Page 41 of Just One Night

When the time came for her and Stuart Phillips to part company Sylvie had his agreement to concentrate exclusively on the work on Haverton Hall, even though she had had to agree to a substantial bonus payment to get him to do so. She made sure she held tightly to budget where she could, but she would never take the less expensive option when it came to employing the best craftsmen. It would be worth it, she exulted as she left the courtyard. Haverton Hall was worth it.

She had arranged to meet Lloyd at his hotel for afternoon tea. He loved that type of tradition and, as he happily informed her an hour later when she was shown up to his private suite, ‘No other country serves an afternoon tea quite like England...’

‘I should hope not,’ was Sylvie’s tongue-in-cheek response, then she started to tell him about her visit to the gilders.

‘You’re sure they’ll be as good as the Italians?’ he asked her at one point, suddenly very professional and alert.

‘Better,’ Sylvie told him simply. ‘You see, the original work on the house was carried out by English workmen who had trained in Italy, rather like Messrs Phillips, artisans, and my guess is that their workmanship, although Italian in conception, would have had a decidedly English interpretation to it—where an Italian craftsman might have carved cherubs and allegorical scenes from the great masters, an English craftsman would have carved animals and birds, things from nature.’

‘Why don’t you stay here tonight?’ Lloyd suggested once they had finished talking about her visit to Messrs Phillips and Company. ‘I can ring down and book you a room.’

Sylvie shook her head.

‘No, thanks; I’ve already arranged to stay overnight with my mother.’

Knowing that Lloyd had a business dinner organized, Sylvie left just after five o’clock, having arranged to pick him up at ten in the morning.

She drove to her mother’s, suffering the latter’s perfumed embrace after her mother’s maid had let her into the apartment.

‘Darling, it’s my bridge evening this evening. I could cancel it but...’

‘No, please don’t.’ Sylvie checked her mother with a smile.

‘Well, at least we can have dinner together and you can tell me all your news. How is dear Ran? So exciting, his inheritance...the title...’

Sylvie’s smile faded.

‘Ran’s fine,’ she told her mother, adding dismissively, ‘We don’t see an awful lot of one another; we’re both busy.’

‘Oh, darling, such a shame,’ her mother protested.

‘I...’ Sylvie gave her a direct look. ‘At one time you thoroughly disapproved of him.’ And my feelings for him, Sylvie could have added, but she didn’t.

Her mother made a small moue. ‘But, darling, that was before...’

‘Before what?’ Sylvie challenged her wryly. ‘Before he inherited the title...’

‘Well, these things do make a difference.’ Her mother defended herself as Sylvie gave her a quizzical look. ‘Ran is now an extremely eligible man.’

‘Mother! These days a woman doesn’t need an eligible man,’ Sylvie told her. ‘We can support ourselves.’

‘Every woman needs a man to love her, Sylvie,’ her mother told her sadly. ‘I still miss your stepfather.’

Immediately Sylvie was contrite. Her mother was old-fashioned and out of touch in her ideas, her thinking, but she had genuinely loved both Sylvie’s own father and her second husband, Alex’s father, and Sylvie knew that despite the business with which she filled her days she was sometimes lonely.

‘Have you seen Alex and Mollie recently?’ she questioned, wanting to turn the conversation into happier channels.

‘Oh, yes,’ her mother responded immediately and warmly, ‘and they’ve invited me to Otel Place for Christmas.’

Several hours later, as she prepared for an early night, Sylvie wondered what Ran was doing. Not going to bed on his own if his recent behaviour pattern was to be followed. Angrily, she closed her eyes. What did it matter to her who Ran spent his nights with or how?

What did it matter?

All the world, that was how much it mattered, but no one but her must ever know that.

Even before he had kissed her she had known the truth. Just the way her body, her senses, her being, had reacted the moment she had set eyes on him again had told her that what she had tried to dismiss as a mere childish crush had somewhere, somehow, against all the odds and certainly against her own will, turned into real adult love. She ached for Ran—to be at one with him, at peace with him, to be loved by him, to share his life, to bear his children—with such an intensity that sometimes she didn’t know quite how she was going to be able to go on bearing it.