She bit down hard on her bottom lip when she saw the irritation in his eyes as he ran his hand through his thick dark copper hair.
‘I’m sorry... I should never have done that...’ he told her tersely.
Sylvie felt her eyes fill with vulnerable tears.
‘You kissed me,’ she protested shakily. ‘You wanted me...’
‘No, Sylvie,’ she heard Ran telling her grittily. ‘What I wanted,’ he told her bluntly, ‘was not you, but what you offered. I’m a man, and when a woman comes on to me, offering me sex...’ He stopped and shook his head. ‘You’re a child still, Sylvie.’
‘I bet if we were in bed together you wouldn’t be saying that,’ Sylvie challenged him boldly, adding recklessly, ‘I’m not a child at all, Ran, and I could prove it to you...’
She heard the savage hiss as he expelled the air from his lungs.
‘Dear God,’ she heard him rasp, ‘have you the first idea of what you’re saying...suggesting...?’
‘I want you, Ran... I love you...’
‘Well, I sure as hell don’t want or love you,’ he told her ferociously, his face suddenly shockingly pale underneath its weather-beaten tan. ‘And let me give you a small warning, Sylvie: if you continue to go around offering yourself to men, sooner or later one of them’s going to take you up on your offer and I promise you that the experience won’t be a pleasant one. You’re far too young to be experimenting with sex, and when you are old enough it should be with someone of your own age and not... I’m a man, not a boy, Sylvie,’ he told her brutally, ‘and...well, let’s just say that the idea of taking some over-excited and inexperienced little virgin to bed and playing touchy-feely games with her is not my idea of a particularly satisfying relationship—not sexually, not mentally and certainly not emotionally...
‘Go and find someone your own age to play with, Sylvie,’ he told her grimly.
For a moment Sylvie was tempted to protest, to argue and plead, or even more daringly to throw herself back into his arms and prove to him that she could make him want her despite her age and her lack of experience. She was not normally so easily defeated or diminished, but something deep down inside, some very new sense of womanliness, shrank from enduring another rejection from him. And so, instead, swallowing back the tears she was aching to cry, she lifted her head and, tilting her chin to him defiantly, said, ‘Yes, I think I will...’
There had been one boy in particular in the party of co-workers involved in the conservation campaign who had shown a very marked interest in her. At the time, newly, wildly in love with Ran, she hadn’t paid him very much attention, but now...
A militant sparkle illuminated her eyes. She could see Ran beginning to frown.
‘Sylvie,’ he warned. Angrily she refused to stop and listen to him, he had no jurisdiction over her.
The bright delicacy of her newly emergent tender love was already tarnishing and fading as resentment, pride and enmity took its place.
She loved him but now she felt as though she could very easily come to hate him—she certainly wanted to hate him.
‘YOU’RE not serious...’
Sylvie frowned as she studied the synopsis pinned to the front of the file her employer had just handed her.
Lloyd Kelmer the fourth was the kind of eccentric billionaire who, by rights, only ought to have existed in fairy stories—as a particularly genial and indulgent godfather, Sylvie thought. She had been introduced to him at a party to which she had been invited by some acquaintances of her stepbrother’s. She had only gone to the party because she had been feeling particularly lost and insignificant, having only recently left her American college and moved to New York. They had got chatting and Lloyd had begun to tell her about the trials and traumas he had experienced in running the huge wealthy Trust set up by his grandfather.
‘The old man had this thing about stately homes, I guess I kinda feel the same. He owned a fair handful of the things himself, so he kinda had a taste for them, if you know what I mean. There was the plantation down in Carolina and then a couple of châteaux in France and a palazzo in Venice, so it just kinda happened naturally that he should have this idea of using his millions to preserve and protect big houses, and now the Trust has a whole skew of them all over the world, and more wanting to have the Trust bankroll them every day.’