He had done what he had thought was best at the time, the honourable thing to do...
WEARILY Sylvie looked at the luminous face of her watch. Half past one in the morning. She had been awake for the last hour, stubbornly courting sleep, angrily refusing to allow her thoughts to take control, to force her to remember.
She was too hyped up for sleep, too afraid to sleep just in case she... She what? Dreamed of Ran?
She looked across at the desk in front of the window. One of the small pleasures of living in the depths of the country was that one did not need to close the curtains at night. There was nothing Sylvie liked more than being able to see the night sky.
When her mother had first married Alex’s father and they had gone to live in his ancestral home, she had been overwhelmed at first by the darkness of the huge house. It had been Ran who had guessed her fears and apprehensions after he had found her sleepwalking that night. Ran who had been staying at the house instead of his cottage one weekend, ‘babysitting’ her in the absence of her mother, and who had taken her, not back to bed, but to his own room where he had made her a hot drink and talked to her, showing her the telescope he used to watch the night sky.
The binoculars beside it he had used for another, more mundane purpose. As the estate manager one of his jobs had been to keep a sharp look-out for poachers. The night had no fears for Ran, and through him she too had learned to appreciate its special beauties. It had been Ran who had taken her to watch the badger cubs at play, earning her mother’s anger. Sylvie quickly stopped that line of thought. Since she couldn’t sleep she might as well try to do some work; that at least would be a far more profitable way of spending her time than thinking about Ran.
Her mouth still felt slightly swollen and sensitive from the way he had kissed her earlier. Her face started to burn as she recalled again the comment he had made to her about her being a vixen—and about Lloyd being her lover.
What would he say if he knew that she had only had one lover and that lover had been a man who hadn’t really wanted her, a man she had had to coax and beg to take her to bed, a man who had told her that he felt no love for her, that what had happened between them had been a mistake, an error of judgement best forgotten?
No. No. No. Angrily, Sylvie buried her face in her hands, but it was too late; there was no pushing back the memories now, they were here, surrounding her, flooding out any kind of denial or rational thought.
She had been at university by then; had, in fact, gone there unwillingly. So intense and all-consuming had been the ferocity of her teenage love for Ran, so burningly immediate and sharp-fanged her desire for him, that she had not been able to bear the thought of putting any kind of distance between them. Every spare minute she had, every excuse she could use, she had used—to be with Ran. As Alex’s stepsister it had been easy enough for her to spend her free time at the estate, joining the group of local teenagers who were helping Ran with some of his environmental projects had given her even more opportunity to be with him. Not that Ran himself had seemed to be aware of her feelings, even though she had done everything she could to show him how she felt.
There had been that afternoon she had fallen into the muddy lake they had been cleaning. Ran had pulled her out, grinning at her mud-covered clothes and hair.
‘I need a bath,’ she had complained, grimacing.
‘A bath?’ Ran had laughed. ‘There’s no way Alex’s housekeeper is going to let you into the house like that. I’d better take you back to the cottage with me and hose you down outside before I let you go back, otherwise we’ll both be in real trouble.’
His cottage... How she had trembled at the thought, imagining not the prosaic cleaning-up operation Ran had so teasingly referred to but something far more intimate, her body soaking in a tub of blissfully hot water whilst Ran lovingly soaped her clean...
‘What’s wrong?’ he had asked her, frowning at her. ‘You’ve gone very red. Are you feeling ill?’
Ill... Sick with love, with longing for him, would have been the appropriate answer, but she had been too naive, too shy to make it. Instead she had shaken her head and dutifully climbed into his battered Land Rover for the drive back to his small estate cottage.
The sensual intimacy she had so dangerously imagined had proved to be just that—a fantasy.
Ran had made her remove her clothes in his small back porch, sternly admonishing her not to move off the old towel he had put down on the floor and to give him a shout once she was undressed and wrapped in the towel he had left her.