To see her there, outside her flat, dressed only in a man’s shirt—a shirt through which, with the hot summer sunshine slanting down on her, he could see quite plainly the shape and fullness of her breasts and even the dark aureoles of her nipples—to watch her with another man, a man who he had immediately assumed was her lover, had created within him an anger, a bitterness, a jealousy that had rent wide apart his self-control.
To discover later, too late, that there had been no other lover, to realise what he had done and why, had filled him with such self-loathing that he could hardly endure the weight of his own guilt.
‘I love you,’ Sylvie had told him innocently. ‘I want us to be together...’
He had spent the previous week with Alex, discussing ways and means in which they could reduce the cost of running the estate. Amongst them had been his own suggestion that they rent out his cottage and that he move into rooms in the main house. He knew that if Alex accepted his suggestion he wouldn’t even have a proper home to offer her. He could just imagine how her mother would react to that, to the idea of her daughter living in rooms above the stables of the house where she had been brought up. And Sylvie was still so young, still so naive...still at university with the whole of her life in front of her. What right had he to use what had happened between them to tie her to him? No, better to let her think that he didn’t want her than to have her turn to him five or even ten years down the line to tell him that she had made a mistake; to accuse him of putting his own emotions before her needs, of taking advantage of her youth and inexperience.
And he’d been glad he had done so when she had dropped the bombshell about her relationship with Wayne.
Somehow that was something he had just not expected, but he had seen from the expression in her eyes and the vehemence in her voice that she meant every word she was saying. And so he had walked away, telling himself that it was for the best for her, best that somehow, some time, some way he should learn how to forget her.
But, of course, he had never done so.
And now here she was, back in his life, a woman now and not a girl, and what a woman, how much of a woman, the woman whom he loved—and who hated him.
It had hurt him more than he could bear that she should think he would actually try to cheat anyone... Did her precious Lloyd know how lucky he was or how much he, Ran, would give simply to hold her in his arms and hear her telling him that she loved him? He would give everything he had, everything he was...
What a fool he was. She didn’t love him, she loathed him.
Watching her just now on his way back from checking on the fences, on the look-out for potential poachers, he had ached so badly for her, so very, very badly. There was no point in him going to bed; soon the false dawn would be lightening the night sky, and besides, there was only one reason he wanted to be in bed right now and it had nothing to do with sleeping or being alone.
Kissing her tonight had opened the floodgates on his love for her and his body still ached with the longing it had evoked. How the hell he was going to get through the next few months he had no idea. Grimly he turned away from the house and the temptation of Sylvie’s bedroom, Sylvie’s bed, Sylvie herself.
‘HI, HON, it’s me, Lloyd.’
Sylvie smiled warmly as she recognised her boss’s voice.
‘Lloyd,’ she responded, ‘how are you?’
‘Fine, I guess. Listen, I’ve got to come over to England on some other business and I thought whilst I was there I’d drive up to Derbyshire and see how you’re getting on with Haverton Hall.’
Sylvie laughed. She wasn’t in the least deceived. Lloyd was like a child with a new toy whenever he acquired a new property, saying every time that he wasn’t going to visit it again until all the renovation work had been complete and then being totally unable to resist checking on how things were going. Or not so much checking on how things were going, but sneaking another look, like a child sneaking a look at a hidden-away Christmas present just to check that it was still there and that he was actually going to receive it. As Sylvie well knew, no matter how many properties Lloyd acquired, he still continued to fall in love with new ones, and Haverton Hall was well worth falling in love with.
This morning she had an appointment with the firm who were going to work on the restoration of the carving and the plasterwork. Based in London, the artisans the firm employed had all completed their training at the same Italian firm that Sylvie had used when renovating the palazzo. She had seen samples and photographs of their work and knew that no matter how expensive they might be—and they would be—they were the right people to work on Haverton Hall.