Here scaffolding showed where craftsmen were obviously working to repair the ornate plasterwork ceiling, which Lizzie could see held a central fresco of a family group.
‘I had to go to Florence to find the craftspeople to do this work,’ Ilios told Lizzie.
‘It’s a highly skilled job,’ Lizzie agreed.
Two hours later Ilios had given her a full tour of the house. The man he was supposed to be meeting had telephoned to say that he would have to cancel and make another appointment. He was unavoidably delayed because his wife had gone into premature labour.
‘I hope she and the baby will be all right,’ had been Lizzie’s immediate and instinctive comment as they’d walked down the return staircase.
The villa would be stunningly beautiful when the restoration work had been completed—a true work of art, in fact. But Lizzie simply could not visualise it as a home.
‘It won’t be easy, bringing up your sons here,’ she felt bound to say.
‘I don’t plan to live here,’ Ilios told her.
Lizzie looked uncertainly at him. ‘But I thought—that is, you said that the house had to stay within the family.’
‘It does, and it will. But not as a family home. I’ve got other plans for it. There’s a shortage of opportunities for young apprentices to learn the skills that go into maintaining a house like this. I found that out for myself. So I’ve decided that Villa Manos will become a place where those who want to master those skills can come to learn them. Instead of turning the villa into a dead museum, I plan to turn it into a living workshop—where courses are run for master craftsmen, taught by those who have already mastered those trades themselves.’
‘What a wonderful idea.’ Lizzie didn’t make any attempt to conceal her approval.
‘I shall build a house for myself on the other side of the promontory.’
‘Where the apartments were?’
‘Yes. There will also be an accommodation block, and schoolrooms and proper workshops for the students. They will be situated in the wooded area between the villa and the other side of the promontory—’ He broke off as Lizzie’s mobile suddenly started to bleep.
‘I’m sorry,’ she apologised, scrambling in her bag for it so that she could silence it. Her face suddenly broke into a smile as she looked at the image which had flashed up on her screen.
‘It’s the twins—my nephews,’ she told Ilios. ‘My sister sent me a photograph of them earlier, in their new school uniforms, and now she’s sent me another picture of them.’ Lizzie held up the phone so that he could see.
Ilios glanced dismissively at the screen, and then found that he couldn’t look away. The young woman in the photograph, kneeling down and clasping a uniform-clad boy in each arm, had that same look of love and happiness on her face as Lizzie herself wore when she was talking about her family. There was no doubting the closeness her family shared, and no doubting Lizzie’s love for her sisters and these two small dark-haired boys. Fatherless they might be, but they were laughing into the camera, confident in the love that surrounded them. Neither was there any doubt about Lizzie’s determination to protect her family and provide for them. If Lizzie herself were to have a child then she would love it with the same absolute loyalty and devotion he could see on her face now. A child…his child…Absorbed in the enormity of what he was thinking, Ilios didn’t notice Lizzie move towards him until he felt her hand on his arm as she told him, ‘It’s thanks to you that they were able to have those uniforms.’
Thanks to him? Ilios tensed against what was happening to him—against the savage dagger-thrusts of pain that tore into him with Lizzie’s words. Because they reminded him of the truth. The only reason she was here with him was because he had blackmailed her into marrying him.