Before he could respond, a waiter appeared at their side, notebook at the ready.

 ‘Shall I order us a selection of meze to start with?’ Christian asked.

 ‘You know all the best stuff,’ she answered with a grin. Already the bustling, warm atmosphere of the place was easing the tension within her, making her relax in a way she hadn’t since she’d taken the pregnancy test. ‘Go ahead.’

 She had no idea what he ordered, the waiter making squiggles on his note pad before bustling off, immediately to be replaced with Mikolaj, who carried a carafe of red wine and a jug of iced water.

 ‘Do you want any wine?’ Christian asked, knowing better than to tell her not to have any.

 ‘I’ll stick to water, thanks,’ she said, her cheeks quirking as if she knew what he’d been thinking. As soon as they were alone again, she asked, ‘How do you know Mikolaj? I’m guessing it’s more than you being a good patron.’

 ‘I have known him since I was small child.’

 ‘Is he an old family friend?’

 ‘Something like that.’

 Her doe eyes were fixed on him with unashamed curiosity. ‘Something like what?’

 ‘My mother and I used to live in a room in the attic,’ he supplied, adopting the tone he used to denote the end of a subject.

 Alessandra ignored his tone and raised her eyes to gaze at the ceiling. ‘You lived in the attic here?’

 ‘Yes, here. My mother was a childhood friend of his. When we were kicked out of our old place, Mikolaj and his wife gave us the attic room.’

 She looked back at him, her pretty brows drawing together. ‘One room? For the both of you?’

 ‘Yes.’

 ‘That must have been hard.’

 ‘You have no idea,’ he said, more harshly than he’d intended. In those days, Mikolaj had been barely scraping a living for himself and his own family. If not for his incredibly generous heart, Christian and his mother would have lived on the streets. The attic room was given to them for free in exchange for his mother working in the kitchen. She’d been paid a share of the tips. It was all Mikolaj had been able to afford.

 When Christian had made his first significant trade, a deal that had earned him a hundred thousand dollars, he’d sent Mikolaj a cheque for half the sum.

 Looking back on those early years, it hadn’t been the poverty that had been the hardest to bear. The biggest cross had been living with his mother and her poisonous tongue.

 Theos, but he didn’t want to imagine Alessandra losing the spark that made her such a passionate, vivacious person and turning into one of the Furies, as his mother had. He wouldn’t wish it on anyone but especially not her.

 ‘Do you ever see your father?’

 ‘No. He left when I was a baby.’

 She leaned her elbows on the table and rested her hands on her chin. ‘That must have been hard too.’

 ‘It was hard for my mother, not me. I don’t remember him.’ He no longer wanted to remember him, although he had as a child, had been desperate to know any detail his mother could spare. As all her details had been disparaging at best, nothing concrete, he’d let his mind fly free to construct him. His father was a superhero who had gone to save a galaxy far, far away—unable to send his mother any money by dint of being in a galaxy far, far away. When that galaxy was saved, he would swoop back to Athens, and the little attic room his wife and son shared, and rescue them.

 That fantasy sustained him for a few years until around the age of seven, when he’d overheard a conversation between Mikolaj and his eldest son. They’d been talking about Elena, Christian’s mother.

 ‘She can’t help the way she is,’ Mikolaj had said. ‘When Stratos left her for that woman, it poisoned her. He packed his stuff and left her with no money when the boy was only six months old.’

 Christian had tuned the rest of the conversation out. It had been enough to convince him all his mother’s disparaging comments about his father were true. From that moment on, he’d no longer fantasised about his father. Stratos Markos was never going to swoop in to save them. That would be Christian’s job.

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