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The villa looked just as she remembered it.
Or rather, Rebecca acknowledged to herself, it looked just as it had always appeared in her dreams. Because the truth was that she had actually seen so very little of it on that one day she had ever spent inside it.
The one day that should have been the start of her honeymoon.
The one day of her marriage.
They had arrived just as the sun was setting and so she had only had the briefest glimpse of the huge, elegant, white-painted building, the sweep of the bay behind it blue and crystal-clear. But it seemed that that had been enough to etch the image onto her mind with perfect clarity so that the memories that had surfaced in her sleep were far more detailed and accurate than she would ever have imagined she could describe when awake.
Clearly the eyes of happiness recorded things much better than vision that was blurred and distorted by tears. Because that was how she remembered her arrival at the Villa Aristea, and then, just a few short hours later, her departure from it. She had reached the tiny island in the heights of delirious happiness, and left it just a few short hours later in the very depths of despair.
She hadn't even had time to unpack her case. Rebecca shivered in spite of the heat of the sun on her back as she recalled the way thatAndreas had picked it up and flung it out of the door in a blazing, black rage. She had been so sure that he would have flung her out after it that she hadn't stayed even to protest, but had fled in a rush, trying to convince herself that discretion was the better part of valour and that she would do better to wait until he'd calmed down before she tried to explain the truth. At least then she might have a hope that he would listen.
She'd waited. And waited. But it had seemed that Andreas would never, ever calm down at all.
Until now. 'Is this the right place, kyria?'
Behind her, on the steep, curving road, the taxi driver stirred restlessly in the afternoon heat. He was clearly anxious to get back to the tiny village and into the shade once again.
'Oh, yes,'Rebecca assured him hastily, opening her bag and rooting in it awkwardly, hunting for her purse and thumbing through the unfamiliar notes she'd acquired in a rush at the very last minute, hunting for one that looked something like the amount on the meter. 'Yes, this is the right place.'
It was impossible not to contrast the shambles and discomfort of her arrival today with the way she had first visited the Villa Aristea barely a year before. Then she had travelled in the greatest possible comfort, flying to Rhodes in Andreas' private jet and then being ferried in a helicopter across the sea to this island that was little more than a dot in the ocean.
And she hadn't had to lift a finger. Everything had been arranged for her. Everything planned to be the end of a perfect day and the start of a perfect marriage.
Except, of course, it hadn't worked out at all that way. That day had been the start of nothing and had brought the end of her ill-fated marriage before it had even really begun.
Except in one way
Bitter tears burned at the backs of her eyes as she was forced to remember how Andreas had so ruthlessly made sure that their marriage could not be dissolved easily and swiftly.
'There will be no annulment,' he had declared coldly and harshly, making it plain that that was what had been at the back of his mind all the time. He hadn't wanted her for himself any more, but he had made so sure that she could not be with anyone else for as long as he could keep her from it. 'If you want your freedom, you will have to go through the full legal procedure.'
'If I want my freedom!' Rebecca had flung at him, blinded by pain and desperate to get out of there before she had broken down and let him see just what he had done to her. 'If! I wouldn't come back to you if you crawled over broken glass to come to me to beg for my return.'
He'd tossed aside her furious protest with an indifferent shrug of one powerful shoulder, a look of scorn on his beautiful face.
'You'll come crawling to me before I ever even think of you, if only because you need money for something. I'll be willing to bet that you'll come looking for cash before the year is up.'
' Rebecca had begun, desperate to stop him from thinking of her like this. 'I'd rather die.'
He'd scorned that declaration too, swatting it away as if her fury were just a buzzing fly that had annoyed him.
'You'll be backbecause you can't help yourself. You'll want to get your greedy, grasping hands on as much as you can before our marriage is finally over and done with.'
The taxi driver was still hovering, trying to give her change, it seemed.
Rebecca waved him away, trying to find the strength to smile in spite of her memories.
'Keep it. Keep the change.'
She might need him later, she told herself. Sooner, rather than later, if this interview didn't go well. But certainly at some point soon, she would need a taxi to take her back down to the ferry and it was as well to keep this man friendly as it seemed that he ran the only firm on this island.
She barely heard his thanks or the roar of the car's engine as it swung out into the road and set off down the hill again. Her gaze had gone back to the big, carved wooden door before her and her thoughts to the night, a year ago, when she had crept away from this place like a beaten dog, with her tail well and truly between her legs.
'You'll come crawling to me before I ever even think of you
The brutal words echoed again and again inside her mind, making her head ache, and her thoughts blur. She had come crawling to him in desperation, because only desperation could drive her to fulfil his prediction, make the callous words come true when she had vowed that it was the last thing on earth that she would ever want. And she was desperate.
But desperation wasn't why she was here.
The terrible news about her baby niece had driven her to write that letter to Andreas, expecting only ever to receive the curtest of replies from himif in fact he replied at all. She hoped for, prayed for a cheque that would help them out of the terrible fix they were ina cheque that she had promised him that she would pay back if it was the last thing she did. But she had definitely not dared to hope for anything else.
Certainly she hadn't dared to hope that he would actually see her, or speak to her. Let her put her case in person.
And of course he hadn't.
The formal letter had come almost by return of post.
She was asked to meet with his lawyer. To state exactly why she needed the money and on what terms. And when he had the details then Mr Petrakos would consider her request.
She had been still reeling from the curt coldness of the single typewritten sheet when the telephone had rung.
For the first time in almost twelve months Rebecca had let his name slip past her lips, whispering it aloud in the still, hot air, silent except for the buzz of insects amongst the flowers.
She hadn't even been able to say it when she had heard the unknown, accented voice at the other end of the phone ask to speak to Mrs Petrakos. In fact it had taken the space of several stunned heartbeats to even remember that Mrs Petrakos was her own name. She had gone back to using her maiden name after the brutally abrupt end to her marriage and had tried in all ways possible to put the fact that she had ever been Rebecca Petrakos, however briefly, out of her mind for good.
'Come on, Rebecca, do something!' She spoke the words out loud, striving to push herself into action instead of standing there, foolishly, frozen to the spot. She seemed incapable of movement now that she was actually here.
She'd moved fast enough when she'd finally absorbed the phone message from Andreas' PA. Just to know that her husband had had an accident had been bad enough. At the words 'car crash', her blood had run cold, making her shiver in shock as the terrible truth hit home.
A devastating crash. His car brakes had failed and he'd gone off the road, into a tree. He was lucky to still be alive. But he had escaped, though badly battered and bruisedand now he was asking for her.
Asking for her.
As they had done back home, those words now pushed Rebecca into action, taking her towards the door, her hand lifting to tug at the ornate bell pull that hung beside it, hearing the sound jangle loudly deep inside the house.
Andreas had been asking for her, the voice at the other end of the phone had said. Did she think she could come to Greece? Would it be possible for her to come to see him?
Becca hadn't needed to think. There had been no doubt at all in her mind and she had given her answer even before she had time to consider whether it was wise or not. But the truth was she didn't care.
Andreas had been in a crash, he was hurtinjuredand he was asking for her. She had barely put the phone down before she had dashed upstairs to start packing.
Of course, the journey to Greece had given her too much time to think. Time to go over and over and over the conversation in her head and find all sorts of possible things to worry about and fret over.
What had happened in the accident and how badly hurt was Andreas? Why did he want to speak to her when for almost a year he had kept his distance, maintaining a total silence, with no contact at all, apart from that single stiffly formal letter that she knew he had got his secretary to write and had simply scrawled his name at the bottom of?
But it had been enough to know that Andreas had asked for her. And there was no way she was going to turn her back on him.
She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she barely noticed the big door swing open and jumped, startled, when a voice exclaimed in surprise.
It was Medora, the elderly housekeeper who Andreas had said was the closest he had ever had to a mother. Medora, who had been the one person she had spoken to on that terrible day she had spent at the villa, before Andreas had so unceremoniously thrown her out. The one person who had had a smile for her then and still had now, it seemed.
'Welcome! Come in! The master will be so happy to see you.' Would he? a little, niggling voice questioned in the back of Becca's thoughts. Would Andreas truly be glad to see her? She had started out on this journey so determined and full of confidence, but somehow along the way all of that courage had seeped away.
What if it had all been a terrible mistake? If Andreas had not been asking for her at all but for someone else? Or what if
Her heart clenched at the thought of the possibility that Andreas had asked for her all right but that he had done so for reasons that were far from kind or even friendly. What if his motives were simply to add to the misery he had heaped on her a year ago?
Another voice, a male one this timethe voice from the telephone callbroke into her thoughts, making her turn, blinking hard in the shadowy hallway after the brilliance of the sun outside. A young man, tall, dark, was holding out his hand to her.
'My name is Leander Gazonas. I work for Kyrie Petrakos. It was I who telephoned you.'
Leander's handclasp was warm and firm, reassuringly so.
It drove away some of the doubts and fears in Becca's thoughts, and replaced them with new confidence and hope.
'Thank you for getting in touch with me. I came as soon as I could.'
'So would you like a drinkor a chance to freshen up? Medora will show you to your room.'
If a room had been put at her disposal then it seemed that, for the moment at least, Andreas was not just going to turn round and reject her again. But where was Andreas himself? How was he?
'If it's all right, I'd like to see my
The word died on her tongue and she found herself unable to actually say 'my husband' out loud.
'I'd like to see Mr Petrakos, if that's possible.'
If there was anything that brought home to her just how ambiguous her presence here was, it was this. The way that she was standing here, in the hallway of the home of the man who was, legally at least, her husband, waiting for an invitation to move into the house, while somewhere else in the building Andreas, the man she had promised to love, honour and cherishand who had made the same vow to herwas
Was what? Why was she being kept here, waiting like this? What had happened to Andreas? Where was he? Something about the look in Leander's eyes made panic rise in her throat.
'Is my husband all right? Where is he? How is he?'
'Please don't upset yourself, Mrs Petrakos.'
The tone was soothing, obviously meant to calm, but still there was something about the man's expression, his careful control of his words that set her nerves on edge. It was obvious that there was something he was holding back.
'Your husband is as well as can be expected. But he is still under a physician's care. So perhaps it would be best if
'No! No, it wouldn't be bestI want to see him now!' Becca actually flinched at the sound of her own voice. It was too high, too sharp, too tighttoo everythingand she didn't need the change that moved across the young man's face, tightening every muscle, pressing his lips together, to tell her that she had overstepped some invisible mark, one she hadn't been fully aware of. She didn't have the right, the position, in this household, to make demands like that. She had no idea what orders Andreas had given before his accident or even after it. She didn't even know whether he had given this Leander permission to contact her or if the young man had done it on his own initiative. And if that was the case
' she added, unable to erase the raw note of desperation from her tone. 'Can I see my husband now?'
She saw doubt in the face before her and was about to give in to the despair that swamped her. But then, just as she was debating whether to open her mouth and plead or simply to try to push past him and head into the houseshe could remember much of the layout of the place from the brief time she had spent in it in the pastLeander obviously reconsidered.
'Very wellif you will come this way.' He would never know, Becca reflected, just how difficult she found it to keep behind him as he made his way up the wide, curving staircase and along the landing. With anxiety chewing at her thoughts, she wanted to rush ahead to get to Andreas'room before he did. It was only when Leander came to a halt outside an unexpected door that she was thankful that she hadn't. Because Andreas had obviously decided not to stay in the room that had been his when she had been at the villa before. The room that would have been theirs if the marriage hadn't broken up as soon as it had begun. And as her footsteps slowed and stopped she knew that she should be grateful.
How could she ever have gone into that room, with all the memories it held? How could she have coped with the past being thrown right into her face as soon as the door opened, and she saw the bed on which Andreas had made her his?
Made her his and then rejected her without a second thought. It would destroy her, she knew. Already the way that her heart was beating high up in her throat was choking off the air to her lungs and making her head swim so that she felt faint.
So she could only be grateful when Leander opened the door to a room she had never been into and stood there waiting for her to come past him.
Becca's legs felt weak beneath her, shaking in apprehension as she forced herself to walk into the room. What would Andreas look like? What sort of a mood would he be in? He had been asking for her, yesbut why?
The image of her husband's dark, furious face, the black eyes blazing, the beautiful, sensual mouth drawn into a hard, slashing line floated in her mind so that for a few moments that was all she saw when she was actually standing in the room. It obscured her vision, covering the reality of the man in the bed.
But then she blinked and saw Andreas for the first time since he had slammed the door in her face almost twelve months before.
The bruises were the first things she noticed. Bruises that marred the smooth, olive-toned skin, turning it black and blue in a way that had her drawing in her breath in a sharp hiss. His eyes were closed, lush black lashes lying in dark crescents above the high cheek-bones, and a day or more's growth of beard darkened the strong line of his jaw.
Shock at the sight of him lying there so still and silent made her gasp. Her vision that had cleared for just a brief moment blurred again as tears of horror filled her eyes.