‘I doubt she cared very much one way or the other. She and my father had only been married a matter of months—a dynastic marriage of sorts—and by the time she had given birth to me the Junta had been overthrown.’
Lizzie was appalled.
‘So you never knew your father?’
‘And your mother?’
‘She remarried—a cousin with whom she was already in love. I was handed over to my grandfather.’
‘She gave you away?’
The pity that had been growing inside her with every terse answer Ilios had given her had grown into an aching ball of shocked compassion. She and her sisters had known such love from their parents, had had such happy childhoods, and Lizzie couldn’t help but feel the contrast between her own childhood and the one Ilios must have had.
‘As she saw it she had done her duty in marrying my father and producing a son, and so she deserved to follow her own heart, which did not lie with me.’
‘Where is she now? Do you see her?’
‘She and her second husband were killed in a freak storm when they were out sailing.’
Lizzie could understand why a person would want to keep such a beautiful home in the family—but surely not at the price of one’s own children? How could a man have sacrificed his own sons the way Ilios’s grandfather had?
‘Villa Manos isn’t just an inheritance, it is a sacred trust,’ Ilios told her coldly, obviously guessing what she was thinking. ‘It was said by our ancestor when he had it built that as long as it remained in the hands of the Manos family our family would survive and thrive, but that if it should be lost to the family our line would shrivel and turn to dust. It is the responsibility of the Manos who holds the key to Villa Manos to ensure that there is someone for him to pass it on to. Since he is the elder or the two of us my cousin grew up believing—as I did myself—that our grandfather would pass on the key to him.’
‘So why didn’t he?’ Lizzie couldn’t resist asking.
‘I went out into the world and made something of myself, whilst Tino preferred to live off what little our grandfather still had. In the end our grandfather decided that our history and out future would be safer in my hands. The land he divided between us, but the house he left to me.’
It was a tale of true Greek tragedy in many ways, Lizzie reflected as Ilios headed for an expensive-looking car, which Lizzie could now see was a Bentley. He unlocked the passenger door and then opened it for her.
She had no option other than to go with him. Lizzie knew that, but she still hesitated.
In the end it was her compassion for the child he must once have been as much as her awareness of his power over her that had her sliding into the richly luxurious leather seat. Ilios stowed her trolley case in the boot before getting into the driver’s seat and starting the car.
What a terrible, tainted inheritance he had received, Lizzie thought sadly as they bumped down the rutted lane.
The March day had darkened into early evening by the time they reached the main road that would take them back to Thessalonica. It had been a long day for Lizzie, who had been up at five in the morning to catch her flight, and the anxiety she had endured added to her tiredness now. Combined with the comforting hum of the expensive car, they had her drifting off to sleep and then waking herself up again as she fought the longing to close her eyes. She might feel appalled by the story he had told her, and filled with compassion for the lonely child he must have been, but that did not mean she felt comfortable about falling asleep in his presence. Far from it. There was something too intimate, too vulnerable about sleeping in his wakeful presence to allow her to do that.