They rolled up to the gates of the Old Rectory and Sam made to get out.
“I’ll get the gate,” Anna said, but Paul beat her to it. He threw open the gate and bowed them inside.
“Nice pad,” he said cheekily. “More importantly, is there cake?”
Anna laughed. “Of course there is cake. And Sam will make cappuccino. It’s his one area of culinary excellence.”
After excellent cake and large cups of cappuccino, Anna showed Danny and Paul to their room.
“Oh. This is nice. Bathroom?”
Anna opened the door to a palatial en suite. Paul applauded.
“Whoever did the house up made a grand job of it.”
“Mostly Sam with his own fair hands. I asked him about that, being a surgeon and all, and he confessed to using barrier cream and wearing cotton gloves under his work gloves. Whatever. He isn’t afraid of hard work.”
Danny smiled at his sister.
“No. And he would appear to love you immoderately. When you getting married then?”
“Dunno. We only just got engaged.”
“Don’t wait too long,” Paul counselled. “We want to be at the wedding and we may only have a couple months before we get a new posting. By the way. What sign is Sam?”
“I dunno. I don’t even know when his birthday is.”
“Anna Marshall. You have no romance in your soul!”
Anna flipped him the finger and left the room. But she stuck her head back around the door.
“Supper will be ready at seven. But come down for a drink any time.”
Then she really was gone.
She ran Sam to earth in the garden, where he was engaged in a game of football with Bonnie.
Anna rested her head against his chest.
“Sam, what’s your star sign?”
He looked a bit puzzled then said.
“Scorpio. I think. Why?”
“Oh. Okay. I think. But isn’t astrology rubbish?”
“It is. And Paul only pretends to believe in it. Just because he’s gay and pretty, he thinks it behoves him to be fey. But we need to be sure we tell him the right sign or he’ll never let us forget it. So. When is your birthday?”
“Yeah that’s Scorpio. Hey. It’s only about a month away. On a Friday.”
“Yeah. I’m going to be forty.”
“You’ll catch me up for a couple months. I’m a February baby… So. What do you want for your birthday? Apart from lots of hot sex…”
He grinned and grabbed her.
“I tell you what I’d really like. I’d like you to marry me.”
‘What. On your birthday?”
“Yeah. If it’s possible. And if you don’t want a big, fancy wedding that takes months and months to organise.”
“No. I’d hate that. Ideally just you and me and a couple witnesses. And Bonnie if they will let her in.”
“Sounds brilliant. Can we do that?”
“There’s only one way to find out. I’m off to phone the register office. Surely there will be someone there at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.”
She strode off purposefully, leaving Sam to grin at Bonnie and continue their game. They had both given up playing and were sitting at the kitchen table before Anna came back. She wore a huge grin.
“All fixed. But I had to talk fast. They’ve even agreed to stretch a point for Bon Bon as she is a PAT dog. Eleven o’clock on the morning of October twenty-nine. We have to go into the office sometime on Monday to fill in the paperwork and pay them a hundred quid for the licence and stuff.” She stopped talking suddenly and looked at Sam a bit shyly. “That is OK, isn’t it? It is what you wanted?”
He stood up from the table and wrapped her in a massive bear hug.
“Of course it’s what I wanted. My idea wasn’t it? I guess you will want Danny as your witness.”
“Yeah. And yours?”
“Ben. Paul and Colin can be bridesmaids. And Bonnie. Who will be the prettiest.” Then he picked Anna up and swung her around in the air. “I feel stupid with happiness,” he said. Then: “Why don’t we have a party to celebrate on the day after the wedding. We can pretend it’s just a birthday party for me. I’m sure we could get a room in a pub somewhere and get them to put on a bit of grub.”
Anna grinned down into his face.
“What a fine idea. Except that we’ll have a party here. The back room of a pub? I think not.”
“But Anna. Think of the work…”
“It’ll be fun.”
“You are deeply deranged, but if you would really like to organise a party here I’d love it.”
“Course I’d like. Organising and cooking. My two best things.”
“After sex, of course.”
“That goes without saying,” she giggled. “Who do you want to invite?”
“Apart from Ben and Colin? Rod Cracksman. My cousin Martha, who breeds horses in Ireland. Esmond and Sandra and Esmond’s mother. Carrie and Oscar. Mrs Jackson, who used to live next door. Christa Jenkins, my solicitor who just about saved my life when Christina was trying to skin me. And, I suppose, a few of the neighbours. The nice ones. You?”
“Apart from Danny and Paul? Sufiq and Anjali Patel, the friends who are renting my house. Ted. Jim and Patsy Cracksman and their tribe. Denzel Myers.”
“So you’ve decided to tell Patsy about us at last. I’m glad.”
She grinned and held up a finger.
“I’ve been keeping Patsy out of the loop for very good reasons. You know that she bullies me – for my own good – and I didn’t want her pushing. I wanted to make up my own mind.”
Then she giggled.
“I dunno what your mates will make of Pats. You’ve never seen her dressed to kill. She was a bit subdued when you were at Cracksman Towers. But when she’s on form, she’s something to behold. You ever watch Dog the Bounty Hunter?”
“Course I do. You can’t be an aficionado of guilty pleasure telly without watching Dog. But what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Patsy dressed to kill. Think Beth, only dialled up a couple notches.”
“She should liven the thing up a bit then!”
“She’ll do that. And she might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But she has had my back for a lot of years.”
“I know she has. And I know she cares about you. She only bullies you because you let her. Are you brave enough to show her that you’re all grown up at last?”
“Now I have you, I reckon I am.”
“Good girl. Now I’d better go phone Ben and Colin. Get them onside. We’ve got a wedding to plan you know.”
He kissed her on the end of her nose and ambled off.