Sylvie... In another few hours she would be here, their roles in many ways reversed.
‘I despise you, Ran, I hate you,’ she had hissed at him between gritted teeth when she had first left for New York, averting her face when he had leaned forward to kiss her cheek.
‘I hate you...’ She had said it with almost as much passion as she had once cried out to him that she loved him. Almost as much...
FIVE miles or so before her ultimate destination Sylvie pulled the car she had hired at the airport over to the side of the road and switched off the engine—not because she was unsure of where she was going, not even because she wanted to absorb the beauty of the Derbyshire countryside around her, magnificent though it was as it basked warmly in the mid-afternoon sunshine, devoid of any sign of human occupation apart from her own.
No, the reason she had stopped was that she had been tellingly aware for the last few miles not just of the slight dampness of her hands on the steering wheel but, even more betrayingly, of the increasing turmoil of her thoughts and the nervous butterflies churning her stomach.
When she finally met...confronted...Ran, she wanted to be calm and in control of both herself and the situation. She was not, she reminded herself sternly, meeting him as an idealistic teenager who had fallen so disastrously and desperately in love with him, but as a woman, a woman who had a job to do. She would not, must not allow her own personal feelings to affect her judgement or her professionalism.
In the eyes of other people, her job might appear to be an enviable sinecure, travelling the world, living and breathing the air of some of its most beautiful buildings, able to afford to commission its very best workmen, but there was far more to it than that.
As Lloyd had remarked admiringly to her the previous year, when he had viewed the finished work on the Venetian palazzo, Sylvie didn’t just possess the most marvellous and accurate eye for correct period detail, for harmony and colour, for the subtlety that meant she could hold in her mind’s eye the entire finished concept of how an original period room must have looked, she also had an extremely shrewd and practical side to her nature which ensured that with every project she had worked on so far she had managed to bring the work to completion on time and under budget.
This was something that didn’t just ‘happen’. It involved hours and hours spent poring over costings and budgets, more hours and hours tramping around warehouses, inspecting fabrics and furniture, and in many cases, because of the age of the houses, it also meant actually finding and commissioning workmen to make new ‘aged’ copies of the pieces she required. Italy, as she had quickly discovered, was a treasure house for such craftsmen and so, oddly, was London, but always at a price, and Sylvie had surprised herself a little at her ability to haggle and bargain for days if necessary, until she had got what she wanted and at a price she considered to be fair.
This had, of course, led to her often having to take an extremely firm line, not just with the craftspeople she dealt with but very often with the original owners of their properties as well, who very often retained life tenancy in the houses and quite naturally wanted to have their say in how they were restored and furnished.
Oh, yes, Sylvie was used to dealing with sometimes difficult ex-owners, and situations where she had to use both patience and tact to ensure that no one’s pride was hurt.
It was a very definite skill to be able to walk the tightrope between avoiding hurting a prior owner’s often sensitive pride and ensuring that the house was restored as she knew Lloyd would want it to be.
But this time it wasn’t just the sensitive feelings of a property’s ex-owner she was going to need to consider. No, this time the person whose feelings, whose emotions were going to need careful handling was herself.
Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply and calmly several times and then opened them again, wiping her hands on a tissue and then re-starting the Discovery’s engine.
She had hired a four-wheel drive, not just because she suspected from the plans and other papers Lloyd had given her to study that it would be useful for travelling over the rugged terrain and the no doubt overgrown driveways that surrounded Haverton Hall, but also because, as she had discovered in the past, a large sturdy off-road vehicle often provided a boon for transporting the odd ‘find’ she came across when scouting around looking for materials for the restoration work to a property.
The statue she had found for the secluded enclosed garden of the Italian palazzo had been one such find, bought and paid for on the spot before the vendor could change his mind, and loaded immediately into her car.