There was a shocked silence for a whole two minutes! Although Brad just sighed. He seemed very calm, as if he had heard it all before.
It was Carrie who exploded. ”What? And it’s taken him three and a half years to decide to claim her? Well, he can go to hell if he thinks we’re giving him our daughter. Proof or no proof! How dare he….?”
“Carrie, it’s ok.” Brad said softly, holding out his hand to her. “Sarah is going nowhere!” He pulled her down onto his lap, wrapping his arm around her waist. “I’m her legal guardian!” he whispered against her ear.
“But Brad, he said he’s her father!” Her voice was shaky.
“No, he isn’t! I am! I have the legal birth certificate to prove it. Don’t worry, darling.”
He looked at Edmund. “What else did he have to say? How much does he want?”
Edmund drew in his breath. “My God, Brad! You’re taking this so coolly. I thought you’d be seething!“.
The smirk on Brad’s face didn’t fade. He just shrugged. “As a businessman, Edmund, I thought you’d be familiar with blackmail! How much does he want?”
“He - he didn’t say. Just that he was sure we could come to some agreement.” He paused, frowning. “You don’t even seem surprised. Did you - did you know about this, Brad?”
Brad shrugged again. He looked carefully into Carrie’s frightened eyes, and squeezed her shoulders gently. “I don’t want you to worry, sweetheart. Andrew Henshaw has it all under control. It would just be interesting to know how much this idiot wants, - how much he believes Sarah’s worth!”
Max stared at him in shock. “You’re not going to pay him, are you?”
Brad raised his eyebrows. “Absolutely not! Are you crazy? Sarah isn’t a commodity! And I won’t be blackmailed - by anyone! I know enough about the law to ensure the safety of all of my family, and my friends. When are people going to realise that I’m not a push-over just because I happen to be a nice guy?” He grinned at their shocked expressions, adding, “Even though I’ve been anything but nice recently!”
Irene and Edmund were both staring at him as if they couldn’t believe their ears, obviously waiting for him to explain.
“So, you’ve already heard from this guy?” Irene asked. “If your lawyer’s involved, he’s already approached you?”
“Not me,” he answered softly. “Some guy contacted Andrew a couple of months ago, claiming to be Sarah’s father. Things were a bit hectic here, what with Carrie’s accident, and then the triplets being in the clinic, and then - then this.” He indicated the wheelchair. “I was a bit - out of it. I just left it all in Andrew’s hands, and - and I’ve only spoken to him once since I ended up in this thing. He assured me that he was in touch with the police department in New York and would sort it all out. I - I don’t think he wanted to disturb me any further. ”
“But why is this the first I’ve ever heard about it?” Carrie piped up. “Andrew knows he can talk to me too!”
“He said he would handle it!” Brad told her rather nervously. “I - I told him not to contact you as it would just upset you when you were still recovering. Don’t blame Andrew, Carrie. He was just following my orders! It’s my fault! And then I - I just put it out of my mind. I’m - sorry, love.”
“I have my company lawyer looking into it too,” Edmund said. “Maybe he thinks he can get money out of both of us! He approached me because he knows I’m her grandfather.” He frowned. “But he seemed to have a lot of information about Sarah. Knew her name, her date of birth, even that you had been named as her guardian. From what I understood, he doesn’t intend to take Sarah. He just wants - reparation.”
“Reparation for what? I’ll see him in hell before I give him a penny! I don’t owe him anything. Neither do you. Even if he did father Sarah, - which I have my doubts."
He felt Carrie shudder, and his arm tightened around her shoulders. “It’s all right, my love. You know I’ll never let anything happen to our daughter. She’s perfectly safe. I’ll get Andrew on the phone and see if there’s been any development. It was a while ago that I heard from him.”
“Don’t hide things from me, Brad!” she mumbled into his neck, holding tightly onto him.
He swallowed. “It wasn’t intentional. You weren’t well and I didn’t want you to worry! Andrew assured me that this was a scam. The police in New York were watching the guy. Then, I - I think I was just so immersed in my own misery that I couldn’t face anything else! I’m sorry.”
He kissed the top of her head, and she raised her face to look into his eyes. “Ok, I understand that. But please, Brad, don’t try to shield me from things that concern this family.”
Max had been quietly regarding his niece and his patient, but now he said, “That doesn’t explain what he’s doing in this country. Or how he knew that you and Irene would be at that show.” He looked expectantly at Edmund. “Was it just a coincidence that he was there at the same time as you?”
“He said he was here on business. He arrived on Friday and went to my offices, but they wouldn’t tell him where I was living. His name is on a list of people I never want to hear from again. I have no idea how he knew we would be at that show. He approached us during the interval. He told us that he was looking for my granddaughter. Wanted to know how to get to this estate! I - I almost punched him! Would have, if my dear wife hadn’t stopped me!”
Irene pursed her lips. “You can’t go punching everyone you don’t like. It’s against the law.”
That made Carrie give a little giggle. “I think Brad would have knocked his teeth out if he so much as said a swear word!”
“He didn’t swear at all,” Edmund said with a scowl. “Acts like a suave, polished business magnate, but I know his type of business! What he said was that he wasn’t just giving his daughter away for free. That he was sure that we could all come to some reasonable arrangement. That’s when I wanted to hit him! He - he left in a hurry!”
“So, he’s coming here?” Brad’s lips twitched and his eyes twinkled as if he was going to smile.
“I told him to stay away. I - I warned him that if he took one step onto your property, he’d be arrested for trespassing. I - I think he actually believed me!”
Brad burst out laughing, which made everyone look at him as if he’d suddenly lost his mind. For weeks he’d been miserable and depressed, and now he was laughing about something which wasn’t even funny. Even Carrie stared at him, wondering if he was having a panic attack. He was laughing so hard that tears welled up and trickled down his cheek
He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his streaming eyes. “I didn’t realise I had such power! But yes, I have men watching this estate so discreetly that no one gets onto it without them knowing exactly what they’re doing here! I made those arrangements after that drug dealer’s body was dumped here. So, you were actually right, Edmund! My tenants don’t realise how safe they really are!” He laughed again. “Pity really, as I think I’d like to meet this guy, if only to knock his blasted head off!”
“Well, unless we get you on your feet,” Carrie said, jumping at her chance, “… you won’t be knocking anyone’s head off! What’s his name anyway?”
“Randolf Everson is one of the names he uses. I believe he has several!” Edmund growled. “I want him arrested anyway! How the hell he got out of New York I don’t know!”
“False passport. Or fake I.D. Sounds like one of the villains in my books.” He wrinkled his nose. “Which I suppose I need to start thinking about writing again! I’ve lazed around feeling sorry for myself for too long. No wonder God doesn’t want to listen to me anymore.”
Irene tut-tutted. “Oh Brad. Of course He listens! Let’s face it, you haven’t really been talking to anyone lately, have you? God’s probably as worried about you as we’ve all been!”
Now it was Edmund’s turn to laugh. “I doubt that God worries, darling. He knows exactly what He’s doing! I do believe that He shakes His head in frustration sometimes though, and wonders why we don’t trust Him more!”
Brad swallowed back a lump in his throat, his face darkening. “I stopped trusting Him,” he admitted. “I - I knew my miracle would be over if I consented to another op. There were so many times I wanted to back out. But I’d already told Jim to go ahead and - and I was too proud to change my mind! Then - then it just felt as if God had abandoned me. And now I can’t get Him back!”
“He’s still here.” Max said gruffly. “I told you that. Don’t start moping again, for heaven’s sake!”
“My wife won’t let me!” he said, grinning again.
Carrie kissed his cheek. “No, I won’t.” She sighed. “So, what are we going to do about this con-man who says he’s Sarah’s father?”
“Nothing,” Brad said adamantly. “We’re going to leave it up to the lawyers! And the police! Extortion is a serious offence. But so far, he hasn’t asked for anything. I’ll phone Andrew first thing in the morning. In any case, we’d have to be sure that this proof he says he has is authentic.”
“Blood tests won’t prove anything!” Max put in. “DNA is what we use to confirm paternity. In any case, if the New York police have this idiot under surveillance, they’ll probably have established whether or not he’s Sarah’s biological father. Did they ever find her mother’s murderer?”
“Not that I know of. The case is still under investigation I believe.”
“Or they’ve given up trying,” Edmund said quietly. He saw the look on their faces and added, “The police don’t have time to deal with cases from so long ago. My daughter was just another whore. Like her mom.”
Carrie blinked, frowning. “Like her mom?”
Edmund and Irene exchanged looks, before Edmund smiled at Carrie. “Sorry my dear. I shouldn’t have said that. But the truth is that Vivian married me solely for the money and status I gave her. We were not the happily married couple she showed to the world. To be honest, I had my doubts that my son was even my child, although Barbara was mine because I had to donate blood for her when she was a baby, and…” he glanced at Max. “… they did a DNA test before doing the transfusion!”
There was a prolonged silence after he had finished speaking, as if no one knew what to say, and Irene slipped her hand into his. He gave a short, rather bitter, laugh, looking at the shocked faces.
“Sorry. It was just good to get that off my chest! Something I’ve been living with for years! My lovely wife here has always suggested that I tell people the truth. And she’s right! It is liberating!” He gripped Irene’s hand and she smiled sweetly at him.
Brad’s was staring at him, his eyes narrowed, and there was a look of uncertainty on his face. “So - so that’s why my dad didn’t like Mrs Richardson? They knew she …”
Edmund smiled. “Your parents both knew exactly what Vivian was like - and why I had married her! Let’s just say I was forced into a marriage of - convenience. And because I was too damn proud to refuse. I needed a wife in order for me to take over my dad’s business, to keep up appearances! She was - strong-willed and aggressive, everything I was not! She was also very beautiful. She taught me to be loud and uncompromising in business.” He shrugged. “It’s actually quite funny that your dad was just the opposite of that, yet he was more successful than I was. Vivian was angry that he had his own estate and everybody loved him. She didn’t like our friendship. But Joseph and I had gone back a long way.”
“Did you know my - my biological mother?” Brad asked.
“I did. I was best-man when Joseph married Sarah Whittaker. He loved her very much, but she was very frail. You don’t remember her, do you?”
Brad shook his head slowly. “I thought of Nanny as my mom. Then when I was about three, my dad brought in a lovely lady to - to develop what they said was my brilliant gift on the piano. And the rest, as they say, is just history! She became the only mom I ever knew. She - she detested your wife, and she wasn’t happy when Barbara and I got - together, but - but I think my dad was thrilled that I was…” he swallowed, and finished, “… normal.”
“That I wasn’t - homosexual!”
Edmund blinked, then laughed. “Is that what you thought? Joseph had no such thoughts I can assure you! You certainly have a few false notions about your father, young man!”
Brad glanced at Carrie, and lowered his eyes. “Barbara thought I was! Let’s face it, I’d shown no interest at all in any girls, and I was already nineteen years old! The only real friend I had was Roy. She even asked him if I was gay?”
“Really? And what did he tell her?”
“He laughed at her. Told her not to be a bloody fool! But - she - she still gave me a lecture about - about… ” He sighed. “Well, that doesn’t matter!”
Edmund shook his head in exasperation. “Really, Brad. I remember being present when Joseph had a call from the headmaster of the school to tell him that you were being kept in detention because he’d caught you and a girl kissing in the corridor. And apparently it wasn’t the first time it had happened either! Gay indeed!”
Brad’s mouth twitched, and then he laughed. “Oh yes, I’d forgotten about those days! I was always being dared to kiss girls for some reason! But that was before I left school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like girls - I rather enjoyed the kissing part. It’s just that I wasn’t interested enough in any of them to actually date one of them!” He grinned, kissing the back of Carrie’s neck. “Roy reckons it was my stupid allergies that kept the raging hormones at bay! But maybe I just hadn’t found the right girl? In any case, I think I was a bit of a prude in those days. I was even shocked when Barbara…” He stopped suddenly, and shuddered, taking a deep breath. “Well, anyway, that’s all in the past.”
“You were much too good for a woman like my daughter. I told Joseph I didn’t like it, but he seemed to think it was wonderful that our two families were going to be joined when you married her.”
“I would never have married her!” Brad said vehemently, with another shudder. “I didn’t love her, and she didn’t love me either! She didn’t love any of her many men-friends! They were just her sexual play-things!” He was shaking with anger now.
“Relax, Brad!” Carrie said softly, and he turned his head to look into her eyes. He could always relax when her eyes met his. She was the only woman who he had ever adored this way, whether or not it was an obsession.
He leant his forehead against hers, and breathed deeply, tightening his arms around her. God, he loved this woman so much.
A loud crash from outside made him jerk his head up. “What the hell…?” he began, as Max moved to the window.
“It’s just Angus,” Max told them. “And a bunch of workmen. Tom’s there too. They’re moving those trees that fell last night, and it seems they’re taking some of the other trees out too!”
“On a Sunday?” Irene gasped.
That caused Brad to smile, and relieve any tension he still felt. “The men work whenever Tom calls them! They know they’ll be well compensated if it’s a weekend. I have the best staff.” He gave a little giggle, and added, “And they think I’m great!”
“Which you are, my boy,” Edmund said. “Which you definitely are!”