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Что разделяет нас (2017)

Demetriou Demands His Child(6)

By: Kate Hewitt

The simply stated truth, one he’d already arrived at himself, now had him tensing in instinctive resistance. ‘Why do you say that?’

She tilted her head to look up at him, the sparkle leaving her eyes, her mouth flattening. ‘I’m twenty years old and my father intends to choose my husband. The only reason I’m at this ball is to show myself off to suitable men.’ She practically spat the words out, her hand clenching on his shoulder.

‘Does he have one in mind?’ Alekos asked, hating the thought.

‘Maybe.’ Her expression tightened and she glanced away. ‘But I want to have some say in the matter.’

‘As you should.’

‘I don’t know if my father agrees.’ She sighed, the sound too weary for a young woman whose life should stretch ahead of her with nothing but promise and possibility. ‘But let’s not talk about that. I can’t bear to think about it, not when tonight is the only time I might be able to have fun and enjoy myself with the most handsome man at the ball.’ Her smile turned deliberately coquettish, and he saw the humour in her eyes, the acknowledgement that she was flirting shamelessly. It made him smile.

‘Indeed,’ he murmured, and whirled her about the dance floor.

‘I must sound ridiculous,’ Iolanthe said with another little laugh, her head tilted back so she could look up at him. ‘Wittering on about being important and changing things.’

‘You don’t sound ridiculous.’ Hadn’t he once been the same, burning with ambition, flying high on hope? Then he’d come crashing to the ground, and now the only thing he burned for was revenge. ‘I think everyone wishes to make a difference in life,’ he told her.

‘And you?’ She glanced up at him, her expression all open curiosity. ‘How would you like to make a difference?’

Alekos hesitated, wondering how much to reveal. ‘I want to see justice done,’ he said finally, for that was certainly true. He wanted Talos Petrakis to pay for his crimes.

Iolanthe gave him a small smile. ‘That certainly seems a worthy goal. Far more than I’ll ever achieve, I’m sure.’

‘Who knows what you might do?’ Alekos returned. ‘You are young, with your whole life in front of you. You don’t have to marry if you don’t want to.’

She pursed her lips, considering his statement with perhaps too much seriousness. Who was he to encourage this naïve socialite to rebel? ‘What would I do if I didn’t marry?’

‘You could get a job. Go to university, even. What subjects did you like at school?’

‘I was tutored at home, but I always enjoyed art.’ She laughed. ‘Not that I possess enough talent to become a proper artist.’

‘You never know.’

‘You seem very optimistic.’

He laughed, the sound harsh. That was one adjective that would never be attributed to him. ‘I just don’t like to see a young woman such as yourself closing down all her possibilities.’

She smiled wryly. ‘I’m sure I seem very young and naïve compared to most of the women here.’ She nodded towards the crowd of sophisticated guests.

‘Most of the women here are jaded,’ Alekos said. ‘You are a breath of fresh air.’ Although he’d intended the words as mere flattery, he realised they held truth. Iolanthe’s inability to dissemble, the very innocence that had put him off, now intrigued and intoxicated him. He was disillusioned himself; he no longer trusted or cared for anyone. What would it be like to feel as Iolanthe yearned to, as if the world held nothing but possibility and hope? Once he’d felt it, as a child, but it seemed so long ago now he could barely remember the emotion, the happiness. He realised he didn’t want Iolanthe to lose her optimism, no matter what the future held for her. He didn’t want the flame he saw burning inside her to be extinguished so quickly on the altar of familial duty.

The music ended and yet Alekos was loath to walk away from Iolanthe as he’d intended to do earlier. And so, against all better judgment, he found himself asking instead, ‘Would you care to get some air on the terrace?’

‘A real breath of fresh air?’ Iolanthe teased, her eyes sparkling. Alekos conceded her point with a rueful nod, holding his breath as he waited for her acquiescence.

Iolanthe’s gaze skirted the ballroom before returning to rest on him. She squared her slender shoulders as if making a decision. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I would like that very much.’

* * *

Magic. Everything about this encounter with Alekos Demetriou felt magical, surreal, as if Iolanthe would wake up at any moment and find herself back in her bedroom, the evening yet to begin.

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