The Wealthy Greek's Contract Wife(19)

By: Penny Jordan

‘Yes. I have known all those things and more—far more than you can ever imagine.’

His answer silenced Lizzie in mid-sentence, leaving her with her mouth half open.

Ilios hadn’t intended to allow himself to speak about his most deeply buried memories, but now that he had begun to do so he discovered that it was impossible for him to stop. Emotions—anger, bitterness, resentment—fought with one another to tell their story, bursting from their imprisonment in a torrent of furiously savage words.

‘World War Two and everything that followed it destroyed our family fortunes. What it didn’t take the Junta did. I left home when I was sixteen, intent on making my fortune as I had promised my grandfather I would. Instead I ended up in Athens, begging from rich tourists. That was how I learned to speak English. From there I got work on construction sites, building hotels. That was how I learned to make money.’

‘And you worked your way up until you owned your own business?’

‘In a manner of speaking. Only the way I worked myself up was via a spell in prison and a few good hands of cards. I was falsely accused of stealing materials from a site on which I was working. In prison I found that I could make money playing cards. I saved that money, and then I went back to the construction trade and started to put to use what I’d learned.’

He would make a very bad enemy, Lizzie decided, shivering a little as she heard in his voice the implacability that had made him what he was.

What was happening to him? Ilios wondered. Why was he suddenly talking about things he had vowed never to discuss with anyone? It must be because he wanted to ensure that Lizzie Wareham didn’t get away with thinking that she was the only one to have had hardship in her life. Satisfied with his answer, Ilios got out of the car and went round to the passenger door to open it for Lizzie.

He looked immaculate, Lizzie noticed, whilst she felt sure that she must look travel-creased and grubby. Whilst she smoothed her jeans, and then tried to do the same to her hair, Ilios went to the boot of the car and removed her case from it. Hastily Lizzie went to take it from him, but he shook his head, carrying it as easily as though it was a sheaf of papers. She had no need to wonder where his muscles came from. All that work on building sites, no doubt.

‘The lift’s this way,’ he told her, directing her towards a marble and glass area several yards away. He activated it with a code he punched into the lock, standing back to allow her to go into the lift first.

If he hadn’t told her himself about his childhood she would never have guessed, Lizzie acknowledged. He had the polished manners and self-assurance she associated with someone born into comfortable circumstances, not someone who had come up the hard way. But then his background was obviously moneyed, in the sense that his family had possessed it at one time. Had that made things harder for him? Set him apart from those he’d worked with? Had he ever felt alienated and alone?

Lizzie tried to imagine how she would feel if she didn’t have her sisters, and then warned herself that sympathy was the last thing Ilios Manos wanted. He was a man who stood alone because he wanted to stand alone. He had as good as told her that himself.

The lift soared upwards at speed, flattening her stomach to her spine. She’d never really liked lifts, and this one was all glass, on the inside of the cathedral-like space of the building. Even though it was now in darkness, it made her feel distinctly nervous.

The lift stopped swiftly and silently, its doors opening onto an impressive rectangular hallway. The walls and floors were covered in limestone, and concealed lighting illuminated the space, highlighting the pair of matching limestone tables either side of a pair of double doors, cleverly looking almost as though they had been carved out of the wall instead of standing next to it. Two marble busts—one on either table—were also illuminated by concealed lighting.

When he saw her looking at them, Ilios told her, ‘They are supposed to have been brought back from Italy by Alexandros Manos at the same time as he returned with copies of Palladio’s plans for the villa. If you know Villa Emo and anything of its history then you will know that the Emo family were said to be of Greek descent—hence the classical Greek appearance of the villa.’

‘As a trading port, Venice was something of a melting pot for various nations back then,’ Lizzie agreed.

Ilios nodded his head, then opened the doors and waited for her to precede him.

A corridor lined with black marble on one side and mirrors on the other, to expand the space, opened out into a large living area with floor-to-ceiling glass walls virtually all along its length. Through them Lizzie could see the night sky, studded with stars.