‘Theos! Don’t look at me like that,’ he pleaded throatily.
She bit her lip and fixed her eyes on her hands, which lay clenched in her lap.
‘I’m s…sorry,’ she stuttered. ‘I really don’t know what came over me.’
‘The same thing that came over me. Where do you live? I’ll take you home.’ And after that he was going to drive away in the opposite direction.
He didn’t do virgins.
‘CAN we have the ball back, mister?’
The request dragged Angolos back from a time he mostly succeeded in blanking from his mind.
To his way of thinking, no useful purpose could be served from preserving the memory of a time when he had allowed himself to be humiliated and deceived, except possibly to learn a lesson. He would never trust a woman again.
Had it amused Georgette to see him oblivious to her affair? Had she laughed with her lover as they had planned to pass the child off as his…?
A muscle clenched in Angolos’s lean cheek as he pulled a hand across his brow to wipe off the moisture that clung to his tanned skin. It had started raining and he hadn’t noticed; neither had he noticed until now that he was within a hundred yards of the gate that led to the garden of the Kemp house, a slightly battered timber cottage with a tin roof. Bending, he picked up the ball that lay at his feet and threw it back to the family playing a game of beach cricket.
‘Good throw,’ somebody acknowledged cheerily before they returned to their game.
Angolos headed for the gate. It creaked on the rusty hinges as he pushed it open. His lips curled in distaste as his hand rested on the peeling paintwork. At one time he had found the shabby chic of the Kemp home, so totally unlike what he was accustomed to, charming. Now he just found it, well…shabby.
The family he had never found charming and the feeling was mutual. Her relatives had come across as a bunch of xenophobic idiots who had been appalled at the idea of one of their number marrying a foreigner. Later, when Georgette had confided that her mother had run off with a Greek waiter, her family’s attitude had been more understandable.
His critical glance skimmed the semi-screened area. The cottage and garden looked the same as he remembered; the only thing that hadn’t been here four years ago was the clutter of children’s toys. Angolos’s dark eyes were drawn against his will to the evidence of childish occupation…the tricycle, the plastic toy cars, the bucket of shells gathered from the beach.
His classical profile tautened as he averted his gaze and strode purposefully to the door. There was absolutely no point prolonging this.
The door was opened before he had an opportunity to announce his arrival. His raised hand fell to his side as he looked at the woman framed in the open doorway. She was, he judged, somewhere in her mid-fifties, her grey-streaked dark hair was cut in a short modern crop, she had intelligent blue eyes and an interesting rather than attractive face.
She was a stranger to Angolos.
‘Good gracious, you’re Nicky’s father.’
Angolos was so surprised by her automatic assumption that his response was uncharacteristically unguarded. ‘No, I’m not anyone’s father,’ he ejaculated bitterly.
‘Nonsense, of course you are,’ she dismissed, dealing him an amused look.
Angolos was taken aback by this response. ‘I will not argue the point with you.’
The woman scanned his face, then threw back her head and laughed, not intimidated by the hauteur in his manner.
Angolos liked that.
In his position there were too many people ready to say what he wanted to hear. They had been saying what he wanted to hear since the day he’d stepped into his dead father’s shoes at the age of twenty-two. He valued people who could look him in the eyes and say, ‘You’re wrong.’
‘Well, that would be rather pointless, wouldn’t it?’
‘Most definitely,’ came the robust response. ‘You want to see Nicky…of course you do,’ she added before he had an opportunity to respond. ‘May I be frank?’
‘Can I stop you?’ he wondered.
The dry intonation brought a fleeting smile to the woman’s lips. ‘This puts me in an awkward position…’ she confided. ‘I have no idea what agreement you have…visiting rights and so forth? Actually I didn’t think you saw him at all.’ She studied the tall man’s face. ‘I can see you don’t want to discuss your personal business with a nosy old woman.’
‘I can assure you I have not come to kidnap the boy.’
‘I’m glad to hear it, but under the circumstances it might be better if you came back when Georgie is home.’
‘But the child is here?’ Angolos probed and saw the older woman’s expression become guarded. ‘The thing is, Mrs…?’
‘My name is Ruth Simmons. Miss.’
‘Miss Simmons, I’m rather pushed for time.’
The woman eyed him with patent disapproval. ‘After all these years?’
Angolos supposed he ought to have expected this. Georgette had obviously decided to paint herself as the injured party and him as the unnatural father. His broad shoulders lifted in an infinitesimal shrug. Did she plan to poison this child’s mind in a similar manner…poor kid?
‘When do you expect Georgette to return?’
Ruth Simmons looked uncertainly at the remote and quite sensationally handsome face of Nicky’s father and her brow puckered.
‘I really couldn’t say.’ Was this the sort of man who would turn his back on his own child? He didn’t seem the type…Of course, you could never tell, but the Greeks she had met were very family orientated.
‘Couldn’t or won’t…?’ He lifted one long-fingered hand in an unconsciously elegant gesture. ‘No matter.’ He consulted his watch. ‘I will return at a more convenient moment.’ And then again maybe I won’t… After all, the entire exercise was totally pointless. Better to get in his car and drive back to London.
The tall man’s mechanical smile did not reach his eyes; Ruth noticed all the same that it was effortlessly charming. In the flesh this man was even more startlingly good-looking. If I were twenty years younger…? The self-mocking smile that curved her lips vanished as a loud bang followed by an even louder wail emerged from the living room.
‘What now?’ she cried, hurrying inside.
Angolos stepped through the open door.
A few moments later, with the crying child cradled in her arms, Ruth viewed the damage. It could have been worse. Still, it was a pity that her friend was fond of the hideous ornate Victorian bust that was now lying in fragments on the floor. The overturned chair was a clue as to how the three-year-old had managed to reach the shelf where it had been displayed.
‘Did you fall, Nicky?’ Her matter-of-fact tone and manner had a soothing effect upon the crying child, who stopped to catch his breath. ‘Poor you,’ she said, rubbing the obvious bruise that was developing on the child’s forehead. ‘Did you hurt yourself anywhere else, sweetheart?’
Nicky shook his head. ‘Granny will be cross…’
‘No, I’m sure she won’t.’
‘She will,’ the child, whose tears had subsided, retorted positively. ‘Who are you?’ he asked, poking a chubby hand in the direction of the stranger.
‘Gracious!’ Ruth exclaimed, realising for the first time that the tall Greek had followed her into the room. He was standing there frozen. The only flicker of movement in his body was supplied by his stunning eyes, which were trained on the child in her arms.
Without replying, he continued to draw air into his lungs through clenched teeth, like a man who had forgotten how to breathe. As he squatted, bringing his face level with the toddler, she saw that his gloriously golden skin had acquired a greyish tinge. She saw his lips move; nothing came out.
‘Gracious!’ she added once more and with feeling. The physical similarity between father and son was truly startling… Nicky began to cry again.
‘Nicky…your name is Nicky?’ The tearful boy nodded his head.
Georgie walked in through the open door weighed down by supermarket carrier bags filled with groceries. A car, she reflected wistfully, would make life a lot easier, but her budget didn’t run to such luxuries.
‘Big boys don’t cry, Nicky.’
She froze, the blood draining from her face. It was a voice Georgie would never, could never, forget.
It was a voice she heard in her dreams and her nightmares.
She stood there oblivious to the eggs that had broken when she’d dropped her bags and were now running stickily over the carpet.