‘You love me...?’ Sylvie stared at him in disbelief. ‘But only the other night you told me that you didn’t, couldn’t...’ she reminded him. ‘You said that you knew how painful it was for me to love you but that—’
She stopped as she heard the sharp explosive sound he made.
‘No,’ he corrected her. ‘What I was trying to say was how painful it was for me to love you knowing that you didn’t love me back.’
For a moment they stared at one another in silence and then, uncertainly, as though she was afraid to believe what she was hearing, Sylvie lifted her hand to his face, her fingers shaking as they touched his skin.
‘You love me, Ran? I didn’t... I can’t... I’m afraid to believe it just in case...’ She stopped and pressed her lips together, trying to stop them from trembling.
‘Oh, God, Sylvie, what have I done—what have we done?’ Ran demanded hoarsely as he reached for her. ‘I loved you when you were sixteen, when I had no right to have the kind of feelings I had for you; I loved you when you were seventeen and you almost drove me crazy with what you were so innocently offering me. I loved you when you were nineteen and you flung your virginity at me like a gauntlet, giving me your body but denying me your love.’
‘I thought you hated me,’ Sylvie whispered. ‘You were so angry with me when I came to Otel Place with Wayne and the travellers.’
‘That wasn’t anger, it was jealousy,’ Ran told her dryly. ‘You’ll never know how many, many times the only thing that kept you out of my bed was that “anger”. It was either alienate you or...’
‘Why didn’t you...? Why didn’t you take me to bed then? You must have known how much I wanted it, how much I wanted you,’ Sylvie said.
‘No. No, I didn’t. Oh, yes, I knew you’d had a crush on me at one stage, but when I saw you with Wayne, when you told me that you wanted him...’
‘I thought you were rejecting me. I had my pride, you know,’ Sylvie told him ruefully. ‘You’d pushed me away so many times before—’
‘For your own sake,’ Ran interrupted her. ‘As your mother had already pointed out to me, I had nothing to offer you.’
‘Nothing...?’ Sylvie protested emotionally, her eyes shining with suppressed tears. ‘You had everything, Ran, were everything to me...still are everything.’
As he took her in his arms and kissed her, white petals from the roses drifted down onto them both.
‘Like confetti,’ Ran said softly when he finally, reluctantly lifted his mouth from hers. ‘Traditionally we should be married from the private chapel at Haverton Hall, but it’s badly in need of restoration and I can’t wait that long.’ As he kissed her again he whispered against her mouth, ‘Perhaps our first child can be christened there.’
Immediately Sylvie opened her eyes.
‘You know...about that,’ she guessed. ‘You...you felt it too...’
‘Yes,’ Ran acknowledged. ‘How could we have been such fools, Sylvie, so blind? Surely that alone should have told us both, shown us both. What we shared that night, what we created, could only have come from mutual love.’
‘Yes,’ Sylvie admitted huskily. ‘I still can’t quite believe it...’ she added, brushing white rose petals off his arms. ‘It’s...it’s still so... It’s less than an hour since I thought that I’d be driving away from Haverton and you, for ever. What made you come back? What—?’
‘You did,’ he told her promptly, and then relented when he saw her face.
‘Mollie talked to me...made me think...see...’
‘Mollie? But she never said a word when she rang me—’ Sylvie began indignantly, and then stopped. ‘Oh, Ran,’ she whispered, ‘I can’t bear to think how close we came to...to not having this...not having one another.’
‘It wouldn’t have ended here,’ Ran comforted her.
‘I don’t know what Lloyd’s going to say when I tell him that I’ve changed my mind and I want to stay at Haverton...’
‘For ever,’ Ran told her.
‘For ever,’ Sylvie agreed.
‘Let’s go inside,’ Ran said abruptly, ‘I want to hold you...make love with you...show you how much I love you...how much I need you.’
Ten minutes later, as she lay in his arms on his bed, tracing the strong shape of his nose, she told him huskily, ‘There’s only ever been you, Ran. I couldn’t bear...didn’t want...’
‘Do you think it’s been any different for me?’ he demanded rawly.