Page 24 of Just One Night

‘I’m just on my way to Haverton Hall, Mrs Elliott,’ she told Ran’s daily calmly, adding with an impetuosity she later refused to examine or analyse, ‘Please thank Ran for his offer of dinner.’

Out of the corner of her eye she could see the way Ran’s woman-friend’s eyes darkened as she watched her, and she had just reached the front door when Mrs Elliott stopped her, announcing, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I almost forgot; Ran asked me to tell you that if you wanted to finish going over the big house he’d be back around three.’

‘Did he? That’s very thoughtful of him. How very obliging of him,’ Sylvie responded acidly. ‘When he does return, Mrs Elliott, please tell him that there’s no need for him to put himself to so much trouble. I have my own set of keys to Haverton Hall.’

Without waiting for the older woman to make any further response, Sylvie pulled open the front door. How dared he? she fumed as she hurried towards her hire car. She had no need of either his company or his permission to view the Hall. Furiously she started the Discovery, sending up an angry spray of gravel as she reversed and then headed for the drive.

She was over halfway to Haverton Hall before she felt calm enough to slow down a little, her face burning as hotly as her temper. It was not up to Ran to tell her what she could and could not do—not any longer.

As she brought the Discovery to a halt outside the house she hastily averted her eyes from the spot where last night... What had happened last night was something she had no intention of dwelling on nor trying to analyse; it had been a mistake, an error of judgement, a total and complete aberration and something which had, no doubt, been brought on by some kind of jet lag, some kind of inexplicable imbalance, and it really wasn’t worthy of having her waste any time agonising over it.

Unlocking the huge door, she turned the handle and took a deep breath as she pushed it open and stepped inside. Resolutely ignoring the echoing sound of her own footsteps, she hurried to where she and Ran had left off their inspection the previous day. In her bag she had an inventory and a plan of the house, but an hour later she was forced to admit that it was proving far less interesting inspecting the rooms on her own than it had been yesterday, with Ran’s informative descriptions of the rooms and their original uses.

From previous experience she knew that in a very short space of time she herself would be completely familiar with the house’s layout and its history, but right now... She gave a small scream as a mouse scuttled across the floor right in front of her. She had always had an irrational fear of them—they moved so fast and so far, and she had never totally got over an unpleasant childhood experience of having one jump towards her as it ran from one of the stable cats.

She was working her way along the upper floor when she suddenly heard Ran calling her name. Stiffening, she stood where she was. Mrs Elliott must have told him that he would find her here. In her bag she had the report and the costings he had commissioned for treatment of the wet and dry rot. Firmly she walked towards the door, opened it and called out, ‘I’m up here, Ran...’

‘You shouldn’t have come here on your own,’ he cautioned her as he came down the corridor towards her.

‘Why not? The house isn’t haunted, is it?’ she mocked him sarcastically.

‘Not as far as I know,’ he agreed, ‘but the floors, especially on these upper two floors, aren’t totally to be trusted, and if you should have had an accident—’

‘How very thoughtful of you to be concerned, Ran,’ Sylvie interrupted him. ‘Almost as thoughtful as it was of you to commission these reports.’

As she spoke she removed the reports from her bag and waved them under his nose. ‘Or am I being naive and would “self-interested” be a much truer description?’

Ran started to frown.

‘I don’t know what you’re trying to imply, Sylvie,’ he began, but she wouldn’t let him go any further, challenging him immediately,

‘Don’t you, Ran? I read the reports from the surveyors this morning. Tucked in at the back of the estimates you’d obtained was this...’

Coolly she handed him the costing for the work on the Rectory.

‘So?’ Ran shrugged after he had scanned the piece of paper she proffered.

‘This particular costing relates to work that needs to be carried out on the Rectory, your own private house,’ Sylvie pointed out patiently.

‘And...?’ Ran demanded, frowning at her before telling her, ‘I’m sorry, Sylvie, but I’m afraid I’m at a loss to understand exactly what it is you’re driving at. The Rectory needed some work doing on it to put right the dry rot the surveyors found, and—’