‘And your father?’
‘Well, he couldn’t avoid it any longer so the whole sordid story came out. Lies, lies and more lies. Lies to both families. But his wife was willing to forgive him, providing he chose her. So that’s what he did.’ Ella gave a painful smile. ‘He came into my room that night and said he wouldn’t be seeing me any more but that he’d always love me. And that was it. He went.’
‘He never saw you again?’ Nikos sounded shocked and she shook her head.
‘His wife threatened to end the marriage if he had any contact, and in the end they moved to Australia. But for a few months they still lived here, in this house. And I used to come here sometimes, just to see if I could catch a glimpse of him. I thought that if he saw me, he’d come back. I honestly couldn’t believe he’d just leave me like that. You have to understand that I went from having a Dad who read to me at night and called me Princess, to this stranger who abandoned us.’
Nikos murmured something in Greek, scooped her into his arms and lifted her onto his lap. For a long time he just held her.
Ella sniffed. ‘So now I suppose you’re really angry that I didn’t tell you.’
‘I think you have one rule for me and one rule for yourself,’ Nikos said dryly, ‘but you’re a woman, so that doesn’t surprise me.’
She gave a choked laugh. ‘The crazy thing is, part of me wanted to see this house. I always wondered what it was like inside. I thought seeing it might make me feel better.’
‘Obviously it didn’t. So now I am beginning to understand why you have been so reluctant to wear my ring. I brought you somewhere where all your fears were intensified. You are afraid of what I might be hiding, no? You are afraid that I will do the same thing to you that your father did to your mother.’ His arms tightened around her and she buried her face in his shirt, breathing in his tantalising male smell.
‘You had a whole secret life. You still do. There’s so much you haven’t told me. I suppose I learned at an early age that relationships are not always what they seem.’
‘And sometimes they are exactly what they seem,’ Nikos said firmly, tipping her off his lap and onto the bed so that he could pull his BlackBerry out of his pocket.
‘Nikos?’ Bemused, she stared at him as he keyed in a number. ‘Who are you phoning?’
‘My PA. The first thing to do is get you out of this house. I need her to make some arrangements so that I can concentrate on more important things.’ He switched to Greek as the call was answered and Ella realised that up until that point she hadn’t even known he had a PA.
As he dropped the phone back into his pocket, she stared at him. ‘You have a full-time personal assistant? That’s another thing I don’t know about you.’
‘I have two full-time personal assistants. They filter the majority of my corporate responsibility, leaving me free to practise medicine.’ He pulled her gently to her feet. ‘How are you feeling? Wobbly? Can you walk?’
‘Of course I can walk. But where are we going? Nikos, it’s dark. You can’t find somewhere else to stay tonight. It’s too late. Everywhere will be booked.’
As if to prove her wrong, his phone rang and he answered it with a grim sense of purpose.
Less than an hour later she was curled up in a deep, soft sofa in the penthouse suite of a boutique hotel along the coast. ‘This is unbelievable. It’s lucky that this room was vacant.’
Nikos shot her a curious look, seemed about to say something and then gave a brief shake of his head. ‘We are lucky,’ he agreed smoothly, ‘that’s true. Now—you are no longer in that place, I want to finish the conversation.’ He poured her a drink of water and handed it to her. ‘Why didn’t you tell me about the house on the first day I took you there? You could have just said that you didn’t want to live there.’
‘No, I couldn’t.’ Ella curled her legs underneath her, feeling oddly vulnerable. ‘I’m not a billionaire, Nikos! I can’t just say to someone, “I don’t want to live here, find somewhere else.”’ And, anyway, if I’d told you I didn’t want to stay there, you would have wanted to know the reason. And I didn’t want to talk about the reason.’
‘If you had, we might have avoided a great deal of emotional trauma on both sides,’ he drawled softly. ‘Do me a favour from now on. Act like a typical woman and think aloud.’