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?
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.