‘Too much. Stupid, aren’t I?’ Sylvie said shakily, reiterating urgently, ‘Lloyd, I hate letting you down, but I can’t stay here—not now.’
‘You aren’t letting me down, honey. Your happiness means an awful lot to me. I guess I kinda think of you as the daughter I’ve never had. If I didn’t have this meeting I’d wait to take you back with me.’
‘No. No, you can’t do that. I’ll tie up all the loose ends I can whilst Ran’s away. The least I can do is to leave everything in order for whoever takes over from me here.’
‘See you in New York, then, hon,’ Lloyd told her before taking her in his arms and hugging her.
A little later he had gone. Soon she would be gone too...
Her throat tight, Sylvie blinked away her tears.
‘IT’S a beautiful spot here, isn’t it?’ Mollie commented as she walked across the grass to join Ran where he stood studying the pool in the centre of the small tree-filled glade.
Once, before her marriage to Alex, this glade had been the scene of disturbing desecration when it had been taken over by a band of travellers, eco-warriors, led by the drug dealer Wayne, who had convinced a then idealistic and innocent Sylvie that his sole object in travelling was to assert the rights of the homeless.
It had been Sylvie who had brought them to this pretty glade on her stepbrother’s land, and ultimately Sylvie who had played a major part in the drama which had unfolded when she had realised just how dangerous and unsavoury a character Wayne actually was.
It had taken months to restore the glade to what it had once been. Now it was a favourite spot for local visitors. In the spring it was filled with the colour of hundreds and hundreds of bluebells, but now they were over and the trees were just beginning to show the beginnings of the turn of colour which heralded the end of summer.
‘It’s hard to believe now just how much this place has been transformed,’ Mollie remarked as she stood at Ran’s side.
‘I wish I’d seen Sylvie the day she fell into the mud when you were cleaning out the lake and you had to pull her out... How old was she then, Ran?’
‘Seventeen,’ he responded immediately, causing Mollie to give him a swift, thoughtful look.
‘Mmm... When we were talking the last time Sylvie was home she mentioned how upset she was when her mother insisted that she had to leave Otel Place. She wanted to stay on here with Alex after his father’s death, but her mother wouldn’t permit it.’
‘She was a young girl on the verge of womanhood. A bachelor household just wasn’t the place for her.’
‘Even though one of those bachelors was someone she loved very deeply, someone she has never stopped loving...someone she still loves very deeply?’ Mollie suggested.
‘Alex felt that it was best that she stayed with her mother,’ Ran told her doggedly.
‘I wasn’t referring to Alex,’ Mollie returned gently. ‘It was because of her love for you, Ran, that Sylvie wanted to stay here.’
‘She was a child,’ Ran told her angrily, turning away from her so that she couldn’t see his face. ‘What did she know of...love? She was so young, Mollie, and I was just her brother’s manager; I couldn’t afford...’
‘To let her see that you loved her back?’ Mollie suggested softly.
Ran turned round and looked angrily at her.
‘What I intended to say was that I couldn’t afford to give her the kind of lifestyle she was used to, and even if I had been able to do so she was too young, for God’s sake, a child still...’
‘She wasn’t a child at nineteen,’ Mollie reminded him, adding more meaningfully, ‘And you didn’t treat her as one either, Ran. You and she were lovers,’ she told him directly. ‘You were her first lover, but you left her, let her—’
‘No! She was the one who left me,’ Ran told her fiercely. ‘She told me herself that the only reason she’d given herself to me was because Wayne didn’t want a virgin...and...’
‘And you believed her?’ Mollie derided him quietly.
Ran looked at her.
‘She was saying goodbye to him when I arrived and if you’d seen her with him...’
‘Looks can be deceptive,’ Mollie pointed out. ‘People can go to extraordinary lengths to conceal what they really feel if they believe that exposing those feelings could lead to them being rejected and hurt.
‘After all,’ she added quietly, ‘you’ve concealed the fact that you love Sylvie from her, haven’t you?’