Penny Jordan Collection(9)

By: Penny Jordan

Reject her!

Immediately Sylvie stiffened, her nails momentarily digging into Ran’s back as she recognised with shocking abruptness just what she was doing and, even worse, whom she was doing it with.

‘Let go of me...’ she demanded furiously, fiercely pushing him away, her face bright with mortification and confusion as Ran immediately stepped back from her and then, without taking his eyes off her face, casually unfastened his belt and started to push his shirt back inside his jeans.

If her face had been pink with self-consciousness before, that was nothing to the heat she could feel burning off it now, Sylvie recognised as she refused to give in to the silent visual challenge Ran was giving her and forced herself to keep her gaze locked on his as he slowly and tauntingly completed his task.

Why, oh, why should it be that when a woman disturbed a man’s clothing in the heat of passion he could make her feel so self-conscious and femininely vulnerable whilst he repaired the dishevelment she had caused, but when it had been a man who had disturbed a woman’s clothing she was still the one to feel shy and self-conscious when she re-dressed herself?

No wonder the Victorians had considered modesty to be a feminine virtue.

His shirt rearranged to his satisfaction, Ran re-fastened his belt and then, without taking his eyes off her face, greeted her ironically.

‘Welcome to Haverton Hall...’

Sylvie would have given the earth to be able to make a suitably withering response but she could think of none. The shaming fact was that, no matter how she tried to convince herself otherwise, she had done exactly what she had promised herself she would not do and allowed him to take the upper hand. And worse than that...far worse...she had... Quickly she swallowed the frighteningly familiar and painful lump of aching emptiness she could feel blocking the back of her throat. No way... She was not going down that road again...not for a king’s ransom. The arrogant, selfish, almost cruel way Ran had just behaved towards her proved everything she had ever learned about him. She was under no illusions about why he had kissed her like that... It was his way of reminding her not just of the past, but also of his superiority...of telling her that, whilst she might be the one who was in charge of the project they were going to be working on together, he still had the power to control control her and to hurt her.

Sylvie turned swiftly on her heel, not waiting for him to see the emotions she knew were clouding her eyes.

‘The lake needs dredging,’ she commented crisply as she shuttered her eyes and stared out towards the large ornamental lake several hundred yards away from the house.

It was the wrong thing to say. She could hear the mocking amusement in Ran’s voice as he drawled, ‘Well, yes, it does, but let’s hope this time you don’t end up head-first in the mud. We’ll have to hose you down out here if you do. There’s no way Mrs Elliott is going to let you into the Rectory smelling of stagnant lake water and covered in mud and weed...’

Sylvie stiffened, for the moment ignoring his reference to the ignominious fate which had overtaken her as an over-eager teenager when she had missed her footing and fallen head-first into the pond they had been cleaning out on Alex’s estate.

‘The Rectory?’ she questioned him with ominous calm.

She knew from the reports she had read before leaving New York that Ran was presently living in the eighteenth-century Rectory which was part of the estate and which, like the living which had originally gone with it, was in the gift of the owner of the Hall. To judge from the plans and photographs which Sylvie had seen, it was a very, very substantial and handsome property, surrounded by particularly attractive grounds, and she had not been in the least bit surprised to read that it had originally been built for a younger son of the family who had chosen to go into holy orders.

‘ won’t have seen it as you drove in. It’s on the other side of the estate. I’m living there at the moment and I’ve arranged with Mrs Elliott, who used to be my cousin’s housekeeper when he lived there, for a room to be prepared for you. Lloyd mentioned that you’d probably be working here for a number of months and he and I agreed that in view of Haverton’s distance from the nearest town, and the fact that Lloyd has warned me that you like to keep a very keen eye on the budgets, it makes sense for you to stay at the Rectory rather than waste time and money hunting around for alternative accommodation. Especially since it seems that there could be occasions when you might have to travel abroad to check on work you’ve set in progress at other Trust properties.’

What he said made sense, but still—she wasn’t a child any longer; what she did not need to have was Ran telling her what to do!