‘Like I said, I was expecting to stay in one of the apartments,’ she defended herself, telling him, ‘Just drop me off somewhere central and I’ll find somewhere.’
The last thing she wanted was for him to take her to some five-star hotel she couldn’t afford.
Ilios fought back his irritation whilst mentally calculating the risk of how likely it was that someone he knew would see Lizzie and remember her later if he booked her into a hotel. He decided the odds were too high for him to take. It wasn’t that he particularly cared about the fact that his wife-to-be wasn’t wearing designer clothes, full makeup and expensive jewellery, but local society liked to gossip, and he didn’t want anyone asking awkward questions.
They were travelling down a wide thoroughfare, passing a spectacularly well-designed tall glass and marble building, but before she could comment on it Ilios had turned into a side street and driven down a dark ramp, activating a door in the black marble of a side wall that opened to allow him to drive inside.
‘Where are we?’ Lizzie asked uncertainly.
‘The Manos Construction building,’ Manos told her. Under the circumstances I think it will be best if you stay in my apartment. There are certain formalities that will need to be dealt with—and quickly, if my cousin’s suspicions are not to be alerted. Since you don’t already have a hotel booking, it makes sense for you to stay with me.’
Stay with him? Lizzie’s mouth had gone dry with tension and anxiety.
‘Nothing to say?’
‘What am I supposed to say? Thank you?’ Lizzie’s voice was filled with despair, and her emotions overwhelmed her as she demanded, ‘Have you any idea what it’s like to be in my position? Not to know whether or not you can pay your bills, or even where your next meal is going to come from? Not having anyone to turn to who can help?’
‘Yes. I have known all those things and more—far more than you can ever imagine.’
His answer silenced Lizzie in mid-sentence, leaving her with her mouth half open.
Ilios hadn’t intended to allow himself to speak about his most deeply buried memories, but now that he had begun to do so he discovered that it was impossible for him to stop. Emotions—anger, bitterness, resentment—fought with one another to tell their story, bursting from their imprisonment in a torrent of furiously savage words.
‘World War Two and everything that followed it destroyed our family fortunes. What it didn’t take the Junta did. I left home when I was sixteen, intent on making my fortune as I had promised my grandfather I would. Instead I ended up in Athens, begging from rich tourists. That was how I learned to speak English. From there I got work on construction sites, building hotels. That was how I learned to make money.’
‘And you worked your way up until you owned your own business?’
‘In a manner of speaking. Only the way I worked myself up was via a spell in prison and a few good hands of cards. I was falsely accused of stealing materials from a site on which I was working. In prison I found that I could make money playing cards. I saved that money, and then I went back to the construction trade and started to put to use what I’d learned.’
He would make a very bad enemy, Lizzie decided, shivering a little as she heard in his voice the implacability that had made him what he was.
What was happening to him? Ilios wondered. Why was he suddenly talking about things he had vowed never to discuss with anyone? It must be because he wanted to ensure that Lizzie Wareham didn’t get away with thinking that she was the only one to have had hardship in her life. Satisfied with his answer, Ilios got out of the car and went round to the passenger door to open it for Lizzie.