She gave a small twisted smile, whilst Ilios listened to her with a growing sense of incredulity and disbelief.
‘What woman would?’ Lizzie continued self-deprecatingly. ‘But at least now that you do know, I can rely on you to…to help me…to ensure that—well, that nothing happens.’
Ilios could hardly believe his own ears. Was she really standing there and telling him that she wouldn’t share his bed because she was afraid that the sexual temptation of his proximity would be too much for her self-control? Did she really think that he was the kind of man who would allow a woman to play the role of hunter in the chase between the sexes? Immediately Ilios wished he had not used such a metaphor, because it had somehow or other caused some very sensual images indeed to break loose inside his imagination—images that were having exactly the opposite effect on him he assumed Lizzie had expected her admission to have.
Her head bowed, Lizzie admitted, ‘I know you must be shocked. I was shocked too. That was part of the reason why I didn’t want to agree to marry you.’
‘You knew then?’ Ilios challenged her.
Lizzie swallowed against the painful lump of anguish lodged in her throat. I knew the minute I saw you, she could have said. But of course she mustn’t.
‘I knew that there was something…’ she told him carefully. ‘But I thought it would go away.’
‘And it didn’t?’
She shook her head. ‘I thought that I could fight against it, that it would be like fighting the hurdles I had to overcome when our parents died, and I will, only at the moment, after tonight and the champagne, I just don’t think…’
‘So it’s only tonight that you don’t want to spend in my bed?’
‘No, it’s not just tonight.’
‘So it isn’t just the champagne either?’
Lizzie couldn’t speak. She couldn’t look at him, and she couldn’t run from him either. All she could do was simply shake her head.
‘I’d be lying if I said that I’d never been propositioned by a woman before, and I’d be lying even more if I said that I’d either welcomed or enjoyed the experience,’ Ilios told her abruptly. ‘As far as I’m concerned, I’m a man who does his own hunting, who selects the woman he wants and pursues her—not the other way around.’
Lizzie’s head came up. ‘I wasn’t propositioning you,’ she denied fiercely. ‘I was just trying to explain—to warn you.’ When he made no response she continued determinedly, ‘I could sleep in the guest room, and then in the morning…’
Ilios was shaking his head.
‘No. Now that I am aware of the situation you may rest assured that you can safely leave it to me to take the right steps to deal with it. That was what you wanted, after all, wasn’t it? For me to take responsibility for the situation?’
‘Yes,’ Lizzie was forced to agree.
‘Right. I have some work to do—costings to check—and some e-mails to send. So why don’t you make yourself at home in what will now be our bedroom and stop worrying? It is a husband’s duty to protect his wife, is it not?’ Ilios’s whole manner was dismissive, and indicated that he no longer felt the issue worthy of discussion.
‘I’m not your wife—and anyway, a lot of women would take exception to the idea that they might need to be protected,’ Lizzie felt bound to point out.
‘This is Greece,’ Ilios told her firmly. ‘And you are both worrying needlessly and imagining problems where none need exist.’
If she did go to bed now, with any luck she would be asleep before Ilios came to join her. In all probability that was why he was staying up to do some work, Lizzie reflected, as she picked up her coat and nodded in acknowledgement of what he had said.