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The Villa Demetriou stood on the outskirts of Athens on raised ground, from which the family had always been able to survey the domain they considered theirs. Until now the only thing that could rival them had been the Parthenon, the great classical temple built more than two thousand years before, high on the Acropolis, far away across the city and just visible.
Recently a new rival had sprung up, a fake Parthenon, created by Homer Lukas, the one man in Greece who would have ventured to challenge either the Demetriou family or the ancient gods who protected the true temple. But Homer was in love, and naturally wished to impress his bride on their wedding day.
On that spring morning Lysandros Demetriou stood in the doorway of his villa, looking out across Athens, irritated by having to waste his time at a wedding when he had so many really important things to deal with.
A sound behind him made him turn to see the entrance of Stavros, an old friend of his late father, who lived just outside the city. He was white-haired and far too thin, the result of a lifetime of self-indulgence.
'I'm on my way to the wedding,' he said. 'I called in to see if you fancied a lift.'
'Thank you, that would be useful,' Lysandros said coolly. 'If I arrive early it won't give too much offence if I leave early.'
Stavros gave a crack of laughter. 'You're not sentimental about weddings.'
'It's not a wedding, it's an exhibition,' he said sardonically. 'Homer Lukas has acquired a film star wife and is flaunting her to the world. The world will offer him good wishes and call him names behind his back. My own wish for him is that Estelle Radnor will make a fool of him. With any luck, she will.
'Why did she have to come to Athens to get married, anyway? Why not make do with a false Greek setting, like that other time?'
'Because the name of Homer Lukas is synonymous with Greek shipbuilding,' Stavros said, adding quickly, 'after yourself, of course.'
For years the companies of Demetriou and Lukas had stood head and shoulders above all others in Greece, or even in the world, some reverently claimed.
They were opponents, foes, even outright enemies, but enemies who presented a civilised veneer to outsiders because it was profitable to do so.
'I suppose it might be a real love-match,' Stavros observed cynically.
Lysandros raised his eyebrows. 'A real—? How many times has she been married? Six, seven?'
'You should know. Weren't you a guest at one of the previous weddings, years ago?'
'Not a guest. I just happened to be in the Las Vegas hotel where it was held and watched some of the shenanigans from a safe distance. And I returned to Greece the next day.'
'Yes, I remember that. Your father was very puzzled— pleased, but puzzled. Apparently you'd told him you wanted nothing more to do with the business now or ever again. You vanished for two years, but suddenly, out of the blue, you just walked in the door and said you were ready to go to work. He was even afraid you wouldn't be up to it after… well…'
He fell silent, alarmed by the grim look that had come over Lysandros's face.
'Quite,' he said in a quiet voice that was more frightening than a shout. 'Well, it's a long time ago. The past is over.'
'Yes, and your father said that all his fears were groundless because when you returned you were different, a tiger who terrified everyone. He was so proud.'
'Well, let's hope I terrify Homer Lukas. Otherwise I'm losing my touch.'
'Perhaps you should be scared,' Stavros said. 'Such threats he's been uttering since you recently bilked him and his son of billions. Stole billions, according to him.'
'I didn't steal anything, I merely offered the client a better deal,' Lysandros said indifferently.
'But it was at the last minute,' Stavros recalled. 'Apparently they were all assembled to sign the contracts, and the client had actually lifted the pen when his phone rang and it was you, giving him some information that you could only have acquired "by disgraceful means".'
'Not as disgraceful as all that,' Lysandros observed with a shrug. 'I've done worse, I'm glad to say.'
'And that was that,' Stavros resumed. 'The man put the pen down, cancelled the deal and walked out straight into your car, waiting outside. Rumour says Homer promised the gods on Olympus splendid offerings if only they would punish you.'
'But I've remained unpunished, so perhaps the gods weren't listening. They say he even uttered a curse over my wedding invitation. I hope he did.'
'You're really not taking anyone with you?'
Lysandros made a non-committal reply. He attended many weddings as a duty, sometimes with companions but never with one woman. It would interest the press too much, and send out misleading signals to the lady herself, which could cause him serious inconvenience.
'Right, let's get going,' Stavros said.
'I'm afraid I'll have to catch you up later,' Lysandros excused himself.
'But you just said you'd go with me—'
'Yes, but I've suddenly remembered something I must do first. Goodbye.'
There was a finality in the last word that Stavros dared not challenge.
His car was waiting downstairs. In the back sat his wife, who'd refused to come in with him on the grounds that she hated the desolate house that seemed to suit Lysandros so perfectly.
'How can he bear to live in that vast, silent place with no family and only servants for company?' she'd demanded more than once. 'It makes me shiver. And that's not the only thing about Lysandros that makes me shiver.'
In that, she knew she was not alone. Most of Athens would have agreed. Now, when Stavros had described the conversation, she said, 'Why did he change his mind about coming with us?'
'My fault. I stupidly mentioned the past, and he froze. It's almost eerie the way he's blotted that time out as though it never happened, yet it drives everything he does. Look at what happened just now. One minute he was fine, the next he couldn't get rid of me fast enough.'
'I wonder why he's really going to leave early.'
'He'll probably pass the time with a floozy.'
'If you mean—' she said a name, 'she's hardly a floozy. Her husband's one of the most influential men on the—'
'Which makes her a high class floozy, and she's keeping her distance now because her husband has put his foot down. Rumours reached him.'
'He probably knew all the time,' his wife said cynically. 'There are men in this city who don't mind their women sleeping with Lysandros.'
Stavros nodded. 'Yes, but I gather she became too "emotional", started expecting too much, so he dropped the husband a hint to rein her in if he knew what was good for him.'
'Surely even Lysandros wouldn't be so cruel, so coldblooded—'
'That's exactly what he is, and in our hearts we all know it,' Stavros said flatly.
'I wonder about his heart,' she mused.
'He doesn't have one, which is why he keeps people at a distance.'
As the car turned out of the gate Stavros couldn't resist looking back to the house. Lysandros stood there at the window, watching the world with a brooding air, as though it was his personal property and he had yet to decide how to manage it.
He remained there until the car had vanished through the gates, then turned back into the room, trying to clear his mind. The conversation had disturbed him and that must be quickly remedied. Luckily an urgent call came through from his manager at the port of Piraeus, to say that they were threatened with union trouble. Lysandros gave him a series of curt orders and promised to be there the next day.
Today he would attend Homer Lukas's wedding as an honoured guest. He would shake his rival's hand, show honour to the bride, and the watching crowds would sigh with disappointment not to see them at each other's throats, personally as well as professionally.
Now, more than ever, his father's advice rang in his head.
'Never, never let them know what you're thinking.'
He'd learned that lesson well and, with its aid, he would spend today with a smile on his face, concealing the hatred that consumed him.
At last it was time for his chauffeur to take him to the Lukas estate. Soon he could see Homer's 'Parthenon', in which the wedding was to take place, and it loomed up high, proclaiming the residence of a wealthy and influential man.
A fake, he thought grimly. No more authentic than the other 'Greek setting' in Las Vegas.
His thoughts went back to a time that felt like another world and through his mind danced the girl on the roof, skinny, ordinary, yet with an outspoken innocence that had both exasperated and charmed him. And at the last moment, when she'd opened her arms to him, offering a comfort he'd found nowhere else in the world and he'd almost—
He slammed his mind shut. It was the only way to deal with weakness.
He wondered how she'd come to be one of the wedding party; probably the daughter of one of Estelle Radnor's numerous secretaries.
She might be here today, but it was probably better not to meet again after so long. Time was never kind. The years would have turned her into a dull wife with several children and a faithless husband. Where once she had sparkled, now she would probably seethe.
Nor had he himself been improved by time, he knew. A heaviness had settled over him, different from the raging grief that had possessed him in those days. That had been a matter of the heart and he'd dealt with it suitably, setting it aside, focusing on his head, where all sensible action took place.
He'd done what was right and wise, yet he had an uneasy feeling that if he met her now she would look right through him—and disapprove.
At last they arrived. As he got out of his car and looked around he had to admit that Homer had spent money to great effect. The great temple to the goddess Athena had been recreated much as the original must have looked when it was new. The building was about seventy metres by thirty, the roof held aloft by elegant columns. Marvellous statues abounded, but the greatest of all was the forty-foot statue of Athena, which had mysteriously developed the face of Estelle Radnor.
He grimaced, wondering how long it would be before he could decently depart.
But, before he could start his social duties, his cellphone shrilled. It was a text message.
I'm sorry about what I said. I was upset. You seemed to be pulling away when we'd been growing so close. Please call me.
It was signed only with an initial. He immediately texted back.
No need to be sorry. You were right to break it off. Forgive me for upsetting you.
Hopefully that would be an end to it, but after a moment another text came through.
I don't want to break off. I really didn't mean all those things. Will I see you at the wedding? We could talk there.
This time it was signed with her name. He responded.
We always knew it couldn't last. We can't talk. I don't wish to subject you to gossip.
The answer came in seconds.
I don't care about gossip. I love you.
Madness seemed to have come over her, for now she'd stepped up the intensity, signing your own forever, followed by her name. His response was brief.
Please accept my good wishes for the future. Make sure you delete texts from your phone. Goodbye.
After that he switched off. In every way. To silence a machine was easy. It was the switching off of the heart and mind that took skill, but it was one he'd acquired with practice, sharpening it to perfection until he would have guaranteed it against every female in the world.
Except perhaps one.
But he would never meet her again.
Unless he was very unlucky.
Or very lucky.
'You look gorgeous!'
Petra Radnor laughed aside the fervent compliment from Nikator Lukas.
'Thank you, brother dear,' she said.
'Don't call me that. I'm not your brother.'
'You will be in a couple of hours, when your father has married my mother.'
'Stepbrother at most. We won't be related by blood and I can yearn after you if I want to.'
'No, I think you'll be the brother I've always wanted. My kid brother.'
'Kid, nothing! I'm older than you.'
It was true. He was thirty-seven to her thirty-two, but there was something about him that suggested a kid; not just the boyish lines of his face but a lingering immaturity that would probably be there all his life.
Petra liked him well enough, except for his black moods that seemed to come from nowhere, although they also vanished quickly.
He admired her extravagantly, and she justified his admiration. The gaunt figure of her teen years had blossomed, although she would always be naturally slender.
She was attractive but not beautiful, certainly not as the word was understood among her mother's film-land friends.
She had a vivid personality that gleamed from her eyes and a humour that was never long suppressed. But the true effect was often discovered only after she'd departed, when she lingered in the mind.
To divert Nikator's attention, she turned the conversation to Debra, the starlet who would be his official companion.
'You two look wonderful together,' she said. 'Everyone will say what a lucky man you are.'
'I'd rather go with you,' he sighed.
'Oh, stop it! After all the trouble Estelle took to fix you up with her, you should be grateful.'
'Debra's gorgeous,' he conceded. 'At least Demetriou won't have anything to match her.'
'Demetriou? Do you mean Lysandros Demetriou?' Petra asked, suddenly concentrating on a button. 'The Lysandros Demetriou?'
'There's no need to say it like that, as though he was important,' Nikator said at once.
'He certainly seems to be. Didn't he—?'
'Never mind that. He probably won't have a woman on his arm.'
'I've heard he has quite a reputation with women.'
'True. But he never takes them out in public. Too much hassle, I guess. To him they're disposable. I'll tell you this, half the women who come here today will have been in his bed.'
'You really hate him, don't you?' she asked curiously.
'Years ago he was involved with a girl from this family, but he ill-treated her.'
'I don't know the details. Nobody does.'
'Then maybe she ill-treated him,' Petra suggested. 'And he reacted badly because he was disillusioned.'
He glared at her. 'Why would you think that?'
'I don't know,' she said, suddenly confused. A voice had whispered mysteriously in her mind, but she couldn't quite make out the words. It came from long ago, and haunted her across the years. If only—
She tried to listen but now there was only silence.