“It wasn’t easy,” Theron said, his expression growing serious. “They went through a lot together. Chrysander is lucky to have her.”
“So you like her?” Isabella prompted.
Theron nodded. “I like her very much. She’s good for him. Softens him just enough.”
“You have nothing to worry about,” he soothed. “You’ll like them, and they’ll like you.”
She managed a stiff smile. What she really wanted to ask is whether they’d liked Alannis more. How would they feel about the fact he was marrying someone else? She didn’t know how it worked in Theron’s family, but would they have expected him to marry Alannis for business reasons?
Theron’s hand found hers just a moment before the plane touched down. She was content to let her fingers remain entwined with his as they taxied. A few minutes later, they were disembarking the plane, and Theron was urging her toward a waiting helicopter.
“If I had thought, I would have arranged for us to stay on the mainland overnight so that you could see the beauty of the island from the air in daytime,” Theron said as they boarded.
“I’ll see it on the way back, right?” she said with a smile as Theron settled beside her.
He nodded as the engines whirred too loudly for conversation any longer.
The ride across the inky darkness was a little disconcerting, and then Theron pointed to a flash of light in the distance. She strained forward, leaning over him as they drew closer to the source of the light.
A few moments later, the helicopter lowered onto the well-lit helipad, and the pilot gestured to Theron when it was safe to get out.
Theron opened the door and ducked out, then reached back to help Isabella from the seat. His hand over her back, urging her low, he hurried across the concrete landing area toward the lighted gardens leading to the house.
As they approached the entryway, a man stepped from the door. Even from a distance, Isabella recognized him as Chrysander. He smiled, and she relaxed, even managing a smile in return.
“Isabella, how you’ve grown, even since your graduation,” he said as he enfolded her in a hug.
“Thanks for making me feel like a girl who just shed braces and training bras,” she said dryly as she pulled away.
Chrysander stared at her in obvious surprise and then burst into laughter. “My apologies. You’re far from that as Theron has no doubt found out.”
She couldn’t prevent the flush that worked its way up her cheeks.
“Why don’t you stop trying to find things to say and let us through,” Theron said balefully. “Before we have to extricate both feet from your mouth.”
Chrysander chuckled and gestured for them to pass. “Marley is waiting in the living room. She’s anxious to meet you, Isabella.”
He moved past her and Theron to call out in Greek to the man collecting her and Theron’s luggage from the helicopter.
Theron took her arm and they walked inside. The house was absolutely beautiful, and she couldn’t wait to see it in full light. And the beach. She could smell the salt air and even hear the waves crashing in the distance, but she wanted to see it and dig her toes into the sand.
A small, dark-haired woman who was bouncing a blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms was standing in the living room next to the couch. Isabella offered a tentative smile when she looked up.
“Theron!” she exclaimed as she walked in their direction.
Theron smiled broadly and caught her and the baby up in his arms. “How are my favorite sister and my nephew?”
“I’m your only sister,” she said.
“Marley, I’d like you to meet Isabella, my fiancée,” he said as he turned to Isabella.
Marley smiled, her blue eyes flashing in welcome. “I’m very happy to meet you, Isabella.”
“Please, call me Bella,” she offered. “And I’m very glad to meet you, as well.”
“Has Piers arrived?” Theron asked with a frown as he surveyed the room.
“He’s coming,” Marley said. “He left to go change when we heard the helicopter. We’ve held a late dinner for you and Isabella.”
Just then a tall, dark-haired man entered the room. He was easily the tallest of the three brothers, a little slighter than Chrysander but a bit more broad in the shoulders than Theron. Where Theron and Chrysander had golden-brown eyes, Piers’s were dark, nearly black. His skin tone was darker as well, as though he spent a great deal of time in the sun.
His expression was bland as he looked at Theron. “There you are.” He glanced over at Isabella. “And this must be the bride-to-be?”
“One of the many it would appear,” Isabella said, refusing to dodge the inevitable awkwardness of the situation.
Piers’s eyebrows drew together at her bluntness then he cocked one and offered what Isabella suspected was as close to a smile as he got. “I like her, Theron. She has spirit.”
Theron didn’t look disquieted by her outburst, but then he seemed resigned to her mouth, as he’d put it.
Chrysander moved to his wife’s side and put an arm around her. “Want me to put him down so that we can eat?”
“If he’ll go down,” Marley said wearily. “Colic,” she said with a grimace as she handed the baby to Chrysander. “We’ve been up with him for the last two weeks. I just hope you can sleep through it.”
Chrysander brushed his lips across her forehead. “Don’t worry, agape mou. I’ll sit with him until he settles. You go eat and then I want you to get some rest.”
Isabella’s heart melted at the look of love in Chrysander’s eyes. She wanted that. Wanted it badly. It was all she could do not to sigh as Marley smiled back at him, her eyes glowing. The look of a woman who knew she was loved.
Then Marley looked at Isabella, and she cocked her head to the side as if studying her. Isabella quickly looked away, hoping she hadn’t betrayed herself in that moment. It was bad enough that she knew the truth about her engagement. She had no wish for anyone else to know she had schemed her way into Theron’s life.
“Come, let’s go into the dining room,” Marley said.
Dinner was laid-back with casual conversation. Marley asked general questions about Isabella, her likes and interests. Piers remained quiet, his eyes following the conversation as he ate, and more than once, Isabella found him staring at her as if he were peeling back the layers of her skin.
It was a relief when Chrysander rejoined them and the conversation shifted to business. Even Piers shed his reserve and entered the fray as they argued and debated.
Marley caught Isabella’s gaze, rolled her eyes and then motioned for Isabella to follow her from the table. The men didn’t even notice when both women slipped away.
“Would you like to take a walk down to the beach?” Marley asked. “It’s so beautiful by moonlight, and it’s been awhile since Dimitri has settled down before two in the morning.”
Isabella smiled. “I’d love it. I can’t wait to see everything in daylight. It’s beautiful just from what I can see.”
They stepped through the sliding glass doors, and Marley led her down a stone walkway. The sounds of the ocean grew louder and then the pathway gave way to sand. Marley stopped and shed her shoes and urged Isabella to do the same.
“Oh, it’s gorgeous,” Isabella breathed when they walked closer to the water.
The sky was clear and littered with stars, carelessly strewn across the sky like someone playing jacks. The moon was high overhead, shimmering and reflecting off the dark waters.
“This is my favorite place in the world,” Marley said softly. “It’s amazing, like my own little corner of paradise.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful.”
Isabella walked to the edge of the wet sand and waited for another wave to roll in. Then she stepped into the foaming surf, loving the tickle of water over her toes.
“I told you we would find them here,” Chrysander said in an amused voice. “M
y wife is forever escaping to her beach.”
Isabella turned to see Theron and Chrysander standing, hands stuffed into their pants as they watched the two women. She couldn’t discern their expressions in the darkness.
“Come, Bella,” Theron said. “Let’s leave the two love-birds. You must be tired from our long trip.”
Marley smiled at Isabella as she walked past on her way to Theron. He held his hand out to her as she neared, and she slid her fingers into his.
He brought them to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss against her knuckles. Isabella relaxed for the first time. It would be easy if Theron acted as though he wanted to marry her, almost as though he felt something beyond lust and desire. And maybe he did. Did he? Could he love her?
She let him pull her back onto the stone walkway toward the house.
“They seem so in love,” she said when she and Theron stepped inside the door.
Theron nodded. “They have quite a story. I’ll tell it to you sometime. Right now, however, I’m only wanting a bed and a soft pillow.”
She laughed softly and ran her hand up his arm. “There are parts of my anatomy that make for a good pillow.”
His lips firmed for just a moment, and he glanced up at her, his expression indecipherable. “I think it would be best if we kept separate bedrooms here.”
She recoiled, her head drawing away in confusion. “I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t we share a bedroom? We’re engaged.”
He pulled her into his arms. “Yes, we are, pethi mou. And as such, I’d show you the respect you’re due by not flaunting our sexual relationship in front of my brother and his wife. It’s enough that he knows I took your virginity, but I won’t draw anymore undue attention to you.”
Hurt and humiliation hit her hard in the chest. “He knows? You told him?”
Theron blinked in surprise. “It is my shame to bear, Isabella. Not yours.”
She closed her eyes and looked away. So Chrysander, and by default, Marley, did know that Theron was only marrying her out of some outdated sense of honor.
“I’ll go up to my room then,” she said quietly. “I assume my stuff will be there. I can find my way.”
“Bella,” he called as she started for the stairs.