Everything was perfect. Or as perfect as it could be at events like this. Though she was used to catering for these types of function,, it was unlikely she would ever become completely adjusted to this degree of wealth—and the way it made people behave. She’d already had to shepherd an impossibly slender heiress towards a bathroom, her nose coated in a suspicious white powder, her legs decidedly unsteady.
But the food had been exceptional, the selection of Greek delicacies perfectly complemented by the kind of cooking she was known for—modern fusion with an accent on freshness and seasonality.
There had been some difficulty in ensuring an adequate supply of ingredients to this stunning private island, but Statherá Prásino had its own abundant supply of fruit and vegetables, so Ivy had largely been able to build a menu around what was here at her fingertips.
Money, after all, had been no object for the Stathakis family.
Her eyes sought the couple in question, across the room. First, Alice, glowing and beautiful in a way that warmed Ivy’s heart, because she’d had enough conversations with Alice to understand that she was new to this world and as reluctant to allow it to influence her as Ivy would be.
True, they were billionaires several times over, but at their heart, they were just people. She only had to look at the renowned, ruthless tycoon Thanos Stathakis, who stared at his son as though he were some kind of miracle poured into human form, to see that the same parental adoration moved through him as did the next man, and the next.
All people, really, except perhaps her parents.
She ignored that thought. It was a red herring. She didn’t dwell on her birth parents, nor the seven foster homes that had come after them. She made it a rule not to dwell on anything from her past.
There was only this—Ivy Harris, who was working her butt off to make a name for herself as a caterer.
“You look exhausted.” If it had been anyone else, Ivy might have taken offence, but the words were said with great kindness, Alice’s face showing concern. “Did you really start baking at four this morning?”
Ivy nodded. “That’s my job.”
Alice made a tsking sound. “Surely you could delegate?”
“And risk things not being perfect?” she responded with mock disbelief.
Alice’s smile was gentle. “A fellow control freak?”
Ivy arched a brow. “What do you think?”
Alice grinned. “Nonetheless, it’s all over bar the shoutingnow. Why don’t you go home? Thanos’s helicopter is on standby to take you to Athens.”
“There’s still plenty for me to do first,” Ivy demurred.
“Nonsense. Look at how well-fed our guests are.” Alice leaned in a little closer. “Besides, to be perfectly honest, I’d be quite happy if they stopped eating and drinking and started going home soon.”
Ivy’s eyes drifted over Alice’s face. The other woman was looking dreamily towards her husband. There was a crowd separating them, so Ivy could only just make out Thanos’s ear and shoulder, but Alice, apparently, had X-ray vision, going by the way she was staring.
For a moment, Ivy’s heart panged in a way that she should have been used to, but wasn’t. It was impossible not to remember Chyrós in that moment. Chyrós would have been so at home at something like this. As his mother had been at great pains to point out, this was his milieu, not Ivy’s.
At one time in her life, she too had looked at a man as Alice was staring at Thanos. She too had believed herself in love in a way that would overcome all obstacles, always.
“Aren’t they being flown out on your jet? Couldn’t you sound a bell or something? Get the pilot to announce it’s time to go?”
Alice pulled a face. “I think it might be rude.”
“Of course it isn’t. Your island, your rules.”
“My island.” Alice shook her head. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”
“I can imagine.” And she could. Stupidly, she’d fantasised about marrying Chyrós—what a naive fool she’d been! Then again, she’d been twenty-one and hadn’t understood a thing about the world and men like him. As if a man destined to be the king of one of the most prosperous countries in the Mediterranean would ever seriously consider a relationship with someone like her!
It had been a bit of fun for him, that was all. A summer fling to kill some time and ease his boredom, just like his mother had said. Bitterness shifted through her but she didn’t show even a hint of that to the obviously happy new mother. She had become adept at concealing her feelings, thankfully, and not just because her experience with Chyrós had required it of her. No, a lifetime spent being bounced from one foster home to the next had left her with a savant-like ability to seem outwardly lacking in emotion.
“Ah! Here comes Thanos. He’ll insist I’m right, just you wait.”
“Really, Mrs. Stathakis.”
“Oh my goodness, we’ve discussed this. Call me Alice—I find it too weird to have someone use my surname.”
“Fine. Alice, really, there’s all the cleaning up to do—”
Alice leaned over conspiratorially. “You mightn’t have noticed but we seem to have an army of cleaners.”
Ivy shrugged. “Nonetheless, it’s my—”
“Thanos?” Alice spoke over Ivy with a warning wink.
“Ah! I was just coming to find you.” Thanos kissed his wife on the cheek in a display of such obvious tenderness that Ivy’s heart turned over in her chest and for a second she experienced a sharp blade of loneliness pressing hard against her heart. “I wanted to introduce Chyrós to the woman behind the loukoumádes.”
Ivy’s heart began to beat very, very fast, but the cool part of her brain, used to coping under all sorts of stress and strain, rationalised that it simply wasn’t likely at all that Chyrós—her Chyrós—would be here today. It had to be a common enough name, didn’t it?
Except she knew it wasn’t. The diminutive form of Ischyrós, meaning powerful and mighty, was traditionally given to the ruler of Akilandos. As her brain recalled this, her eyes stole across the room in time to see people parting like a sea, making way for a man who was famous the world over—both for his position as King of Akilandos and for the antics that saw him regularly splashed across the gossip pages of the international tabloids.
Ivy froze. It was a fight or flight moment but she was capable of neither. She stood-stock still, her huge brown eyes locked to Chyrós, her pulse like a torrent of raging water pounding through her as she waited, and waited, for the moment when he would look up and see her.
It had been impossible to believe that she wouldn’t see him again when she’d left his palace three years ago. He’d become such an enormous part of her life, even if only for a short time—where there had been a complete void of others to love, she’d suddenly found Chyrós and he’d taken over all the space in her heart, so there was only him.
She’d been so foolish. Young, naive and stupid to believe she could find a fairytale ending with an actual Prince Charming. His mother, Queen Margerite, had been right. Not to suggest Ivy would take money in exchange for leaving Chyrós—though she had—but right to point out the obvious: he didn’t love her. It was all in her head. The speed with which he’d moved on after she’d left proved that.
She had seconds in which to pull herself together, seconds in which to force her features into a mask of unconcern, to paste a calm, polite smile to her face. And then he was lifting his head, looking first at Alice and Thanos before his inky black eyes shifted sideways, landing on Ivy in a way that set flames roaring through her.
In the most unlikely of circumstances, when she’d least expected it, Ivy was standing only a feet away from the man who’d broken her heart the one time she’d been stupid and gone against her carefully trained instincts, allowing herself to feel anything for anyone.
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