‘Constant agreement and admiration is bad for you. Too many people behave as if your every decision is an act of sheer brilliance.’
‘It usually is,’ Aristandros fielded. ‘That’s how I make so much money.’
Involuntarily, Ella grinned, for his self-assurance was immense and always bold as brass. She studied the big house perched like a land-locked ship on the cypress-studded hillside. The villa, designed by his late mother, overlooked a secluded cove where the clear waters reflected the sky.
‘I have a project for you while you’re here,’ he said, greeting the staff assembled in the hall while Ella retrieved Callie from surging towards the stairs as fast as her little feet could carry her. ‘Revamp the house and drag it out of the eighties. It always reminds me of a film set.’
The big screen was undoubtedly what had inspired his mother’s opulent choice of décor, and the vast sunken living-area, marble floors and theatrical Greek columns. Ella was amazed that he had still not had the house renovated, and it made her wonder if he was more sentimental than he would ever be willing to admit. Doria’s portrait still adorned one wall, along with many photographs of her taken with famous people.
Aristandros bore not the slightest resemblance to his blonde, brown-eyed mother. He did, however, look very like his handsome father. In terms of attractiveness, though, he easily outshone both his parents, Ella decided, shooting him a keen appraisal. While he had Achilles’ looks, he had inherited his grandfather’s sharp intelligence and business acumen. Daily exposure to Aristandros had simply made her more aware than ever that he was an extravagantly beautiful, intriguingly clever and challenging man. On paper he ticked all her boxes.
Turning pink as he intercepted her lingering scrutiny, Ella walked out hurriedly on to the sweeping terrace and wondered if Lily was right: was it possible that she had never got over loving Aristandros? Had she never moved on properly after that first disillusionment? The suspicion appalled her, for she liked to see herself as being sensible. The sort of woman who could continue to harbour a strong, secret preference for a notorious womaniser struck Ella as being silly, weak in resolution and certifiably insane.
‘In three weeks’ time we’ll be attending a major charity performance at the opera in aid of the Xenakis Foundation. Dress formal,’ Aristandros announced.
Ella suppressed a sigh. ‘Where’s it being held?’
Ella saw Callie installed in the nursery, which the little girl clearly saw as home. Callie toddled over to a basket of toys and smiled as she dug out familiar favourites, her satisfaction at rediscovering them unhidden. Later, when Callie was in bed and Ella was dining out on the terrace with Aristandros, she breathed in deep. ‘You know, I’ve barely been with you two weeks and this will be the sixth different bed I’ve slept in.’
Aristandros shifted a broad shoulder with nonchalant cool. ‘Change is stimulating.’
‘I know you don’t want to hear this…’
Aristandros shifted a fluid brown hand in a silencing gesture. ‘Then don’t say it,’ he advised drily.
‘It’s not fair to Callie. She needs a more settled home.’
‘I don’t normally trail her round the world with me as I have done recently,’ Aristandros finally admitted. ‘She’s usually based here on the island.’
Guilt assailed Ella as she grasped the heart of the dilemma. ‘She’s travelling because I’m in the picture now and you know I want to be with her,’ she guessed ruefully.
‘While I want you to be with me. We’re the perfect threesome,’ he quipped. ‘Be practical.’
Ella toyed with her delicious, light seafood starter, her appetite ebbing. Be practical—remember the agreement you signed, remember who calls the shots around here, remember who says what goes as far as Callie’s concerned. But his lifestyle was unsustainable for a toddler, Ella reflected. More than anything Callie needed stability and routine to thrive, not to mention the same people around her.
Dark eyes reflective, Aristandros sipped his wine. ‘I have a business trip next week. I’ll leave you here.’
‘Great.’ Ella knew she was being thrown a consolation prize, but ironically she just as quickly found herself wondering whether his sudden willingness to leave her behind could relate to the fact that he was getting a little bored with her. Why not? she asked herself. Two weeks was a sizeable length of time for Aristandros to stay committed to one woman. And, if he was losing interest, how would she handle it?
Extinguishing that incendiary thought from her mind, for she saw no advantage in borrowing trouble in advance, she phoned her mother, who was still in hospital, after dinner. Jane was in reasonable spirits. Stavros and Dmitri were visiting her and had passed on the news that their father had been arrested and charged. Freed from the fear of her husband’s violence, Jane had decided to go for counselling.