He shrugged off Lizzie’s hand on his arm, stepping back from her as he told her, ‘There are some interesting features in the garden. I’ll show you.’

Feeling rebuffed, Lizzie switched off her mobile and returned it to her handbag. Ilios obviously wanted to make it plain that their relationship was strictly business. He didn’t want to be forced to look at photographs of her family.

‘How long do you think it will be before your cousin accepts that he doesn’t have any grounds to try and overset your grandfather’s will?’ she asked Ilios as they headed for the garden at the rear of the villa.

Here, beyond a wide flagged terrace, steps led down to what must once have been intricately formal beds of clipped box, surrounding a pool with a fountain. But Lizzie wasn’t really concentrating on her surroundings. Instead she was hoping desperately for a miracle—for that miracle to be Ilios telling her that he had changed his mind about ending their marriage because he wanted them to be together for ever.

He shrugged dismissively. ‘You are, of course, impatient to return to your family?’

‘I do miss them,’ Lizzie agreed, her heart sinking. That wasn’t the response she had hoped for at all. It was true that she did miss her family, but she was also finding it increasingly difficult to behave as though nothing had happened between her and Ilios. Take now, for instance. When they had come out of the house she had almost put her arm through Ilios’s, just as if they were actually a genuine couple. Of course it was because she craved the intimacy of physical closeness with him, just as any woman in love would.

‘Regrettably, my lawyers feel that we should remain married for the time being, as a divorce so soon after our wedding would look suspicious. However, you can rest assured that I am every bit as eager to bring our marriage to an end as you,’ Ilios announced coldly, his response driven by pride and the need to defend himself from the alien emotions that were threatening him.

The cold words struck into her heart like ice picks. But it was her own fault if she had been hurt, Lizzie told herself resolutely.

‘This is what I wanted to show you,’ Ilios told her nearly half an hour later, when they had walked through the extensive gardens to the villa and emerged at the side of a pretty man-made lake. He gestured towards a grotto dotted with statuary and ornamented with a small fresh water spring.

‘What is it?’ Lizzie asked him.

‘It’s a nymphaeum,’ Ilios explained. ‘An artificially created grotto for which the statuary has been specifically designed. Villa Barbaro has one—some of its statuary executed by Marcantonio Barbaro, supposedly. It’s a conceit, really. A way for the villa-owner to show off either his own talent as a sculptor or that of an artist to whom he was a patron. The lake here needs dredging, and the small temple on the island renovating.’

‘The whole place is stunning,’ Lizzie told him truthfully. ‘I can understand why your ancestor wanted it kept in the family. I do think, though, that your plan to turn it into a living workshop is a wonderful idea—and so very generous. A wonderful gift to future generations, enabling such special skills to be carried on.’

‘I’m not motivated by generosity. I’ve been held up on too many contracts by the lack of skilled artisans—that’s why I’m doing it.’ Ilios’s voice was clipped, as though her praise had annoyed him.

Because he didn’t want it? Just as he didn’t want her? She mustn’t dwell on what she could not have, but instead hold in her heart what they had briefly shared, Lizzie told herself. She mustn’t let that joy be overshadowed or diminished.

Tags: Penny Jordan Billionaire Romance
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