have been so blinded by rage that I could have seriously hurt someone, if not actually killed them!”
She knew he was thinking about the time he had had his hands around Barbara’s neck. It had been Ian who had pulled him back, stopping him from throttling her! Ian, who had hated that woman more than all the others had, yet, Brad was sure, had saved her life!
She covered his hand with her own as he took his seat at the head of the table, and he smiled at her.
“Can I pour you some coffee? I think we’re still a bit early!”
“I’ll just have juice, thanks,” she replied. “Can I try to feed myself today?”
“Of course. So long as you understand that I’m here to help if you need it.”
The family were glad to see Carrie at the breakfast table, and both June and Max were especially pleased that she seemed stronger. She managed to feed herself, although she still did not eat much of the substantial breakfast that Chef always provided.
It was Jessica who noticed that Sarah, seated in her usual place between Nanny and Carrie, and normally keeping up a flow of animated chattering, was strangely silent.
“What’s up, Sarah?” she quipped. “Cat got your tongue today?”
The child did not smile, but she shook her head, opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue for Jessica to see. There were sniggers all round, and Ian said, “No, it’s still there! Just not in the mood to talk, eh Sarah?”
She had eaten her yoghurt, but the plate of scrambled egg and sausage, which was one of her favourite breakfast meals, stood untouched.
“Come, sweetie, eat your breakfast,” Nanny told her, pulling the plate forward.
Sarah shook her head again, and suddenly, and unexpectedly, burst into tears.
For a second, everyone stared at her, then Carrie reached for her, but Brad scraped his chair back and snatched her up into his arms.
“Hey, princess! What on earth is this?”
The child continued to cry but put her arms out to her mother and Brad put her on Carrie’s lap. She buried her face in the folds of Carrie’s gown.
“What is it, Sarah? What’s the matter?” Carrie asked, holding her close. But Sarah did not answer and the sobbing did not stop.
Ian pulled a face. “Goodness! She’s not happy today!”
“She’s a bit warm,” Carrie said. “Maybe we should take her temperature.”
“She was fine when I washed her,” Nanny said, patting Sarah on the back. “Hey, Sarah. What’s the problem?”
But Sarah would not be consoled. She cried louder if anyone tried to touch her, or even talk to her, and she clung to Carrie. Even when everyone had left for school and work, she was still miserable, although the sobbing had subsided somewhat. Brad kept the child on his lap while the nurses changed Carrie’s dressings in the bathroom. Sarah sat with her thumb in her mouth, leaning against him as Max took her temperature.
“Her glands are a bit swollen and her throat is inflamed,” Max told Brad. “But her temperature is only slightly raised. I doubt whether it’ll turn into anything serious.”
“Should she be in bed?”
“Good heaven’s, no! She isn’t ill. Toddlers are fickle little people. One minute, happy and sociable, the next, morose and unfriendly. She’s just having an off day.”
He ruffled Sarah’s hair. “You can lie down with Mommy on the couch later, if you’re tired. Grandpa will fetch you some medicine to make your throat better.”
She gazed solemnly at him and nodded, but didn’t attempt to speak. Even when the medical team brought Carrie back into the lounge, she said nothing, merely indicated that she wanted to sit back on her mother’s lap. She waved goodbye to June and the nurses as they left for the clinic, but she didn’t smile and remained silent. When Max gave her a teaspoonful of raspberry flavoured medicine, she dutifully swallowed it, then leaned back on Carrie.
“You’ll be right as rain in no time,” the doctor told her, and Sarah frowned, glancing out of the window.
“It not raining, Grandpa,” she said.
They all laughed and Brad muttered, “Silly expression.” He winked at Sarah. “Do you want to get your puzzles and some toys?”
The child nodded, climbing down from Carrie’s lap. “My teddy sick,” she said. “I get steth - stith - what is it, Grandpa?”
He laughed. “Steth-o-scope! Come, sweetie. We’ll get your toys and I’ll help you fix teddy up.”