She turned and stared bravely at him, determined not to show any emotion.
“I didn’t do this to hurt you.”
She smiled. A tremulous, hesitant smile, but she pulled it off. “I know, Theron. I know.”
Then she turned and headed up the stairs in search of her room.
I sabella stared up at the ceiling, her hands behind her head. Sleep had eluded her, as she’d slept for most of the flight over. She’d opened her window before going to bed, and the sounds of the waves lured her.
A look at the bedside clock told her she’d lain awake for hours. With a resigned sigh, she tossed aside the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed. If she were quiet, she could walk down to the beach and watch the sun rise. It wasn’t as if she was ever going to sleep. She was too tightly wound. Too restless.
The air was warm coming in the window, so she dressed in a pair of shorts and T-shirt. Not bothering with sandals, she slipped out of her room into the darkened hallway and crept down the stairs.
The house was quiet and cloaked in darkness as she made her way through the living room. She stepped onto the patio and breathed in the warm, salty air. Briefly closing her eyes, she let the breeze blow her hair from her face, and then she stepped onto the stone path leading to the sand.
The skies were already starting to lighten to the east, the horizon going pale lavender as the morning star shone bright, a single diamond against velvet.
The water was calm, lapping gently onto the shore, spreading foam in its wake. She walked down the beach, letting the waves rush over her feet as the world went gold around her.
A distance from the house, she saw a large piece of driftwood. Marley’s seat, Chrysander had called it laughingly. She settled gingerly on the aged wood and stared at the beautiful scene before her. Truly she’d never experienced anything like it.
Unsure of just how long she sat there, basking in the dawn, she picked herself up and headed back toward the house. Sand covered her feet and she paused at the entryway to the stone path cutting through the garden to clean it off.
Voices carried from a short distance away, and she smiled. Theron was up. She could hear his soft laughter. Marley too and apparently Chrysander.
She started up the staggered steps when she heard her name. A surge of excitement hit her. Were they discussing the wedding? She took another step forward but faltered with Theron’s next words.
He sounded…resigned. What was it he said? She glanced quickly over the hedge lining the walkway to the stone retaining wall surrounding the patio. There was a lattice wall that afforded the patio privacy and was covered with leafy greenery.
She strained to hear the conversation and then making a quick decision, she hiked her leg over the hedge and hurried to the retaining wall where she hunkered just below the breakfast area where the others were gathered.
As she listened to Theron’s low voice explain the entire story to his brother and Marley, she turned so her back pressed against stone and slowly she slid until she sat with knees hunched to her chest.
Hearing her teasing and blatant flirtation from the mouth of someone else made it sound harsher, less earnest than it had been. She listened as he outlined his confusion over his desire for her and his desire to make Alannis his wife.
She put her head down on her arms. She wanted to close her ears, but she couldn’t. This was the hard truth, and she’d done all that he said. Her only comfort was that he made it seem as though she hadn’t done it purposely, as if she hadn’t planned to seduce him. No, he still blamed himself for that.
And then the statement that hit her square in the gut, stealing her breath—and her hope.
“I wanted…I wanted what you and Marley have found,” Theron admitted to Chrysander. “I wanted a wife and children—a family, a life with a woman I cared about. I had it all mapped out. Marriage to Alannis, a comfortable life. It all flew out the window so fast that my head is still spinning.”
No longer able to stand the pain his words caused, she vaulted up, staggering down the slight incline. She landed on one of the smaller walkways that circled the gardens and nearly ran headlong into Piers.
He gripped her arms to steady her and stared down with piercing eyes.
“I’m reminded of the saying that eavesdroppers rarely hear good of themselves,” Piers said.
“No,” she said in a small voice. “It would appear they don’t.”
Something that might have been compassion softened his expression. She turned pleading eyes up to meet his gaze. “Don’t tell him I heard. You already know everything. Everyone knows. There’s no reason to make Theron feel any worse.”
“And you?” Piers asked. “What about you, Bella?”
“It would appear I have a lot to fix,” she said quietly.
She shook herself from his hands and hurried through the garden around to the back entrance. She stopped at the door and stared for a long moment at the helipad. Then she walked inside, making sure she wasn’t seen as she mounted the stairs.
When she got to her room, she closed the door and leaned heavily against it even as a tear slid down her cheek.
Theron didn’t love her. He couldn’t. Because he loved Alannis. And because of Isabella, his chance of finding the happiness he wanted was ruined. Taken away by her selfishness and single-minded pursuit of her wants and her needs.
She took a long hard look at herself, and she didn’t like what she saw very much.
Loving someone shouldn’t hurt so much, shouldn’t be so destructive. Was she nothing more than a spoiled rich girl unwilling to accept that she couldn’t have what she most wanted?
And then in a moment of sudden clarity, of anguish and realization, she kne
w that she had to let Theron go. She wasn’t what he wanted. Alannis was. Isabella didn’t even want to know the hurt and disappointment that the other girl had endured. What had Theron told her? That he’d been unfaithful?
Theron was bearing the brunt of Isabella’s actions—the dishonor. When the blame was solely hers.
He isn’t yours to keep.
The single thought echoed and simmered through her mind. And she knew it was true, no matter how much it hurt, how much it made her heart ache and pulse.
She bowed her head, allowing the tears to slither down her cheeks, falling to the floor beneath her. For a moment she let herself cry and then she raised her head, determined to regain her composure. She had to figure a way out of this mess.
First of all, she couldn’t let Theron know that she’d overheard his conversation. He would feel hugely guilty. He’d want to do the right thing—according to him.
But this time—this time she was going to do the right thing.
Wiping at her face with the back of her hand, she went to her bags and dug for her handbag. Sophia had given her a card with her address and telephone number, had invited her to visit her in Greece whenever she resumed her plans to travel to Europe. Never mind that those plans had revolved around Theron and had been abandoned when Theron had relocated to New York.
Next she needed to locate a helicopter service, preferably one that wasn’t on Chrysander’s payroll. Not exactly easy when she was on an island, in a country where she didn’t speak the language.
Hopefully Chrysander had internet in his office, or a directory, or something….
And then she had to talk to Theron.
The worst part is that she had to pretend that she’d never heard what Theron said. She had to smile and act as if nothing was wrong. As if her heart weren’t breaking.
Isabella checked her watch as Marley cleared the dishes away after the light lunch she’d served on the patio. Isabella deserved an Oscar award, surely, because she’d smiled and laughed, responded when appropriate. Even as she cracked and broke on the inside.
Piers had watched her, his gaze finding her often, probing and assessing. When the eating was finally finished, it was all Isabella could do not to sigh in relief. Now she had a little time to talk to Theron before the helicopter would arrive to pick her up.
“Theron,” she said as he stood from the table. “Could I speak to you? Alone?” she added with an apologetic look in the others’ direction.
Piers’s brow furrowed, and he gave her an inquisitive look as he stood. She avoided his scrutiny.
“Of course, pethi mou. Why don’t we go for a walk on the beach?” Theron suggested.
She avoided his hand when he extended it, and instead, she brushed past him and to the walkway. He followed her down to the water, and this time, the water failed to soothe her. It mocked her with its false serenity.
The sheer beauty of the brilliant blue, stretching outward seeking the distant skyline, taunted her. Below the surface, there were ugly things. Things that never saw the light, that never disturbed the pristine surface that sparkled in the sun.
When she stopped, her feet sinking into the sand, Theron’s hands closed over her shoulders.
“What’s the matter, Bella mou?” he asked in his deep timbre. “You seem sad today.”
She turned in his arms, finally finding the courage to face him. “There are things I need to tell you, Theron.”
His expression sobered. “What things?”
She broke away and took a step down the beach before turning again. “The whole reason I planned to travel to London this summer was because I thought you would be there.”
Confusion clouded his eyes, and he started to open his mouth. She silenced him quickly with an outstretched hand. “Please, don’t say anything. Let me finish. There’s a lot I need to say, and I won’t be able to finish if you start asking questions.”
He hesitated and then nodded.
“When I arrived in New York and learned that you would be remaining there permanently, I changed my plans on the fly, opting to rent an apartment I didn’t really want and invented a host of other reasons to throw me into contact with