'His name was Spiros. He was seventy-one and I was his only child,' Dio framed, his accent thickening to roughen his vowel sounds, his jawline squaring. 'He was one of those good guys you mentioned. He may have passed away peace¬fully in his sleep, but his death was both sudden and unex¬pected.'
'You had no chance to say goodbye. That's very hard to bear.' As she had listened Ellie had paled, briefly plunged into her own memories of the loss of a loved and loving parent.
Dio sent her a flashing glance of pure disdain. 'Spare me the platitudes,' he derided harshly. 'My father and I had been estranged for some time before his death.'
'It wasn't a platitude. Whose fault was it that you were...estranged?' she dared to ask.
‘'Mine...' She watched his lean brown hands slowly clench into powerful fists and then carefully unclench again the in¬stant he realised she had noticed that betraying gesture.
'You couldn't have known—'
'This is none of your business!' Dio ground out thunder¬ously.
They climbed out of the car. Ellie stole a troubled glance up at Dio's rigid profile and suppressed a rueful sigh, recog¬nising the stoic, all-male but unnatural control he was deter¬mined to maintain. Maybe it was easier for women to let go emotionally, talk it out, forgive themselves. It was certainly wiser, she reckoned. Right now Dio Alexiakis was like a big simmering volcano, struggling to swallow back a surging lava flow. Hanging back, she let him stride ahead of her.
A large cluster of staff were waiting in the huge, opulent entrance hall. Dio spoke a few words. Ellie hovered awk¬wardly in the centre of the marble floor, her attention roaming over statues in alcoves and magnificent paintings and then centring on the gorgeous brunette who had unexpectedly ap¬peared in a doorway.
Not having noticed the other woman, Dio swung back an imperious head. 'Ellie!' he gritted impatiently.
Her colour rising as every watching eye swivelled to ex¬amine her with keen interest, Ellie quickened her step. Just as Dio clamped a large imprisoning hand over hers, the so¬phisticated brunette strolled forward. She looked to be in her late twenties. She had short, glossy black hair, exotic dark eyes and creamy skin. Her designer dress and her jewellery were simply breathtaking.
'Helena...' Dio drawled, his long fingers suddenly closing so tightly over Ellie's smaller hand that she almost yelped with discomfort.
Helena planted a cool kiss on his cheek and then addressed him in Greek. She ignored Ellie. But Ellie was grateful to be ignored because she was embarrassed by Dio's stubborn de¬termination to keep her by his side. Still conversing with Helena, whom Ellie now assumed to be a close relative, Dio walked them both into a vast reception room.
Other people began to arrive. Helena took up position like a seasoned hostess. Dio's grip on Ellie's fingers had merci¬fully loosened, and she tried to pull away, hoping to retire to a dark corner. But not only did Dio retain his hold on her, he also swept her forward and introduced her, although no¬body got the chance to engage her in any actual conversation. Many curious eyes lingered on her, but Dio kept both of them on the move. He exchanged a word here, a sentence there, his bleak, brooding tension forestalling any more intimate dialogue.
'Cristos… I hate this!' he bit out rawly under his breath at one stage.
Some minutes later, an exuberant older man grasped him in a bear hug, forcing him to release Ellie. Ellie backed away and then walked out onto the balcony that appeared to stretch the entire length of the house. She breathed in deep in the hot still air. The view out over the bay was really incredible. An endless blue sky arched over the lush, forested pine slopes sprinkled with wild flowers and the majestic rock for¬mations that jutted out into the sparkling turquoise sea far below. It was so beautiful it almost hurt.
She stood there for a long time before she turned away again, becoming conscious of how very tired she still was. A couple of catnaps hadn't made up for the stress of a long trip and the loss of a decent night's sleep.
As she glanced back into the crowded room, she imme¬diately noticed Dio. He was so tall he couldn't be missed. He had a dark frown on his starkly handsome features as he glanced restively around himself, only paying part attention to what was being said to him. Then his keen gaze lit like a falling star on Ellie, where she stood outside in the sun, her silver hair gleaming like precious metal. The marked strain on his lean, strong face instantly eased.
Across the distance that separated them, Ellie collided with glittering black eyes. Her heart gave a sudden violent lurch and her mouth ran dry. She watched Dio plough through the crush surrounding him. She could focus on nothing but him, and was as blind as he was to the buzz of speculation his abrupt departure had created.