* * *
Her bags were packed, a note left for Ran explaining that someone else was going to take over her work, her files were all in order; there was nothing left for her to do other than get into her hire car and drive it to the airport. Still Sylvie couldn’t quite bring herself to go.
Irresolutely she made her way upstairs, pausing outside Ran’s bedroom. She had the house to herself. Mrs Elliott had left for the day. Impulsively she opened the door and went inside. The room was just as she remembered it from that single night she had spent here. She went over to the bed, smoothing a trembling hand over the pillow which had been Ran’s.
Tears burned behind her eyes but she refused to shed them. Instead she walked determinedly towards the door and through it.
Outside the air was warm with the heat of the late summer sun. She could see the lavender which grew in huge drifts alongside the drive.
Silently she turned to give one last look at the house. Where Haverton was a mansion, this was a true home. Very gently she touched the warm mellow brick before wheeling round and hurrying unsteadily towards her hire car. She had booked herself into a London hotel overnight ready for her morning flight to New York. It was time for her to leave. There was, after all, no reason for her to stay.
* * *
All the way north as he drove, Ran told himself that he was a complete fool, that Mollie was wrong.
‘If Sylvie does love me, there’s nothing to stop her saying so,’ he had told Mollie sharply.
‘Nothing, apart from the fact that she believes you don’t love her,’ Mollie had agreed.
Did she believe that? How could she? Only the other night, holding her in his arms, he had indirectly referred to his feelings for her.
His body ached with tension and the sense of urgency which had driven him north, not allowing him to pause or stop. The hills basked in the heat of the late afternoon sunshine as he drove the last few miles home.
He saw the Discovery before he saw her, his heart giving a huge leap of relief when he saw that it was still there, that she was still there. And then he saw her.
She was wearing the smart cut trouser suit and carrying her document case. Instinctively he pressed his foot down harder on the accelerator.
Ran was travelling at such a speed that at first Sylvie couldn’t make out the shape of the car, never mind the driver, for the clouds of dust that surrounded it, but instinctively she knew it was Ran and immediately, for some idiotic reason, her first impulse was to get away before he saw her. But as she tugged frantically at the huge Discovery’s door Ran was already bringing his car to a swerving halt in front of her, blocking her exit. He got out of the car and strode towards her, his face grim and unreadable.
‘Ran... I...I was just leaving... I—’
‘Why?’ he demanded, cutting across her husky, nervous words.
‘Why are you leaving, Sylvie? Is it because of Lloyd? Because he’s your lover and you can’t bear to be away from him...?’
Sylvie was too shocked to prevaricate.
‘No!’ she exclaimed immediately. ‘Lloyd isn’t my lover.’
‘Then why the hell were you so upset when he took Vicky off to London with him?’ Ran exploded.
‘I... She... It was obvious what she was doing, how mercenary she is, but you defended her, you encouraged her to flirt...you praised her...you...’
‘I couldn’t wait for her to take Lloyd out of the way so that you could see just how undeserving of you he is,’ Ran finished quietly for her.
Sylvie stared at him. The sun was shining down hotly on her head, which must be the reason she was feeling so peculiar, she decided dizzily. There could be no other explanation for the look she had just imagined she had seen in Ran’s eyes.
‘You can’t really have thought that Lloyd and I were lovers,’ she told him shakily. ‘He’s my friend. I like him...love him, yes, as a person, but...’ She stopped and wet her suddenly dry lips with the tip of her tongue.
‘Don’t do that, Sylvie,’ she heard Ran demanding rawly. ‘Come with me,’ he commanded, suddenly reaching out and taking hold of her hand before she could stop him, hurrying her across the gravel and into a part of the garden she had not explored as yet, down a yew-enclosed alleyway.
Through a doorway in the yew hedge Ran guided her into a small secluded garden which was entirely planted with white roses, so many of them that their scent made Sylvie feel light-headed.
‘My great-uncle planted these roses in memory of the only woman he loved. She died of pneumonia shortly before they were due to be married and this garden and his memories were all that he had left of her.
‘I don’t want memories to be all I ever have of you, Sylvie. I love you,’ he told her rawly. ‘I have always loved you and will always love you. I haven’t told you before because I didn’t feel I had the right... First you were too young, then there was Wayne, and then...’