‘When are you arriving?’ she asked Lloyd, still smiling.
‘I’m booked on today’s Concorde,’ he told her.
Sylvie heard the door to the small office she had organised for herself at Haverton Hall open behind her, but she didn’t turn round. She didn’t need to; she knew from the reaction of her own body that it was Ran who had walked in. Ever since the night he had kissed her and they had argued, they had treated one another with cold distance. She had gone downstairs that morning to discover a neat file of papers and bank statements awaiting her which proved conclusively that Ran had paid for the work done on the Rectory himself.
She had apologised, very formally and very curtly, and then pointed out that he wouldn’t have been the first client to take advantage of Lloyd’s generosity.
‘I haven’t taken advantage of it,’ he’d reminded her acidly, before walking away from her.
Since then, the contact between them had been as minimal as both of them could make it.
‘Oh, Lloyd, that’s wonderful,’ she told her employer truthfully. ‘I’ve missed you.’ It was true. She had missed him and suddenly something occurred to her. ‘Look, I’ve got to come down to London to see some people. Why don’t we drive back together? I’m going to have to stay overnight anyway... The Annabelle?’ she responded, when he told her where he was planning to stay, and then teased him, ‘Isn’t that a bit romantic...?’
‘I’ve heard some good things about its designer,’ Lloyd responded mock-sternly. ‘My interest in the place is purely professional.’
By the time Sylvie had completed her telephone call Ran had gone. Good; the less contact she had with him the better. She much preferred her solitary evening meals to the trauma of spending any time with him, even if she did sometimes wonder where he was eating and with whom and if he stayed with her all night. It had to be Vicky, of course. The woman was forever telephoning him, purring smugly down the line whenever Sylvie answered, demanding, ‘Tell Ran to ring me; he’s got my number.’
She was sure he had, Sylvie had decided acidly, him and every other man who was subjected to the divorcee’s high octane blend of sexuality.
* * *
The shop occupied by Messrs Phillips and Company, master gilders and restorers, was down a narrow alley, a small courtyard of buildings that time seemed to have forgotten.
Walking into the courtyard was like walking back in time, Sylvie decided as she gasped in delight at the Elizabethan framework of the narrow buildings with their outward-jutting upper storeys.
‘They belong to one of the royal estates,’ the chief partner in the business, Stuart Phillips, informed Sylvie. ‘And they’re very strict, not just about the maintenance of the building but about who they take as tenants as well. We got our tenancy after we had been commissioned to work on one of the royal palaces.’
An hour later, after Sylvie had discussed Haverton Hall and the work required on it, he turned to her and told her, ‘We can do it, but it’s going to be very costly.’
‘Very costly is fine,’ Sylvie assured him and then smiled at him as she added softly, ‘Exorbitantly costly isn’t; there’s enough work here to keep you in business for nearly twelve months...guaranteed work.’
‘Our order books are already full,’ he told her urbanely.
‘Not according to my contacts,’ Sylvie retaliated. ‘The way I heard it, one of your biggest contracts has been withdrawn due to lack of funds.’
‘I don’t know who your informants are...’ Stuart Phillips began huffily, but Sylvie stopped him.
‘Let’s be honest with one another, shall we?’ she suggested firmly. ‘We’re both busy people with no time to waste on silly point-scoring. You’re the best in the business in this country and I want the best for Haverton Hall, but...there are other firms...’
‘We shall need a guarantee that the contract will be seen through to its end,’ he told her, frowning. ‘I don’t like carrying all my eggs in one basket...’
‘You shall have it,’ Sylvie assured him.
‘Mmm... From the records you’ve shown us the original workmanship was done to a very high standard, especially the wood-carving.’
‘If not Grinling Gibbons himself, then certainly one of his most skilful pupils,’ Sylvie agreed.
‘The records you’ve got of the original designed decor are excellent; they even list the furniture and each room’s colour scheme,’ he assessed.
She had Ran to thank for that, Sylvie acknowledged. Normally it fell to her lot to search painstakingly through the records to put together a composite picture of what a property had originally looked like. On this occasion Ran had done all that spadework for her. Not that she had allowed him to see how impressed she was. She wasn’t prepared to do anything that would allow him to think he had some sort of advantage over her.