Page 4 of Just One Night

Sylvie closed her eyes as she listened to Lloyd extolling the     virtues of Haverton Hall.

How could she admit to him that it wasn’t so much the house     itself she objected to as its owner?

Its owner...

There it was on the front page of the report... Haverton     Hall... Owner... Sir Ranulf Carrington. Sir Ranulf     now, not just Ran any longer... Not that Sylvie was impressed by a title. How     could she be when her own stepbrother was an earl?

She had known all about Ran’s unexpected inheritance of course.     It had been the subject of a good deal of discussion at Christmas, when she had     gone home, not least because Ran, with an estate of his own to run, quite     naturally could no longer run her stepbrother’s.

No one, least of all Ran himself, had expected that he would     inherit. After all, his cousin had only been in his early forties and had seemed     perfectly fit. The last thing anyone imagined was that he would suffer a fatal     heart attack.

Sylvie had smiled politely, but without interest. The last     thing, the last person she wanted to waste time     talking about was Ran.

Her memories of the way he had rejected her might have been     carefully and very deeply buried but...but every time she returned to her     brother’s home she was painfully reminded of her seventeen-year-old self and her     vulnerability.

No question about it, she must have annoyed and aggravated Ran     with her unwanted adoration, but surely he could have handled the situation and     her a little more gently, let her down a bit more caringly instead of...

Sylvie was aware that Lloyd was watching her expectantly. How     could she, as her instincts urged her to do, totally and flatly refuse to have     anything to do with Ran? She couldn’t. She was a woman now, a woman who prided     herself on her professionalism, a woman who along with her outward New York     shine and gloss had also developed an inner self-worth and determination. She     loved her work and she truly believed that what Lloyd and the Trust were doing     was extremely worthwhile.

Secretly, there was nothing she enjoyed more than watching the     houses that Lloyd rescued from their often pitiful state of decay being restored     to their former glory... Perhaps it was idealistic and, yes, even foolishly     romantic of her, but there was something about watching the process, of seeing     these once grand homes rising phoenix-like from the ashes of their own neglect,     that touched a chord within her. She could well understand what motivated Lloyd,     and she suspected that, ironically, it had been that long-ago conservation     scheme she had worked on under Ran’s supervision which had awakened within her     the awareness of how very important it was to preserve and care for—to protect—a landscape and its architecture, which had     ultimately led to her sharing Lloyd’s passion for their task.

However, Sylvie’s responsibility as an employee of the Trust     included a duty not just to share Lloyd’s enthusiasm but to make sure as well     that the Trust’s acquisitions were funded and run in a businesslike manner, and     that the Trust’s money was used shrewdly and wisely and not wasted or     squandered—a responsibility which Sylvie took very seriously. No project, and     certainly no bill, was too small for Sylvie to break down and scrutinise very     carefully indeed, a fact which caused the Trust’s accountants to comment     approvingly on her attention to detail and her excellent bookkeeping.

It had been pointless for Lloyd to protest when they had been     renovating the Venetian palazzo that he preferred     the red silk to the gold which Sylvie had favoured.

‘Red is almost twice as expensive,’ she had pointed out     sternly, adding as a clincher, ‘And besides, the records we’ve managed to trace     all indicate that this room was originally decorated in gold and hung with gold     drapes...’

‘Then gold it is, then.’ Lloyd had given in with a sigh, but     Sylvie had been the one who had been forced to give in to him a few weeks later     when, on their departure from Venice, Lloyd had presented her with a set of the     most exquisite and expensive leather luggage crafted as only the Italians could     craft leather.