All their lives were changing.
He went to grab his briefcase, which he’d left by Alessandra’s corner office. Instead of picking it up and leaving, he found himself sitting at her desk, flipping through the portfolios of her work.
As much as he admired all her work, it was their wedding album he spent the most time looking through. These were the unofficial ones taken by Alessandra, a timeline from the start of their wedding week, when their first guests had arrived, right up to the moment they’d got on the dance floor for the Kalamatianos. His lips quirked to see a picture of a particularly beautiful but notoriously moody actress smiling for the camera with something black in her teeth.
His heart jolted when he turned the page over to find a montage of photos of the same face. All different angles, all different moods: some smiling, others distant, a couple frowning... One in particular held his attention. The face was staring directly into the camera, a wide, relaxed grin on the face, a soft yet suggestive look in the eyes, as if the person wanted nothing more than to take the photographer to a private room and make love to them.
Not have sex.
The subject of the photographs was him.
* * *
Christian pulled up outside Villa Mondelli. Turning off the engine, he stared at it in the same way he had stared at it as a poor eighteen-year-old boy on the cusp of becoming a man. He’d seen lavish splendour before, had walked past the mansions in the most affluent parts of Athens vowing that, one day, he too would live in a home like these. Villa Mondelli was the first of that particular type he’d actually been invited into. Not only invited to cross the threshold but to stay there for a week—and many more weeks later on throughout his life, but of course at the time he wasn’t to know that. The Mondellis had welcomed him, Stefan and Zayed into their home and treated him as if he were their equal, as if he were more than a dirt-poor gutter rat raised by a single woman with callused hands.
Now, fourteen years later, with homes every bit as opulent as the villa and wealth beyond his dreams, he still felt that same tug in his heart. But this tug was for Alessandra.
When he’d first visited he’d been full of envy for the people who lived there, brought up with such easy wealth. Or so it had seemed to his eyes.
Alessandra had lived in this house almost her whole life, brought here when her father had lost his own house and abdicated responsibility for his children onto his own father. Alessandra had been a baby. She’d grown up feeling responsible for her mother’s death, shunned by her father and raised by an often austere man who’d thought his child-rearing days long finished with. Her only source of love had been her older brother whom, despite all her grumbles at his interfering, she worshipped. For much of Alessandra’s life in this home, that same brother had been absent, away in the US studying, graduating to become a workaholic.
More often than not, her only company in this vast house were the staff, people sharing a roof with her because they were paid to.
All the envy he’d felt fourteen years ago had gone, replaced with the sad knowledge that even the richest of people could lead the poorest of lives.
Look at him. He, Christian Markos, was now regarded as one of the richest men in the world. He had all the wealth and all the trappings such wealth brought, but in his heart he was still poor.
It was only now, at the age of thirty-two, that he’d discovered the path to true richness.
He hadn’t even placed a foot on the bottom step when Rocco answered the door.
Christian looked up at him. ‘I’m here to see Alessandra.’ He hadn’t seen her in a fortnight. They’d exchanged a couple of text messages. She’d agreed to meet him in Milan for her next obstetrician appointment, but until then she wanted some space.
He’d needed space too, to get his head together. To get his heart together.
Rocco looked him up and down. ‘And what if she doesn’t want to see you?’
‘Has she said that?’ A puff of relief escaped from him. His hunch had been right. For all Alessandra’s proclamations that she’d rather live in a convent than stay with her brother, this was the first place Christian had looked when she’d failed to return to her apartment after her Tokyo trip.