Perhaps he should have rung.
As the car swept into the drive of his parents' home, Nico Eliades questioned what he was even doing herebut a business deal in Athens had been closed earlier than expected, the hotel he had been intending to purchase was now his, and with a rare weekend free he had decided, given he was so close, to do his duty and fly to Lathira and visit his parents.
It did not feel like home.
Only duty led him up the steps.
Because he did not like them. Did not like the way his parents used their wealth, and the way their egos required constant massage. His father had come from the mainland when Nico was one and had purchased two luxury boats that now cruised the Greek islands. No doubt, today, there would be another argument, another demand that he return to live here and invest some of his very considerable fortune in the family business. Another teary plea from his mother, to find a bride and give them grandchildrenthat he should thank them for all they had done. Thank them?
Nico blew out a breath because he did not want to go in there hostile, truly did not want another row, but always they threw in that line, always they told him he should be more gratefulfor the schooling, for the clothing, for the chances.
For doing what any parent would surely do, could they afford it, for their son.
'They are not here.' The maid looked worried, for his parents would be angry they had missed a rare visit from Nico. 'They are at the wedding, they don't return till tomorrow.'
'Ah, the wedding.' Nico had forgotten. He had told his parents he would not be attending and for once they had not argued. It was the wedding of Stavros, the son of Dimitri, his father's main business rival. Normally at events such as these, his father insisted Nico attend because he wanted to parade his more successful son.
Nico's ego did not need it.
But, surprisingly, his parents had not pressed him to attend on this occasion.
Now here he was, reluctant to leave without having at least seen themit had been weeks, no, months since he had been back, and if he saw them now then it could be several months more before he had to visit again.
'Where?' Nico asked the maid. 'Where is the wedding?'
Because Charlotte, his PA, had told him of the invitation, just not of the details.
'Xanos.' The maid said and screwed up her nose slightly as she did so, because even though Xanos had recently become the most exclusive retreat for the rich and famous, the locals were poor and the people of Lathira considered themselves superior. 'That is where the bride is from so they must marry there.'
'In the south?' Nico asked, because that would mean Stavros had done well for himself. But the maid gave a small smile as she answered.
'No, in the old townyour father and Dimitri have to rough it tonight.'
And now Nico did smile, for though his father was certainly wealthy, the south with its luxury resorts and exclusive access was way beyond his father's reach.
He would go, Nico decided.
He did not care that he had declined, details like that did not concern him. Staff moved mountains, tables appeared, presidential suites were conjured up wherever he landed Charlotte would sort it out.
Except she, too, was at a wedding today in London, he remembered.
' Sort out my clothes,' he told the maid, as his driver brought up his cases and Nico told him to arrange the transport.
'The transport is all taken.' The driver was nervous to inform him. 'The helicopters took all the family last night, they don't return till tomorrow.'
'No problem.' Dressed and ready, he ordered the driver to the ferry. He was used to different drivers:
Nico did not really have a base. What he was not used to was attending to small details for himself, but his PA was usually available night and day and she did deserve this one weekend off.
He did not care for the stares of his fellow passengers as he paid for his ticket.
Dressed in a dark suit, he sat amongst tourists who gaped at the beautiful man in dark glasses, who did not belong on the local ferry.
Public transport was not so bad, Nico decided, buying a strong coffee, intending to read the paper to pass the time, but there was a baby crying behind him and it would not stop.
He tried to concentrate on the paper, but the baby's screams grew louder; there was a discomfort that spread through him, a growing unease as the ferry dipped and rose, the fumes reaching his nostrils. Still the baby sobbed. He turned and saw the mother clutching it, and Nico's expression was so severe the mother quailed.
'Sorry,' she said, trying to hush her child.
He shook his head, tried to tell the woman that he was not angry, but his throat was suddenly dry. He stared at the water and the island of Xanos ahead of him, felt the wind on his face and heard the screams of the baby. Despite the warm afternoon sun, a chill spread through Nico, and he felt a sweat break out on his face and for a moment thought he might vomit.
He stood, his legs for the first time unsteady, and he moved to the rail of the ferry and made himself walk away from the passengers. He was too proud to appear weak even in front of strangers, but still the baby's screams reached him.
Perhaps he was seasick, Nico told himself, dragging in air that did not soothe because it tasted of salt. But he could not be, for he sailed regularly. Weekends were often spent on his yachtno, Nico knew this was something different.
Still the baby screamed and he looked towards Lathira, from where he had set off and then over to Xanos, where he was headed, and the foreboding did not leave him.
They docked and he walked briskly from the boatdecided he was not going to get used to public transport, that a helicopter would fly him back. Nico walked to a taxi and asked to be taken to the town church. He stared out of the window and did not respond to the driver's attempts at conversation, just stared out at streets that were somehow familiar. As they arrived at the church, he recognised it and could not fathom why, did not want to. Even climbing the steps, somehow he felt as if he were recalling a dream and Nico stood for a moment to steady himself before going in.
The bride was arriving and he watched as she stepped out of the car and a swarm of bridesmaids, like coloured butterflies, busily worked around her, brushing down her dress. The older one fiddled with the simple veil that would soon be lifted over the bride's face before entering the church. Nico realised, whether she was from the north or the south, Stavros had done incredibly well for himself for she was quite simply stunning. How wasted she would be on the groom.
Was it the dress? Nico mused as he watched her. It was simple and straight, yet it nipped in at the waist to show her voluptuous curves. Or perhaps it was the heavy, full breasts that were so absent on the rake-thin women he usually dated that were the allure. He was used to sculpted, exercised, false curvesyet this bride's body was lush. Her breasts moved as she lowered her head to thank her small flower girl, in a way the breasts he was used to holding never didthey were flesh, Nico knew, as was the curve of her bottom. There was a softness to her stomach that was natural. Her skin was creamy and pale for a local, and he could not take his eyes from her, felt the disquiet that had plagued him since he'd stepped onto the ferry subside as he quietly observed.
Her thick dark hair was worn up and how Nico would have liked to take it down. He could not make out the colour of her eyes from this distance but they glittered and smiled as she laughed at something that her bridesmaid saidand it was her energy that was stunning, the smile and the laughter and the way she took her father's arm. Then he saw her still as the priest walked towards her, saw her tense for a brief moment and straighten her shoulders, saw the swallow in her throat and the smile slip from her face as everyone moved to their positions. It was more than nerves, Nico thought as she closed her eyes for a long few seconds. It was as if she was bracing herself to go in, but then her lovely face disappeared from view as the bridesmaid arranged the veil.
It was normal to be nervous, Connie told herself as the priest walked towards her, but suddenly it was real. The preparation for this day had been all-consuming, her father determined that his only child would have a wedding fit for this prominent family. He would show the people of Xanos and his friends in Lathira that, despite rumours to the contrary, he was doing well. For weeks, or rather months, Connie had been swept along on a tide of dress fittings, menu selections, dance lessons with Stavros, but only now as she stood behind her veil with the priest telling her it was time did it seem real.
This was her life: this was happening whether she wanted it or not.
No one knew of her private tears when her father had told her of the husband that had been chosen for her. And later, when she had confided in her mother that Stavros's words were cruel at times, her mother had told her to be quiet. Even when, awkward and embarrassed, she'd told her mother that he did not seem interested in her, that he had not so much as tried to kiss her, her mother had told her they had chosen a gentleman for her. That sort of thing was for when she was safely his.
A bride, Connie told herself as she sucked in air, was supposed to be nervous on her wedding day.
And a bride was supposed to be nervous about her wedding night.
Was she the last virgin bride?