Immediately Sylvie opened her eyes. What on earth had got into her? That kind of warped, vengeful thinking was, to her mind, as foolish and adolescent as her youthful infatuation with Ran had been. She was above all that kind of thing. She had to be; her job demanded it. No, she would make no distinction between Ran and all the other clients she had had to deal with. The fact that Ran had once cruelly and uncaringly turned down her pleas for his love, for his lovemaking, the fact that he had once rejected and demeaned her, would make no difference to the way she treated him. She was above all that kind of small-mindedness. Proudly she lifted her head as she continued to listen to Lloyd enthusiastically telling her the virtues of his latest ‘find’.
* * *
Ran stared grimly around the unfurnished, dusty and cobweb-festooned hallway of Haverton Hall. The smell of neglect and the much more ominous dry rot hung malodorously on the still, late afternoon air. The large room, in common with the rest of the Hall, had a desolate, down-at-heel air of weariness which reminded him uncomfortably of the elderly great-uncle who had owned the property when Ran was growing up. Visits to see him had been something which Ran had always dreaded and, ironically, he could remember how relieved he had been to discover that it was not he but an older cousin who would ultimately inherit the responsibility for the vast, empty, neglected house.
But now that cousin was dead and he, Ran, was Haverton’s owner, or at least he had been until a week or so ago, when he had finally and thankfully signed the papers which would convey legal ownership of Haverton and all the problems that went with it into the hands of Lloyd Kelmer.
His initial reaction when he had unexpectedly and unwontedly inherited the place had been to make enquiries to see if any of the British trusts could be persuaded to take it over, but, as their representatives had quickly and wryly explained, the trusts were awash with unwanted properties and deluged with despairing owners wanting them to take on even more.
Faced with the prospect of having to stand aside and watch as the house and its lands fell into an even greater state of decay, Ran hadn’t known what on earth he was going to do—his inheritance had been the house and the land; there hadn’t been any money to leave for its upkeep—and then Alex had happened to mention the existence of an eccentric American billionaire whose main vocation and purpose in life was the buying up and restoring of old properties which he then opened to the public, and Ran had lost no time in getting in touch with him.
To his relief Lloyd had flown over to England to view the house and promptly declared that he loved it.
That relief had turned to something very different, though, when he had received a fax from Lloyd advising him that his assistant, Ms Sylvie Bennett, would be flying over to Britain to act as his representative over the repair and renovation of the property. He could, of course, have simply chosen to turn his back, walk away, and leave someone else to liaise with Sylvie, but Ran wasn’t like that. If he had a job to do he preferred to see it through for himself, no matter how unwanted or potentially problematic that task might be.
Potentially problematic! A bitter half-smile curled his mouth. There was nothing potential about the problems that Sylvie was likely to cause him... Nothing potential at all.
He had heard scraps of news about her over the years, of course, mainly from Alex and Mollie. Sylvie had completed her degree course and majored summa cum laude... Sylvie was living in New York and looking for a job... Sylvie had got a job... Sylvie was working in Venice... In Rome... In Prague... Sylvie... Sylvie... Sylvie...
Alex and Mollie weren’t his only sources of information, though. Only the previous winter in London, Ran had unexpectedly bumped into Sylvie’s mother, Alex’s stepmother, predictably just outside Harvey Nichols.