Brad had just stepped out of the shower when he heard the knock on the adjoining bedroom door and heard Sarah’s eager little voice.
“Daddy! I come in?”
He grabbed a towel, and was about to answer when he heard Carrie say quickly, “Just a minute, Sarah! Daddy’s in the bathroom.”
When he emerged in the white towelling bathrobe, and opened the door, the child bounced in excitedly, squealing, “I waked up!”
Brad laughed. “We see! Good morning.” He gave her a hug, lifting her up onto the bed. “Careful now. Mommy’s still sleepy.”
“Babies come, Mommy?” Sarah asked, planting a sloppy kiss on Carrie’s chin. “They did, sweetheart!” Carrie pulled back the comforter to let her daughter snuggle down beside her! “You have three new cousins. Two little boys and one girl.”
Sarah squealed, bouncing up and down. Then her face lost the beaming smile and she gulped. “Ooohhh! Sorry Mommy! I hurt you?”
“No, my baby!” Carrie hugged her, smiling. “You didn’t hurt me. I’m getting better now.”
“But no more bouncing, Sarah,” Brad said quietly. “Why are you up so early? And you must say good morning, remember?”
The smile returned, and the little girl muttered the greeting obediently, adding, “I not sleepy. I see babies, Daddy?”
Brad pulled a face. “I don’t know, angel-face. We’ll have to ask Uncle Mark?”
“There’s a viewing window in the clinic’s nursery,” Carrie reminded him. “She can’t go into the ward though.” To Sarah she said, “If you eat all your breakfast, we’ll ask Uncle Mark nicely if we can take you over to see them. But they can’t come home yet because they’re too small!“,
She seemed satisfied with that, and settled down next to Carrie for a cuddle. It was only a short while later that Nanny came to help her dress and take her downstairs, leaving Brad to dress both himself and Carrie. As he did so, he mentioned that he was worried that their chef was going to leave their employment.
“Nanny says she doesn’t think so, but why else would he request a special meeting? I mean, - he’s been here forever! We’re all so used to the wonderful food he makes, and he’s so good with Sarah!”
”All the staff are good with Sarah,” Carrie replied, watching him slip her soft cream moccasins onto her feet. She put out a hand to raise his chin so that he could see her smile. “You’re speculating again. Stop it!”
He gazed into her eyes, and he took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. Then he smiled. “I do that a lot, don’t I? It’s just that I hate change. The staff here all know my quirks and oddities! I don’t have much to do with them really, but I do want them to be happy here.”
“They are happy here! And also, my darling, you don’t have any oddities!”
He grinned. “Oh, I do! Lots in fact! My obsession with you is the main one.”
The grin deepened. “Didn’t you say we were going to talk about it while I made love to you? I think we forgot! Maybe we should skip breakfast and try again?”
Her eyes shone with repressed humour as she answered quickly, “You’d be breaking your own rules if you didn’t appear for breakfast! In any case, you just finished helping me dress.”
He laughed, and bent to kiss her lips. “Hmm, and it’s going to be a busy day too! So, I suppose I have to wait for my - counselling session.”
Breakfast was more rowdy than usual, with everyone thrilled about the birth of the triplets. Mark said that Brad and Carrie would be allowed to bring Sarah in to the maternity wing, as Vicki was in a private ward, but the babies would be in the incubators in the nursery and she would only be able to see them through the window.
“The rest of you can wait until visiting hour, except Luke, of course!” He grinned at him. “New Dad’s have unlimited visiting.”
“I can only go after school,” Luke said sadly. “Vicki understands. Tomorrow we finish early though.”
Brad smiled. “I arranged with Roy to fetch your mom. He’ll leave as soon as he’s dropped his kids at school so she should be here by about 11 o’clock, depending on traffic. Carrie and I will go over to the clinic straight after breakfast, so we can be back here to greet her when she arrives.”
Max looked sternly at Brad. “While you’re there, we may as well do the scan. So, don’t eat much now! It won’t take long and you can be back in time for tea.”
“Don’t forget that you have an appointment with Chef just after tea,” Nanny said, when breakfast was over and most of the family had gone.
Brad swallowed. “I haven’t forgotten. My nerves are shot about that.” He met Carrie’s eyes, and grinned, adding, “Although I’ve been told to stop this habit of always speculating!”
Nanny smiled. “It’s nothing for you to worry about, I can assure you.”
“You know what it is?”
She hesitated. “I have an idea. Relax Brad! He’s more nervous about seeing you than you are about seeing him!”
Max smiled at his wife. “Perhaps you can accompany Brad and Carrie to the clinic and then you can look after Sarah while Brad has his scan? I’m positive that he’ll want Carrie by his side, although there’s no reason for him to be scared! It’s not as if he’s never had a scan before!”
“I’m not scared!” Brad said emphatically, pulling a face at Max.
“But you do want her there, don’t you?”
“Of course! She’s my nurse!” He grinned. “I need her to hold my hand!”
“You see! You’re scared!” Max chuckled.
Carrie gave a good-humoured smile. “I’ll be with you, my love, but you know as well as I do, that I can’t hold your hand while you’re having the scan!”
“Having you close is all I need.” His eyes twinkled. “You keep me calm.”
Ian laughed, rising from the table. “You’re really hopeless, you know! How many times do you need to be told that obsessions are not good?”
“This one is!” Brad said, winking at Carrie. “In any case, it’s more of an addiction than an obsession! A good addiction!” He looked back at Ian. “Are you working today?”
“Nope! Not at the school anyway. I’ll pop in to see Vicki and the triplets a bit later. Something you want me to do for you?”
“No. Well, not yet. I have an idea for a new plot and it involves the death of a few guys from a martial arts club. You might be able to help me with some terms that I could use! No hurry. I still need to find some inspiration to finish the flipping book I’m busy with now!”
“No problem. Just give me a shout when you’re ready.”
When Ian had gone down to the stables, Brad pushed the wheelchair along the pathways to the clinic, while Sarah skipped alongside between Max and Nanny, holding tightly to their hands while singing a happy, made-up song.
The maternity wing of the clinic was quiet, and Max pushed open the door of the private ward and peeped inside to make sure that the nurses had finished, while the others gazed through the viewing window of the nursery. A smiling nurse pulled the three incubators closer to the window so that they could see the tiny infants.
For a new mother, Vicki was looking decidedly miserable, propped up in the bed watching the nurse fill out a medical file. When she saw the doctor, her face crumpled and she wailed, “Dr. Max! I’m scared! Joshua stopped breathing during the night.”
The nurse smiled at Max. “Good morning, Dr. Craig. The baby is fine! I tried to explain that preemies often have slight breathing difficulties. The night staff stimulated him for a few seconds and he didn’t need extra oxygen, but Mrs. Matthews is convinced that it’s serious! Even Dr. Conway couldn’t reassure her.”
“Now, now, Vicki. Your babies are being watched and monitored all the time,” Max consoled. “There’s no need for you to be scared. Joshua, is it? Nice name.” He took the file from the nurse, scanned it briefly, and smiled. “I’ll let your brother and Carrie come in for a few minutes after I examine you. They’re looking at your three lovely babies at the moment. Sarah too! Did Luke pop in before he left for the school?”
“No. He told me he would only see me later. How’s Carrie?”
Max handed the file back to the nurse. “Amazingly well. She wasn’t too happy that she wasn’t able to help me in theatre when I delivered your triplets, but she’s over the sulks about that. Lie down, Vicki. Let me just check the sutures!”
Brad pushed the wheelchair into the room when Max called them in, and they helped Carrie to her feet so that she could kiss her sister-in-law’s cheek.
“Vicki, they’re gorgeous. We’re going to have a big job dragging Sarah away! Congratulations! How are you feeling? Any discomfort?”
“Not much,” Vicki replied, smiling now. “But they gave me medication just after breakfast. But how are you, Carrie? Don’t try to stand too long.”
Brad kissed his sister, then eased Carrie back into the wheelchair. “I’m here, so there’s no need to worry that she’ll do that!”
Carrie laughed. “I’m really much stronger, but everyone seems to be wrapping me in cotton-wool! Your brother and my uncle think I’m too fragile to stand on my own!”
“Hmph.” Max said. “Make the most of it! You’re recovering so quickly that we’re all in shock!” His face broke into a grin as he changed the subject. “I have to go and get things ready for Brad here to have a scan. Vicki, if you feel up to it, you can get up, walk about, go into the nursery if you like - only you. The nurses won’t allow anyone else in there! Except Luke, when he’s here.”
“I’m not having a scan without Carrie being there!” Brad said quickly.
The doctor gave him an indulgent look. “I know, I know! Relax! You can stay here for the time being! I’ll come and fetch you when they’re ready for you.”
As predicted, Brad’s scan didn’t take long, and the nurses changed Carrie’s dressings before they went back to the mansion, an excited little Sarah chattering all the time.
After tea, Ian took Sarah with him back to the stables, and Brad left Carrie with Nanny and Max while he went into his study to wait for the dreaded appointment with his chef.
Peter Austin was quite a few years older than Brad, and had started off as a junior chef in the Conway home. His predecessor, Jacques Vittoni, had worked for Brad’s father for many years and when he retired, Peter had automatically become the chief Chef. He knew exactly which meals the family liked, and, more importantly, all of the food ingredients to which Brad was allergic. Brad had once based the plot of one of his books on a chef who had poisoned his victim by the use of minute quantities of the substance that he knew would eventually kill him. Not that he ever thought Peter would resort to such measures! He was too much of a gentle, compassionate man to harm another soul. As well as one of Brad’s trusted members of staff.
“Come in, Chef.” Brad said, rising and holding his hand out across his desk.
“Sit down. What can I do for you?”
Peter smiled, rather nervously, shaking his employer’s hand. “Well, first of all, you don’t have to call me Chef when I’m not in the kitchen cooking!” He sat in the chair in front of the desk. “I hope I’m not disturbing you, Brad. I know you’ve had a rough week with Carrie being so badly hurt. This could have waited - although - ”
“Do you want to leave? Have you been offered a better job?” The words came out before Brad even had a chance to think. All the worries, all the speculation which he thought he’d suppressed, came out in the two questions, and he sat back in his seat and shuddered, waiting for the bomb to drop.
For a moment, Peter stared at his employer in shock, then he grinned. “Well, no, not exactly! Although you may decide to fire me when you hear what I have to say! I see you’re still prone to jumping to conclusions before you know the circumstances?”
Brad swallowed, and breathed out slowly in relief. “Sorry Peter. I - I do tend to always contemplate the worst, don’t I?”
“So, you think me wanting to leave is the worst? I’m flattered that you consider me to be important enough for you to care!”
“You are important! And of course, I care! Where am I going to find any other chef as good as you are?”
“I don’t do it all myself, you know? You have wonderful kitchen staff!”
“Nanny makes sure of that. But you know what I mean. You’ve been here so long that I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
Peter gave a short, nervous laugh. “Thanks. I - I won’t take up too much of your time. The thing is, when your father took me on, all those years ago, he made it pretty clear that there was to be no - well, in those days he called it ‘dilly-dallying’ - with any of the female staff. Any romance between co-workers was off limits, and if I wanted to date a girl it had to be someone who worked somewhere else, and preferably didn’t even live on the estate. Maybe he thought it would affect our work or something, I’m not sure, only we all knew that….
“Good Lord! What a preposterous demand!” The shock showed in Brad’s tone.
“You - you don’t feel the same? I mean, - your dad might have had a point!”
Brad shrugged. “Maybe he did. But I’d be a hypocrite if I thought the same, wouldn’t I? Good God, man! I married my nurse! Vicki married a teacher who worked in the same place as she did! No one can predict who a person falls in love with!”
The chef stared at Brad for a moment in obvious relief. “I must say, I’m glad to hear that. I’ve never had this problem with women I’ve dated before, as they never lived on the estate, or actually worked alongside me in the kitchens here. There haven’t been very many, I admit!” He gave a short laugh. “Always said I was married to my job!”
Brad smiled. “So, you want to date one of the staff? Is that it? Who’s the lucky woman?”
“Well, the truth is that…” he swallowed. “I - I have been in a relationship with this lady for about six months. We - we’ve tried to keep it as - as cool and formal as we can, especially here. Neither of us is actually a spring chicken, and I wasn’t sure if you had the same ideals as your father! But - but quite honestly, I’m tired of sneaking around in case you get wind of it. I want to marry this woman. She’s been married before, has a kid that you’ve mentored for a couple of years, a whizz on the piano, almost as good as you!”
“You’re talking about Maureen Simms, aren’t you? Wow!′
Peter flushed as he nodded. “She and I have discussed marriage already, the - the implications of what it could mean - for both of us.”
Brad was quiet for a few seconds, but as the chef seemed to be finding it difficult to control a sudden nervous shaking, he grinned and repeated. “Wow! By implications, do you mean, what I would say about your - relationship? Did you think I’d object?”
Peter swallowed again, but frowned. “We didn’t know what you’d say. Maureen said you’d be fine with it, but - but I wasn’t sure that I’d still have a job after I told you. Or that she’d have a job either! And - and then there was the cottage you gave them! If - if you did decide to give us both the sack, we’d not only be jobless, but homeless too! I live in the staff residences here, as you know!”
He went on quickly. “I can promise you that there’d be no change in the quality of work here! And - and I can afford to pay rent for Maureen’s cottage if you let us keep it. It’s just that, we - we do intend to marry, even without your approval or consent!”
The sudden assertive declaration made Brad’s grin broader. “Approval and consent? Gosh, I think those are the words I used years and years ago when I argued with my dad about my writing career!” He laughed. “Nanny says I’m very much like my dad, but I can assure you that he and I differed on a number of things. No, Peter. I am not going to object to any personal decisions my staff make about who they associate with. It’s none of my business! And, by the way, having said that, I am delighted that you and Maureen are involved! The cottage has been in Maureen’s name since she took it over, and it will remain that way. And Dean? Does he approve of you dating his mother?”
Peter smiled softly. “Lovely kid! He’s so pleased that his mom is happy, and I’m sure he’ll be even more pleased that he doesn’t have to keep our relationship secret anymore! He knows I love them both, and hopefully he knows I’m not going to try to take his dad’s place - or be as abusive as that O’Keefe guy who manipulated his way into their lives!” He breathed a sigh of relief. “Gosh, Brad. Thanks so much for understanding. Maureen was right about you! She told me you’d never object to anyone’s happiness! Even Nanny has hinted at it, but - but your dad was pretty adamant that no one would ever break his rules.”
“No one dare break mine either. I’m a tyrant that way!” The grin belied his words. “Though, my wife assures me that I'm not!”