‘Well, I’m twenty-four. I live in London, in a little flat in Islington. I work in a café round the corner. But all my life I’ve wanted to be a fashion photographer. So that’s why this commission is my dream come true.’
‘I see. And you studied art?’
She braced herself as he took the corners on the road which twisted like a corkscrew along the cliff.
‘Yes, I started out doing Fine Art. My mother is an artist and I practically lived in art galleries growing up. She took me all over the country when she could. When she wasn’t…’
‘What I mean is, I chose photography for my Master’s because my mother had struggled so hard to make ends meet. I want to have a creative career but with an income, and—’
‘It’s a crowded market. What makes you think you will succeed?’
‘Because I’m good,’ she said. She didn’t mean it as a boast. She knew she was good.
She waited to see what he was going to say, but he drove on in silence. From the corner of her eye she could see the length of his thigh and the hard muscle that flexed as he pressed on the pedals. There was no doubt about his physical perfection, but it was almost impossible to read what he was thinking.
‘You took a Master’s in photography. And my senior creative director thought your work was outstanding.’
‘Thanks,’ she said, suddenly brightening. Finally a compliment.
‘But, for me, this is too important a project to take risks with a novice.’
So that was what the problem was. Oh, dear. It wasn’t all going to land in her lap after all.
‘Let’s start with the creative angle. What have you got in mind? A story? A concept?’
So much for outdoors on the loggia. She wasn’t going to be the one to tell him that Mariella had it all decided. Her heart raced. Her mind ran. She looked at the vista, the distant scattering of volcanic islands wrapped in ribbons of blue sun and sea.
‘Of course! I—I’ve been thinking since we took off—knowing that the light would be so good and the colours so strong—that I’d like to take a fresh look at the Greek goddess trope.’
Words poured from her mouth before she even knew what they were, but it was obvious that she had to sell him something pretty amazing or she was going to be sent home.
‘When I think of Athena and all those mythical goddesses I’m seeing seventies women—liberated, but still incredibly feminine. I want to use the clarity of the landscape and the light and juxtapose it with soft silhouettes.’
‘I see.’ He frowned as he turned down a road.
A modern building came into view, its huge windows curving off to the right as it hugged the cliff.
He parked and got out beside a wide stone entrance where two huge black dogs lay sleeping in the sun. She glanced up at him as she got out of the car. His eyes were still hidden behind sunglasses, his mouth impassive. But at least he wasn’t telling her to go home.
‘Avanti,’ he said.
He touched her arm lightly, swung her bag over his shoulder and guided her to the wide steps. The dogs watched carefully as she passed, but didn’t make a move.
Inside, light beamed down—radiant and golden. Every single surface reflected understated wealth, from the crystal glints of an elegant chandelier to the aquamarine depths of a sunken rock pool that stopped her dead in her tracks.
‘Wow!’ she said, unable to hide her awe.
‘Aphrodite’s Pool,’ he said. ‘It is said that she bathed the baby Adonis in it.’
Coral wandered closer. The water babbled like giggling children. But beneath the surface rocks gave way to slippery darkness. She stepped back as if she might fall.
‘Aphrodite was so completely spellbound by Adonis’s beauty that she couldn’t bear to be parted from him. She had to share him with Persephone, the goddess of death, for six months each year.’
‘Children aren’t parcels to be passed around,’ said Coral indignantly.
‘Indeed,’ he said, his voice low and calm. ‘But no one argued with Zeus.’
‘I’d give it a try!’ she smiled.
‘Yes. I imagine you would,’ he said quietly.
He’d removed his sunglasses and was standing close by, watching her. She smiled into the heavy silence and then found herself staring, mesmerised by the navy rings around ice-blue irises and the high cheekbones that seemed slightly flushed underneath the honey skin. The close-cropped beard that framed his mouth…
That mouth. She so badly wanted to photograph the absolute perfection of it—wanted to touch and mould it with her fingers.
Wow. He was the real deal and no mistake.