As though he had access to her private thoughts, Ilios told her unkindly, ‘You have two choices. Either you agree to marry me, and in doing so give your sisters the financial protection you claim is all-important to you, or you refuse and face the consequences. Because I will pursue you for repayment of your debt to me, with all the power at my command. And I warn you—do not make the mistake of thinking I do not mean what I say or that I will not carry out my retribution.’
Two choices? He was wrong about that, Lizzie admitted bleakly to herself. She had no choice at all.
Even so, she managed to keep her head held high as she told him, ‘Very well, then. I shall marry you—although there seems to be something you have overlooked in your calculations,’ she couldn’t resist adding.
‘Which is?’ he demanded.
‘You said that Villa Manos and its lands must be passed from father to son,’ Lizzie pointed out to him.
‘And so it shall be,’ Ilios agreed. ‘We are living in the twenty-first century now,’ he told her matter-of-factly. ‘A child can be created without its parents having to meet, never mind get married.’
‘But what about love?’ Lizzie couldn’t stop herself from asking. ‘You may fall in love, and then—’
‘That will never happen. I don’t believe in what you call “love”, and I don’t want to. I would never trust any woman to have my children and not at some stage use them as pawns for her own benefit.’
The harshness in his voice warned Lizzie that this was a dangerous subject, one which raised strong emotions in him, even though she suspected that Ilios himself would refuse to accept that. But not to believe in love—of any kind…Lizzie shivered at the thought of such a cold and barren existence. Love could hurt the human heart—badly—but surely it was also woven into the weft and warp of human life in a way that made it as essential as air and water.
‘When the time comes,’ Ilios continued, ‘I shall ensure that I become the father of one or possibly two sons. They will carry my DNA along with that of a woman who will provide the eggs before being carried by a surrogate. Neither women will know who I am, because it will not be any of their business. My sons will grow up with me, knowing that I am their father.’
‘But they will never know their mother.’ Lizzie’s shock couldn’t be hidden. ‘Aren’t you concerned about how that might affect them?’
‘No. Because they will grow up knowing that they were planned and wanted—by me—and why. They will know too that I have protected them from exploitation by any woman using them for her own financial advantage. They will be far too busy learning what it means to be a Manos to worry about the absence from their lives of a woman they can call “Mother”. Unlike many other children they will never be in the position of believing that their mother loves them above all else only to find that she does not…’
Was this the reason he refused to believe in love?
‘Is that what happened to you?’ she asked softly, driven again to feel pity for the child he must have been, despite the way he had behaved towards her. The words were spoken before she could check them.
The softness of Lizzie’s voice touched a previously unrecognised area of raw pain within him that immediately had Ilios fighting to deny its existence—furious with himself for having such a vulnerability, and even more furious with Lizzie for so accurately finding it.
‘Don’t waste your time or your pity trying to psychoanalyse me. All I want from you is payment of your debt to me. Nothing less and nothing more,’ he told her coldly.