Back in the music room, Brad immediately went to the piano, lifted both children off the stool, and closed the lid.
“Ok, you two. We can g give the ducks some lunch if you go and ask Nanny for some bread. Lucien, go say bye to your mommy and tell her we’ll be back soon,”
There was a slight hesitation before Lucien went off to the kitchens with Sarah, but when they came back, he was clutching a plastic tub filled with bread crusts and was smiling.
“Mommy said I must look after Sarah,” he said. “I’m bigger than her!”
Brad grinned at him. “Yes, you are. We men must always look after the ladies.”
He expected a refusal when he tried to lift the boy into the car, and was pleasantly surprised when Lucien settled himself next to Sarah’s booster seat quite happily.
Carrie appeared to be rather nervous as she sat in the passenger seat. Brad was worried that she might be remembering the accident, although she assured him that she was fine. Nevertheless, he drove slowly and very carefully. They waved to old Angus as they passed the gatehouse and turned out of the grounds. The park was only a short distance away. He pulled the Mercedes into the parking lot in front of the duck pond, and parked next to a very old, but gleaming, Morris Minor. There were only two other cars, both police vehicles.
He turned in his seat and smiled at Sarah. “Don’t go further than the wall so I can see you. I’m just going to help Mommy, then we’ll come. Can you unfasten your belt yourself?
“I’ll help,” Lucien said eagerly, unclipping his own seat belt and leaning over Sarah to unfasten hers.
Brad released the child-lock and Lucien scrambled out of the car and went around to open the door and help Sarah out, making both Brad and Carrie smile.
They watched Lucien take Sarah by the hand and lead her towards the low wall. Brad took the wheelchair from the boot and set it up, before he helped Carrie out of the car. He looked closely at her.
“Is something wrong, darling? Are you in pain?”
She bit her lip. “No, I’m ok. I think I’m just a bit self-conscious. I must look a sight with these bandages around my head, and - and in a wheelchair. It’s embarrassing!”
He kissed her cheek. “You look beautiful, as always. And there aren’t many people here to see you, in any case. Most people on the estate know about the accident, and they were all concerned about you, so you don’t need to feel embarrassed at all.”
“But I’m in a wheelchair! I’m not an invalid! I should be walking!”
“Good God, Carrie! You had major surgery only a week ago! And here you are, out and about! It’s amazing how quickly you’re healing! You should be so proud of yourself! I’m certainly proud of you.”
She gave a little smile. “Oh, Brad! You’re always proud of me. It doesn’t matter to you whatever I look like! You always say I’m beautiful.”
“That’s because you are! Relax Carrie. Enjoy your outing with the kiddies.”
He glanced over at the two children who were already throwing bread crusts to the hungry ducks. “I’m really surprised at the way Lucien seems to have settled down. He doesn’t seem to be scared of me anymore, thank goodness!”
“His apprehension worried you a lot, didn’t it?” Carrie said softly. “His parents said he doesn’t trust easily, so you can feel honoured that he’s established a bond with you so quickly. I’m not surprised at all! You’ve done your best to make him feel comfortable around you, and perhaps he can feel that you love children.”
There were two benches a short distance away from the duck pond, and Brad pushed the wheelchair over and sat down on one of them. Only an elderly man occupied the other, and he briefly lifted his eyes from the book in his hands, smiled and nodded at them, then continued reading.
The children were chatting and laughing together as they fed the ducks, and Brad and Carrie sat watching them, enjoying the warm sunny day. They spoke together very softly, so as not to disturb the man’s reading.
Everything seemed peaceful, until suddenly, a cricket ball whizzed past Carrie’s head, and she gave a cry of alarm. It missed her by inches, and knocked the book from the man’s frail hands, hitting him in the chest. He gasped in pain, slumping sideways on the bench, his book and the ball falling to the ground.
Brad cursed and shot to his feet, his eyes darting about to see the direction from where the ball had come. He looked quickly at Carrie, and she waved him towards the man, who was groaning as he tried to sit upright again.
“I’m ok, Brad,” she whined. “But he’s hurt!”
As Brad went to help the old man, two scruffy teenage boys ran out from the trees. The shorter one, holding the cricket bat, snatched up the ball and would have run on, had Brad not grabbed him roughly by the arm.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he yelled. “You’re not allowed to play cricket in this part of the park!”
The other boy, with ginger hair and freckles, rushed forward, pushing Brad backwards. “Mind your own bloody business! It’s got nothing to do with you!”
“It has everything to do with me,” Brad rasped, tightening his grip on the other boy’s arm. “This is MY property. And you’ve hurt someone!”
”Your property? Don’t make me laugh! Parks are public places!”
Brad’s eyes narrowed, and his voice became quiet but menacing. “I can see you’re not from around here, you little upstart! I advise you not to fight with me!”
The boy raised his fists in a boxing pose, a leering grin on his face. “Oh really? You a tough guy, are you? Well, I advise you to take your hands off my friend!”
A slow, rather unpleasant smile spread across Brad’s face, and he did not relax his grip on the other boy. “Looks like you think I’m scared! Come on then, swing a punch at me, and see what happens!”
“Leave it, Red,” the short boy said quickly, trying to pull his arm out of Brad’s grasp. He seemed surprised when his efforts made no difference to the strength of the grip on him. He dropped the cricket bat and tried to wrench his arm loose, but to no avail. The grip seemed to get even tighter!
The ginger haired lout stood his ground, albeit rather cautious now. “Let him go! Or I will punch you!”
Brad gave a chortle of laughter. “Come on then. Let’s see what you’ve got!”
The lout’s voice reached crescendo pitch as he threatened! “I’m going to thump you!”
He turned his head as there was a laugh from the direction of the trees, and a rather scathing voice with a faint Irish accent, reached his ears.
“My suggestion is that you don’t try to take on that man, laddie! You obviously don’t know who you’re messing with!”
The tall, uniformed man came forward, ahead of another two men, also in uniform. “But if you think you’re smart, or brave, enough to clash with Brad Conway, don’t let me stop you! The clinic’s just round the corner and I’m sure his brother will fix up your injuries before I slap you in jail!”
The boys exchanged glances as the short one tried again to extricate his arm without success. “We haven’t done anything,” he muttered sullenly.
Brad looked at the elderly man who was now sitting upright, still gasping a little. “That ball hit this gentleman, just missed my wife too, - for which you can be grateful, as if it had touched her, you two wouldn’t still be on your feet!”
“Did you hear that?” the taller boy growled, appealing to the policeman. “He threatened us!”
“I did,” Brad agreed. He gave a half smile. “A threat I’m still considering carrying out! Wanna throw me in jail too, Paddy?”
Chief Police Officer Patrick Frazer grinned. “We only have a couple of cells in this precinct. And I don’t think I can trust you in the same one as these lads, brave as they think they are!” He turned to the boys. “My officers will take you to the station until we can contact your parents. You deliberately removed equipment from the designated sports area, after you destroyed the fencing. And now you’ve threatened the owner of this land!”
“We didn’t threaten him,” the ginger haired boy shrieked, waving his thumb at Brad. “He threatened us! That’s against the law! I know my rights!”
Patrick raised his eyebrows. “Oh, I’m sorry!" he said calmly. "So, what I saw and heard wasn’t you threatening to punch him? You always stand with your fists raised, do you? That looked like a threat to me!” He pointed his finger at him. “Don’t try to argue the law with me, young man. You won’t win!”
“Jesus Christ! Shove off, fuzz,” the lout yelled. ”You can’t threaten me either! You fucking cops are all the same, - think you’re the fucking rulers of this bloody country. Get out of my face, you fucking cunt!”
Brad reacted before anyone could stop him. He flung the shorter kid onto the bench and grabbed the ginger-haired lout by the front of his T-shirt, almost yanking him off his feet.
“How dare you use that filthy language in front of my wife and kids, you snivelling little brat?” he spat out, his eyes black with sudden fury. “I won’t allow profanity like that, ever! Do you hear me? You need a damn good thrashing! And I’m likely to be the one to give it to you!”
The boy swallowed, his eyes suddenly large, struggling to twist away. The two officers rushed forward to pull Brad back, but he held on tightly.
“Brad!” Carrie spoke up, quietly. “Let him go! Calm down now. You’re upsetting the kiddies!”
The two children were now on either side of Carrie, clinging to her hands, their eyes wide with uncertainty and alarm. Brad took a deep breath, slowly releasing his grip as the officers clutched the lout, and he smiled at Sarah.
“It’s ok, sweetie. These two naughty boys shouldn’t be here, so Uncle Paddy will make sure they get home.”
The children stared back at him, and remained silent, but Lucien moved slowly around the back of the wheelchair, and stood close to Sarah.
Patrick Frazer laughed, nodding to the two officers, who took both boys off, none too gently. “I think those two came to the wrong park to cause havoc today. Couple of teens from Soho, doing the rounds of the parks to have their fun. We had a call from one of the dads, warning us to look out for them.”
“Soho? Good enough area,” Brad said. “But they look so scruffy, and their language is appalling! I nearly lost it! They can’t be more than sixteen! Why aren’t they still in school?”
“They’re rebelling apparently!” Patrick told him. “Rich kids who don’t appreciate anything they’ve been given! The father who phoned said he found a slip of paper in his son’s room with the names of a few parks on it. This was one of them, and it was underlined with today’s date. He said we can lock them up for the night if we like, to teach them a lesson, but I doubt that’ll work. Anyway, I’ll probably have one of those children’s rights activists on my case if I do that!”
He turned to the elderly man. “You ok, sir? Do we need to take you to the clinic?”
“I was just winded for a moment! Not really hurt,” the man replied, getting to his feet. He smiled as Brad picked up the book that was lying open on the ground. “My lucky day, actually, to meet the legend himself! I’m staying for a week with my daughter on this estate. She told me it was unlikely that I would get to see the miracle man who owns this place, until church on Sunday.” He held out his hand. “Jack Sinclair’s the name. So very honoured to meet you, sir!”
Brad shook his hand, glancing at his own name in bold blue letters on the front of the book, as he placed it on the bench. “Pleased to meet you, sir. This is my wife, Carrie. And our respected Chief of Police, Paddy Frazer! Are you sure you wouldn’t like my doctor to take a look at you? That ball gave you quite a knock.”
“I’m tougher than I look,” Jack replied, shaking Patrick’s hand, and bending to kiss Carrie’s outstretched one, in an old-fashioned gesture which made her blush. “Been hit with a few cricket balls in my time on this earth! I used to play for my college team, more years ago than I’d like to admit. Probably before you were born!”
Brad smiled. “Nevertheless, perhaps you’d like to join us for lunch, so that my doctor can just check you out? I don’t like the fact that you were injured on my estate, sir!”
“Jack! And I certainly wouldn’t presume to blame you for it!” he replied.
“Well, Jack,” Brad said. “I’d feel much better if I knew for certain that the ball hasn’t caused any serious damage. Please come up to the house and join us for lunch. You too, Paddy. The children have finished feeding the ducks now, so we’ll be heading home.”
Patrick grinned. “Thanks Brad.” He winked at Jack. “I can vouch for the fact that lunch at the big house will be something fantastic. Do you need a lift?”
“I have my own car here, thanks,” Jack replied. “But I’ll have to let my daughter know. She’s gone shopping.”
“Do you have to fetch her?”
“No, she has her own car. I’ll just phone her and let her know where I am.”
As he took out his mobile phone, Carrie said graciously, “Perhaps she’d like to come up to the house to have lunch with us, too? If she’s not busy! Am I wrong in presuming that you’re Amy Brownlow’s father? She told me about a month ago that her dad would be coming from Kent for a short visit to see if he likes it here.”
Jack smiled at her. “You know Amy? Yes, I’m her dad. Since my wife passed away nearly a year ago, Amy and her husband have been nagging me to come and live with them here.” He gave a short laugh. “They believe I’m too old to live alone anymore!”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s because they love you,” Carrie said. “I’ve known Amy a long time and she’s told me that she worries that you may be lonely.”
“Yes, it does get a bit lonely at times,” he replied, scowling at the phone in his hand. “But I read a lot, and I believe I’m never too old to learn new things. Like these dratted phones! In my days we didn’t have phones that you carry around with you! A camera, clock, calculator and calendar all in this little gadget. Convenient I suppose, but I still can’t work the thing properly, even the phone!”
“They’re a nuisance sometimes,” Brad said, grinning at Carrie. “But Carrie has Amy’s number on her phone and she’s a whiz with those gadgets. Do you want her to phone her for you?”
Carrie smiled, taking her own mobile phone from her pocket. “I’ll phone her and you can talk to her. She’s been up to the house a few times so she knows where we are.”
While Carrie helped Jack with the call, Patrick went to tell his officers that he was going for lunch and would meet them afterwards in the station. He told them to put the teenagers in a cell and give them lunch so they couldn’t complain about poor treatment. He would contact their parents to fetch them later.
When he came back, Brad was sitting on the bench with Sarah on his lap, and Lucien, who was standing quietly beside them, edged closer to Brad as Patrick approached.
“He’s very timid,” Brad told Patrick, putting his arm around the boy. “Scared of people in general, not just policemen!” He grinned. “Seems to be tolerating me today, but I think it’s my daughter’s influence!”
“Doug Peterson moved in next door to my cottage about a month ago,” Patrick said. “I’ve seen this little guy in the garden with him, and he told me the story! Poor kid, but the Peterson’s are a lovely couple. When he gets used to the idea that he’s not going to be hurt anymore, he’ll learn to trust again, I’m sure.” He grinned at Sarah. “And you, Madam? Like having a little playmate?”
Sarah smiled confidently. “We feed ducks,” she said. “Daddy get cross with bad boys!”
“Yes, Sarah. They were very naughty!”
“This my daddy’s park!”
Patrick gave a short laugh. “Yes, it is. Your daddy is very important. Did you know that?”
Sarah nodded gravely. “Daddy not let Jesus take my mommy!”
Brad and the police officer exchanged amused looks, and Brad said quietly, “I’m not important enough to influence Jesus, Sarah! Do you know what important means?”
She looked up at him innocently. “You got lots of money?”
He grinned. “Well, yes, I suppose that too, but it also means that I’m like the boss in this park. Those boys did lots of bad things here, so I got cross.”
Lucien spoke up suddenly. “That boy said bad words!”
Brad’s blinked in surprise, and his arm tightened around him. “Yes he did. I don’t like that!”
“My other pretend daddy said bad words like that! Then he hit me!”
That statement shocked Brad and he frowned, “Your other pretend daddy?”
The police officer nodded as he raised his eyebrows. “Yes, I believe his last foster parents were not the best! One of the reasons this little guy is afraid of people, according to Doug. Fortunately, he was only with them a couple of weeks, before he ended up back in hospital and the doctors there noticed the bruises on him.”
Lucien looked up at Brad. “Sarah said you won’t hurt me. And Mommy said I’m not a naughty boy!”
Brad smiled down into the wide brown eyes. “You’re a good little boy, Lucien, and no one will hurt you. Your new daddy and mommy love you very much. Do you know that?”
The child swallowed, then he smiled and nodded. “They said they’re going to be my mommy and daddy forever and ever. Even if I get sick again!”
“You a gift,” Sarah said suddenly, and added with a grin, “Like me!”
Patrick looked both shocked and puzzled at the little girl’s words, and Brad smiled at him.
“Something Ian told her,” he explained softly. “She remembers what everyone says. Sometimes I wish she didn’t! When it’s stuff she doesn’t need to hear!”
He smiled at Sarah. “That’s right. You’re the precious gifts that God has blessed us with, and He expects us to love and care for you forever.”
“But God gave me to the daddy who hit me!” Lucien muttered, the smile on his face fading.
“No, darling,” Carrie said emphatically, turning to look at him. “It wasn’t God who gave you to the wrong people. The welfare people just didn’t hear Him properly. And now He’s made sure they listened, and sent you to the mommy and daddy that He chose for you.”