Nor must she allow the fact that Ilios did not return her feelings to prevent her from behaving as she would have done had she not loved him.
‘I’ve really enjoyed today. Thank you for bringing me and showing me the villa,’ she told him, with that in mind, as they headed back to the car for the return journey to Thessaloniki.
He had enjoyed it too, Ilios acknowledged. When he had not been battling with the emotions his conflicting feelings towards her aroused.
On the way back to Thessaloniki they stopped at the same tavern where they had had lunch. The small village overlooked the sea, and the front of the tavern was protected enough from the breeze for it to be warm enough to sit outside.
They’d eaten plump juicy black olives and delicious grilled kebabs, and were just finishing their coffee when it happened. A dull noise like thunder, and the movement of the ground beneath their feet.
The trestle table shifted, spilling Lizzie’s coffee, and then Ilios got up, coming towards her and taking hold of her, pushing her down to the ground, covering her with his own body as he warned her, ‘It’s an earthquake.’
‘An earthquake?’ she echoed.
‘This area’s notorious for them. It will be all right—just keep still.’
She had no other option other than to keep still with Ilios’s body a protective weight over hers, pinning her to the ground. His hand was cupping the back of her head protectively, pushing her face into his shoulder, allowing her to breathe in the now familiar scent of him. Lizzie just hoped he would assume that the heavy sledgehammer thuds of her heartbeat were caused by her shock and fear of the earthquake rather than by the proximity of their bodies. How fate must be enjoying its joke at her expense, knowing that when she had longed to be held in Ilios’s arms these were not the circumstances in which she had envisaged it happening. To be held by him in an embrace outwardly that of the most intimate and tender of lovers which in reality was nothing more than a means of safety felt painfully ironic, even if his prompt actions were for her own benefit.
‘What’s that?’ she asked anxiously above the growing noise she could hear.
‘Just a few stones and boulders dislodged by the quake rolling down the hillside.’
Lizzie gasped as the earth moved again, in a shudder she could feel right through her body, causing Ilios to tighten his hold on her. Had he loved her, this moment would have been filled with the most intense emotion—and surely would ultimately have resulted in them celebrating their survival and their love for one another in the most intimate way possible once they had had the privacy to do so. Sex was, after all, the only human activity that combined life, birth and even a small taste of death in that moment when it felt as though one flew free into infinity.
Ilios. Why had she had to fall in love with him? Why couldn’t she have simply wanted him on a physical level and nothing more? Because she was a woman, and the female sex, no matter how much it might wish for things to be different, was genetically geared to making an emotional commitment?
The earth had steadied, and so had her heartbeat, slowing to match the sturdy tempo of Ilios’s. In a situation that would normally have filled her with fear for her own safety she had felt completely secure, protected—safe because of him. But here in Ilios’s arms there was no emotional safety for her, only emotional danger, Lizzie reminded herself.
Against her ear Ilios spoke again. ‘That should be it now, but we’d better stay where we are for a few more minutes.’
The warmth of his breath sent small shudders of sensual delight rippling over her nerve-endings, and the knowledge that his lips were so close to her flesh made her want to compel them even closer. Memories of how it had felt to have him caressing her skin with the stroke of his tonguetip broke through the embargo she had placed on them.