‘If that’s a roundabout way of trying to tell me that you’re anxious to bring our marriage to an end as soon as possible, then—’
‘No, it isn’t that.’ Lizzie stopped him. ‘It’s the children—your children,’ she emphasized, when she saw Ilios look frowningly towards the table she had been studying.
Leaning across the table, she asked him quietly, ‘Have you thought about what might happen to them if anything were to happen to you? They’d have no one—no father, no mother, obviously, no family Ilios. No one in their lives to give them a sense of continuity and security and…and…They would have no one to tell them their history, no one to tell them about you. I know that financially they would be protected, but that isn’t enough. They’d be dreadfully alone.’
Ilios was looking down at his plate. She had infuriated him, Lizzie expected, and no doubt he was going to tell her that the future of his sons was none of her business.
When he did lift his head and look at her Lizzie found it impossible to gauge what he was thinking from his grim expression.
‘So you think that I should—what was the phrase you used?—“mend fences” with my cousin so that in the eventuality of my unexpected demise he will open his arms and his heart to my sons and become a second father to them?’
Put like that, what she had said did sound rather like something out of a sentimental film, Lizzie admitted.
‘Family is important.’ She insisted.
‘What if I were to do as you suggest and my sons ended up being humiliated and tormented by my cousin, just as I was myself? What if he abused the trust I placed in him for his own financial benefit?’
‘That’s what I meant about wondering if it was possible for you to mend fences with him,’ Lizzie defended herself. ‘Now, before it’s too late.’
‘I see. I become reconciled with my cousin, and you get a quick escape from a commitment and an agreement you’re obviously already wanting to renege on?’
‘No! I am prepared to stay married to you for as long as it takes.’
Ilios arched one eyebrow in a silent but unmistakably mocking query, and then asked her softly, ‘As long as what takes?’
Lizzie felt like stamping her foot. Ignoring her own feeling of self-consciousness, she told him fiercely, ‘You know perfectly well what I was trying to say. I am not attempting to renege on our agreement. If I did that you’d be within your moral rights to demand repayment of the money you gave me—money I need to ensure my family’s financial security. I know you’ve said that you don’t believe in love, but to deny your own sons the emotional protection they will need…’ She hesitated, and then decided to ignore her anxiety about angering him. If she was to be his children’s champion then she must do so without considering her own position. ‘Surely you can’t want them to suffer in their childhood as you did?’
Ilios looked at her in silence, whilst she held her breath—waiting for his response.
When it came, it was both unexpected and underhanded.
‘Obviously it isn’t only sexual lust for my body that champagne arouses in you, but a lust for plain speaking.’
‘What I said doesn’t have anything to do with me drinking champagne,’ she said vehemently.
‘No? Don’t the words in vino veritas mean anything to you?’
In wine there is truth. But it wasn’t the champagne that had loosened her inhibitions. It was seeing that small happy family. Only somehow Lizzie didn’t think that Ilios would believe her—no matter how much she tried to correct his interpretation of the situation.
Mend fences with his cousin? Ilios thought grimly of the way Tino had deliberately tormented him as a child—the way he had taunted him by pointing out that he had a mother, aunts and uncles and cousins, whilst Ilios’s own mother had hated him so much she had abandoned him. Of course Tino had had his own cross to bear. Their grandfather had never let him forget that his father had died a coward.