One Night in His Arms(4)

By: Penny Jordan

This time...

Sylvie closed her eyes as she felt the tiny shivers of apprehension icing down her spine. The last time she had seen Ran had been when he had unexpectedly turned up at the airport three years ago when she had been leaving England to finish her degree course in America. She could still remember the shock it had given her to see him there, the shock and the sharply sweet surge of helpless pleasure and longing.

She had still been so vulnerable and naive then, a part of her still hoping that maybe, just maybe, he had changed his mind...his heart... But of course he had not. He had been there simply to assure himself that she was actually leaving the country and his life.

Alex knew, of course, that she had once had a foolish adolescent crush on his friend and employee but, thankfully, that was all he did know; thankfully, he had no knowledge of that shaming and searingly painful, never to be thought about, never mind talked about incident that had taken place when she had still been at university in England.

No one knew about that. Only she and Ran. But that was all in the past now, and she was determined that this time when she and Ran met, as meet they would surely have to, she would be the one who would have the upper hand and he would be the one who would be the supplicant; she would have the power to deny and refuse him what he wanted and he would have to beg and plead with her.

Immediately Sylvie opened her eyes. What on earth had got into her? That kind of warped, vengeful thinking was, to her mind, as foolish and adolescent as her youthful infatuation with Ran had been. She was above all that kind of thing. She had to be; her job demanded it. No, she would make no distinction between Ran and all the other clients she had had to deal with. The fact that Ran had once cruelly and uncaringly turned down her pleas for his love, for his lovemaking, the fact that he had once rejected and demeaned her, would make no difference to the way she treated him. She was above all that kind of small-mindedness. Proudly she lifted her head as she continued to listen to Lloyd enthusiastically telling her the virtues of his latest ‘find’.

* * *

Ran stared grimly around the unfurnished, dusty and cobweb-festooned hallway of Haverton Hall. The smell of neglect and the much more ominous dry rot hung malodorously on the still, late afternoon air. The large room, in common with the rest of the Hall, had a desolate, down-at-heel air of weariness which reminded him uncomfortably of the elderly great-uncle who had owned the property when Ran was growing up. Visits to see him had been something which Ran had always dreaded and, ironically, he could remember how relieved he had been to discover that it was not he but an older cousin who would ultimately inherit the responsibility for the vast, empty, neglected house.

But now that cousin was dead and he, Ran, was Haverton’s owner, or at least he had been until a week or so ago, when he had finally and thankfully signed the papers which would convey legal ownership of Haverton and all the problems that went with it into the hands of Lloyd Kelmer.

His initial reaction when he had unexpectedly and unwontedly inherited the place had been to make enquiries to see if any of the British trusts could be persuaded to take it over, but, as their representatives had quickly and wryly explained, the trusts were awash with unwanted properties and deluged with despairing owners wanting them to take on even more.

Faced with the prospect of having to stand aside and watch as the house and its lands fell into an even greater state of decay, Ran hadn’t known what on earth he was going to do—his inheritance had been the house and the land; there hadn’t been any money to leave for its upkeep—and then Alex had happened to mention the existence of an eccentric American billionaire whose main vocation and purpose in life was the buying up and restoring of old properties which he then opened to the public, and Ran had lost no time in getting in touch with him.

To his relief Lloyd had flown over to England to view the house and promptly declared that he loved it.

That relief had turned to something very different, though, when he had received a fax from Lloyd advising him that his assistant, Ms Sylvie Bennett, would be flying over to Britain to act as his representative over the repair and renovation of the property. He could, of course, have simply chosen to turn his back, walk away, and leave someone else to liaise with Sylvie, but Ran wasn’t like that. If he had a job to do he preferred to see it through for himself, no matter how unwanted or potentially problematic that task might be.

Potentially problematic! A bitter half-smile curled his mouth. There was nothing potential about the problems that Sylvie was likely to cause him... Nothing potential at all.

He had heard scraps of news about her over the years, of course, mainly from Alex and Mollie. Sylvie had completed her degree course and majored summa cum laude... Sylvie was living in New York and looking for a job... Sylvie had got a job... Sylvie was working in Venice... In Rome... In Prague... Sylvie... Sylvie... Sylvie...

Alex and Mollie weren’t his only sources of information, though. Only the previous winter in London, Ran had unexpectedly bumped into Sylvie’s mother, Alex’s stepmother, predictably just outside Harvey Nichols.

Belinda had gushed enthusiastically over his recent elevation to the peerage. She had always been the most appalling snob and Ran could still remember how bitterly she had opposed Alex’s request to her after his father had died that Sylvie be allowed to stay on at Otel Place with him instead of being sent to boarding school.

‘Sylvie cannot possibly live with you, Alex,’ she had told him sharply. ‘For one thing it simply wouldn’t be proper. There is, after all, no blood relationship between you. And for another... Sylvie has been spending far too much time with the wrong sort of people.’

Ran, who had been standing outside Alex’s library whilst this conversation had been taking place, had turned round and been about to walk away when, to his disgust, he had suddenly heard his own name mentioned. Alex had demanded of his stepmother, ‘What wrong sort of people...?’

‘Well, Ran for a start... Oh, I know you count him as one of your friends, but he’s still merely an employee and—’

Alex had immediately exploded, informing his stepmother, much to Ran’s chagrin, ‘Ran is a friend and, as for anything else, he happens to be far better born than either you or I.’

‘Really?’ had come back the acid retort. ‘He might be better born, Alex, but he still doesn’t have any money. Sylvie is very much in danger of developing the sort of crush on him that could totally ruin her reputation if she’s to make the right sort of marriage.’