‘Well, we certainly go back a long way—although I only moved to Derbyshire a short time ago and, by coincidence, I discovered that Ran was one of my new neighbours and we were able to renew old acquaintances.’
Some coincidence, Sylvie reflected ironically, irritated by Vicky’s behaviour. What on earth did Ran see in her? Surely he could see what type of woman she was—how unworthy of him she was?
When they arrived at Haverton Hall, Vicky made a big performance of climbing out of the Land Rover, thanking Lloyd effusively for helping her, leaning heavily on his arm as she complained about the uneven gravel on the forecourt.
‘You should have worn flat shoes like Sylvie,’ Ran told her.
‘Flat shoes...? Ugh, no, never.’ She shuddered. ‘I always wear high heels,’ she confided to Lloyd. ‘I think they’re so much more feminine.’ Lifting her foot, she held out one slim, elegant ankle for his inspection.
‘Very pretty,’ Lloyd approved, ‘but you’d better hang onto me. We don’t want you to hurt yourself.’
As they toured the house, Sylvie’s irritation with Vicky grew. Every time she made a comment, Vicky had to chip in, diverting Lloyd’s attention from the house to herself, accompanying each successful attempt to do so with a look of acid triumph in Sylvie’s direction. Really, the woman was totally impossible. They weren’t in competition for his approval...his affections, for goodness’ sake. She was simply trying to do her job. If Ran’s lover wanted to flirt with Lloyd, that was totally her business and Ran’s. All that Sylvie wished was that she had chosen another time to do so.
‘The Annabelle sounds the most fabulous hotel. I’d love to see it... I’ve been planning to go to London for some time... I need some new clothes and there’s nowhere in Derbyshire.’ Vicky gave a small, fastidious shudder as they finally headed back to the Land Rover.
‘You were? Say, why don’t you come back with me, then? Sylvie’s going to drive me to Manchester airport and—’ Lloyd began politely.
‘Come to London and stay at the Annabelle as your guest...?’ Vicky pounced immediately. ‘Oh, how wonderful and how kind of you. I’d love to...’ she breathed huskily.
Sylvie, who guessed that Lloyd had simply been suggesting that they travel together, could only marvel at the other woman’s sang-froid and her cheek. She would never have dared to behave as Vicky had just done. But Lloyd, far from looking displeased, was almost beaming from ear to ear.
Sylvie waited until they were back at the Rectory and Vicky had disappeared to ‘tidy herself up’ before taking Lloyd to one side, out of Ran’s earshot, to warn him discreetly, ‘Lloyd, Vicky is Ran’s girlfriend and I don’t think—’
‘So far as I am concerned, Vicky is a free agent. If she wants to go to London with Lloyd then that’s up to her.’ Sylvie bit her lip as Ran interrupted her. He had been on the other side of the hallway, but then his hearing had always been extremely sharp. It went with his job.
‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to go home and collect a few things,’ Vicky apologised gushingly to Lloyd as she came back downstairs. ‘I don’t want to keep you waiting.’
Grimly Sylvie watched as she batted heavily mascaraed eyelashes in Lloyd’s direction.
‘No problem,’ he assured her. ‘There are a few things Sylvie and I need to discuss and I guess Ran too. You take all the time you need, my dear.’
‘I expect the Annabelle is very dressy,’ Vicky murmured appreciatively.
‘Charming woman,’ Lloyd commented warmly after she had gone.
‘Yes, she is,’ Ran agreed.
‘About as charming as a piranha,’ Sylvie muttered between clenched teeth behind their backs before reminding Lloyd curtly, ‘I’ve got preliminary estimates for some of the work here if you want to see them. I have faxed copies off to New York, but...’
‘Sylvie, you’re so efficient,’ Lloyd told her, smiling benignly at her. ‘I keep telling her, Ran, that she needs to relax a bit more...have fun... When was the last time you spent a day shopping for yourself?’ he challenged her before she could say anything.
‘I shopped in Italy,’ she told him dismissively.
‘Yes, I know. I was there, remember...? I took her to Armani,’ he told Ran. ‘And what did she do? She told me that the clothes were far too expensive. What do you do with a woman like that?’
‘They were too expensive,’ Sylvie told him defensively. Too expensive for her at any rate, and although she knew that Lloyd would happily have offered to buy an outfit for her he was still her employer and she had no intention of taking advantage of his generosity. Even so, it hurt to know that he was comparing her to Vicky Edwards and perhaps finding her less feminine, less womanly, and in front of Ran. It was plain what both of them were thinking: that somehow she was less fun than the other woman—less of a woman. Well, let them think what they liked, she decided angrily. She was there to do a job, not to...to flirt and bat her eyelashes.