‘You decided to slip the bill for that work in amongst the bills for the work that was needed on Haverton Hall, to lose it amongst the admittedly far greater cost of the work needed here!’
‘What?’ Ran demanded ominously quietly, his expression as well as his voice betraying his outrage.
‘I don’t like what you’re trying to suggest, Sylvie,’ he told her sharply.
She shook her head and told him thinly, ‘Neither do I, Ran. But the facts speak for themselves.’
‘Do they?’ His mouth twisted bitterly. ‘I rather think it’s your overheated imagination that’s doing the “speaking” through your totally erroneous interpretation of them,’ he told her through gritted teeth.
‘You can’t deny the evidence of this report,’ Sylvie reminded him sternly.
‘What evidence?’ Ran demanded. ‘This is a report and an estimate for work on the Rectory—work which I have had carried out at my own expense; the only reason the report and costing is there at all is because I omitted to remove it when I had the documents copied for you...’
‘You’ve paid for the work on the Rectory yourself?’ Sylvie queried in disbelief.
Ran’s mouth thinned.
‘Perhaps you’d like to see the receipts,’ he challenged her.
‘Yes, I would,’ Sylvie responded doggedly, refusing to let him cow her even though she could feel her face starting to burn self-consciously and her stomach beginning to churn as she contemplated just how foolish she was going to look if Ran did produce such receipts.
‘Mrs Elliott tells me that you’re going out for dinner this evening.’
Sylvie stared at him, thrown by his abrupt change of subject.
‘Yes. Yes, I am,’ she agreed.
‘There isn’t a decent restaurant for miles,’ he told her, ‘and certainly not one that offers fresh wild salmon; it’s always been one of your favourites...’
‘Perhaps my tastes have changed,’ Sylvie said a little loftily, adding robustly, ‘Unlike yours...’
As he started to frown she explained sweetly, ‘I saw your...friend. She called at the Rectory just as I was leaving. I’m sure she’d be more than delighted to share your salmon with you, Ran,’ she told him coolly. ‘Now, about those receipts...’
Inwardly Sylvie shivered a bit as she saw the anger flare in his eyes but outwardly she stood her ground. It was, after all, her job to make sure that the Trust wasn’t cheated—by anyone.
‘Of course,’ Ran told her formally, inclining his head as though in defeat, but then, just as Sylvie started to draw a relieved breath, he gave her a dangerously vulpine smile and told her softly, ‘But I’m afraid it will have to be this evening as I have a business meeting tomorrow morning and then I shall probably be away for several days...’
Later Sylvie could only despair over whatever it was that had led her to make such a dangerously betraying and provocative remark, but inexplicably the words were out before she could stop them, causing Ran, who had been on the point of turning away from her, to turn back and slowly scrutinise her from head to foot before asking her softly, ‘If you mean Vicky, is that really any of your business...or the Trust’s...?’
He had caught her out and Sylvie knew it. It most certainly was not part of her duty as the Trust’s representative to ask any questions about his personal life, and she was mortified that she had done so.
‘If you want to see the receipts for the work on the Rectory then it will have to be this evening, Sylvie,’ Ran was repeating briskly. ‘Shall we say about eight-thirty?’
Before she could say anything else he had gone, striding across the dusty floor and leaving her to watch his departing back.
It was a good ten minutes after she had heard the noise of his Land Rover engine die away before Sylvie felt able to continue with her work. Her intelligence told her that their antagonism was coming between her and the normally wisely efficient way in which she dealt with even the most awkward of the Trust’s clients, but her emotions refused to allow her to back down, to climb down. If she was wary of him, suspicious of him, then she had every right to be.
And every right to as good as accuse him of trying to defraud the Trust?
She started to nibble anxiously at her bottom lip. If she was wrong about him trying to get the Trust to cover the cost of work he had had done on his own home, and if he chose to complain to Lloyd—Irritably Sylvie reminded herself why she was here.
* * *
Although the house wasn’t any larger than others she had dealt with, it certainly seemed to possess far more small interconnecting rooms here on its upper storeys. She rubbed the dust from the window of one of them and peered out at the countryside spread all around her. From here she could see the river where Ran must have caught his fish. It wound lazily in a long half-loop through the parkland which surrounded the house. Although the terrain here in Derbyshire was very different from that which surrounded Alex’s home, it was disturbingly easy, looking down towards the river, to remember the many happy hours she had spent with Alex and Ran as a young girl, watching them as they worked together, helping them fish and later learning from them their countryside skills.