‘She’s a wonderful girl,’ she heard Lloyd telling Ran as she went to get the papers she wanted him to see. ‘But she works too hard, takes life too seriously.’
* * *
After she had dropped Lloyd and Vicky off at the airport, her head aching from listening to the other woman’s flirtatious comments, instead of heading back to Derbyshire, Sylvie drove on impulse to Manchester itself and parked the Discovery outside the Emporio Armani boutique that a kindly taxi driver had directed her to.
A pretty, dark-haired girl who could have been Italian but wasn’t brought her the trouser suit she had seen in the window.
The diffusion range might be cheaper than the designer originals but it was still expensive. Even so... As she turned and twisted in front of the mirror, studying her reflection in the flatteringly cut suit, Sylvie admitted that she couldn’t resist it. Neither could she resist the matching shirt that went with it.
So, she was dull and boring and unfeminine, was she? Well, she might not wear three-inch heels, and she certainly didn’t flutter her eyelashes, but she was still a woman...very much a woman...more than woman enough to ache with longing for Ran. Oh, yes, she was more than woman enough for that!
‘YOU’VE been a long time. What happened?’
Guiltily Sylvie spun round, dropping her Armani carrier bag as she did so. She had arrived back at the Rectory five minutes ago and had decided to go straight to her room, but she had just reached the top of the stairs when Ran emerged from his room, his curt comment coupled with her own guilt startling her.
‘You’ve been shopping,’ he said sharply in disbelief, answering his own question as he saw the bag she had just dropped and the contents spilled out from it onto the carpet.
‘What if I have?’ Sylvie retorted defensively, bending down to gather up her purchases but not fast enough to match Ran, who had bent and got there before her, scooping up the soft, expensive cloth and then, pausing, shocking her by removing it completely from the carrier. He studied what she had bought and then lifted his gaze to her flushed face.
‘New clothes. Now, then, I wonder what motivated you to do that?’ he asked her softly.
‘What I choose to do with my time and my money is no business of yours,’ Sylvie snapped sharply at him.
But he ignored her, taunting her softly, ‘What exactly are you trying to do, Sylvie? Compete with Vicky? You can’t. You don’t have the right type of...assets.’
Furious with him, and with herself because his taunting remarks weren’t just making her angry, they were hurting her badly as well, Sylvie exploded into angry self-defence.
‘If by “the right type of assets” you mean I don’t use my womanhood, my sexuality, as some kind of...of cheap means of attracting men, then I’m glad to say that I don’t,’ she agreed.
‘Really? Then why go and buy this?’ Ran challenged her softly, indicating the trouser suit.
‘I bought it on impulse,’ she told him quickly. Too quickly, she realised as she saw the cynical look he was giving her. ‘Anyway,’ she added protectively, ‘it’s hardly the kind of outfit a woman would buy to...to attract a man...’
‘No?’ Ran gave her a sardonic smile. ‘Oh, come on, Sylvie, we both know better than that. There’s something powerfully alluring about the sight of a woman wearing a trouser suit, something very, very sensual and appealing—much more so than an over-tight dress on an over-exposed body. You bought this outfit because you’re jealous of Vicky. Because you—’
‘Me...jealous...of her?’ Sylvie virtually spat at him as she grabbed her new purchase from him and stuffed it back into the bag. ‘No way,’ she told him, shaking her head almost violently in denial. ‘Why should I be jealous?’ she added dangerously, too upset to question the wisdom of inviting him to humiliate her still further by revealing his awareness of just how she felt about him. ‘Just because years ago I was stupid enough, adoring enough, vulnerable enough to...to care too much about you, that doesn’t mean that I’m jealous of your lover. In fact...’
‘My lover?’ Ran stopped her as they both stood up, frowning down at her as he informed her curtly, ‘I was referring to the fact that you’re jealous because you’re afraid of losing Lloyd to Vicky. He’s your lover and—’
‘My lover...? Lloyd?’ Sylvie stared at him in disbelief.
Suddenly Sylvie had had enough. There was no way that Ran could possibly, genuinely, believe that she and Lloyd were lovers; he was just playing some kind of peculiar and cruel game with her. Well, he was going to have to play it on his own. Grabbing hold of her shopping, she darted past him, almost running into her bedroom and slamming the door behind her, her heart thudding with angry pain.