The flight to New York and on to London went without a hitch. The next morning around nine Lydia was at Heathrow, waiting for a taxi to take her to her mother’s apartment.
Her polite little buzz at the door was quickly answered by a uniformed maid.
“Miss Willoughby? Please come in. If you’ll leave your luggage here, I’ll put it into your room. Mrs. Willoughby is at the hairdresser’s, but I was to advise you she’d be back any time now. Through here, please, Miss Willoughby. This is the drawing- room.”
The maid stood aside and gestured to the room. Lydia thanked her and walked in. She looked around with pleasure. This was indeed a charming apartment. Glass doors were flanked by tall windows, giving a wonderful view of the Thames.
At that moment, a man entered the room from the balcony. He was faultlessly dressed in a dark business suit. Lydia could understand why her mother spent every available moment with him. He was, quite simply, gorgeous. Very tall, long-legged, elegant, with that rangy, loose-limbed build that made women’s mouths go dry — including her own, she had to admit. Another quick glance at his face confirmed her initial impression that he was the handsomest man she had ever seen. Blue-black hair, neatly styled, winged black eyebrows over eyes as dark as onyx, half-hidden by long, thick, curved lashes. A patrician nose and a beautifully sculpted mouth, which seemed to begin a little smile for her.
Suddenly deeply upset that this man evidently had no trouble at all insinuating himself into her mother’s affections, she lit into him.
“You should be ashamed of yourself, playing gigolo to my mother. She’s very vulnerable right now; my father died only eight months ago. If you had any decent feelings at all, you’d let my mother down gently, and get out of her life. Can’t you invent a sick aunt or a dying grandfather in Greece? My mother said you’re twenty-nine. Well, you look older, probably due to the dissolute life you lead, going from one vulnerable, middle-aged lady to another— Look, if you need money, I’ll pay you any amount you wish as long as you get out of my mother’s life.” Lydia whipped her chequebook out of her handbag and looked at the man, her eyes flashing a challenge.
His polite smile had disappeared at the very beginning of Lydia’s onslaught, and his expression had gone from quietly indignant to absolutely outraged. Lydia thought, If he’s trying to up the price with his indignation, he can think again.
The man opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the arrival of Alicia. She hugged her daughter. “Lydia, I’m so glad you decided to come.” Glancing at the man, Alicia asked, “Honey, won’t you please introduce the gentleman with you?”
Lydia glanced at the man, her expression stricken. She said, haltingly, “Mama, this gentleman isn’t with me. I thought—” Please God, kill me now.
His manner frigidly polite, his deep voice glacial, the man said, “My name is Raphael Thalassinos. I am the elder brother of Jason. I came here to try to persuade him to leave London and go home to Greece. Our mother is recuperating from an illness.”
Alicia was embarrassed at the visit of Jason’s elder brother, but also indignant at his implication that Jason was living with her. She lifted her chin. “I’m Alicia Wiilloughby, and I want it clearly understood that Jason does not live here. Since you are his brother, you are no doubt aware he has an apartment of his own at the Barbican. If you wish to speak to Jason, surely that is the place to find him. Not here. We go to exhibitions, plays. We meet for lunch, dinner. We are friends! What made you think—?” Alicia’s voice stilled. It was clear that she was deeply offended.
“But Mama, you told me you were buying suits for Jason in Savile Row, and looking at a Jaguar—”
“Good gracious, Lydia, you didn’t think I was buying him these suits? Of course not. Jason paid for his suits, and for the Jaguar.”
Lydia had gone very pale. She dared not look at Jason’s brother. Her long lashes veiling her eyes, she said hesitantly to him, “I’m so very sorry. I’ve made a dreadful mistake—” She ventured a covert glance at him, and opened her mouth to apologize further, but she did not get farther than repeating, “I’m so very sorry—”
At the same moment, Raphael began to speak. She thought that, in different circumstances, his deep voice could be caressing as velvet, but right now it was frigid and aloof. His facial expression remote, he addressed himself pointedly to Alicia. “Mrs. Willoughby, I am sorry if I upset you with my mistaken assumption that my brother was living here with you. Forgive me.” He inclined his dark head in a stiff nod, turned on his heel and left the room.
Alicia and Lydia stared at each other in dismay. Briskly, Alicia said, “Jason is due to pick me up here at twelve-thirty. I could telephone and ask him if he’s willing to invite you to lunch as well—”
“Please don’t, Mama. I think I’ve done enough damage to the frères Thalassinos for this century. Hey, I wonder if they’re related to my friend Nadine’s husband, Nick Thalassinos?”
“I’ll ask Jason,” said Alicia indifferently. “Are you sure you don’t want me to ask Jason to invite you, too?”
“Positive, Mama. I’m half dead from the flight, and had breakfast on the plane, so I couldn’t eat the tiniest bite. What I do need is a nice long nap. All right, Mama?”
“Of course, Lydia. By the way, how long are you staying? I hope this doesn’t sound inhospitable, but I’ve got rather a busy social life here, and I hate having to refuse or cancel invitations, you know what I mean.”
“Sure, Mama.” Thinking quickly, Lydia invented, “Actually, I’m on my way to Milan, to see the ready-to-wear couture people. I decided to stop over in London just for today. I thought Sunday you probably wouldn’t be busy. But it appears that you are. No matter. We’ll talk after lunch.”
“Well, actually, after lunch I’m invited to Jason’s apartment, he has a new DVD he wants me to watch with him, before we go out to dinner.”
“Of course, Mama. We’ll talk tonight, when Jason brings you back, after dinner.”
“Sure, honey. And ask Megan to make dinner, she’s a reasonably good cook.”
“No, thanks, Mama. I’ll do a little exploring in the neighbourhood; perhaps I’ll find a pub or small restaurant. You have a good time, Mama. If you don’t mind, I won’t wait to meet Jason, I’m so very tired.”
Lydia wasn’t tired at all, but she couldn’t bear to meet another Thalassinos after what she had done to Raphael.