On the short journey home, Lucien chatted animatedly to Sarah, and Brad and Carrie were both pleased at the change in him. When Brad released the child-lock, the little boy climbed out of the car, and turned to help Sarah out.
“Thank you for taking me,” he muttered, and Brad smiled.
“It was a pleasure, Lucien. I hope you enjoyed feeding the ducks. Perhaps we can go again sometime, or maybe just a drive somewhere!”
He was rewarded by a beaming smile, and as he watched the children go into the mansion, Carrie smiled at him.
“You are so good with little ones. He’s going to be fine! And Sarah seems to love having a playmate!”
“He’s a very polite little boy,” Brad answered. “And you know what a stickler I am for good manners! He won’t be a bad influence.”
Amy Brownlow arrived at the mansion before her father and the others had gone inside. She was in her fifties, slim, with greying hair tied back from her face, and a ready smile for everyone she met. Her husband was the manager of the hardware store in the village, and Amy had, until recently, been a nursing sister in the clinic, which was where Carrie had met her. Amy had been shocked to hear that her father had been injured, but Carrie had assured her that he seemed fine and would be checked out at the mansion.
Inside, Nanny, Max and Neil met them all in the entrance hall, having already been informed by little Sarah that “Daddy get cross with boys in park!”
Brad explained briefly about the incident, introducing Jack.
“Just as well that ball missed Carrie,” he said with a grin. “I came very close to being hauled off to jail on an assault charge.”
Patrick laughed. “It wouldn’t have gone as far as that! My officers know how quickly your temper flares up, so they were watching you closely!”
Amy helped Max examine Jack’s chest where the cricket ball had hit him, but, apart from a rather ugly bruise, there was no further damage. He appeared to be in extremely high spirits at the opportunity of actually having lunch with his favourite author.
Lunch was once again served outside on the patio, and June came from the clinic to join them. Brad introduced his guests, and repeated the story of the incident in the park.
“What will happen to the teenagers?” June asked Patrick.
He shrugged. “Depends what their parents say.” He smiled at Jack. “I presume you don’t want to lay a charge?”
“Good heaven’s, no! I told you I was tough! And it worked out to my advantage too.”
Amy smiled at him. “If you decide to move in with us, I’m sure Brad will let you have use of his library. He has more books than the local one in the village.”
Brad grinned. “Not quite! But you’d be very welcome to take a look. This is a good estate, if I say so myself! Everything you’d need, and my tenants seem happy enough!”
“More than happy,” Amy put in. “I really think you’d love it here, dad. We have concerts and plays in the community hall regularly.” She grinned at Brad, adding, “My dad would give anything to hear you play sometime! He also plays the piano!”
Jack flushed, lowering his eyes. “These fingers haven’t touched a piano for a long time. Not as supple as they used to be. My flat is too small for my piano to come out of storage. But yes, I’d love to hear you play. I hear you’re quite the maestro!”
Brad gave a short laugh. “So they say! Of course, I’ll play for you - after lunch. And perhaps you’d like to play something too?” He looked at Amy. “Is your cottage big enough to accommodate your dad’s piano?”
She nodded. “We’d make a plan. It’s a small Otto Bach so if we moved the couch a fraction and it would fit. His flat in Kent is a furnished bachelor flat, very tiny. My dad would be much more comfortable here.”
Jack compressed his lips. “I really don’t want to be a burden!”
“Oh, Dad! You’re never a burden! Vernon and I would love to have you with us, you know that!”
Neil Langley raised his head, smiling at Jack. “June and I had her mother stay with us for a couple of years before she passed on. She also thought she was a burden, but I can tell you that having her there actually saved us so much stress and worry about her health and safety. It was such a pleasure for us - and our daughter - to be able to have her there, and I’m sure your children feel the same way about you.”
Jack gave a shy smile, and said quietly, “I’ve almost made up my mind. Being able to have my piano back is a huge bonus, too. I - I’m retired now of course, but I was a professional piano technician in my day. I used to have a little shop in the main street, back when people loved classical music, not the noise that comes out of the radio sometimes nowadays!”
“A man after my own heart,” Brad laughed. “I’ve always loved the classics! I should introduce you to Arthur Stark! He still has a shop in the village here, and would enjoy the company of another great music lover.”
During the meal, the conversation flowed, and afterwards Patrick was the first to take his leave of them, excusing himself to get back to the police station. He promised to let them know what the teenage boys’ parents said.
In the music room, Brad played several pieces for his guests and urged Jack to play the piano too. The elderly man was greatly impressed with Brad’s grand Bosendorfer, and he handled the instrument with such care and precision that left them spellbound.
“Gosh,” Brad said. “You can come and play my piano at any time! You’re fantastic!”
Jack smiled. “Thank you. So are you! This is really my lucky day! I not only get to meet the miracle man who writes my favourite books, but I have a great lunch with him and get to hear his mastery of the piano! And then I have the chance to actually play this lovely instrument too! Definitely worth a bit of a bruise!”
“More than that!” Max muttered. “Give it a few more hours and it’ll be black and blue! I sent to the clinic for some analgesics for you. Just in case. They’re on the table in the hall, so don’t forget them when you leave.”
“Which is what we need to be doing now, dad,” Amy said, looking closely at Carrie. “Our hostess looks exhausted!”
Carrie gave a weary smile as Brad came towards her quickly. “I’m fine, love. Just a bit tired of sitting, I think.”
“You need to lie down,” he said, concerned at her pallor. “Why didn’t you tell me? I’m sure our guests wouldn’t have minded.”
“Not at all,” Amy assured her. “It’s amazing that you’ve been able to sit for so long. But my dad and I have to go now. It’s been wonderful to see you, and lunch was superb as usual, thank you so much.”
“It’s been a pleasure to see you again, Amy. And you, Jack,” Carrie said, as Max and Brad helped her to the couch. “I do hope you’ll pop by again soon. I’m so sorry I wasn’t much company today, but I’m sure you understand.”
“We do indeed,” Jack said, kissing her hand and bowing as he had earlier that day. “And you are a wonderful hostess. Thank you so much.”
He kissed Nanny’s hand too. “Please give my compliments to the chef for the delicious lunch,” he said.
Sarah, who had been watching closely, held up her hand, smiling at him. He grinned at her, bowing low and kissing the little hand.
“Bye-bye sweet lady. You and your little friend are such good children. It’s been a pleasure to be in your company.”
Sarah giggled, and Lucien gave a little smile and held out his hand. Jack shook the hand vigorously.
“What a polite young man you are! Goodbye my boy. I hope to see you again soon.”
“He kiss my hand, Mommy!” Sarah told Carrie, giggling again.
Amy laughed. “My dad thinks all ladies need to be treated with old-fashioned respect!” she whispered, watching Jack follow Brad and Max into the hall. “Very quaint, but most women love his outdated ways! I’m very proud of him!” She bent to kiss Carrie’s cheek. “Bye-bye my dear. It was such a pleasure to see you sitting up already. Take good care of yourself.”
When they had gone, Carrie dropped off to sleep very quickly, and Sarah and Lucien sat on the floor next to the couch, quietly colouring and drawing. Brad tried once again to do some writing, but after staring at the laptop for more than ten minutes without writing a single word, he gave up, closed it, and wandered back into the music room.
“Ssh, Daddy!” Sarah said, putting her finger on her lips. “Mommy sleep!”
He smiled. “I know, sweetie. And you two are being so good.”
Sarah gathered a few of the sheets of drawing paper that were scattered across the floor, and showed Brad the childish drawings. “Lucien make letters, Daddy. Look!”
Brad dutifully looked at the children’s artwork, making pleasing comments. Glancing at Carrie, he noted that she was still extremely pale, and hoped that she wasn’t over-exerting herself. She had not complained about pain, and had been eager to get out for a drive, but Brad now wondered if maybe he should have insisted that she lie down earlier.
He ran his fingers along the exposed skin of her forehead below the bandages, but there didn’t seem to be a higher than normal temperature. Her eyes flickered open for a second, and she moaned a little, but she didn’t wake fully.
He sat down in an armchair next to the couch, watching the children draw, until Nanny came into the music room.
“Grace will be leaving soon,” she told Brad, and smiled at Lucien. “I put some of the biscuits into a little bag for you to take home with you, Lucien. I think you need to go and wash your hands and face now so that you’re ready when Mommy comes through. Have you had a nice time here today?”
The little boy gave a shy smile as he got up from the floor, and he nodded, but it was to Brad that he spoke. “Can I come here again?” Then he added, “Please.”
“You may come here anytime,” Brad said. “You’re a lovely young man and I’m happy that you and Sarah can play together so nicely.” He grinned. “And that you look after her.”
Lucien beamed. “I’m five,” he said. “Sarah’s only little.”
“I a big girl,” Sarah objected, pouting. “I ride my pony!”
Brad laughed. “Yes, sweetie. But Lucien’s a big boy too, and boys look after girls, like I look after your mommy!”
“Let Lucien help you take your colouring books and crayons back to the playroom,” Nanny said. “Then you can both go and wash your hands and face, and then come to the kitchen and I’ll give you a treat for being so quiet while Mommy sleeps.”
She watched them gather up the play things and run off, then she looked at Carrie and frowned. “Is she ok? Max said he thought she was looking washed-out when you got back from the park, and she didn’t eat much lunch.”
“She’s very pale. I hope she isn’t just trying to be brave!” He swallowed and an anxious look appeared on his face. “Maybe she needs to rest more. It’s only been a week, and - and I could have lost her! God, Nanny! If I ever lose Carrie, I don’t know what I’ll do!”
“You’re not going to lose her, Brad! Don’t start fretting again! At the moment we have three wonderful doctors in this house, and they’re watching her carefully. She’s probably just needing rest.”
“I hope it’s only that!” Brad muttered. “I hope she’ll tell Max, - or June, - if she has any pain.” He sighed softly. “She said she needs to feel ‘normal’ again. I don’t want her trying to hide it' if she has pain.”
Nanny raised her eyebrows. “Like you do?”
He gave a little smile. “That’s different. My pain is normal!”
“But you don’t always have to try to hide it. Max can give you an injection that will at least ease it a bit.”
“I know. And I’m grateful. It’s just that ..…..” His voice trailed off, and Nanny smiled.
“It’s just that you think that admitting you have pain is a sign of weakness. Don’t you think that’s a bit silly? We all know how you suffer, and yet we don’t dispute how strong you are! Max told me that Carrie was really cross with you for hiding your pain from her!”
He bit his lip, and sighed again. “She was furious! I’m probably the cause of her being unwell now. We were warned not to give her more stress and tension.”
“Oh Brad! Now you’re blaming yourself again! Really!”
“Well, it could be my fault!”
“It could also be any number of reasons pertaining to her accident,” Nanny said, turning to look at Max as he entered the music room. “Max, do you think Carrie’s in pain? Brad seems to think so, - and that it’s his fault!”
Max glanced at his niece. “She’s a bit pale! I’m hoping that if she has pain, she’ll tell either June or myself.” He gave Brad a pertinent scowl. “She’s a nurse, so she must recognise how important it is to keep the doctor informed of unusual symptoms!”
Brad flushed, but didn’t reply to that.
Nanny smiled shrewdly at her husband, but changed the subject asking, “Did you get all your emails finished?”
He nodded. “The important ones. After tea I’m popping in to the clinic as there’s a patient there who's apparently ready to be discharged. He’s my patient and Mark wants me to give the go-ahead. I’ll be back long before dinner.”
“We have Tom Arnold joining us this evening,” she replied, adding, “Chef is making beef Wellington, your favourite!” She looked at Brad. “By the way, Chef wants to speak to you. He asked me to work out with you when would be a good time as he knows how stressed you are with Carrie’s accident.”
“Did he say with what it’s in connection?” Brad asked. “I mean - he doesn’t want to leave us, does he?”
She hesitated, before saying, “He said there’s no urgency at the moment, but he will need to chat with you within the next few weeks.”
“Oh, God! He does want to leave, doesn’t he? Where the hell am I going to find another chef as good as…?”
“Stop speculating, Brad!” she interrupted. “I don't think he has any intention of leaving! Wait until you’ve spoken to him before jumping to conclusions!”
Brad scowled. “Maybe he needs an increase in his salary! How am I supposed to know what a chef should earn? He’s worked here forever, and he knows how I feel about talking about money.”
“Brad!” Nanny’s voice was sharper now. “He’s perfectly happy with the salary he earns, I can assure you. None of the staff have any reason to complain. I knew you’d immediately start thinking the worst! Stop it, right now!”
There was a long pause. Brad’s scowl remained, and Max laughed.
“Ellen, you speak to Brad as if you’re his mother! It’s a wonder he allows it!”
That made Brad laugh too. “Nanny has always corrected me when I’m being stupid! I respect her too much to not allow it!” He sobered and looked at her seriously. “I suppose chef’s too busy for me to see him after tea? And I’ll need to talk to Tom after dinner. Maybe tomorrow if that suits him?”
“I’m sure we can make a plan,” Nanny replied with a smile. “The kiddies are waiting in the kitchen for their treat. I suppose you’d also like a chocolate bar?”
Brad grinned. “You know me too well, Nanny. Dark chocolate please, if we have any.”
“We always have some. You know that!” She was still smiling as she made her way back to the kitchens.
Max looked down at Carrie as she moaned a little. Her eyes flickered before she opened them completely and she grimaced as she tried to sit up.
“Pain my angel?” Max asked, helping her.
“Just a headache,” she muttered, smiling at Brad’s anxious face. “Have I been asleep long? Where are the children?”
“In the kitchen with Nanny,” Brad told her, leaning forward to give her a brief kiss. “You’ve only slept about an hour. The others are not home yet. Are you sure you’re ok?”
Carrie stretched, and nodded. “I’m a bit stiff. It’ll pass. I think I need to walk. If only to the toilet!”
Max raised his eyebrows. “Hmm. But not by yourself! And when you’re stronger, I suggest you use a walking frame.”
“Oh no, Uncle Max!” she stated firmly. “The wheelchair is embarrassing enough. I’m not an invalid!”
“No one said you were,” he replied. “But you better get used to the wheelchair. We are not going to let you cause more injury to your head by falling, and you’re not strong enough to try walking by yourself!”
Brad kissed her again. “I’ll help you walk. Just a few steps at a time. I won’t let you fall.” He slipped her soft flat shoes onto her feet, and gently lifted her, keeping his left arm around her waist.
The nearest bathroom was still quite a distance away and Carrie walked very slowly, holding onto Brad, stopping every few steps to take a breath. Max watched his niece carefully. Although she had been extremely pale since before lunch, she was trying very hard to appear as normal as she could. But it was obvious that she was grateful to be back in the wheelchair when they returned to the music room, and she sat breathing hard for a few minutes.
Nanny came through with Brad’s chocolate bar, and a few extra. The children followed with Grace, and Sarah bounced towards Carrie.
“Mommy! You waked up! You want chocolate, Mommy?”
Carrie leaned forward to hug her, and took the chocolate bar. “Mmm, thank you. Have you and Lucien had fun today?”
She smiled at Grace. “Are you on your way? I’m sure Lucien has settled well. He even chats to us!”
Grace was ecstatic! “I’m amazed. He’s a changed child!” She put her hand on the boy’s head. “Say thank you, darling!”
She was surprised, but pleased, when Lucien went to give Brad a hug, then Carrie, muttering thanks, then also put his arms around Nanny, saying, “Thank you for the chocolate, and the biscuits!” He stood for a moment in front of Max, then he shrugged and gave him a hug too.
His mother beamed and whispered, “I don’t know what it is you did, but the change in him is amazing! He even asked me if daddy is coming to take us home, and he’s never called Doug daddy before.”
“We didn’t do anything,” Brad said quietly, watching Lucien helping Sarah to open her chocolate. “I think he just feels comfortable with Sarah. She’s a confident child and her self-assurance is possibly rubbing off on him.” He smiled. “And I believe he feels grown-up around her. She allows him to help her all the time!”
Carrie nodded. “He told me the children in the nursery school think he’s a baby. Has anyone there ever hurt him?”
“I don’t think so. He screams blue murder when I leave him, but he’s only been there a few times. I’m sure he would settle down eventually. But it’s absolutely marvelous to see him react to adults like he does now. Doug told me this morning that God had a hand in our boy meeting up with little Sarah! He’s going to be so shocked when he sees him now!”
“He seems to like coming here.” Brad said. “And Sarah loves having a playmate. You’re welcome to bring him whenever you work, more often if you like. I presume you won’t mind if we take him with us whenever we go out?” He grinned. “It won’t be too often as I do need to start writing again soon! But they have a playroom full of toys, and plenty of staff to entertain them. I’m sure all Lucien needs is his confidence with people building up again. Sounds like he hasn’t had much luck in that direction until you and Doug fostered him.”
Grace glanced at the children who were standing by the window chatting animatedly. “He couldn’t wait to tell me that you got cross with boys in the park because they said bad words! To him, swearing means he’s going to be hurt somehow. I think he was very impressed the way you handled it.”
Brad flushed, but said, “I rather let my temper get the better of me when I hear swearing. One of my many quirks! No one uses bad language like that in my hearing! I hate it!” He smiled. "I think he understands that you and Doug love him very much.”
“We do. And Doug will never let anyone hurt him again!”
At that moment, Lucien ran over to her. “Mommy! Daddy’s here!”
She smiled down at him. “All right, darling. Say goodbye to Sarah.”
“We’ll come back tomorrow?”
“No, not tomorrow. Friday.” She saw the little look of disappointment as he gave Sarah a hug, and she smiled at Carrie and Brad. “Looks like I’ll have to see if Mrs. Craig will take me on full time! Thank you so much! I’ve never seen him so happy!”