With a small sigh she began to repack what she thought were the more expensive items, retaining only what she felt she would genuinely need. Packing away the silk cashmere skirt and trousers and the Chanel coat and skirt and blouse wasn’t easy, but it had to be done, Lizzie told herself firmly.
She had just finished, and was about to carry the boxes to the front door, when she heard a firm knock on the bedroom door.
Maria, the cleaner, must have arrived, Lizzie guessed—but when she went to open the door it was Ilios, who was standing in the corridor, looking impatient.
‘I’m sending these back,’ Lizzie told him, indicating the boxes she had just packed.
Ilios surveyed them, noting that there were far more by the door than there were on the floor beside the bed.
‘They didn’t fit? You didn’t like the style?’ His voice sharpened slightly. He still didn’t know why he had changed his mind at the last minute and told the concierge service to select clothes for a woman who preferred discreet stylishness to clothes that were sexy.
This wasn’t the kind of man who liked being proved wrong—about anything, Lizzie acknowledged, even when it was the dress size of a woman he had only just met. Because he felt that he was being judged and found wanting? Because it was important to him to prove himself as a success in every aspect of his life? Because inside there was still a part of him that had grown up knowing that his father had been sacrificed for a building, with all the fear for his own safety and security that must have caused? Stop feeling sympathetic towards him, she warned herself. It will only make things worse.
‘No, they were perfect—both in fit and style,’ she assured him.
‘So why are you sending them back?’
‘I don’t need them, and…Well, they were far too expensive. The kind of clothes I could never afford. I would have preferred it if the clothes had been less expensive.’
It took Ilios several seconds to adjust his own thinking and judgement to her words. A woman who genuinely did not want a man to spend money on her? Who did she think she was kidding? Ilios didn’t believe that such a woman existed.
‘You will not be living the kind of life you normally live. As my fiancée and then my wife I expect you to dress and behave as the kind of woman those who know me would expect me to marry. You must think of yourself as an actress and these clothes as your props. You will not feel confident amongst my friends if you are not dressed appropriately.’
‘Clothes are only window dressing. True confidence comes from a person’s belief in themselves as someone of value,’ Lizzie felt bound to point out gently.
‘I agree,’ Ilios told her unexpectedly. ‘But we live in a society in which we are judged by those who do not know us on our outward appearance. For my wife to be seen in chainstore clothes could cause the kind of gossip that might well ultimately lead to speculation in the press that Manos Cosntruction is in financial difficulty. It isn’t just my own wealth that depends on the continued success of my business. It is the jobs of all those who work for me. In business, a good reputation can be ninety per cent of one’s success—lose that and you stand to lose everything. You must know that.’
There was enough truth in what he was saying for Lizzie to nod her head.
‘I have brought a selection of rings in different styles and sizes for you to look at. Whichever one you choose can be sized properly for you.’
Recognising that Ilios was waiting for her to precede him out of the room, Lizzie edged her way past the end of the bed, so desperate to avoid accidentally coming into physical contact with him that she bumped into the bed itself and half stumbled, provoking exactly what she had feared. Ilios reached out to steady her, his hand resting firmly against her waist. His attention, though, was focussed on the floor. Following his gaze, Lizzie’s heart sank. There, lying on the floor at his feet, was the corset she had been looking at earlier, which she must have dislodged as she stumbled. Still holding her waist, Ilios bent down and picked it up. He looked at it.