‘No, I did not “bribe” them, as you put it.’Anger flashed in Ilios’s eyes. ‘I do not conduct my business by way of bribes—I thought I had already made that clear to you. All I did was agree to do what I could to ensure the contract is finished ahead of time and to the highest standard. Something I always insist on. We are subject to earthquakes here. It is always important that this is taken into account on construction projects, although some less than scrupulous contractors do try to cut corners. Now, I shall get dressed whilst you finish your coffee, and then leave you in peace to get dressed yourself.’
Peace? How was it possible for her to have anything remotely approaching peace now that she had met Ilios? Lizzie asked herself grimly just over an hour later, when she stood in the dressing room she was now sharing with her soon-to-be husband, studying her own reflection.
She was wearing an off-white wool dress with a bubble skirt and a neat boxy matching jacket—the nearest thing she had been able to find amongst her new clothes that looked anything like ‘bridal’. Not that this was a proper wedding, or she a proper bride, of course. She must remember that. She was hardly likely to forget it, was she? It had been a shock to learn that they were getting married so quickly, but she suspected that she should have guessed Ilios wouldn’t want to waste any time putting his plans into practice.
She walked towards the door. It was a strange feeling to know that the next time she looked at her reflection in this mirror she would not be Lizzie Wareham any more. She would be Mrs Ilios Manos.
‘REMEMBER that you agreed to this,’ Ilios warned Lizzie as they stood together on the steps leading of the town hall.
Ilios’s notary, who had been with them the whole time whilst the simple ceremony making them man and wife had been taking place, stood back discreetly as Ilios took her arm.
Not trusting herself to speak, Lizzie nodded her head and forced a brief tight smile. It was all very well telling herself that it wasn’t a real marriage, nor a proper wedding, nor Ilios her real husband—there had still been that dreadful moment when they had stood together before the official marrying them and inside her head she had seen the small church in the village where she had grown up, and herself dressed in white, with her father standing proudly at her side, her mother fussing over her dress and her sisters laughing, Ilios watching them smiling, and she had felt a tearing, aching sense of loss strike her right to her heart.
‘Come,’ Ilios urged her.
The sun was shining, drying pavements still wet from the rain that had fallen whilst they were inside the building, and the breeze was cool. Summer, with its heat, was still many weeks away, and for the first time since she had agreed to marry Ilios Lizzie longed desperately for those weeks to fly past, so that she would be free to go home to her family. It had felt so wrong, so lonely getting married without them—even if it was a pretend marriage—and she ached with nostalgia for her childhood and homesickness for her sisters and the twins.
The sunlight shone brightly on the newness of her wedding ring. She must stop feeling sorry for herself and remember why she had agreed to marry Ilios, she told herself—why she had had to marry him. He was still cupping her elbow, very much the attentive bride-groom—no doubt for the benefit of the notary to whom he was now speaking in Greek. Both of them were looking at her, their conversation excluding her, reminding her that she was an outsider in a foreign land and very much alone.
The pressure of Ilios’s hold on her arm urged her closer to him, as though…as though he had somehow sensed what she was feeling and wanted to reassure her—just as a real husband would have done. That, of course, was ridiculous. Even if he had guessed how she was feeling he was hardly likely to care, was he? She could feel his thumb lightly rubbing her skin through her jacket. He was probably so used to caressing his lovers that he didn’t even realise what he was doing, Lizzie thought waspishly, as she tried to ignore the effect his absent-minded caress was having on her body. He was turning towards her, smiling warmly at her—a false smile, for his audience, of course.