And yet inevitably in the end she was unable to prevent her eyes from closing and her head dropping against the leather headrest, with her face turned towards the man who now had command of her life.
Ilios studied her. The bone structure beneath the pale skin was elegantly formed, her beauty quietly classical and enduring. Her loyalty to her family matched one of the most important tenets of traditional Greek society. She was, he recognised as he looked at her, the kind of woman a man would marry rather than simply want to bed for momentary sexual satisfaction.
Ilios exhaled on the sudden realisation of where his own thought processes were taking him.
The car hit a pothole in the road, waking Lizzie up.
What had she told herself about not betraying any more vulnerability than she had to? she cautioned herself as she sat up, and then frowned as she glanced at her watch and realised what time it was.
‘Please excuse me, but I must send a text,’ she told Ilios, reaching for her phone.
‘To your lover?’ Ilios challenged her.
‘No! I don’t have a lover!’ Lizzie denied immediately.
The dark eyebrows rose. ‘Such a vehement, almost shocked denial—and yet surely it is perfectly natural that a woman of your age should have a man in her life and her bed. You are what? Twenty-four? Twenty-five? After all, you can hardly still be a virgin.’
‘Of course not. And I’m twenty-seven,’ Lizzie told him.
Of course not. But her last sexual relationship—her only sexual relationship, in fact—had been when she had been at university. And it had existed more because it was the done thing than because she and the boy in question had envisaged spending the rest of their lives together. Things had been different then. She had been young, and life had been fun. Fun had died out of her life with the loss of her parents.
‘And I wasn’t shocked. It’s simply that I have more important things to think about than men.’
‘My family—my sisters and my nephews. It is actually the boys I need to text. I promised them I would because I won’t be there to read their bedtime story—it would have been my turn tonight.’ Emotion choked Lizzie’s voice. ‘My family are far more important to me than any man ever could be. I have to put them first. They depend on me, and I can’t let them down. They matter far more to me than some…some fleeting sexual pleasure.’
Automatically Ilios wanted to reject, to push away and in fact deny his awareness of the emotion in Lizzie’s voice when she spoke of her family. There was no place for that kind of sentiment in his present life or in his plans for his future life. Nor would there ever be.
‘If your only experience of sexual pleasure has been fleeting then it is hardly surprising it doesn’t bother you to give it up,’ he told Lizzie coolly instead. ‘A good lover makes it his business to make his partner’s pleasure as enduring as she wishes it to be.’
‘That’s easy to say,’ Lizzie responded, desperate to try to hold her own and appear as nonchalant as Ilios himself. The reality was that his casual observation was having an intense and unwanted effect on her. It was making her ask questions of herself that she knew she could not answer. Questions such as what would it be like to be Ilios Manos’s lover?
‘And I assure you easy to do, when one knows how,’ Ilios came back slipping the comment up under Lizzie’s guard and drawing a soft gasp of choked reaction from her.
Of course Ilios Manos would be an experienced lover. Of course he would know exactly how to please his partner—even if that partner was an untutored as she was herself.
She was floundering now, going down under the flood of awareness surging through her, a flood of dangerous sensations, longings, and—heavens, yes—images as well, of two sensually entwined naked bodies, one belonging to her and the other to Ilios. Stop it, Lizzie warned herself, beginning to panic. She could not afford this kind of self-indulgence. It was far too dangerous.