Page 20 of Just One Night

Only that? Sylvie paused, shaking her thick hair back from her head. Of course only that. She couldn’t possibly envy her Ran, could she—Ran and the children he would give her? No, of course she couldn’t.

It was almost dark when Sylvie eventually reached the Hall, its bulk throwing long shadows across the gravel, cloaking both her and the Discovery as she walked towards it.

The sound of other feet on the gravel momentarily made her freeze until she recognised the familiar shapes of half a dozen inquisitive peacocks and peahens. The cocks were sending their shrill cries of warning up into the still night air.

Sylvie laughed as she heard them, relieved, and shook her head at them as she told them cheerfully, ‘Yes, I may be an intruder now, but you’re going to have to get used to me. You and I shall be seeing an awful lot of one another, you know.’

She stayed with them for several minutes, watching them and talking to them. Soon, no doubt, when it became fully dark, they would be roosting somewhere out of the way of any predatory hunting foxes.

Turning her back on them, Sylvie stared thoughtfully at the house, trying to visualise how it would look once the stone had been cleaned. That alone would cost a small fortune and would, no doubt, take almost as long as it would take for the interior to be renovated. She must ask Ran to give her any formal records from when the hall had originally been built and the work done on it since then. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected that the stairway she had seen had been, if not the work of Grinling Gibbons, then certainly the work of one of his more innovative apprentices.

The tiny sprays of coral, the seashells and unbelievably realistic fish carved into the wood related, no doubt, to the fact that the money for the original house had come from the very profitable overseas trading its owner had been involved in. As a prominent member of King Charles II’s court, and one of his favourites, he undoubtedly had had access to many money-making activities.

Idly Sylvie wondered what it would have been like to live in such a time and in such a house. It was one of her indulgences that whenever she became involved with a new property she couldn’t help daydreaming about its past, its history, picturing herself as part of it...imagining how and what she would have chosen had she been its chatelaine and then translating that into...

Ran parked his Land Rover out of sight and sound of the house. The peafowl, on their way to their roosting place, saw him and started to flap their wings until he threw down the grain he had brought with him to silence them. No point in giving the intruders the same warning he himself had so helpfully received.

Abandoning her study of the Hall, Sylvie stepped back into the shadows and made her way back towards her parked car. As he rounded the corner of the building, for a moment Ran thought that its frontage was deserted, and then he saw someone moving in the semi-darkness.

Immediately he acted, crouching down low and using the shadows to conceal his presence as he ran light-footed and quietly towards Sylvie’s car and whoever it was who was trying to break into it. There wasn’t any time to waste—the Discovery’s driver’s door was already open. Launching himself towards the figure about to climb into it, Ran brought the thief down in a rugby tackle, pinning him down on the ground beneath him as he grunted, ‘Got you.’

Sylvie didn’t see her assailant spring out at her but she certainly felt him as the speed of his attack carried her to the ground, his weight keeping her there as his hands moved quickly and lightly over her body.

Frantically she tried to struggle, kicking out at him, clawing his back as he pinned her legs, imprisoning her beneath his own, and then reached out to imprison her hands. As she twisted and turned beneath him, trying to throw off his weight, Sylvie felt too furiously angry to be afraid, but then, suddenly, as he secured both her hands in one of his and ran his free one experimentally over her body, she froze, all her feminine instincts and fears awakened.

‘Keep still,’ Ran warned his quarry abruptly. It had come as a shock to discover that she was female. He had assumed that the attempted theft of the car was being carried out by a young boy.

As she heard and recognised Ran’s voice, Sylvie’s fear immediately changed to a mixture of relief and fury.

‘Let go of me,’ she demanded immediately.

‘Sylvie...?’ Ran stared at her in disbelief. ‘What the hell...?’

He had relaxed his grip on her hands but his weight was still holding her pinned to the ground and Sylvie wriggled protestingly beneath him, complaining.

‘Sylvie,’ Ran repeated, still obviously shocked by her presence. ‘I thought... I heard the peafowl and thought someone was... I thought you were trying to steal the car... I couldn’t tell who you were in the dark,’ Ran told her curtly as he read the disbelief in her eyes, her expression revealed to him as the moon grew in strength now that the dusk had given way to proper darkness.