‘The women you are looking at are high-price tarts up for sale—on the hunt for the richest husband they can snare,’ Ilios told Lizzie grimly. ‘The clothes they are wearing denote their profession, as does their desire to be photographed. It’s their version of newspaper advertising. Come with me.’
As though by magic the mass of bronzed flesh parted to let them through—although not without some very predatory and inviting looks being thrown in Ilios’s direction, Lizzie noticed.
Beyond the call girls and the men hanging round them, in the interior of the gallery were several groups of people: men in business suits, and elegant, confident-looking women in beautiful designer clothes.
One of the men came forward, extending his hand.
‘Ilios, my friend. It is good to see you.’
‘You only say that, Stefanos, because you hope to persuade me to buy something,’ Ilios responded, turning to Lizzie to say easily, ‘Agapi mou, allow me to introduce Stefanos to you. I should warn you, though, that he will insist on presenting us with some hideous piece of supposed art as a wedding gift.’
Agapi mou—didn’t that mean my love? But of course she wasn’t, Lizzie reminded herself, as she admired the clever way in which Ilios had announced both their relationship and their impending marriage.
Within seconds people were crowding round them, smiling and exclaiming, and Lizzie had no need to fake the sudden shyness that had her moving instinctively closer to Ilios, so that he took hold of her hand and tucked it though his arm.
‘Ilios, how can this be? You have always sworn never to get married.’
The speaker was a woman of around Ilios’s own age; she was smiling, but there was a certain hard edge to her voice that warned Lizzie she was someone who might have a shared history with Ilios. She might not entirely welcome the news of his supposed intended marriage, even though she was wearing a wedding ring and was accompanied by a solid, square-faced man who appeared to be her husband.
‘Lizzie changed my mind, Eleni,’ Ilios answered her, and the smile he gave Lizzie as he turned to look down at her made her suspect that if he had gifted her with that kind of smile and meant it she’d have been transfixed to the spot with delight.
‘Well, you cannot cling together all evening like a pair of turtledoves.’ Eleni replied. ‘I want you to convince Michael that he should build me a new villa on the island—and you, of course, must construct it. There is no other builder to whom we would entrust such a commission. I have it in mind to copy your own Villa Manos for us, since you insist on refusing to let us buy the original from you.’
Immediately Lizzie felt Ilios stiffen, his arm rigid against hers.
So, if they had once been lovers the parting had not been an amicable one, Lizzie guessed. Because there was plainly ill feeling between them now. Eleni must surely know that Ilios would never sell his family home.
‘Has Ilios shown you Villa Manos yet, Lizzie? Told you that he will expect you to make your home there once you are married? Personally, I could never live anywhere so remote. Certainly not all year round. And then, of course, one must wonder what one’s husband is getting up to whilst he is here in Thessaloniki and you are stuck on a peninsula in the middle of nowhere.’
‘I would never marry a man I couldn’t trust implicitly,’ Lizzie responded calmly, and with quiet dignity.
‘My dear, how very brave of you.’ Eleni was positively purring. ‘I hate to tell you this, but whilst a man will promise anything whilst he is in the first throes of…love, marriage often brings about a sea change. When a woman is occupied with her home and her children her husband can start to look elsewhere for entertainment. Especially a Greek man. After all, they have the example of our Greek gods before them. Zeus himself could not be faithful to his wife. He had many adventures outside their marriage, if mythology is to be believed.’