‘Lloyd, I can’t possibly accept this,’ Sylvie had protested with a small gasp.
‘Why not? It is your birthday, isn’t it?’ Lloyd had countered, and of course he had been right, and ultimately Sylvie had given in.
Although, as she had told her stepbrother defensively at Christmas when Mollie had marvelled enviously at the luggage, ‘I didn’t want to accept it but Lloyd would have been hurt if I hadn’t.’ She’d added worriedly, ‘Alex, do you think I should have refused...? If you...’
‘Sylvie, the luggage is beautiful and you did the right thing to accept it,’ Alex had reassured her gently. ‘Stop worrying, little one,’ he had commanded her.
‘Little one’! Only Alex ever called her that, and it made her feel so...so protected and safe.
Protected and safe? She was an adult, a woman, for heaven’s sake, and more than capable of protecting herself, of keeping herself safe. Irritably she dragged her attention back to the file she was holding.
‘You don’t approve, do you?’ Lloyd demanded, shaking his head ruefully. ‘Just wait until you see it, though, Sylvie. You’ll love it. It’s a perfect example of...’
‘We’re already very close to the limit of this year’s budget,’ Sylvie warned him sternly, ‘and—’
‘So what? We’ll just have to increase this year’s funding,’ Lloyd told her with typical laid-back geniality.
‘Lloyd,’ Sylvie protested, ‘you’re talking about an increase of heaven alone knows how many million dollars... The Trust...’
‘I am the Trust,’ Lloyd reminded her gently, and Sylvie had to acknowledge that he spoke the truth. Even so, she gave him an ironic look to which he responded by informing her loftily, ‘I’m just doing what I know the old man would have wanted me to do...’
‘By buying a decaying neoclassical pile in the middle of Derbyshire?’ Sylvie asked him dryly.
And she was still shaking her head as Lloyd told her winningly, ‘You’ll love it, Sylvie...I promise you!’
Cravenly Sylvie was tempted to tell him that she was far too busy and that he would have to find someone else to take charge of this particular project, but her pride—the same pride which had kept her going, kept her head held high and her spirit strong through Ran’s rejection of her and everything that had followed—refused to allow her to do so.
This time she and Ran would be meeting on equal ground—as adults—and this time...this time...
This time what? This time she wasn’t going to let him hurt her. This time her attitude towards him would be cool, distant and totally businesslike.
Sylvie closed her eyes as she felt the tiny shivers of apprehension icing down her spine. The last time she had seen Ran had been when he had unexpectedly turned up at the airport three years ago when she had been leaving England to finish her degree course in America. She could still remember the shock it had given her to see him there, the shock and the sharply sweet surge of helpless pleasure and longing.
She had still been so vulnerable and naive then, a part of her still hoping that maybe, just maybe, he had changed his mind...his heart... But of course he had not. He had been there simply to assure himself that she was actually leaving the country and his life.
Alex knew, of course, that she had once had a foolish adolescent crush on his friend and employee but, thankfully, that was all he did know; thankfully, he had no knowledge of that shaming and searingly painful, never to be thought about, never mind talked about incident that had taken place when she had still been at university in England.
No one knew about that. Only she and Ran. But that was all in the past now, and she was determined that this time when she and Ran met, as meet they would surely have to, she would be the one who would have the upper hand and he would be the one who would be the supplicant; she would have the power to deny and refuse him what he wanted and he would have to beg and plead with her.