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.
‘Mmm...you 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!
‘But you live at the Rectory,’ Sylvie commented quickly.
Immediately Ran’s eyebrows rose and he told her laconically, ‘It’s got ten bedrooms, Sylvie, excluding the upper attics—more than enough space for both of us, I should have thought.’
‘Does this Mrs Elliott live in?’ Sylvie asked him stiffly.
Ran stared at her for a moment and then burst out laughing.
‘No, she doesn’t,’ he told her coolly, ‘although I’m not sure why it should make any difference. You and I have lived under the same roof before, after all, Sylvie, and if it’s the thought of any unplanned nocturnal wanderings that’s worrying you...’ He gave her a wolfish grin and to her fury actually reached out and patted her tauntingly on the arm as he told her, still laughing, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll make sure I get a lock put on my door so that you don’t come wandering in...’
Sylvie was too speechless with anger to be able to respond.
‘What’s wrong now?’ Ran challenged her mock-innocently. ‘There’s no need to be embarrassed at the fact that you occasionally sleepwalk... Of course, it might be an idea to make sure you go to bed wearing something, but I’ll warn Mrs Elliott and...’
He stopped as Sylvie made a female growl of frustration deep in her throat.
‘That was years ago, when I was a child,’ she told him defensively, ‘and it only happened once... I don’t sleepwalk now...’
What was she doing? What was she saying? Why was she letting him do this to her? Sylvie ground her teeth. Yes, once, when she had been initially disoriented and upset at her mother marrying again, she had actually sleepwalked, and might, in fact, have suffered a nasty accident if Ran hadn’t happened to see her on his way up to bed. But it had happened once, that was all, and, even after she had eventually developed a massive crush on him, surreptitiously creeping into his bedroom had been the last thing on her mind then. She had been far too unworldly, far too naive even to think of such a thing.
‘No! Then what are you worrying about?’ Ran challenged her, his expression suddenly hardening as he demanded, ‘If it’s the fact that you’ll be living under my roof whilst Lloyd is in New York—’