Picking up the black clutch bag that went with her high-heeled suede shoes, and the pure white cashmere coat that was surely the most impractical garment even created, Lizzie opened the door and stepped out into the corridor, giving Ilios, who was standing at the other end of it on his way to his own room, the perfect opportunity to study and assess her appearance.
‘Well?’ she challenged him. ‘Do I look suitably high-maintenance and worthy of being your fiancée?’
To say that he was lost for words would be an exaggeration, Ilios decided, but to admit in the privacy of his own thoughts that the Lizzie standing at the other end of the corridor waiting for his response was a woman whose discreetly sensual elegant took his breath away would not.
When Lizzie saw Ilios frown her heart sank, even whilst her pride stiffened. If she wasn’t good enough for him, then too bad. After all, she wasn’t the one who had insisted upon their fake relationship.
‘You’ll need these,’ Ilios announced harshly, holding out to her several boxes without answering her question, and then walking away from her in the direction of the master bedroom.
Unwillingly, Lizzie took the boxes from him. Don’t you dare cry, she warned herself as she went into the living area. She didn’t dare, with the amount of mascara she had on.
Would it really have been so difficult for him to tell her that she looked good, even if he didn’t really think so? He must know how anxious she was feeling. How much she needed the confidence his support would have given her.
Dropping her coat onto one of the sofas, Lizzie opened the first of the boxes, her eyes widening in disbelief as she looked at the contents. The necklace sparkling on the velvet couldn’t possibly be real, could it? All those diamonds—and a matching bangle. She closed the box quickly. Her dress might look vaguely Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but she certainly wasn’t going to risk wearing something that might be worth a king’s ransom just to reinforce that image.
She was about to open the other boxes when Ilios returned.
He’d obviously showered, because his hair was still damp—and not just on his head. Lizzie had to fight to drag her gaze away from the damp, dark silky body hair she could just see as he finished fastening his shirt. His unexpected request for help as he opened his palm to reveal a pair of cufflinks startled her as she refocussed her gaze. Her mouth instantly went dry as a slow ache uncurled inside her body—like woodsmoke, and just as dangerously pervasive.
Somehow she managed to scramble to her feet and go to him, taking the links from him. Rose-gold and plain, they felt soft and warm in her palm. The initials on them were slightly faded, although she could still make out the interlaced A and M. Almost absently she rubbed her fingertip over them.
‘They were my father’s.’ She heard Ilios’s voice somewhere above her head. ‘The design is Venetian. It is a tradition in our family that when a boy reaches the age of maturity he is given a pair of such cufflinks by his father—a sign of his manhood. Since my father was not able to do that for me, I wear his instead.’
For the second time in less than half an hour Lizzie had to remind herself of the damage tears would do to her eye make-up.
Watching Lizzie’s head, bent towards his wrist, the nape of her neck exposed to his gaze, Ilios had to resist the temptation to reach out and curl one of the small escaping fronds of hair round his finger. He could quite easily have fastened the cufflinks himself—far more easily than Lizzie, in fact—but for some reason he had decided to ask her to do it for him. As a test of her suitability to be his wife? he taunted himself. Or as a test to himself, to prove he was not as susceptible to her as his body insisted on repeatedly telling him he was?