Used as she was to seeing him wearing casual work clothes, and perhaps because that was the image she held engraved in her mind’s eye—jeans fitting snugly against the hard muscle of his thighs, checked work shirt rolled up at the sleeves and just open enough at the neck to reveal the silky dark expanse of body hair which so temptingly and tormentingly made one’s fingers long to unfasten a few more buttons and explore just how thick, just how silky that soft dark hair actually was—Sylvie had forgotten how very male Ran could look in formal clothes.
And although he hadn’t gone so far as to change into a dinner suit he was wearing a pair of well-cut dark trousers and a crisp white shirt.
The fact that he was just shrugging on his jacket as she came down the stairs afforded Sylvie an unwanted glimpse of the lethal maleness of the muscles in his torso and made her hesitate betrayingly just for a second before continuing her journey downwards.
He had changed his clothes simply to have dinner with her.
Why? Because he knew very well the effect his appearance would have on any susceptible woman and because he intended to use that fact to distract her, confuse her when she needed all her attention, all her concentration to ascertain the truth about that invoice? Or was she letting her imagination run away with her? Was the woman he had dressed so elegantly for not her but—?
Was he perhaps seeing the other woman after their meeting had finished?
‘We’ve just got time for a drink before dinner if you’d like one,’ Ran told her calmly, but his glance, Sylvie was sure, had rested for just a betraying fraction of a second on the soft thrust of her breasts before it had lifted to her face. Her heart started to thump giddily.
‘No... No drink, thanks,’ she refused, giving him a thin smile as she added deliberately, ‘I generally find that alcohol and business don’t mix.’
Giving a small shrug, Ran opened the dining-room door for her and waited for her to precede him inside. As she did so, Sylvie caught the clean, sharp scent of his freshly showered body and the giddying thump of her vulnerable heart became a frighteningly heavy ache.
‘I...I’ve brought the estimates down with me,’ she told him quickly, lifting the papers she was holding in front of him, but Ran shook his head.
‘After dinner,’ he told her dismissively, adding, ‘I generally find that good food and poor communication don’t mix.’
Poor communication. Sylvie gave him a fulminating look before taking the chair he had pulled out for her.
* * *
The salmon was every bit as delicious as Sylvie had imagined and so, too, was the home-made summer pudding served with fresh cream that followed it. The cheese they ate to finish the meal was made locally, Ran informed her, adding that he had been wondering if he might not produce something similar himself, but that he had decided the costs involved were prohibitive.
To have dinner alone with Ran like this would once have made her feel so excited, so...so thrilled because she had been so besottedly in love with him. Of course, she would hardly have been able to do justice to the meal because then her fevered imagination would have been thrilling her with images of the two of them together alone, after dinner, Ran taking her in his arms and...
‘I’ve asked Mrs Elliott to serve coffee in the library...’
The crisp, businesslike tone of Ran’s voice cut across her treacherous thoughts. Guiltily, Sylvie pushed them away, reminding herself severely of just why she was here.
* * *
‘Here is the separate estimate I asked for, for the work which needed doing here, and here is the receipt I obtained for that work.’
Her facial muscles rigid, Sylvie willed her hand not to tremble betrayingly as she took the papers from Ran and then looked at them. She was furious with herself for giving him the opportunity to put her in the wrong.
Her eyes strayed to the date at the top of the receipted invoice. She wasn’t going to give in yet. Standing up, she handed the papers back to Ran and told him dismissively, ‘What I can see is a signed and dated receipt, Ran.’
‘Showing that the invoice was settled several weeks ago...’
‘Purporting to show that it was settled several weeks ago,’ Sylvie pointed out stubbornly. ‘For all I know this date could have been written on the invoice last week...or...’ She paused meaningfully before adding with a triumphant smile, ‘Or even today...’
She had started to walk away when Ran stopped her, grabbing hold of her arm and swinging her round to face him as he exploded, ‘Are you really trying to accuse me of falsifying this receipt? For God’s sake, Sylvie, what the hell kind of man do you think I am?’