Carrying the Greek's Heir(5)

By: Sharon Kendrick


 ‘Why? Are you celebrating something?’

 He gave a low laugh. ‘Celebration isn’t mandatory. I thought all women liked champagne.’

 ‘Not me.’ She shook her head. ‘The bubbles make me sneeze. And I’m cycling home—I don’t want to run over some poor, unsuspecting pony who’s wandered out into the middle of the road. I think I’d prefer something soft.’

 ‘Of course you would.’ He slanted her an odd kind of smile. ‘Sit down and let me see what I can find.’

 He went inside the self-contained villa which stood within the extensive hotel grounds and Ellie perched awkwardly on one of the cane chairs, praying nobody would see her, because she shouldn’t be sitting on a guest’s veranda as if she had every right to do so.

 She glanced across the silent lawn, where a huge oak tree was casting an enormous shadow. The wild flowers which edged the grass swayed gently in the breeze and, in the background, lights blazed brightly from the hotel. The dining room was still lit with candles and she could see people lingering over coffee. In the kitchen, staff would be frantically washing up and longing to get home. Upstairs, couples would be removing complimentary chocolates from on top of the Egyptian linen pillows, before getting into bed. Or maybe they would be sampling the deep, twin baths for which The Hog was so famous.

 She thought she saw something glinting from behind the oak tree and instinctively she shrank back into the shadows, but before she could work out exactly what it was—Alek had returned with a frosted glass of cola for her, and what looked like whisky, for him.

 ‘I guess I should have put them on a tray,’ he said.

 She took a sip. ‘And worn an apron.’

 He raised his eyebrows. ‘Perhaps I could borrow yours?’

 The implication being that she remove her apron... Ellie put her glass down, glad that the darkness disguised her suddenly hot cheeks because the thought of removing anything was making her heart race. Suddenly, the moonlight and the roses and the glint in his eyes was making her feel way too vulnerable.

 ‘I can’t stay long,’ she said quickly.

 ‘Somehow I wasn’t expecting you to. How’s your cola?’

 ‘Delicious.’

 He leant back in his chair. ‘So tell me why a young woman of twenty...?’ He raised his eyebrows.

 ‘I’m twenty-five,’ she supplied.

 ‘Twenty-five.’ He took a sip of whisky. ‘Ends up working in a place like this.’

 ‘It’s a great hotel.’

 ‘Quiet location.’

 ‘I like that. And it has a training scheme which is world famous.’

 ‘But what about...’ he paused ‘...nightlife? Clubs and boyfriends and parties? The kind of thing most twenty-five-year-olds enjoy.’

 Ellie watched the bubbles fizzing around the ice cubes he’d put in her cola. Should she explain that she’d deliberately opted for a quiet life which contrasted with the chaos which had defined her childhood? Somewhere where she could concentrate on her work, because she didn’t want to end up like her mother, who thought a woman’s ambition should be to acquire a man who was a meal ticket. Ellie had quickly learnt how she didn’t want to live. She was never going to trawl the internet, or hang around nightclubs. She had never owned a thigh-skimming skirt or push-up bra. She was never going to date someone just because of what they had in their wallet.

 ‘Because I’m concentrating on my career,’ she said. ‘My ambition is to travel and I’m going to make that happen. One day I’m hoping to be a general manager—if not here, then in one of the group’s other hotels. Competition is pretty fierce, but there’s no harm in aiming high.’ She sipped her cola and looked at him. ‘So that’s me. What about you?’

 Alek swirled the whisky around in his glass. Usually he would have changed the subject, because he didn’t like talking about himself. But she had a way of asking questions which made him want to answer and he still couldn’t work out why.

 He shrugged. ‘I’m a self-made man.’

 ‘But you said—’

 ‘That my father owned an island? He did. But he didn’t leave his money to me.’ And if he had, Alek would have thrown it back in his face. He would sooner have embraced a deadly viper than taken a single drachma of the old man’s fortune. He felt his gut tighten. ‘Everything I own, I earned for myself.’

 ‘And was that...difficult?’

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