Ultimatum, p.6

Ultimatum, page 6

 

Ultimatum
 


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  He led her on into another part of his factory. 'These are the true racing boats,' he said with an entirely new note in his voice. 'These beauties are anything up to forty feet long, and I make them for two or three-man crews. And those over there,' he pointed, 'are the cats.'

  'Cats?' Casey asked in bewilderment.

  Reid laughed. 'Sorry. Catamarans. Boats with twin hulls.'

  'And can you race these catamarans?'

  'Most certainly. They're especially good for three-man crews.'

  Casey walked over to look at one of the sleek hulls that was in the process of being painted. 'And this is what you race?'

  Reid shook his head. 'I used to when I did off-shore racing, but now I concentrate on Formula One. And we have different boats for that. Look, I'll show you.'

  He led her out of the factory and across to another building which was securely locked and fitted with a burglar alarm which Reid had to de-activate. Taking her inside, Reid switched on rows of fluorescent tubes to light the windowless building, then took her over to a boat that stood on trestles and looked as if it was in the course of being repaired. For a moment Casey hardly realised that it was a boat. It was so completely unlike her conception of what a boat looked like, having more the appearance of a space shuttle than anything else. It crouched on the trestles, a machine built for nothing but speed, to propel the man inside it like a living projectile through the water.

  'It's much smaller than the other boats,' Casey commented, lifting up a hand to touch the sleek sides.

  'Yes, it's only about eighteen feet long.'

  'And it doesn't feel like fibre-glass.'

  'No, it's made of marine plywood.'

  'How fast does it go?'

  'It gets up to one hundred and fifty miles per hour.'

  Casey had been standing with her back to Reid but now she turned to face him. Immediately Reid stepped forward and began to talk very fast to dispel the fear in her eyes. 'Look, this is the safety-cell I was telling you about. It's made of a composition called Kevlar; that's a mixture of immensely strong materials that protects the whole of your body. It's so strong that the American President has a bullet-proof vest made out of it! And the boat is fitted with a flotation system so that even if it goes under the surface it will come up again and keep the driver out of the water, so he can't drown. And then of course we wear life-jackets and crash helmets as well. It's really very safe, Casey, believe me.'

  'So how come you got so badly hurt?' she asked disbelievingly.

  'Because last year I didn't have the cell fitted to my boat. It's a very new thing, but already it's made a big reduction in the number of injuries.' Putting his hands on her shoulders, Reid turned her round to face him. 'Believe me, darling. Nothing's going to happen to me. It's no more dangerous now than any other sport. Not if you're good at it; if you know what you're doing. And power-boat racing is what I do know, nothing better.'

  He kissed her on the nose and put his arm round her, and went on telling her how little danger there was until the troubled frown left her eyes and she caught some of his own enthusiasm.

  'Do any women race?' she asked him.

  'Of course. But not in Formula One. There are many different classes of racing, for different sizes of boats and engines. Often you get husband-and-wife teams, with the wife usually acting as navigator.' He grinned at her. 'Like to give it a try some time?'

  'OK. But I don't guarantee not to be seasick if it's very choppy.'

  'In that case I shall take you out on the lake where there aren't any waves,' Reid told her with a happy laugh. 'Seen enough? Let's go on to the house, then.'

  They drove to Reid's house, although it was such a short distance away that they could have walked in less than ten minutes. It too was situated within sight of the lake, but it was surrounded on three sides by a rich screen of old trees that hid it from the road. It was a beautiful house; built in the reign of Queen Anne and completely symmetrical with a white-painted door and fanlight over it set exactly in the centre, and with two windows on either side, the upper storey having five windows to correspond. There was a stone balustrade at the roof level, partly hiding the slated roof, and it was set amid green lawns and beds thick with spring flowers.

  'Oh, Reid!' Casey exclaimed in surprise and pleasure. 'It's—it's perfect.' She gazed at the house, unable to believe that it would be her home. She felt like a little girl who had been given a doll's house for Christmas, and was filled with an almost unbearable anticipation to open the front door to see what further wonders were inside.

  Taking her hand, Reid ran with her up to the front door, unlocked it, but instead of leading her inside, stooped to pick her up in his arms. He grinned down at her. 'This is just in case I'm not in a fit state to carry you over the threshold when we get back from our honeymoon.'

  'And why won't you be in a fit state?'

  'Because I intend to be very, very exhausted.' He whirled her round, laughing as she squealed and clung to him. 'Close your eyes,' he commanded. 'Don't open them until I tell you.'

  Casey looked at him lovingly, and kissed him, unable to resist it when she was so close, but Reid made a growling sound in his throat and she laughed and said, 'OK! OK! My eyes are closed. Look.'

  'Good. Keep them shut now.' He carried her into inside and walked through the hall to a room at the back of the house before he set her on her feet and said, 'OK, you can open them now.'

  She expected to be looking at the room, but Reid had stood her facing the french windows which gave a beautiful view out over the gardens down to the lake. The sun was shining, filling the room with light and warmth, making it feel almost a part of the garden and that wonderful walk down to the water, which glistened iridescently in the sunlight.

  'This is my favourite spot in the house, the room where I have my breakfast every morning,' Reid told her. 'Either in this room or out on the terrace in the summer. To sit here, with that view, has always been a perfect way to start the day for me. Or I thought it was until I met you and realised that it wouldn't be really perfect until you were here with me, sharing it, giving it meaning.'

  Misty tears gathered in her eyes as she turned to him. 'Oh, Reid, I'm so happy.' But then a sudden cold fear gripped her heart and she clung to him, trying to make his body part of her own. 'Promise me that you won't ever let anything happen to you. If it did… Oh God, I couldn't bear it.' Her hands dug into his shoulders. 'Promise me, Reid. You must. You must.'

  'Nothing's going to happen. I swear it.' Reid's arms closed tightly around her, letting her feel the security of his strength and closeness. 'Nothing will ever separate us, my darling,' he soothed, his lips on her temple. 'We're going to be together for the rest of our lives. We're going to live here in this house, and we're going to raise our children here, grow old together here.' He lifted his head to look at her, the serious mood suddenly leaving him. 'That's so long as you guarantee not to prick your finger on one of those knitting-machines of yours and go to sleep for a hundred years, of course. Even I might get impatient waiting that long for you to wake up.'

  Casey laughed at him, instantly diverted. 'But all you would have to do would be to find a handsome prince to kiss me to wake me up,' she pointed out.

  'Won't I do?'

  "Certainly not,' she said mockingly. 'You'd just turn back into a frog!'

  That remark, of course, resulted in her being severely punished, if you could call being kissed by the man you love being punished, and it was some little time before Reid at last let her go and said thickly, 'Come and see the rest of the house.'

  The inside of the house was as beautiful as the outside, but it was too neat, too tidy. Only the room that Reid used as a study looked at all lived in. It needed a family to fill it. Looking at Reid, Casey realised that that was exactly what she wanted to give him.

  'This will be our room,' he told her, leading her into a bedroom at the back of the house with a large lace- draped four-poster bed in it. 'It looks out over the lake at the
back and over the shrubbery at the side. And it has its own bathroom through this door.' Reid glanced back at Casey, but she was standing looking at the bed. Going over to her he put his arm round her waist. 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?'

  She gave a small, happy smile. 'I rather believe I must be.'

  'Good. I like a woman after my own heart.' He kissed her deeply, then took her hand and sat her down beside him on the bed. 'I think this is the right time and definitely the right place to give you this.' He took a small box from his pocket, opened it and took out a diamond engagement ring. Picking up her left hand, Reid slid the ring on to her finger and lightly kissed her lips, set into a round O of happy speechlessness.

  From that moment the rest of the day seemed to pass in a kind of daze. They drove on to meet Reid's sister and brother-in-law and their two children at their modern house about ten miles away, and she liked them immediately. They made her very welcome, and brought out a bottle of champagne to toast their health as soon as they saw the ring on Casey's finger. Having champagne before they even started to eat made the meal itself rather a hilarious one, although afterwards Casey could only remember looking up often and finding Reid's eyes upon her, and the way he smiled at her then and reached to hold her hand lightly under the table.

  It was, perhaps, the happiest day that Casey had known in her young life, and it showed. She glowed with a mixture of excitement and happiness that gave her a magical quality, a radiance that seemed to burn from within and make her prettiness become beauty. She laughed a lot, but her laughter often died in her throat as she looked at Reid and silently thanked all the Fates for the miracle that had made them fall in love.

  Elaine and Richard watched them, then looked at each other and smiled, remembering their own courtship. Tactfully they took their children to put them to bed and left Casey and Reid alone together for a while. They went outside in the garden and Reid held her close to keep her warm, murmuring endearments between kisses, telling her how much he loved her, making the day end even more perfectly than it had begun.

  The next day she rang her parents to tell them, and almost before she knew it the wedding was arranged as Reid had said it would be, for June, not even two months away. Life, then, became extremely hectic, without enough hours in the day to see to all the thousand and one things that needed to be arranged for a white wedding in such a short time. It was to be in Norfolk, of course, in Casey's local parish church. Reid had a talk with her parents and next thing she knew her mother had hired a large marquee that was to be set up in the garden of a local hotel, had booked caterers and what seemed like a fleet of white Rolls-Royces, not to speak of flowers, a cake, and invitations for a guest-list that seemed to stretch into hundreds.

  'But Mum,' Casey wailed over the phone. 'It's going to cost a fortune! Dad will be in debt for the rest of his life. I shall phone up the caterers and cancel if you don't shorten that guest-list,' she said forcefully. And went on arguing until her mother admitted that Reid had given them carte blanche and told them that he would pay for everything. 'Not that we'll let him,' her mother assured her. 'Your father and I will pay what we can, but Reid will pay for the rest. But don't you dare tell him you got it out of me, Casey. He made me promise not to tell you.'

  Casey replaced the receiver, fully intending to telephone Reid immediately and tell him off, but then she hesitated and slowly smiled, her eyes alight with tenderness. It had been impossible for her not to find out of course, but if Reid wanted to make their wedding day as perfect as possible, then what right had she to deny him? Besides, a great many of Reid's family and friends were invited and they would probably expect a higher standard than her parents could manage on their own, she realised practically.

  As Reid had promised, he had let Mark loose in one of his boats, with the result that her brother was now so enthusiastic that he spent every spare minute practising either at Yarmouth or at Reid's marina whenever he could get there. He talked eagerly of taking up powerboat racing as soon as he left college in the summer and had already taken part in a couple of races leading to the local off-shore championship. When Reid heard this, he made Mark almost as deliriously happy as Casey was by promising him a job with his back-up team, which travelled to all the Grand Prix races with him.

  But Mark had to wait until he finished college and Casey had to wait at home while Reid was away racing for most of the weeks leading up to their wedding. He phoned her every day from wherever he happened to be, usually with the news that he had won or been well placed in his race. But, never having seen him take part in a race, it was an unreal world for Casey, and she was much more eager to discuss problems that had arisen over the wedding, or arrangements to take over the lease of the warehouse unit and move all her knitting- machines over there.

  When he did come home it was usually only on a flying visit, and they were always so busy; meeting the friend who was to be his best man, shopping for wedding rings, ordering a new passport in her married name, going to visit some of Reid's relations who wanted to meet her before the wedding; they just never seemed to get any time to themselves. The only good thing about it, of course, was that it at least made it easier for them to resist making love until their longed-for wedding night. Sometimes it was terribly hard, when Reid came home and walked into the cottage, took her into his arms and kissed her with a mounting passion that filled them both with aching desire, setting their bodies on fire with the deep yearning that only sexual love could quench.

  At last the day of their wedding arrived, and proved to be one of those beautifully hot days that give promise of the summer to come. Reid was staying at the hotel where the reception was to be held, with Elaine and Richard and the two children, who were to be page and bridesmaid. They were married at eleven-thirty in the morning with her mother unashamedly weeping and her father very close to tears himself. Casey wore an exquisite short-sleeved lace dress with a long, trailing skirt, and turned a radiantly happy face to Reid as he lifted the veil over her head. He wore morning dress, of course, that somehow seemed all wrong with that eye-patch, almost as if her pirate had been tamed. She felt so full of love for him, so choked by emotion that she could hardly repeat her vows. Only when Reid's hand took hers could she find the strength to speak coherently.

  And then it was over and they were out in the sunshine again, posing for the photographer and driving on to the hotel to greet their guests and be photographed again and again. Casey drank toasts to the bridesmaid and the best man, to her parents and the little page. She shook hands with innumerable friends of Reid, who often turned out to be rival drivers, but close friends for all that, who had come from many different countries to be there. She introduced her relations and old school and college friends to him, and he to her. The time flew by. Mark came up, looking suddenly so adult in the morning suit he had worn as an usher, apologising, but saying, 'I must go. There's a heat of the championship at Yarmouth today.' Casey laughingly scolded him and kissed him goodbye, but then forgot him as they cut the cake and she wished—oh God, how she wished—for long life and happiness with Reid.

  The cake was eaten, more toasts were drunk, and then it was time to go upstairs to change, to throw her bouquet into the crowd of her giggling friends, their hands eagerly upstretched to catch it, and to escape to the car through a storm of confetti, rose petals and rice that got into their clothes and their hair, and even into their shoes, so that they spent most of the time during their drive to the airport trying to get rid of it.

  But even when they got on their plane taking them to California, Reid went to put something in his jacket pocket and found that an enterprising guest had stuffed it full of confetti that immediately seemed to scatter all over the plane, causing the people near them to smile in good-humoured sentimentality.

  Casey sat back in her seat, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, but much too happy really to care. She slipped her hand into Reid's, feeling the cold metal of the new ring on his finger. 'How long before we're there?'<
br />
  'Hours yet. Too many hours.' His hand tightened on hers and he looked avidly into her face, both of them longing for the time when they would be alone at last, when Reid would slowly undress her and carry her to their marriage-bed, where all the pent-up passions of the last weeks would find fulfilment as he made her completely his wife. Their eyes promised a night of love and sensuousness, of yielding and possession, of giving their bodies to cement for ever the vows that they had taken that day.

  The plane droned on through the long night and they slept a little, with Casey's head on Reid's shoulder. When they awoke it was day again and at last they were coming in to land. The wheels bounced gently on the runway and Casey relaxed, letting go her tight hold of Reid's hand.

  They disembarked straight into the airport building and stood by the carousel to wait for their luggage before going to the Customs desk. The official there looked at their passports and then beckoned over a colleague who took their passports and said, 'Will you come with me please, sir? Madam?'

  Mystified, they could only follow him into a small room where he turned and said, 'Mrs Lomax, I'm sorry, but we've received a message from England. I have to tell you that your brother, Mr Mark Everett, has been very badly hurt in an accident and it's feared that he may not live.'

  CHAPTER FOUR

  Reid was magnificent. He cajoled the airline into turning off some of their own staff so that they could have seats on the next plane back to England, and arranged for a phone call to be put through to Casey's home while they were waiting. It was one of her aunts who answered, the poor woman so overwrought at having to talk to Casey that she was almost incoherent and only made things worse. Casey sat there, trying to understand, but her own mind was so numbed by shock that she could only repeat, 'What happened? How badly is he hurt?' until Reid took the phone from her and said firmly, 'Put your husband on the line.'

  He listened for a while, asked a few questions, before saying, 'We'll be back in England…' he glanced at his watch, 'at six o'clock this evening your time. Arrange for someone to meet us, will you? Yes, to take us directly to the hospital. Goodbye.' Putting the receiver down, Reid took her hand and said quickly, 'Mark's alive. He's been taken to a hospital in Yarmouth and your parents are with him. He's had an operation and he's in intensive care. It seems that he's broken both his legs and he had some internal injuries; that's why they had to operate.'

 
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