‘No, that can’t be true,’ Lizzie protested, horrified.
Ilios looked at her. There was real panic in her voice now. He could see that she was trembling.
An act, he told himself grimly. That was all it was. Just an act.
‘I assure you that it is,’ he told her, ignoring her obvious distress.
‘But I can’t possibly find that kind of money.’ She couldn’t find any kind of money.
‘No? Well, I have to tell you that I intend to be fully rec-ompensed—not just for the money I am owed, but also for the potential damage that could have been done to my business. A business for which I have worked far harder than someone like you, who lives off the naïveté of others, can ever imagine. You own your own business?’
‘Yes,’ Lizzie acknowledged. ‘But it is almost bankrupt.’
Why had she told him that when she hadn’t even told her sisters just how bad things were? That every spare penny she had had been placed into their shared joint account to ensure that the mortgage was paid, the household bills met, and food put on the table at home.
She looked really distraught now, Ilios could see, but he refused to feel any sympathy. Showing sympathy was a sign of weakness, and Ilios never allowed himself to be weak.
‘You have a property? A home, I assume?’ he pressed
‘Yes, but it is mortgaged, and anyway I share it with my sisters, one of whom has two small children and is dependent on me.’
Lizzie didn’t know why she was admitting all of this to him, other than because she was in such a state of shock and panic. She wasn’t going to let herself think about the last few months of long nights, when she had lain awake worrying about how she would manage to protect her family and continue to provide for them financially. They knew that things were bad, she hadn’t been able to hide that from them, but they did not know yet just how bad.
‘Your sister does not have a husband to support her and her children? You do not have parents?’
‘The answer to both those questions is no. Not that it is any of your business, or relevant to our discussion. There is no way I can find the money to repay you. The only thing I own that is my own is my body…’
‘And you wish to offer that to me in payment?’
Lizzie was horrified.
Her immediate recoil, coupled with her vehemence, inflamed Ilios even further. Was she daring to suggest that she was too good for him? Morally superior to him? Well, he would soon make her change her tune, Ilios promised himself savagely.
‘You deny it now, but the offer was implicit in your declaration that your body is the only thing you have.’
He was determined to humiliate her. Lizzie could see that. Because he had somehow sensed her sexual reaction to him?
‘No. That is, yes—but I didn’t mean it the way you are trying to suggest. I only meant that I do not own anything via which I could raise the money to pay you.’
‘Except your body.’
‘I didn’t mean it like that,’ Lizzie repeated, mortified. ‘I just meant that…’ She lifted her hand to her head, which was now pounding with a mixture of anxiety and despair. ‘I can’t pay you.’
Ilios had had enough. His temper was at breaking point. He would have what he was owed—one way or another.
‘Very well, then,’ he began, causing Lizzie to go weak with relief at the thought that he was finally going to accept that there was no point in him continuing to press her for money.
‘If your body is all you have with which to repay me, then that is what I will have to take—because I promise you this: I will have repayment.’
LIZZIE’S head jerked back on the slender stem of her neck as she looked up at Ilios in shocked disbelief.