She was being sucked back in time to that first afternoon they’d met, and she couldn’t drag herself away from those memories. Memories of his smile, the way they’d walked miles and miles through the palace gardens, the way he’d watched her cook, listening to her explanations of the recipes, the way he’d told her his favourite dishes so she’d spent hours preparing them until she could make each one perfectly. The way he’d first touched her and set a live jolt of electricity flashing through her, the way he’d hesitated before their first kiss, as though he’d felt that it was an occasion worthy of savouring.
He stared at her now, his dark eyes like onyx, his expression harder than flint, and she had to claw her way back through the waters of the past to centre herself in the present.
“I can email you the recipe, Alice,” Ivy murmured, her polite smile a dismissal of both Thanos and Chyrós, but oh, how it cost her. Her blood was rushing so fast she felt as though ants had colonised her vascular system.
“Oh.” Alice frowned. Apparently Ivy hadn’t quite achieved the nonchalance she’d been aiming for. She tried harder.
“Perhaps I will take you up on your offer. I’m pretty exhausted.”
“Of course,” Alice nodded. “But you’re okay?”
She felt his eyes on her, heavy with inquiry, his own surprise palpable. She supposed she should be grateful he even remembered her.
“I’m fine, of course.” She wasn’t. She needed to get out of there, immediately. She’d thought she was over this, over him, but in the same airspace it was all coming back to her and in a way that made breathing difficult.
“Fine.” Alice turned to Thanos. “I offered for Ivy to have a helicopter take her to Athens.”
“No problem.” Thanos looked over his shoulder, signalling to someone Ivy couldn’t recognise. “Thank you for such delicious catering, Ivy. It’s been exceptional.”
Usually, that kind of praise, and particularly coming from someone like Thanos Stathakis, would have meant the world to Ivy, but she was numb to anything and anyone besides Chyrós. He shone too brightly, dulling everyone in his proximity, just as he always had.
Alice’s smile was all warmth. “Let me give you a hand to the helicopter.”
“That’s fine, it’s only my knives and my handbag. The rest of what I used is yours.”
“I’m really grateful for the work you did,” Alice enthused, with no way of knowing that Ivy was circumnavigating a major emotional hurdle.
“Congratulations again on baby Nicholas,” Ivy murmured, her heart panging when she looked at the little bundle. It was yet another dream she’d cherished—and lost. After she and Chyrós had made love for the first time—her first time with any man—she’d found herself fantasising about the possibility of becoming parents. She’d never known any kind of stability and she’d fantasised about what it would be like to have a family all of her own. She’d allowed herself to forget that Chyrós wasn’t just a man. He wasn’t all hers. He was royalty, with many claims on his time and heart—many responsibilities beyond what she’d foolishly allowed herself to hope for.
He’d insisted on protection, and now she understood why—a man destined to become king couldn’t have illegitimate children sprinkled all over the world. That hadn’t stopped her from imagining what their baby would be like.
“He’s perfect, isn’t he?” Alice cooed, but for a moment, Ivy believed the other woman was talking about Chyrós. Her eyes lifted to his and her stomach clenched, because his expression was one of unfathomable anger.
It burned her to the soles of her feet. She jerked her face away, her chin tilted defiantly.
“I’ll see myself out. Don’t go to any trouble.”
“Thank you again. I’ll be in touch for Nicholas’s first birthday party.”
“Please do,” Ivy murmured, though it was with regret because she knew she’d never do another job for the Stathakis family. Not if it meant there was a chance she might see Chyrós.
She couldn’t do it. Never again. Leaving him had been the hardest thing she’d ever had to do—and that was saying something.
She spun away, pausing only to grab her roll of knives and leather handbag, and carried both as she weaved through the thick crowd of revelling guests then pushed out of the guarded front door. Her breath came hard and fast but she didn’t stop moving. She walked quickly away from the house as though the very fires of hell were pursuing her, and out of nowhere, tears filled her eyes. Angry tears, tears of disbelief.
It had been three years. Surely she should have moved on by now? Yes she’d been busy establishing her catering business, but that wasn’t why she’d avoided dating anyone else, was it?
The helicopter pilot was close behind her. He opened the side door and she slid into the unparalleled luxury, the walnut leather seats more like designer Scandinavian armchairs than the fittings in an aircraft. There was wood-panel detailing and a small fridge in the armrest of the chair. Her fingers were shaking as she opened the top and pulled out a can of beer. She didn’t generally drink but she needed something to steady her nerves.
“To Athens, ma’am?”
It wasn’t his fault, but the pilot’s accent was Greek and all it did was remind Ivy of Chyrós in a way she utterly resented.
“Yes, thank you.”
She sat back in the seat, pointedly staring away from the house, unable to look at it now knowing that Chyrós was inside. A thousand questions deluged her. Was he alone? Was he thinking about her? Had he missed her?
“Oh, God,” she whispered to herself, closing her eyes and taking another drink of the beer. It was ice cold. She waited for it to flow through her body, to bring a degree of calm to her racing heart.
The rotor blades began to whir. She gripped the can tighter, forcing herself to breathe slowly. She was almost away. Soon, this would be just a distant memory, another one she would never allow herself to think about.
The noise of metal shifting didn’t mean much to Ivy. This was only the second time she’d been in a helicopter; she wasn’t even remotely au fait with the mechanics of it. But a second later the unmistakable sound of a door had her opening her eyes and turning towards it.
“Chyrós!” Alarm jolted her central nervous system and something so much more dangerous. Recognition. Her body began to hum in response, her heart to stammer, because he had held her heart—all of it—at one point and she wasn’t sure you could ever really take your heart back from someone else’s hands. “What are you doing?”
In response, he threw her a mocking look, slid into the seat opposite and barked a command to the suited man behind him. The man—presumably one of Chyrós’s security officers—shut the door to the helicopter and a moment later took the seat beside the pilot.
Panic had Ivy reaching for her seatbelt, preparing to run.
“Do not even contemplate it.” The words were delivered calmly enough, but there was an undercurrent to them that had her sitting straighter, her spine like a beam.
“Don’t you dare think you have any right to tell me what to do.”
“I think I have every right, in this minute, Ivy.”
“No.” She shook her head and unbuckled her seatbelt.
“Sit down before you fall down.” So infuriatingly calm, except for the look in his eyes, which spoke of a barely contained darkness.
The helicopter lifted off the ground and she knew she’d missed her chance. Anger and defiance had her glaring at him with undisguised fury.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Kidnapping you, Ivy. I suggest you sit back and say nothing, not a single damned word, until we reach Akilandos.”
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