To Mollie’s intuitive ears the silence that hummed down the wire between them before Sylvie answered her spoke volumes.
‘We aren’t,’ Sylvie told her shortly. ‘And in fact...’ She paused and then decided there was little point in keeping her decision from Mollie who was, in many ways, despite the distance which separated them, probably her closet friend; not just a stepsister-in-law.
‘I...I’ve decided to ask Lloyd to take me off this project, Mollie. I can’t...it isn’t... My being here just isn’t going to work... Ran and I...’ She stopped.
‘You still love him, don’t you?’ Mollie asked her gently.
For a moment Sylvie didn’t think she was going to be able to reply but almost against her will she felt compelled to respond honestly to Mollie’s gentle question.
‘Yes. Yes, I do,’ she admitted. ‘More than ever. He’s...he’s everything I’ve ever wanted, Mollie. The only man I’ve ever loved, the only man I ever will love...in every sense of the word,’ she admitted in a very low voice. ‘There hasn’t... I haven’t... Isn’t it incredible in this day and age,’ she continued, her voice full of angry despair, ‘that at my age the only man I’ve ever been intimate with, the only man who’s ever touched me...made love to me...is Ran? And both times... He doesn’t love me, Mollie. I know that. He never has, and that first time he was angry, and his reactions were... Both of us were angry and what we did...what we had... But this time it was so...so loving...so tender...so meaningful. But in reality he was just comforting me... He—’
‘Did he tell you that?’ Mollie interrupted her softly.
‘Not in so many words. He talked about how painful it is to love someone who can’t love you back, and...and about how there’s no need to...to feel ashamed of having that love; of needing that person.
‘I can’t stay here, Mollie,’ she burst out passionately. ‘I’m afraid of what might happen, of what I might say...do... Ran was so kind, so...gentle and tender... I want to keep that memory... I don’t want...’
‘He must feel something for you if...’
‘If he took me to bed?’ Sylvie supplied dryly for her. ‘He wanted me, yes, but... Lloyd was up here and he took Ran’s latest lady-friend back to London with him. Oh, I don’t think their relationship was particularly serious, but obviously Ran’s a man, and as such...’
‘He took you to bed because he wanted sex; is that what you’re saying?’ Mollie asked her shrewdly.
‘Well, I think that was a large part of it,’ Sylvie agreed.
‘But he must have felt something for you, Sylvie, to talk to you the way you say he did. If he really didn’t care, didn’t want to get involved, then surely the last thing he would do would be to allow that kind of intimacy to take place between you.’
‘Yes... No... Oh, I don’t know. I just know... I just know that I’m afraid if I stay here I’ll... I can’t cope with it, Mollie; it’s safer for me to put as much distance as I can between us...’
‘Have you told him you’re leaving?’ Mollie asked her.
‘Not in so many words,’ Sylvie admitted. ‘He knows that I’ve asked... Lloyd’s coming up to Derbyshire to see me, but Ran isn’t here at the moment. His housekeeper says he told her that he’s had to go away for a few days, but he hasn’t told her where or when he’ll be back... I suspect that he’s trying to avoid me...’
‘Just like he was when he took you to bed,’ Mollie suggested wryly. ‘Have you ever asked him how he feels about you, Sylvie?’
For a moment Sylvie was too shocked to answer.
‘No! No, of course not—I couldn’t. How could I? Would you have asked Alex that?’
‘Perhaps not,’ Mollie acknowledged. ‘But Alex’s and my relationship is very different to yours and Ran’s. We hadn’t known one another very long. Whilst you and Ran...’
‘The difference is that you and Alex love one another, whilst Ran and I... I have to go, Mollie. I just can’t talk about it any longer,’ Sylvie told her emotionally.
As she ended the call she prayed that Lloyd would get here soon. God and Lloyd willing, she could leave Derbyshire before Ran came back.
As though on cue she saw the lights of a car drawing up outside the house, sweeping across her bedroom window. Lloyd at last...
Taking a deep breath, she went downstairs to meet him.
* * *
Half an hour later, after she had told Lloyd everything, he gravely handed her a handkerchief and asked her, ‘You really love him that much?’