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'You're not serious '
Sylvie frowned as she studied the synopsis pinned to the front of the file her employer had just handed her.
Lloyd Kelmer the fourth was the kind of eccentric billionaire who, by rights, only ought to have existed in fairy storiesas a particularly genial and indulgent godfather, Sylvie thought. She had been introduced to him at a party to which she had been invited by some acquaintances of her stepbrother's. She had only gone to the party because she had been feeling particularly lost and insignificant, having only recently left her American college and moved to New York. They had got chatting and Lloyd had begun to tell her about the trials and traumas he had experienced in running the huge wealthy Trust set up by his grandfather.
'The old man had this thing about stately homes, I guess I kinda feel the same. He owned a fair handful of the things himself, so he kinda had a taste for them, if you know what I mean. There was the plantation down in Carolina and then a couple of chateaux in France and apalazzo in Venice, so it just kinda happened naturally that he should have this idea of using his millions to preserve and protect big houses, and now the Trust has a whole skew of them all over the world, and more wanting to have the Trust bankroll them every day.'
Sylvie, with her own admittedly second-hand experience of her stepbrother's problems in running and financing his own large family estate in England, had quite naturally been very interested in what Lloyd had had to say, but it had still surprised her a few days later to receive not just a telephone call from him but the offer of a job as his personal assistant.
Sylvie wasn't seventeen any longer, nor was she the naive and perhaps over-protected girl she had once been. Lloyd might be in his early sixties and might, so far, not have done or said anything to suggest that he had any ulterior motive whatsoever in making contact with her, but nevertheless, having asked him for time to consider his unexpected offer, the first thing Sylvia had done was telephone her stepbrother in England and ask for his advice.
An unscheduled and unfortunately brief visit from Alex and his wife Mollie to vet Lloyd and talk over the situation with Sylvie had resulted in her deciding to take the job, a decision which, twelve months down the line, she regularly paused to congratulate herself on making, or at least she had done until now.
Her work was varied and fascinating, and barely left her with any time to draw breath, never mind for any personal relationships with members of the opposite sex, but that didn't worry Sylvie. So far, what she had learned from her experiences with men was that she was a particularly poor judge of the breed. First there had been her revoltingly humiliating teenage crush on Ran and his rejection of her, then there had been the appalling danger she had put herself and her family in with her foolish involvement with Wayne.
She and Wayne might never have been lovers but she had known, from the first, of his involvement in the drug scene and, as foolishly as she had tried to convince herself that Ran would fall in love with her, she had also tried to convince herself that Wayne was simply a lost soul in need of protecting and saving.
She had been wrong on both counts. Love was the last emotion Ran had ever felt for her. And as for Wayne Well, thankfully he was now safely out of her life.
Her new job took every minute of her time and every ounce of her energy. Each new property the Trust decided to 'adopt' had to be inspected, vetted and then painstakingly brought up to the same standard as all the other properties the Trust financed and opened to the general public.
Sylvie knew that her employer's highly individualistic and personalised way of deciding which of the multitude of properties he was offered as potential new additions to the Trust's portfolio were worth acquiring caused other organisations to eye him slightly askance. For Lloyd to accept a house it had to have what he described as the 'right feel', but his eccentricities tended to make Sylvie feel almost maternally protective of him.
Or at least they had until now.
To return from a six-week trip to Prague, where she had been supervising the takeover of a particularly beautiful if horrendously run-down eighteenth-century palace they had recently added to their acquisitions, to discover that in her absence Lloyd had made yet another acquisition in the form of Haverton Hall, a huge neoclassical building set in its own parkland in Derbyshire, had caused her heart to sink into her shoes.