Gate Deadlock by Urania Sarri

I knew I had met him before.

He’d come to me from somewhere outside of this world, some other dimension, some other life, some other time. He was mine as much as I was his, at least in this life. He had told me that although the first time I’d met him he had come to kill me, now he was here to protect me. My life had been spared once but not without cost. Still, there were so many 
Gate Deadlock
Gate Deadlock by Urania Sarri

secrets that he wouldn’t share with me which kept us apart and I knew we were racing against the odds, till they beat us down. Could a man have changed so much and yet remain the same? I wanted to believe him. I was desperately in love with him and although the voice inside me kept warning me to keep away, for the first time in my life I felt complete, as if all the pieces of the puzzle were now in place.

Until that dreadful night.

The first memories after the crash were like brief, incoherent snapshots of a wrongly preset camera. Tangled images, meaningless words and dazzling lights. I remember becoming aware of the fact that I was sinking into an enticing sense of relinquishment, tired of fighting, exhausted by the unequal encounter with time.

I couldn’t know for how long I had remained in this state, bordering the bailiwick of death. Where I was, time did not matter anymore. For once in my life, time was completely meaningless to me. I was the one to mock its evil, ruthless face now.

Gradually, I began to make sense of what the people around me were saying, totally overriding their entreaties to open my eyes, to go back to them, to fight. Because I had nothing to fight for. My life had vanished that night when the last letter of his name had disappeared in the dark background of the computer screen, fluttered away, my heart and soul together, irretrievably lost.

In a vague way, my mind refused to recall the reason for my devastation; the deprivation of his voice, the feeling of his touch, of his kiss. All I could feel was an intolerable pain, the cause of which was buried deeply into my subconscious. It was probably a physical defense mechanism, as my mind was trying to protect what was left. I only saw the same dream, the nightmare I had that morning in Christopher’s house that had made me wake up in the empty bed. I kept searching his house, shouting his name desperately, but he had vanished. The same torturing nightmare, over and over again.

I often reminisce those nightmares, especially one that had a different ending. I found myself in an empty street, a familiar neighbourhood around me. At the bus stop on my right, I saw my dad. I had not dreamt of him for many years after his death. He was smiling to me with his arms stretched in a wide embrace, waiting for me. I was ten years old again. He seemed so real; I could feel his warm body, I could smell him, the smell of my childhood. Next minute, I was holding him tight, crying.

‘Where have you been dad? Why did you leave me?’ I asked him.

He looked into my eyes, smiling. ‘I never left you Emma. My beautiful Emma.’

‘I’ve missed you so much. I need you, dad. Please take me with you.’

‘Where I’m going, you can’t come Emma. You must finish what you’ve started.’ he said with the same sweet smile that used to brighten my childhood years.

‘Don’t go yet. Come home with me dad.’

I took his hand and walked him to our house. I opened the door shouting ‘Mum, daddy is here, look!’

But when I turned to him, he had vanished. I was all alone again in front of the big house.

Kate’s voice had been the hardest to ignore. And then of course, there was my mum. I was not sure if she had been there only once or if she had never left my side, but I kept hearing her voice saying,

‘Wake up, Emma. Please, come back to us.’

I wanted to talk to her, comfort her that I was where I wanted, and all I needed her to do, was to let me move on. I needed her and Kate, my only friend, to release me, because I could feel their love holding me back. I was afraid that the slightest effort to respond to their plea would take me back to an empty world, back to the pain and the suffering.

To a world without Christopher.

I could not live in such a world. It was much worse than death.

Death. Eventually, it turned out to be the only way out of the deadlock.

I had made my choice. Every day, every moment was taking me closer to the end.





Chapter 2

Deep Blue

(Two months before)

I have always thought of the first time I met Christopher, as the first day of my real life. Nevertheless, I’ve never regretted letting him into my life, in full consciousness of the outcome and, were I given another chance, I would do exactly the same. Of course, I would have to change a few things. Because I have my share of blame in this story. This I cannot deny.

Every single detail of that evening will be forever engraved in my memory.

The first thing I vividly remember is the smothering heat and my total dependence upon the air-conditioner.

It must have been one of the hottest summers in Greece. My body had not become adjusted yet to the waves of heat coming from the south, making me spend my first two days in this vacation spot on the outskirts of the city of Corinth, going back and forth between the beach and the air-conditioned studio apartment I was sharing with Kate. Usually, it would take me a week to get used to the hot temperature, having spent the most of my life in the cool and gloomy suburbs of London. This summer I felt I would need even more time, as the overwhelming brightness and the blue of the sky did not match my mood at all. I had been masochist enough to be missing the cloudy, gloomy sky of London, even from the first day.

I was having summer holidays in Greece for the third year as a university student. Brantel University offered students the opportunity of spending eight weeks here every year, in cooperation with the University of Athens. It had been a long tradition for the schools of Archeology, History and Social Sciences ever since my dad had been working as a professor and researcher in Brantel. It goes without saying that for all of us, not only the students but also the tutors, summer school here was considered more as holiday time. But the school was not the only

reason for my coming to Greece as other, personal reasons called for my presence here.

The second thing that comes to my mind about that first day of my new life is the awful headache I’d been suffering from, or should I say the hangover symptoms.

The previous night, Kate and Tony had persuaded me to follow them to the beach party that was traditionally organized by the Greek students to welcome us.

‘No way I’m coming. You know I’m in no mood for parties.’ I had stubbornly insisted.

‘If you’re not going, I’m not going either.’ was Kate’s, who was no less stubborn than me, last argument. She always knew how to have it her way.

‘Please Emma?’ Tony had pleaded, making me give up, while at the same time Kate was smiling, enjoying her little triumph.

How excited I had been about this party the previous summer, when Colin and I were still together! This time, I felt like it was the wrong place to be. There were so many memories of Colin there and I had hated myself for not being able to stop thinking about him. He did not deserve it. Not since last spring, when I discovered that my suspicion that he was having another affair turned out to be utterly true.

The beach party was not over until the first light of day. Greeks were used to crazy nights but it had been too much for me. I had come home at the ungodly hour of 4.00 a.m. and, although I had spent most of the day in bed, I had not been able to make up for the lost hours of sleep. I had been suffering from serious hangover all day, which had made me take down a considerable dose of painkillers to be able to leave my bed and help my friend with her cooking adventure. Which brings me to the third memory of that day: the dangerous blending of smells coming from the kitchen, as a very special dinner lay ahead for my friend Kate and her boyfriend.

Kate had been my best friend for the last three years. We were always on the same frequency she and I, and most of the time I did not even have to talk to her for she could always read my

eyes as I could read hers. She had been a sweet comfort to me ever since I’d broken up with Colin.

Kate was really enjoying her achievement that night. I watched her slim, model-like figure move around the kitchen, wondering if she would really eat anything. Over the past few months she had lost some weight as she had decided to totally exclude carbohydrates from her diet.

My roommate had big plans for that evening, as she had decided to fascinate Tony with her cooking abilities. That was why she had bought a book with traditional, Greek recipes, and had chosen three of them for a romantic candlelit dinner in the little garden in front of our studio. We had spent the last three hours in the kitchen, which now looked as if a natural disaster, a hurricane or something as violent and fast, had just come this way, spreading debris everywhere.

Tony, a cute fellow student from Italy, was Kate’s boyfriend. His apartment, which he shared with two other History students, was only a few blocks away. He and Kate had both been very excited about coming to Greece, looking forward to spending their holidays here together. It was no surprise that they had been the first to sign in for the University summer school. As for me, I was pretending to share their enthusiasm although I had known this summer would not be the same. I had been having second thoughts about this trip ever since Kate had literally dragged me to sign in. When she told me that Colin would not be here this year, however, I admit I felt much relieved. After all, he was the only reason for my inhibitions. Ever since I was a child, I had come to adore this country and its people, due to my Greek dad, and it pleased me to feel that summer holidays here had become part of my life again, the same way they used to be when my dad was alive.

I remember how Kate, overconfident about her choice of recipes, had refused to follow my advice about not blending the discrepant flavors that night.

‘Seriously, Emma. Oysters are aphrodisiac. I may not be a chef but that much I know.’ she had told me when I questioned her bizarre taste.

I had a natural aversion for seafood. It was the only part of the Greek cuisine I did not like. But from that day on, I was pretty sure that my aversion would turn to pure disgust, because the smell of seafood had blended dangerously with that of roast lamb, causing waves of nausea to my stomach.

‘Do you think this shrimp sauce is thick enough?’ Kate asked me anxiously, her face red from the hot steam coming from the pan in front of her.

It was the third time she was asking me that and she smiled apologetically when her eyes met my glowering look.

‘Sorry, but you’re the expert.’ she smiled.

I was already on my way to check the sauce anyway, when I heard the doorbell ring.

‘No! Don’t tell me Tony’s already here!’ Kate panicked.

‘Relax, if it’s Tony, I’ll send him to the store for beer.’ I reassured her, wiping my hands quickly.

I walked to the door straightening my hair, wondering about traces of the flour war I had with her a few minutes ago.

When I opened the door, I came before a vaguely familiar face. It was not Tony, but a gorgeous stranger who did not seem less surprised than I was. He was standing on the threshold, looking at me with sparkling eyes.

‘Hi. Are you Kate?’ he asked, with a wonderful, distracting smile.

‘No. But I’ll get her for you.’ I said smiling back but realizing at the same moment that I was unable move at all, as I just could not take my eyes off him.

He was tall and athletic, dressed in expensive loose, white linen pants and a light green, brand T- shirt. His hair, golden brown, enwreathed his wonderful face in a disheveled hair-do and his full lips were slightly curved downwards, in the shape of a heart.

But what was most striking on him, was the deep blue of his large, almond shaped eyes, the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. They had captured mine, subliminally influencing my thoughts, making me struggle to recollect a long lost memory aroused by the angelic visage before me.

When I realized I had been staring at him, I felt my cheeks blush with embarrassment. I turned to get Kate, but she was already behind me. ‘Hi. I’m Kate. What can I do for you?’ She pushed me softly with her elbow, placing herself in front of me. I turned to hide into the kitchen, thinking what on earth was wrong with me. How could I have made such a fool of myself in front of that stranger?

I heard him talk to Kate without paying attention because something was trying for a second time to sneak into my mind, a past memory, an obscure image I was not able to recall, like a scene of a forgotten, nostalgic dream. It had to do with those sparkling, deep blue eyes of his. But how could it be possible? He was not the kind of man you would forget you have met. But still…

‘Emma, can you come here please?’ Kate was calling me from the living room. When I got back there, he was standing with his back at me.

‘Emma, this is Christopher, Harry’s roommate. Remember Harry telling us about the new tutor the other day?’ she winked at me. Harry was Kate’s brother and member of the summer school staff.

Christopher turned towards me with an innocent smile, but his eyes were now slotted, as if he was estimating my reaction.

‘Oh! ’ I said, overtly surprised. His face had started to dazzle me again and I was at a loss for words. He certainly did not look like a tutor but rather like a model. His beautiful face, absolutely breathtaking, was blocking the function of my mind. They were both looking at me with obvious mystification now. This is really awkward, I thought. I should come up with something quickly. And I picked the wrong thing to say.

‘I just thought you would be, you know, …older.’ Oops! I regretted saying that immediately. How could I have said that? What was I thinking?

‘Well, may be I am older than you think. Let me introduce myself properly. Christopher Auburn.’ He seemed amused by my bewildered attitude.

But …again… His voice; how could it be so familiar? And his smile. Once again, the same dream-like memory was creeping into my mind. Kate was giggling now and I realized he had his arm outstretched towards me, still waiting for a handshake.

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ Foolish! A mocking voice shouted in my head.

‘Nice to meet you, Emma.’ He looked obviously amused by my childish reaction as he was still grinning broadly when I touched his hand. It was warm and his grasp felt firm and familiarly inviting to me.

‘Have we… met before?’ I asked sheepishly.

His expression changed instantly. He looked straight into my eyes, meditatively and with some concern for a long moment. Then he went on, smiling knowingly.

‘I doubt it. I’m sure I would have remembered that.’

He held my hand a little longer than he should in a normal handshake. Or was I holding his? Kate was giggling again. He turned to her releasing my hand as his face became more serious.

‘Thank you for the keys, Kate. I should be going. I don’t want you to destroy your dinner over me.’

‘Oh, no!’ she shouted running to the kitchen, alarmed by the smell of burnt food coming from it.

‘I’ll see you two tomorrow then.’ he said, going for the door.

‘Just let us know if you need anything else!’ Kate shouted from the kitchen.

The door closed behind him and I was left in a daze, staring into vacancy.

When I got back to the kitchen, I found Kate pouring some water in the pan with roast lamp, which now looked a little darker than the one in the picture of the cookery book.

‘I KNOW!’ she shouted. ‘He looks like a Greek god, doesn’t he? You had me worried for a minute, you know. What’s wrong with you?’ she asked, rolling over the meat before putting it back into the oven.

‘I’m not sure. I felt like…like I’ve seen him before. Something about him is very familiar to me.’ She took off her cooking gloves and looked at me musingly, leaning against the kitchen table.

‘That’s impossible. He comes from a university in Canada, Harry told me. It’s his first time in Greece and he’s never been to Brantel either.’

‘What did he come here for?’ I asked.

‘He needed the keys to the apartment. Harry’s not back from Athens yet.’ She paused for a moment. ‘He asked about you, you know.’ she grinned. ‘That’s why I called you. He wanted to know your name.’ she said, checking me with the corner of her eyes.

‘Really?’ I was mystified.

‘Extremely handsome though, don’t you think? And he was so flirting you!’ she added teasingly, scrutinizing my expression.

I did not say anything because I knew where she meant to lead this conversation. I decided to ignore her last comment and started cleaning up the mess, but not before throwing a wet towel at her. She chuckled as she got it.

‘Tony will be here in less than half an hour. You’d better be fast.’ I reminded her. I knew Kate had been so preoccupied with her cooking that I could easily forecast her last minute frustration when she would realize that the kitchen was not in a condition to receive guests, let alone Tony who would always tease her for being the “messiest girl he’d ever met”. So, I started cleaning up the mess to avoid this last minute crisis.

When Tony came, I withdrew in my bedroom with a full dish and a glass of wine, although he and Kate had both insisted that I should stay with them.

I knew it was their night and Kate had been looking forward to it for so long, so I had decided to stay in my room and watch one of my favorite thrillers. Besides, I needed a good sleep.

I took a bite of the surprisingly delicious roast lamb. I have always considered myself as quite experienced when it comes to Greek cuisine. My dad used to insist that we should stick to the Mediterranean diet even for the months we stayed in London, and my mother did her best to please him. She never gave up on those cooking habits even after she got married to her second husband, another extinguished member of Brantel alumni, Daugh. By the way, when I mention my dad I do not mean my stepfather but my real father, Dr Dimitris Ioannou. And this is the next strange thing I vividly remember about that evening; somehow I had become overwhelmed with the memory of my father, provoked by something I was not able to identify exactly, although deep inside it felt like I knew the reason for the sudden recollection of my father’s memory.

My late father was the only child of a Greek rural family from southern Peloponnese, who made their living on farming. His father had spent his whole fortune so that his son, Dimitris, would get proper education, enough to put him in a position to lead a better life than his.

Dimitris got his BA in History with excellent marks and won a scholarship to continue his studies abroad. It was then that he met Virginia, my mother, a wealthy young woman born with a silver spoon in her mouth. He was a postgraduate student in Brantel University where she was also studying History. They became inseparable since then, but they did not get married until my mother was pregnant.

My dad was a committed researcher in the field of history. The most vivid memories I have from him come from the moments he used to spend with me in his large study room. At nights, shortly after dinner, I would always find him hidden behind piles of books, often having lost track of time as he would spend hours in there. Short before his death, he had become obsessed with

Project-Em”, which was something I have always been proud of, as he had named it after me. This was his last project and I’d always thought it was related to his previous research on Sanctuaries of Ancient Greece.

Trying to spend as much time with him as possible, I would intrude the privacy of his office expressing genuine interest in what he was doing. He was amused by my naive questions but he would always answer them as explicitly as possible. Despite my age, I had realized that whatever he was working on had been worrying him a lot and that his friends were trying to persuade him to drop it. And so did my mum.

One night, after an awful argument between them, to which I had been a silent witness, my mother had accused him of being a dreamer who wasted his time and talent on chimeras and witch-hunt. She had left his office without noticing me hiding next to the door, but I could see the tears flowing from her eyes. My dad was sitting behind his huge oak desk with his head hidden behind his hands. I ran to him and sat on his lap to comfort him. My heart aches to the present day when I recall the bitter expression on his face, revealing pure disillusionment and despair.

‘Don’t worry daddy. I believe you.’ I told him. He did not say anything, just stroked my hair and kissed my forehead. He smiled to me and carried me back to my room to tuck me into bed.

Two days after this, my dad was murdered. I was only ten by then. The police never caught his killer and no one could find a possible motive for killing a respectable university professor. There had been a lot of rumors, of course, but the police finally decided to close his file as one of the numerous unsolved homicides.

I have always considered myself as lucky because I had been the last person who had seen him alive. He was supposed to be taking care of me as I had come down with a cold at the last minute, changing my mother’s plans.

That night we had been invited to my godfather’s for a birthday dinner. My dad had decided not to go, as he and Don, my godfather, did not get on well for the past few weeks. My mother

had finally decided to go by herself, as my dad reassured her that he would take care of me.

When my mother came home, she found me alone in my bed, but there was no sign of my dad. She had waited up for him all night but he did not show up.

The next morning, little after nine, the doorbell rang. Feeling better, I had just joined my mother for breakfast in the kitchen and I knew she had been crying while she was making my milk. Listening to the doorbell, she turned so fast that she dropped the glass of milk on the floor. I remember running behind her and watching the policeman on the doorstep who nodded to her. He did not need to say anything. My mother just mumbled. ‘He’s dead, isn’t he?’

She married Daugh seven years later. He was reasonable enough not to pretend to be a father to me. Looking back, I never really liked him. I just put up with him for my mum’s sake, as it was obvious that he was a comfort to her. Since my dad’s death, I felt like I had lost my mum too, for she was always depressed, silent and constantly abstracted, decided for years to lead a sequestered life. She would refuse to leave the house and she stayed away from her friends and relatives. Thankfully, we never faced any financial problems, so she had hired a governess, Alice, who took care of me.

After my father’s death, we never thought of coming back to Greece. But this changed after my eighteenth birthday, when I received a letter from my father’s lawyer, Mr. Jackson, who requested that I paid him a visit as soon as possible for a very important matter. We met on the following morning to present me with a sealed envelope that my father had entrusted him with. My father’s instructions to Mr. Jackson had been to hand over the envelope to me when I would be at the right age. I remember opening the red wax seal my father had so often used, with trembling hands. In it there was a brief note:

Use it wisely.

There was something more in the envelope: a key to a safe deposit lock of the National Bank of Greece. I was so curious

about what my father had in store for me that I left for Greece on the next day.

‘I wish you didn’t have to go there, Emma. It’s probably about some family heirloom.’ my mother had told me, but I could see how worried she was.

‘You know I can’t let go just like that, mum. It’s something I just have to do.’ I had insisted. She knew me well enough to understand that any effort to talk me out of this would be vain.

In the bank lock I had found the most unexpected things: files, which I recognized to belong to my dad’s archives, as I had seen them on his desk years ago. They had been labeled with strange names that made me instantly recall the circumstances under which my father had named them. Actually, my dad and I used to play the “baptism” game, where I got to decide the title for each of the files he was working on.

I was instantly deluged by an overflow of the sweet memories of my childhood, of the happy years when my dad’s smile would seal every day as he held me safely in his wide embrace, when he explained to me the ancient Greek myths, when he tucked me into bed kissing my forehead. Inside the cold walls of the bank, I could almost feel him; I sensed his presence more intensely than ever. I cried myself out until my eyes became swollen and my head felt awfully heavy. Eventually, I picked up the thickest file, the one he had named after me.

I had spent endless, tearful nights studying ‘Project-Em’ before I decided to fulfil my dad’s dream. He had planned an excavation in a specific area in Greece that belonged to him, aiming to bring out another ancient sanctuary, at least that was what I thought at that time. This one seemed to be really important to him, like some kind of an obsession, as I saw numerous notes and maps where he had tried to locate the exact point where the sanctuary probably lay, covered by layers of history throughout the ages. He had labeled this spot as Point-X, the landmark of his Project. The excavation was scheduled for a week after his death. I found that he had recently bought this piece of land in the district of

Mesinia, of which my mum was ignorant, and had made all the necessary arrangements with the Greek authorities.

Mr. Jackson helped me with the legal details, as I became the only legal heiress of my dad’s archives. With my stepfather’s help, the university “adopted” Project-Em in terms of funding, as a tribute to my dad’s memory.

Unfortunately, I had not yet achieved to resuscitate the project due to unanticipated exigencies of Greek bureaucracy for the last three years. This summer, however, I was pretty optimistic about it, as I had received a letter from Demetra, the supervising archeologist, informing me about the latest developments.

‘Good news Ms Ioannou. I have worked out the problems with the Archeological Service. I’m pretty sure that the excavation will be starting within a month. I need you to be here as soon as possible.’ she had said over the phone.

I was so much looking forward to it! My initial inhibitions about returning to Greece were erased, as a lot more than summer school were lying ahead for me.

I left the empty tray on my desk, reminding myself to congratulate Kate on her cooking progress, although I had only tried the roast lamb.

I turned off the Dvd player because it was impossible to concentrate on the film, as my mind was still on the gorgeous tutor. That strange feeling still had not gone off and my intuition was warning me that I would soon get to know him better.

I thought of the summer school group meeting that would be taking place the following morning, feeling strangely exhilarated. For the first time ever since I had broken up with Colin I felt my heart beat fast and it surprised me to admit how much I had missed that feeling.

The next morning I woke up really early. I turned my head drowsily towards my bedside table to look at the small alarm clock our prudential landlady had left for us. I saw it was only 6.30. The summer school meeting was not until 10.00, so I tried to go back to sleep discovering soon that it was useless. I had been tossing and turning, my pillow over my head, for almost

half an hour when I finally decided to get up. I went straight to the kitchen to make coffee, since only after an adequate dose of caffeine would I be able to function properly. Strong coffee has been my one and only addiction, a delight I would always permit myself to indulge to.

The hot, bitter liquid worked instantly as a miracle. I reached for my laptop and I sat on my bed cross-legged putting it in front of me to check my e-mails. But I knew my mind was elsewhere.

Why should I be so anxious for this meeting? I asked myself as I waited for my computer to load. It would be a Monday morning meeting as always, where Rose, the summer school supervisor, would announce the classes for this week and a discussion with our tutors would follow. Of course, Dr Auburn would be joining the school staff today.

I promised myself to do my best so as not to behave foolishly in front of him again. Generally, I have always been a person with great control over my emotions and my reactions. I have consciously been very careful so as not to let others see through me. This is what I have been doing ever since my father’s death. I have been well practiced. It is an impulsive strategy of defense that’s helped me confront my problems in my own way, shutting out anybody who attempts to sneak into my thoughts and my feelings. But above all, it made my mother feel better, as she had fooled herself with the comforting thought that I had overcome my father’s loss so much easier than anyone had expected and without any irreversible consequences. Only I knew the truth. When she got married to Daugh, everyone thought I had accepted it quite easily, again without consequences. But I knew better than that.

An e-mail from my mother appeared on the screen, but at that moment I was not in a mood for more advice on how to behave in a foreign country. I had known for a long time that whenever I went away, her deepest fears were triggered off. She would never express them directly, of course, but she would bombard me with tips, as if she had copied pages of a travel guide. I found this totally unnecessary, for I had never come up against any

problems with the locals here. Everyone was minding their own business, which was what I wished for.

I eventually decided to take a look at my mother’s e-mail and found it was what I had expected. The only unexpected thing about it was a surprisingly useful attachment by Daugh, with links relevant to the presentation I was to make for the Greek university conference in about two weeks. He had persuaded me to sign in, so that I would enrich my résumé, as he and my mother wished I would follow in my dad’s steps towards an academic career.

I turned off the computer and took a second cup of coffee. I decided to have it in the garden, where it was still pretty cool and quiet, trying to concentrate on the next chapter of the detective story I had started reading a couple of days ago. But I was about to discover that the book held no interest for me anymore, as I kept checking the time every ten minutes.

It was 9.00 now and I decided it was time to get dressed. I had a quick shower, put on my stretch light blue jeans, my red sneakers and a loose, floral patterned red and white blouse. I looked at my image in the mirror and gave myself a smile of approbation. I never had any problems with my looks, although I’ve always considered myself as common, in fact I have been grateful for being like that. My strong point, I guess, is my figure, one of the few things life has been generous to me, because I have a slim figure but curvy at he same time, making others think I spend my time at the gym, which is far from being true of course. Kate always says that she envies my “sexy figure to which I should be giving more credit”. My hair is long and light brown and I have my mother’s gray eyes, although the almond shape and the long black lashes come from my dad. So does my complexion, which is not the typical British pale colour. Colin used to say I was the most beautiful girl in uni but I was sure his judgment was far from being unbiased. Besides, he was used to lying to me, anyway.

I took my sunglasses, cap, and backpack and went to get Kate. Her door was open and I saw she was still in bed. Tony was not with her.

‘Isn’t it a little too early?’ she asked stretching her arms lazily.

‘Well, I have to run some errands before the meeting, so I guess I’ll see you there.’ I set off before she started getting suspicious of the reasons for my anxiety.

I found my car, a white Beetle, a gift from my mother on my last birthday, under the shadow of an olive tree in the backyard. Daugh had hired a driver to drive it to Greece a week before my departure. Inside it still felt cool. That was good, considering it was 30° C already outside. I wondered whether my stretch jeans had been the right choice in this temperature, as I felt them stick on my already sweaty legs.

I turned on the stereo and music from my favorite band, singing about chasing starlight, flooded the cabin. ‘That’s definitely a good way to start your day!’ I said to myself.

The meeting did not last longer than an hour.

Rose started with the introduction of Dr Auburn.

Christopher came to shake each student’s hand with a polite smile on his face.

When it was my turn, he said ‘Nice to see you again Emma. How are you today?’

‘Fine.’ I replied laconically, smiling but keeping my hands under the desk. Not having to touch him was a good idea, as I would not like to freeze again in front of everyone in the room. Kate followed my example too, so nobody noticed my awkwardness.

I was determined to preserve my self-dignity this time, so I would choose every word carefully. After all, I had had enough time to prepare myself for meeting him this morning. Never again would he catch me unprepared.

‘Emma, you should know that Christopher is also here to supervise the developments in Project-Em.’ Rose announced in an anxious manner.

I flinched, alarmed by what she had just said. I had not been prepared for this. He could have told me last night, if of course I had not behaved like a fool.

‘I see.’ That was all I managed to say.

‘Then, can I see you in my office after the meeting?’ Christopher asked me.

‘Sure.’ I said, this time in a fake-casual manner, although Ι was certain my eyes revealed how alarmed Ι still was.

During the rest of the meeting, I tried hard not to look at him, although he was sitting just a few meters across. I had noticed he too was wearing light blue jeans and an off-white linen shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The first three buttons of his shirt were undone revealing the upper muscles of his chest. It was impossible to concentrate on what the tutors were saying.

Kate was doodling absentmindedly; she was probably recalling last night’s date with Tony. I noticed that Beth and Sue at the front desk were staring at Christopher. I had heard them talk about him excitedly before the meeting started, trying not to laugh at their childish remarks. When he was shaking their hand, they looked as if he had mesmerized them. There you are, I thought, satisfied with my discovery. I’m not the only one who behaves like a schoolgirl in front of him.

Truly, he was the most beautiful man in the room, in the building, in the city, in the whole world for all I cared. He does not belong in this context, I thought. Men like him you expect to find in magazine photos of celebrity parties and VIP resorts, not in a summer school meeting of the faculty. No, he did not belong there. He was the only dissonance in that room. I could not resist staring at him anymore, and the same wistful feeling started to overwhelm me once again. Thankfully, the meeting was over before anyone noticed my dazzled expression.

I stood up and walked to the door, battling with my desire to run away. Kate had caught up with me, asking me something I could not hear. I turned around and saw that two of the female students were going straight to him to welcome him again.

He talked to them politely for a few moments, noticing I was waiting for him by the door. He asked if he could be excused with the most irresistible smile of his.

‘Hey, have you heard anything I just said?’ Kate was complaining next to me.

‘Sorry, what?’

‘I just said we’re going swimming with Tony and Mick at four. Make sure you’ll be there and don’t stand us up again. We have to get you out of the house, girl. It looks like you still need a push.’ she said, as she put her arms under the straps of her backpack.

‘I’ll see you there.’ I said quickly and she left me to join the others.

He came to me.

‘Shall we?’ he asked. I just nodded and let him lead. I already knew he was sharing his office with Harry. He opened the door and waited for me to go in first.

First thing he did was to turn on the air conditioner. He had probably thought the heat had caused the red on my cheeks.

‘Much better now.’ he said. ‘Please, Emma, make yourself comfortable.’ he pointed to the black, leather sofa. He sat right next to me. And it happened again. I was instantly numb, helplessly overwhelmed by his presence. Chemistry. I thought. That must be it. For the first time I had come to realize the meaning of the word. It felt as if his whole body was attracting mine in a weird, primitive way, while, at the same time, the feeling of familiarity struck me again. For a brief moment I saw myself touching him, his silk hair, his beautiful angel-like face… Pull yourself together Emma, a warning voice was shouting in my head.

He looked convincingly comfortable next to me, which is something I could not say for myself. Could he not have sensed the intensity of the atmosphere between us? His deep blue, penetrating eyes were fixed on me, making me even more uncomfortable.

I pretended to be looking around as if it was the first time I had been in Harry’s office. That didn’t help at all. When I started to think it could not get any worse, he broke the ice first.

‘I hope you’re not angry at me.’ he said.

Angry? Why should I be angry at him? He went on, as if he had read my mind.

‘For not telling you last night the reason for my presence here, I mean. I thought the timing was …bad.’ Right now it did not help to be reminded of last night.

‘You know, there isn’t much to supervise. I’m afraid it’s all been stuck up to bureaucracy. The file has remained closed up to now.’ I tried to keep my voice calm.

He did not say anything. His eyes were still fixed on my face as if he was trying to find out my true intentions for what I had just said. I decided to be more honest as sooner or later he would discover the truth. So I went on, in a more confiding tone.

‘Still, we’re planning to start the excavation next month, if things go well. Demetra, the supervising archeologist, has been able to work out some of the problems. But you know, we’re still keeping our fingers crossed.’

‘I see.’ he said finally, looking down. His heavy black lashes were hiding the blue of his eyes.

‘Well, if this is the case, I want a copy of the file on my desk first thing in the morning.’ he said, in a slightly authoritative manner. Then his voice softened again.

‘If you don’t have a problem with this of course.’ he added.

‘Of course not.’ I said, but my unwillingness was apparent in my voice. The idea of having a stranger into my dad’s notes for once more was not welcome. But he was not really a stranger, was he? Somehow I felt I could trust him although I could not explain why.

‘May I ask where you are planning to start digging?’ he asked.

‘Point-X.’ I replied. ‘I’ll show you on the map.’ I turned to get my backpack.

‘Emma, I know exactly where Point-X is.’ His voice was suddenly cold. I was startled by his serious tone. Besides, I would never have guessed he had spent time memorizing the plans for the excavation.

He looked at me as if he was expecting me to ask something. But I was already helpless. His face was so close to mine that I could not stop myself from getting lost into his eyes once more. Those so familiar eyes! I realized I was breathing heavily.

He stood up and went to look outside the window. As soon as the distance between us increased, I felt released. I sensed there was something bothering him about what I had said. He’d better not try to change my plans, I thought. Disagreeing with him was the last thing I needed. I was sure I would not be able to handle it, considering the effect he had over me.

He turned suddenly and I noticed his beautiful, inexplicably familiar smile was back too.

‘Now, can you show me around? Harry’s not coming until tomorrow and I haven’t had breakfast yet. So, unless you condemn me to spend my morning with Rose and Dr De Marco, will you please join me?’

I was desperate for an excuse to run out of the room, but, instead, I heard my voice as if it was someone else’s.

‘Of course.’ Second thoughts came up instantly.

‘You mean right now?’ I must be mental, I thought.

‘Yes, shall we take my car?’ I hesitated for a moment.

‘It’s settled then.’ he said, deciding for me. ‘Let’s go.’

He must have sensed I was about to be mesmerized by his eyes again.

He was walking next to me whistling a familiar tune, while I was careful to keep a safe distance from him. He certainly doesn’t belong here, I thought again. He held the passenger door of an astounding silver Audi Q7 open for me, which was something I had not been used to. He sat on the driver seat and started the car.

I tried to focus on the marvelous screen of the car but, inevitably, I could smell his perfume, reminding me of deep forest scents.

His stereo started playing, the same song I had listened in my car a couple of hours ago. I was startled by his taste in music. He put on his sunglasses, smiling. ‘Now you lead the way, Emma.’ he said.

He followed my instructions unquestioningly. I had decided to take him to one of the beach cafés where it would be most unlikely to meet any of my friends at this time of day. The girls would probably have hated me for this and I didn’t even want to think what Mick and Tony would say. However, I could think of someone I would like to see me now, next to this man who looked more like a model than a university tutor. I’d really like to see the expression on Colin’s face right now! I smiled. It surprised me to find Colin’s memory pleasurably distracting for the first time.

We were already walking on the fresh lawn of the garden of “Quasar” café.’ Soft jazz music was coming from inside.

‘Where do you want to sit?’ I asked him.

‘You choose.’ he answered, taking off his sunglasses to take a better look of the place.

I picked a table in the back garden where I knew it would not be so hot, as the shadow of the building protected it from the hot rays of the sun. It would also keep us away from the curious glances I had noticed the few customers cast on us as we were coming in. I could imagine every woman in this café was fancying him.

I realized I was quite flattered that he had invited me. Tutors, even Harry, usually went out with their colleagues, not with students. Not to mention that men like him would hang around in beach bars with models, not with university students.

He came to sit next to me, our elbows almost touching. This is too much, I thought. Colin, a thought about Colin please! But my mind suddenly became blank.

As the teenage waitress approached, I could not help smiling with the expression on her face as, naturally, she too was captured by his looks. She had to repeat our order three times to make sure

she had got it right. And it was not that much difficult to comprehend.

‘French coffee and breakfast for two. Right.’ she said finally, as she turned for the bar. It was comforting to find out again that I was not the only one who could not concentrate when being next to him.

He noticed I was smiling. ‘You look in a much better mood than before. I hope you’ll be more talkative too.’ he remarked.

‘I’m sorry Dr Auburn if I gave you the wrong impression.’ I apologized with a sheepish smile.

‘Christopher.’ He cut me. ‘After all, you have already noticed I’m not old enough to be a tutor, haven’t you?’

‘Again, I’m awfully sorry’ I hesitated. ‘…Christopher.’ I said eventually. ‘I don’t know why I said that.’

‘You were right, you know. I am too young. You weren’t of course the only one to be surprised. Most people at the School were surprised too. And they’d be more surprised if they knew I refused their invitation to be here with you.’

His tone was suddenly serious. I realized there was more to this meeting than I had originally thought.

‘Why? I mean, why did you choose to be with me?’ I asked looking at the waitress’s unsteady hands as she was emptying the tray on our table.

‘Well, I wanted to talk to you.’ He was helping himself to the toasted bread as he said that.

‘About what?’ I pretended this was the most natural conversation ever, trying to ignore the fast beating of my heart as I brought the cup of hot filter coffee to my lips. It was burning hot. I’d started to act foolishly again. I put the cup back, pretending nothing had happened, trying to ignore the pain from the burn on my tongue.

He was looking at me, with his lips tight, as if trying to hide a smile.

‘You see, I have a vested interest in you … and this project of yours, Emma.’ he said, examining my reaction, not missing the frustration on my face.

‘Think of it as returning your father a favor.’ he added.

He probably meant Daugh. There was no way he could have meant my dad.

‘You know Daugh?’ That was a surprise! How could Daugh be one of his acquaintances? The generation gap among them must be huge, I thought.

‘I’ve met your father. But let’s not talk about that now.’

‘He’s never mentioned you.’ I said, mystified. But he changed the subject.

‘There’s plenty to talk about, Emma. For example, your presentation for the Athens conference. Are you ready for it?’

My presentation? How did he know about it? He had guessed my question, for he went on.

‘You see, I know a lot about you, believe me. But for the time being, let’s leave it here. Let’s go back to your paper. I’d like to help you with it. So, how about a meeting, tomorrow at 11.00 sharp?’

He had made it sound as the most natural thing to say. I hesitated for a moment. I liked the idea of meeting him again the next day.

‘We can do it, I guess.’ I said. ‘But what makes you think I need your help?’

‘Well, don’t you?’ he asked, taking a sip of his coffee.

I hesitated for a moment, before I said, ‘I do. It’s true. I need to turn it into a presentation format and copy-paste some photos and videos. I’m not even sure which of the videos to include.’

‘Say no more. It’s settled.’ He took another, long sip. ‘So now tell me, what should I know about the rest of the staff?’ he asked in a conspiratorial manner.

I saw his face full of anticipation, the face of a child when planning to cheat in a game.

‘That will be entirely confidential information, of course.’ he added in the same manner, making me laugh. I had already started to feel more comfortable. Chatting kept me distracted, so I started talking about the tutors and saw he was extremely interested in every word I said, asking me questions which, as I realized later, made me say more that I intended to.

‘I’m sorry. I got too carried away. You’re really bad, you know. You should have stopped me.’

‘Well, I couldn’t. You were so enlightening. By the way, you’re right. I am bad.’ He was looking in his empty cup. His face had become suddenly serious.

‘But I won’t give you away. This, I can promise.’ he added and I saw he was smiling again as he looked at me, causing waves of a strange agitation in my chest.

He looked at his watch and I instantly knew our meeting was about to end.

‘I have to get you back now.’ he said. ‘I’ve a very important meeting in Athens in two hours from now and I really should be going.’

He left me next to my car, outside the university central building. Before reversing the car, he rolled down his window. ‘I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 11.00.’ I heard him say. I thought that this sounded more like a date rather than a tutorial, but it suited me fine.

The beach was very crowded on that Monday afternoon. The smothering heat wave had made everyone linger over by the sea for as long as they could. The sandy seashore seemed endless on both sides and cluttered with umbrellas in front of the beach road, which was lined with small storefronts and restaurants. To my fancy eyes, its image resembled that of an impressionist painting, with a diversity of colors coming from the randomly planted sun umbrellas the swimmers used to protect themselves from the sun as soon as they came out of the water. Among them, the rows of orderly straight lines of sun beds and straw umbrellas in front of beach cafes. Children’s excited voices filled the place up.

Fortunately, Bill had been able to reserve a couple of sun beds and umbrellas for us, as the sun was burning hot. It was not my favorite time of day for a swim, but I had decided to socialize more, following Kate’s advice. The water felt soothingly fresh after the burning of the sunrays on my skin. I’ve never been too much into swimming. I just prefer to relax in the sea before lying

for hours on my sun bed, reading my book and sipping my cappuccino fredo. This of course was something I could not enjoy on that day, as it would be impossible to withdraw from the others and follow my own little beach-routine. I did not want to make the impression that I disdained their company.

Mick and Bill were racing to the buoy as Kate and Tony were enjoying diving, with Kate practising a rather awkward dive, head into the water and legs from knees to toes, steady upon it. I, on the other hand, was already bored and my mind was already on the cappuccino.

‘Hey, check this out. Dude, I love this car.’ Mick was now next to me looking at the beach. I turned to look too. My eyes fell on the silver Audi Q7 parking under the trees. My heart leapt. I was not ready for this. Even more, I was not ready for what was about to follow.

Christopher got off the car, walked all the way around and opened the passenger door. A tall, blonde woman in red kaftans stepped out of the car. She immediately put on a large straw hat and huge sunglasses. They both looked as if they were enjoying each other’s company. They were smiling and chattering as they were walking towards the beach.

‘Who’s she?’ I asked.

‘I have no idea. Probably his girlfriend. Sorry Em.’ Kate said.

Of course, I thought. She’s the kind of woman someone like him would date. I took a longer look of him now that I was sure he was not aware of my presence. He was wearing a white T-shirt and long light blue shorts with white patterns. His body was gorgeous. In fact, gorgeous was the only word that came to me every time I saw him. I could not find anything about him that could make him less attractive or less appealing to any woman.

Suddenly, I realized that he was looking towards me. He took off his glasses and waved. I looked around. The others were back to racing and diving, so could he be waving only at me? I waved back, bashfully. How could I be blushing in the water? Thankfully, he was not close enough to notice that. He looked around and took his time to take off his T-shirt and put on his

glasses again. His waving to me did not escape his friend’s attention who had lowered her glasses to check me out. She was wearing the tiniest bikini to reveal her statue-like body. I decided it was time for the first dive of the day.

Later, I saw Christopher laughing as he was spreading sun tan oil on her shoulders. Obviously, his important appointment to Athens was about her, I thought.

‘I have to go. I’m expecting an important e-mail about the conference.’ I lied to Kate. She gave me a withering look and just nodded.

‘Can’t you stay for the coffee? Please?’ Mick pleaded. I knew he had a crush on me.

‘I’m sorry Mick. Rain check?’ I smiled as charmingly as I could.

‘Sure.’ he compromised, without any effort to hide his disappointment.

I dressed in a hurry. I had my back turned to Christopher as I did that, but it was as if I could feel his blue eyes penetrating my back and I could almost hear his chuckle.

On my way home, I had already regretted leaving because I was not sure what had made me act in this silly way. Why did that woman’s presence next to him bother me so much? He was nothing to me.

Back in my apartment, I took a long shower and concentrated on my paper. I wanted to be as well prepared as possible before meeting him the next day. By the time I had finished, my eyes were too heavy to stay awake. I barely had enough strength to brush my teeth and take off my clothes before dropping my self on the bed.

Chapter 3


That’s interesting!’

A familiar voice I could not exactly identify woke me up. I opened my eyes unwillingly, to see that Christopher was standing at my bedroom door, leaning his left shoulder against the doorframe. He could not be there. I was certain I was still dreaming.

His beautiful blue eyes were fixed on me, and his teasing smile sent the sleep instantly away from my swollen eyes. I drew the sheets up to my chest and sat up with a fast move.

‘What…How did you get in here?’ I asked, glowering at him. My initial confusion had started to give way to fury and exasperation.

He used his hand to shade his eyes, as if he was trying not to look at me, and walked towards my bed. He reached for my T-shirt on the chair next to my bed and then came to sit next to me. His hand was still ridiculously in front of his eyes.

‘Kate let me in. She had to rush and she told me to knock on your door.’

‘I don’t believe it!’ I whispered to myself. What was Kate thinking to let him in just like that? His face turned more serious.

‘Actually, it was my fault. I told her you were waiting for me. Sorry to let myself in like this, but I’ve been knocking for more than ten minutes. I was… worried about you.’

‘Well, as you see, I’m fine. Quite embarrassed, but fine.’ I said in a stiff voice. He took his hand from his eyes and looked at me with his attractive, disarming smile brightening his face.

‘Don’t worry. I am almost as embarrassed as you are.’ he said, but I doubted that.

‘I guess you forgot about our meeting.’ he went on as he stood up and walked to the door.

‘Damn it’! I cursed. I checked at the clock on my bedside table. It was eleven thirty. How could I have overslept?

‘I’ll make coffee.’ he chuckled, making for the kitchen.

How many times can a woman make a fool of herself in front of the same man and still hope he fancies her? I asked myself as I got up.

‘How can you live on these?’ Christopher wondered with his head in the almost empty fridge. ‘Do you know there’s nothing edible in here …besides those oysters?’ He took one and smelled it before putting it back.

‘You don’t have to do it, you know.’ I said coldly as I walked into the kitchen. I had put on a T-shirt and a pair of loose shorts now. He turned, slightly irritated.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You don’t have to baby-sit me.’

I was sure he detected the cruelty in my voice but he could not explain it. I could not either. Lack of caffeine in combination with humiliation had turned me into a monster.

‘Is that what I’m doing?’

‘What else?’ I took a long sip of the frappe coffee he had made for me.

‘Taking care of you is much better, I gather.’ he said.

I looked at him with a frown. ‘And why are you taking care of me, Dr Auburn?’

He shrugged. ‘As I said, returning your father a favor. Isn’t that enough?’

‘More than enough. You can tell Daugh next time you see him, that I’m a big girl now. Big enough to take care of myself.’

He closed the fridge door and came to sit on the chair right across. He raised his hand to touch my chin and made me look at him. Once again, his eyes were so capturing that kept me breathless.

‘I prefer to think of you as a woman, not as a girl.’ he said softly, making my heart beat fast.

‘Now drink your coffee. We have a lot to do and it’s almost noon.’ He stood up and walked towards the cupboard.

‘I can manage on my own. You don’t have to change your plans.’ I insisted.

‘I didn’t know I had other plans.’ he said casually, discovering a box of chocolate biscuits in the cupboard. He seemed to be enjoying my little attack now. He helped himself to the biscuits.

‘Mmm, these are really good.’

‘I know. They’re my favorite.’ I said. He put two of them next to my glass.

‘As for my plans, Suzan and I haven’t arranged to do anything this morning. We’re meeting in the afternoon for a swim. Too bad you left so early yesterday. I thought you might have wanted me to introduce you to her.’ He scrutinized my face. I did not say anything because I was sure the tone of my voice would betray me. ‘She could be really helpful to you in the future, you know.’ he added. I shut my eyes, annoyed. Daugh always talked this way about “my future” and “useful people”.

‘Not another lecture on my future.’ I whispered, talking to myself. He laughed, dropping his head back. His musical laughter made him even more attractive.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know I’d hit a nerve.’

I stood up taking the glass of coffee with me.

‘I’ll be ready in two minutes. Why don’t you wait for me in the car?’ I said as mellow as I could. I turned my back at him and walked to my room. Why was he here anyway? I was so angry! I wanted to hit him, hit him hard until I made him feel as hurt as I was feeling. Superficially, that is. Because that other part of me was really enjoying his presence in my house, feeling obscurely that this is exactly how it should be.

He stood up instantly. ‘Of course.’ he said willingly and walked outside.

‘Still angry?’ he asked with the most angelic smile on his face as soon as I got into his car.

‘No, I wasn’t angry. Just…surprised.’

‘Furiously surprised.’ he corrected me.

‘Never mind that. It’s over now. Mostly, it had to do with me. I’m not used to oversleeping you know. Punctuality is important to me.’

‘Typical British.’

‘Where do you come from?’

‘I’m half Swiss, half Canadian.’ he said coldly, the broad smile suddenly leaving his face.

‘Suzan just called.’ he had featly changed the subject again. ‘ She’s invited us to lunch. What do you say to that?’

‘Suzan? You mean the gorgeous blonde who was with you at the beach?’


‘So, how come she’s invited me?’

‘She just wanted to meet you. Is that so bad?’

I thought the real reason for Suzan’s prompt invitation would be to set a boundary line between me and Christopher or to check how dangerous a competitor I might be. She would soon find out that the balance turned to her side.

‘So, are you coming?’

‘Sure.’ He cast me a surprised look.

‘We can go together after we’ve finished with your presentation.’

‘She’s a beauty.’ I said, realizing too late that I was expressing my thoughts loudly.

‘She most certainly is.’ he agreed. He gave me another quick look.

‘How long have you known her?’ I asked in a fake-conversational manner, looking out of the window.

‘Just a few years.’ I was sure by his tone he was not going to be more explicit.

But then he went on. ‘We’re just friends you know, besides being colleagues of course.’

I smiled, shaking my head in disbelief.

‘What’s this all about?’ he frowned.

‘Come on. How can you be just friends?’ I teased him bitterly.

‘It’s true Emma.’ His voice had suddenly changed, becoming softer but his tone was stern, as if stating an established fact.

‘Look Christopher, I’m really sorry. I don’t even know why we’re having this conversation. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.’

‘I know. But…it just feels the right thing to do.’ he whispered.

He was right. I had only known him for three days, and here I was, questioning his personal life. It would sound ridiculously outrageous to anybody else. But with him, it was different because I felt like I had known this man for a long time.

It was as if we had been together in some other life, if I believed in reincarnation, which of course wasn’t the case. Judging by his last words, this feeling had to be mutual. If he was feeling the same, he must have identified the strange bond between us. Physical attraction was a big part of this bond, but I wondered what else was lying at its root.

We were already outside the University Main Building. He parked the car at the lot and walked up the marble stairs, next to me. The reception desk was empty as well as the two corridors. He walked towards the lift and pushed the button.

I suddenly realized that we would be all alone inside the small cubicle and panicked. I did not have time to think of an excuse to avoid this, because the lift door opened instantly.

Once we were inside, I held my briefcase tightly in front of my chest, trying to hide its fast movement, as I was afraid it’d jog due to the fast beating of my heart.

He stood right across, leaning against the lift wall. I knew he had his eyes on me, but I tried to focus on the floor number indication on my right. Could this lift be any slower? I should have gone for the stairs, I thought.

When I was about to gasp for air, the lift door opened again.

‘I wouldn’t think you’re claustrophobic.’ he remarked.

‘I’m not. It’s probably the heat.’ I was hoping I had sounded convincing enough.

He walked into the office and turned on the air-conditioner immediately.

‘Why don’t you sit down?’ he pulled Harry’s chair for me.

Then he came to sit right next to me. Were we going to be sitting so close? I was terrified. I was sure he would soon discover the

reason for my nervousness and I would not be able to fabricate an excuse this time.

He turned on the computer in front of me and I took the Cd out of my briefcase, with slow, careful movements. The damn Cd case would not open. My hands started to shake and I wished he hadn’t noticed.

‘Ouch!’ My thumbnail was broken, losing a big piece of it.

‘Let me help you with this.’ he said, taking the Cd case from my hands.

‘You’re just trying the wrong side.’ Great. I was so pathetic!

He inserted the Cd in the computer and turned to take my hand in his.

‘Now, whatever are we going to do about that?’ he smiled, examining the damage. My heart just stopped. I took my hand away from his hastily, although it needed a lot of strength to do so. His warm hand was attracting my skin like a magnet. Christopher laughed loudly at my silly reaction.

‘There’s no need to be so edgy Emma, for God’s sake!’

He stood up. ‘I’ll ask Tina to get us some refreshments.’ he said, reaching for the phone. Tina was a pretty, Greek brunet, who worked for the University as a secretariat clerk and temporary secretary for Harry and Christopher.

‘Strange. She’s not here yet?’ he wondered, as no one answered the phone.

‘She’s getting married in two weeks, so she’s probably got a lot to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t show up at all.’ I told him, waiting for his reaction.

‘Is that so? Well, I should go to the canteen and get the lemonades myself then.’ He hung up. ‘Do you need anything else?’

‘No, lemonade is fine.’ I watched him leave the room, amazed, wondering if I would ever find any defect to him.

There’s no such thing as the perfect man, Emma, control yourself! I reminded myself.

By the time he came back, I had already been able to regain control of myself. I was very absorbed in the computer screen

and had managed to distract myself with polishing my paper. He put one glass of cool lemonade on the desk next to me.

For the rest of the morning, I was busy turning my paper to a presentation format, whereas he used the computer on his desk to check the videos I wanted to include in it and put them in order according to the relevant parts of the text. Then, he examined the Project-Em files that I had left on his desk.

‘Damn!’ I cursed. I had tried for the third time to copy-paste a long passage into the Power Point program, but it turned out in the wrong format.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked from his desk and, before I was able to assure him that everything was under control, he was over me, his head almost next to mine. He looked at the screen and put his hand over mine, covering the mouse.

‘Let’s see. Let’s try this, shall we? And now this. See? It wasn’t so difficult.’

He moved the mouse with my hand still under his. I could not even look at the screen anymore. All I could see was jumping letters in front of my eyes. Just the feeling of his hair touching mine, just smelling his masculine scent blended with a deep woods perfume, put me in a daze. The warmth of his body on my back was urging me to lean on his chest and let myself loose.

‘It should be okay now.’ He had turned his head towards mine, his lips only a few inches away. I craved for his lips, I desperately wanted to taste them. I closed my eyes and tried to hold my breath.

‘I don’t think I can do this anymore.’ I muttered.

He drew back immediately. ‘You don’t feel well? We’ve been on the computer for more than two hours. That’s too much. We’ll finish it off tomorrow.’ He checked his watch. ‘It’s time to meet Suzan anyway.’

I stood up. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’ I said and almost ran to the bathroom. Pull yourself together Emma. What’s wrong with you? I told the image of myself in the mirror. I washed my blushed face and the cool water felt soothing on my cheeks.

When I got back, I saw that he had put my things back in my briefcase and was waiting for me by the door.

‘Are you any better?’ he asked, obviously concerned.

‘I’m fine. Let’s go.’ I said quickly, avoiding his stare.

I prayed not to be alone with him in the lift again and for the first time I was happy to see Rose standing in front of it. She held the door for us.

‘Thank you Rose.’ he smiled. Ignoring my presence, Rose started talking to Christopher in her usual fast manner. I was not able to follow their conversation as I was trying to think of Colin again to distract myself.

‘Dr Auburn?’ Tina called him as we were about to leave the building.

‘Yes Tina?’ he turned to her.

‘Hi Emma!’ she greeted me and then turned to him. ‘I’m terribly sorry for being so late today…’ she said in the most sincere manner. ‘You know I’m….’ ‘Yes, I know. Emma has told me about your wedding. Congratulations! Don’t worry, we didn’t need anything. You can take tomorrow off too, as far as I’m concerned.’ Tina was amazed by his generous, undemanding attitude, and so was I.

‘Thank you, Dr Auburn. I’d like to give you this invitation. It’s for my wedding. Nikos and I will be really happy if you can come.’

‘Thank you Tina. Of course I’ll come.’ he said excitedly.

She turned to me. ‘I’ m certainly expecting you Emma, right?’

‘Well, I…’

‘Of course she’s coming.’ Christopher interfered. ‘You will escort me Emma, won’t you?’ he smiled innocently, completely regardless of my disinclination.

‘Great!’ Tina said before I could speak. ‘I’ll arrange the two of you to be seated together at the wedding reception.’

‘You do that Tina!’ Christopher said, enjoying his triumph.

As we walked to the car, Christopher seemed overexcited about the wedding. As for me, I was really frustrated, as I had just started to realize what had just happened. Christopher got into the car whistling but I frowned.

‘Christopher, I don’t think I should go… to the wedding. I mean… I was planning not to.’


‘Well, Tina’s fiancé is a friend of my ex-boyfriend’s and…’

‘Nonsense. If he’s your ex, why worry about him? Is he going to be there after all?’

‘No, I don’t think so. From what I hear, he’s still in London.’

‘See then? Don’t worry. We’ll have a great time. It’s my first Greek wedding. You won’t just let me go by myself, will you?’ He knew I could not refuse him, not only out of courtesy. I was too predictable.

‘No, of course not.’ I replied, so easily defeated. ‘So where are we going?’

‘Suzan’s hotel, the Poseidon.’

The most expensive hotel in the area. It is so like her kind! I thought.

It occurred to me that it had been a good idea to put on my long, white, cotton dress that morning. I had also chosen a pair of dull-gold sandals and a matching bag. I might have been overdressed for the tutorial but it was certainly the right dress to wear for lunch at the pool bar of an expensive hotel.

Suzan was not at all as I had expected. She seemed really excited about meeting me and throughout lunch she expressed genuine interest in my studies and Project-Em.

‘I’m so excited the two of you are going to work together! You really make a good couple.’ Christopher cast her a warning look and she went on apologetically.

‘Professionally talking, of course.’ She took a sip of wine.

‘I have to warn you though, Emma. Once his mind is set on something he can be very persuasive. So be careful.’ Christopher frowned and gave her another angry look.

‘I think I’ve already found that out.’ I said, playing with my food, avoiding his mystified look.

I found Susan to be a very interesting person apart from being a beauty. Even though I had initially been prejudiced towards her, I could not but like her company. We talked about the attractions of Greece, which, for Suzan, would be mostly found in Greek men. I felt very comfortable with her and I had managed to keep myself well under control during the whole time.

‘Well? Are you convinced now?’ Christopher asked on the way back.

‘About what?’

‘That Suzan and I are just friends.’

‘Why is that so important to you?’ I teased him.

He smiled. ‘In case you haven’t realized yet, I’ve been trying to make a good impression on you.’

‘You don’t have to try hard for that, believe me.’

‘Well, that’s encouraging.’ His breathtaking smile dazzled me again.

‘So, are we meeting tomorrow, same time?’ he asked, pulling over outside my apartment. I thought about it for a minute.

‘I have a morning class tomorrow. How about later in the evening? At about six? But I’ll drive there. You don’t have to come and get me again.’

‘I see your point.’ he smiled widely. He waited for me to unlock the front door before he sped off.

The following two weeks continued like that. I met him every evening for two or three hours until every detail of the presentation was covered and I had rehearsed it more times than necessary. That was the good part. The worst part was that each time I met him I had to fight against myself in order to remain composed, as the attraction I felt for him was growing day by day. I practically experienced physical pain every time he came close to me and I had to restrain my strong urge to touch him. I would have thought that, by time, I would have become more immune to him, but this was only a wishful aspiration. Of course,

I was always careful enough to keep a safe distance between us and I drove my car to the university everyday instead of having him pick me up. I also made sure I would not be into the lift alone with him again.

Saturday was the conference day. Christopher had insisted on driving me to Athens, where the conference was taking place. I had realized that during all this time he had been such a distraction for me that I was not experiencing any stress at all. Normally, I would rather die than speak in front of an audience of ten people, let alone a full auditorium. Come to think of it, if it hadn’t been for Christopher, I would most certainly have cancelled the presentation, under the pretext of having been unwillingly driven into this by Daugh. That, of course, would displease Daugh and my mum but it would also make a point: I did not want to be manipulated.

However, I had eventually decided to go along with this and spare myself the rebuke. Christopher had played a major role in my resolution to get this over with.

My presentation was scheduled for late in the evening. When it was my turn to speak, I felt strangely confident about myself. My voice remained steady during the whole time but I was not brave enough to look at my audience. Mainly, I was looking at the computer screen, handling carefully the wireless mouse, so that the reflection of my work would be displayed on the board next to me. It was all done very featly and I was glad to hear the warm applause after I had finished.

When the session was over, I chatted along with some of the other speakers, as mutual congratulations were in order. There was some more typical chatting with the representatives of the organizing committee, and that was it.

All this time, I had not been able to locate Christopher. I went out of the auditorium to look for him. I found him waiting for me in the lobby and I couldn’t help thinking how wonderfully he was contrasting that boring setting.

‘Were you out here the whole time?’ I asked him.

‘I was only interested in your presentation. I should congratulate you. You were great! So brave and under control! You’ve impressed me!’ he said, and I could detect genuine admiration on his face.

‘Well, much of it I owe it to you.’ I said. Much more than you realize, I thought. Christopher shook his head and put his arm around my waist to walk me out.

He suggested a late dinner but I was not up to it. I asked him to take me back to Corinth and he accepted my request unquestioningly. As much as I wanted to be with him, I had enough for one day. Under the circumstances, I could not endure the torture of being with him without being able to touch him the way I so often touched him in my mind. Sooner or later, I knew I had to work out this dilemma that was driving me crazy: longing for him desperately and being tortured by his presence at the same time. How long would I be able to go on like this?

What I was about to discover in the next few minutes, was that Christopher would soon unravel the situation with his usual, breathtaking manner.

On the way back, none of us spoke much. The soft music that was coming from his stereo kept us both at ease.

Suddenly I realized he had taken a wrong exit from the highway. It is very soon for the exit to Corinth, I thought.

‘Where are we going?’ I asked him, slightly alarmed.

‘I just need to stop for a few minutes. Nothing to worry about.’ His voice was soft and reassuring.

He pulled over into a parking lot and stopped the car. The lights went out and revealed the darkness and the emptiness of the place, making me shiver. The only light was the dim, silver light of the moon, gazing us from among the tree-tops.

‘You look scared.’ he teased me.

‘I’m not scared. I’m just… worried. I don’t like dark… deserted places.’

‘You’re totally safe with me, Emma.’ he reassured me.

He leaned to the back seat trying to get hold of something. The next moment he was holding a blue box, which I recognized to be a small portable freezer.

‘I almost forgot. Suzan could kill me for that.’ he said, making me really curious to see what Suzan had done this time.

He opened the freezer to take out a small bottle of wine that he put next to him along with two crystal glasses, which sparkled momentarily under the moonlight.

‘I don’t believe this!’ I shook my head.

‘I know. This is so…Suzan. It’s her present to you, for tonight. It’s better to get over with this now. I guess you wouldn’t want any of your friends to see us doing this outside your house!’ Totally abashed, I chuckled nervously as I held the glasses and he poured the wine in. I noticed he had poured only a little in one of the glasses.

‘I’m only taking a sip. I have to drive you back safely.’ he said seriously. There was a strange sparkle in his eyes in the dark that made him look mysterious and somehow even more handsome. He lifted his glass to make a proposal.

‘To your future!’ he said, looking at me.

‘Thank you for everything Christopher.’ I wetted my lips with the cool wine. It was so refreshing that I eventually decided to empty my glass at one gulp.

‘What?’ I asked him a little embarrassed. ‘I’m not driving. I’m probably suffering from post-traumatic stress. I’ve outdone myself tonight, haven’t I?’ I added, looking shyly into my glass. We both laughed but next minute, an awkward silence prevailed. ‘I should call Suzan and thank her for her present.’ I said, desperately trying to break the silence.

‘Well, that’s enough for tonight. We can finish it up some other time.’ he said.

He took the empty glass from my hands and put it back into the freezer. Then, he put his next to mine and then the freezer was in the back seat again. He turned towards me and said in a low, gruff voice,

‘ Emma, don’t you want to know what my present for you is?’

‘You’ve bought something for me? You shouldn’t. You’ve already done so much.’

‘This is not something you buy Emma. But it’s something I’ve wanted to give you for a long time.’ I was already out of breath.

‘What’s that?’ I asked, but my voice could barely be heard.

Then he leaned towards me and slowly pressed his lips on mine. At first, I was numb, unable to move or breathe. But in the next second, it felt as if the tension I had being trying to suppress for so many days, was suddenly unleashed. I put my hands around his neck and crushed my body on his. I do not know how long that kiss lasted. When he drew back a little, he was breathing heavily too.

‘That was much more than I’d expected!’ he said smiling. He released me with careful, slow movements. ‘We’d better go before things get out of hand. I don’t know what kind of wine she gave us, but it certainly served its purpose.’ he joked, making me chuckle nervously again. He was wrong. Things had already got out of hand. Still in a daze, I thought about asking him not to start the car, but I was not sure I could find my usual voice. He started the car. I was trying to focus on the road in front of us when he gave me a quick look.

‘You’re so silent. Have you already regretted our kiss?’ How can he be so straightforward about this? I thought, abashed once again by his frankness.

‘No, I’m fine.’ I said, rigid in my seat, my eyes fixed right in front of me without really seeing anything. I could not tell him I was so silent because I was still bewildered by his kiss. At that very moment, I felt like it was someone else’s life I was living, not mine. But then he reached for my hand on my lap and held it under his until we parked outside my apartment.

‘Do you still want to go to the wedding with me tomorrow?’ he asked me.

‘Yes, definitely.’ I replied, a little too enthusiastically.

‘I’ll be here at 8.15 then. Don’t make me wake you up again.’ he said with his irresistible challenging manner.

I should be getting off, but my legs refused to move and take me away from him. I made a huge effort to open the door, but then he grabbed my arm.


‘Yes?’ I turned to him.

‘Come here.’ the same sexy voice whispered again. He closed his arms around me and kissed me again, only this time he drew back sooner, as if trying not to be too carried away.

‘You’d better go inside.’ He was smiling but I could not ignore the fake-warning tone of his voice that caused a flutter in my stomach. I got off reluctantly and, as he drove off, Suzan’s words echoed into my mind.

‘He can be very persuasive Emma. Be careful.’ But it was too late for that.

Kate was lying on the sofa, half asleep. When she saw me, she sat up rubbing her eyes.

‘Hey! How did it go?’ She was talking about my presentation but I was so preoccupied with Christopher’s kisses that the conference now seemed so distant and unimportant.

I tried to be as brief as possible about it, under the excuse that I needed to go to bed. I had to be alone and contemplate about what had just happened. I promised her that we would talk about it in detail in the morning of course.

But when I turned towards my bedroom she said,

‘Not so fast!’

‘What now?’ I turned impatiently. She smiled. ‘Christopher. Tell me all about him.’

‘Well, there’s not much to say…’ She looked disappointed. ‘… except for the fact hat we kissed of course…twice!’ I deliberately stressed the last word.

‘Wow!’ she screamed. ‘I knew it! I knew he had a crush on you from the very first minute.’

‘Don’t exaggerate it Kate. I doubt it if he remembers this tomorrow. It was only meant to be a gift for my good performance after all. I don’t think it meant anything to him.’ ‘Now you’re being silly. Do you think he just hangs around kissing students in compensation for their good work? That’s ridiculous. You’d better accept the fact that he’s in love with you the same way you’re in love with him.’

She saw me blush and added seriously, ‘Christopher is a catch. Every woman on this planet would give her eyeteeth for him! Just don’t get too public. You wouldn’t want him to lose his job and disappear.’ ‘I’m going to bed. You’re awful!’ I pretended to be angry. ‘Sweet dreams, Cinderella!’ she shouted behind me.

In the silence of the night, I was lying in my bed trying to recall every little detail of that evening. Only, I wasn’t thinking about the conference, but about the moments I had with Christopher on our way back. With my eyes shut, I relived the warmth of his lips, the heat of my body when he touched me. Even if it was true that those kisses did not mean anything to him, I could live with this memory for the rest of my life.

Deep down I was under the conviction that it was “the right thing to do”, as Christopher had said a few days ago. It certainly felt right. It was as if I had found something I had been missing for a long time, one of the missing pieces of the puzzle of myself.

I just wished I knew if he felt the same. Of course, he must have had many girlfriends by then. Girlfriends was suddenly a wrong word, it did not match. Lovers. That was much more like him. I would never be able to compare myself to his lovers, who I could imagine to be as gorgeous as Suzan.

I decided to put their images behind me. If he wanted me, I was now more than eager to give him everything. I could not help it, my mind was made up. I was under his spell.

I tried to think of what I knew about him. I knew he was half Swiss half Canadian, he used to work in a university in Canada, he had two postgraduate degrees, but I was not sure on which

field, and he had a PhD, but again, I wasn’t sure on which scientific area. How had I forgotten to ask him about that? He would always change the subject every time I led the conversation to his past. He did not teach anything in the summer school and all these days I had not seen him work on anything else besides my paper. That was good, considering how much more awkward it would be if I were one of his students. Not that we hadn’t already crossed the line.

Still, the developments of Project-Em lay ahead. So this had to be the only duty he had at Brantel. Obviously, they had hired him only to supervise me. I would have expected them to send me someone who was already working at Brantel, not to hire someone new. Why hadn’t they told me I was to be supervised, why the secrecy?

And yet, Christopher seemed so well posted on the project.

Needless to mention, I was aware of his attempt of flirtation and had welcomed it from the very first moment. Still, my instinct warned me that there was something I had been missing. Yet, that night I was not in a mood to worry about that. I had so many questions about him, that much was true. I promised myself to make a research on him the next day.

The next morning I pretended to be asleep until I heard Tony’s car. He took Kate for a swim and I knew they would not be back before late in the afternoon. The light of day dropped me from the clouds so I was deliberately avoiding Kate, as I was not sure where things stood with Christopher. Therefore, I felt it would be wiser to withhold any pompous statements about him.

I made coffee and turned on my laptop to enter the Brantel web site. I used my password to login and clicked on the STAFF link. I scrolled down the page with the names and e-mails of the university staff but I was not able to locate Christopher’s. I wrote his name in the SEARCH box and clicked on the START indication. To my amazement the phrase UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS flashed in front of my eyes. I froze.

I did not know I needed more authorization than my password. It had never happened before. I wished I had asked him the name of

the university he used to work in Canada. I made some more fruitless efforts to search Canadian universities staff, until I finally gave up.

Chapter 4

Wedding reception

Christopher was on time for the wedding. I did not know if being punctual was another one of his assets, or whether he was just trying to keep up with my oddities, but he had never stood me up.

Checking from the living room window, I saw him waiting for me standing next to his car, with his back against the passenger door. This had been another oddity of mine. Trying to avoid Kate’s and Tony’s inquisitive looks and teasing comments, I had asked him to wait for me outside instead of coming in.

‘He’s here!’ Kate shouted from her room.

Next moment, she was standing next to me, staring at him too. ‘Look at him!’ she whispered, admiration unconcealed in her voice. ‘He could be posing for a fashion magazine.’

‘I know.’ I smiled as I kept staring at him. The loose, off-white linen suit matched the color of his skin and the light blue shirt made his eyes look brighter.

I looked at her anxiously, waiting for a remark about my appearance.


She nodded approvingly. ‘You look astounding. Hey, I want all the details tonight!’ she said smiling, as she walked me to the door.

I took a deep breath before crossing the doorstep. Christopher was holding the passenger door open for me as usual.

‘You look fabulous, Emma. I’m starting to think you deserve much more than a wedding reception tonight.’ he said, grinning his approval of my appearance.

‘Thanks. You look very handsome too.’ I said, unable to take my eyes off him.

I was grateful to Kate for helping me overcome the total hysteria about finding the suitable dress for that night. On Friday morning she had insisted on a shopping trip to Athens for this purpose, to find the perfect dress for the wedding. Eventually, I’d chosen a

light green, strapped dress that revealed the most of my back down to my waist. What had struck me about that dress, were the small Swarofski beads that decorated the delicate straps.

‘Definitely this!’ Kate had agreed. ‘It totally accentuates your curves.’ She had decided not to come to the wedding but spend the night with her sweetheart instead. She tried to arrange another romantic dinner, but this time Tony had insisted on ordering food from a nearby tavern.

We arrived at church soon enough to see the nervous groom standing in front of the entrance, holding clumsily a bunch of white orchids. He was among his friends who kept teasing him that the bride would keep him waiting, indicating the gaining of the upper hand in their marriage, a typical joke at Greek weddings. But this did not happen. Tina was the kind of girl who would rather rush an hour earlier to marry her sweetheart than even think of torturing him by making him wait.

Inside the church, we met Rose and Don, my godfather and professor at Brantel, who had flown here especially for the occasion. He and the groom’s parents had been good friends for many years. I was really glad to see him and I introduced him to Christopher right away. I noticed Don was rather cold towards him, probably not approving of him as my date. Christopher, on the other hand, did not seem to notice.

Christopher was very interested in the wedding ceremony and the Greek marital customs. Rose and her Greek friend from the Language department, whose name I can’t recall, were more than happy to help him pore over the subject.

After I had waited patiently in the queue for my turn to congratulate the newly weds, Don approached me and whispered to my ear.

‘I’ve just had a call from Colin. He’s coming straight from the airport. I was thinking, Emma, that tonight it might be a good opportunity for the two of you to get over this misunderstanding.’

I gave him an angry look, but before I could say anything, Rose called him to introduce him to a group of Greek professors.

This unexpected information wiped out the smile from my face instantly and I felt my temples burn with anger. Why should Colin come here now? And what was this little plot with Don suggesting we should work out the misunderstanding? To my eyes, there was no misunderstanding.

I realized with surprise that after I had used his thought as a distraction on the first day I had been alone with Christopher, I had completely forgotten about Colin.

I felt Christopher standing behind me, before I heard him say

‘What did Don tell you? You look very upset.’

‘Colin will be at the reception.’ I replied coldly.


‘Colin is my ex. We had been together for two years until I found out … he was cheating on me.’ These two sentences summarize our little romance perfectly, I thought. There was nothing else to say. Colin belonged to the past.

Christopher looked worried and tried to read my face.

‘So you’d rather we skipped the reception?’ he asked.

‘No, of course not. I can handle this.’ I was determined not to let anything or anyone spoil that night.

‘Sure you can. I’ll be next to you the whole time.’ he smiled reassuringly.

I wondered if he knew that all I cared about was looking into his eyes and being near him. For the last two weeks, I had become so used to his presence that I was counting the minutes until our next meeting. It is true that helping me with my presentation was for the most part an excuse to meet him everyday, at least as far as it concerned me. I knew he must have had a secret agenda about me, but I could live with this, at least for now. He was probably waiting for the project works to commence to reveal his true intentions about it, or I should say Brantel’s intentions, but he had not talked about the project not even once. I had chosen not to mention the project either, but wait for his move instead. I liked to think of it as a kind of game, not much different from a game of chess, only I had offered him the advantage of the first

move. Besides, I had always been obsessed with mysteries, as they had always been sort of vicarious pleasure for me. Christopher was my personal mystery.

There were certainly many gaps in Dr Auburn’s story, I was aware of that, as I was also certain by now that it had to be a very challenging story, having naively underestimated any possible danger, of course.

Half an hour later, we were walking into the large garden of “Xenios Hotel”. A dark haired woman welcomed us and guided us to the large round table where Tina had arranged for Christopher and me to be seated, next to Rose, her Greek friend, Harry and his girlfriend Bessie.

The night was pretty cool and the crystal water of the large swimming pool on the eastern side of the garden was sending off a feeling of freshness. The place was filled up with round tables, covered with white linen tablecloths. I noticed a big rectangular table, decorated with flowers on the other side of the garden, which was probably the one for the newly weds and their families. When the happy couple arrived, fireworks lit up the dark sky, scaring the birds off the nearby trees and making them fly frantically among the blazes of color.

Tina was absolutely astounding, the epitome of happiness. She stood proudly next to Niko, right in front of the large table where both of them gave a little show for their guests, a part of the traditional ritual of the Greek wedding. A waiter, standing beside them opened up a bottle of champagne, with impressive skill, and filled their glasses. They each took a sip, crossing their elbows without spilling a drop, which I found quite amazing. Another waiter had rolled a small table next to them with the wedding cake on it. According to the marital ritual, the groom and the bride, holding a teaspoon each, took it in turns to feed each other with a small bite of the cake. A tingling sound of glass suddenly filled the place. It was coming from the guests’ spoons, which they enthusiastically clinked against their crystal glasses.

‘This is meant to make the couple kiss in public.’ I whispered to Christopher, who was watching, quite amazed. The couple kissed

and the guests applauded enthusiastically. Then it was time for the new weds’ first dance. They took a few steps to the pebbled center of the garden, which served as a dance floor, and danced to the rhythm of a slow, Greek song that made me shiver, although I could not make out all the lyrics. Tina and Nikos seemed to be enjoying every minute of it. Then they sat behind the big table and the wedding banquet started.

‘Is that all?’ Christopher asked.

‘Yes, as if that wasn’t enough.’ I joked. I was never in favor of swanky celebrations. I had imagined my wedding, as every girl has, but much different to what I had just witnessed.

For the rest of the evening, Christopher had his arm around my shoulders, playing with the curls of my hair at the back of my neck as he talked. Harry was probably surprised to see us together but he was very discreet about it. As for me, I’d been chatting mostly with Bessie, enjoying the angry looks Rose and her friend gave me, probably because Christopher was not paying attention to them anymore.

It was more than an hour later that I caught a glimpse of Colin, escorted by a pretty brunet. He was scanning the tables, looking for someone. At the same time, Christopher asked me to dance. The timing was excellent because Colin had just spotted me and was heading to our table, leaving his girlfriend behind.

‘Dance with me!’ Christopher had demanded with his most irresistible smile. We walked to the dance floor and he put his arms around my waist sending goose bumps all over my body. I had my arms around his neck, always keeping a little distance between us. I could see Colin behind him, standing just a few metres away, frowning and staring at us. I was very proud of myself, because now I was sure I had become totally immune to Colin. All that mattered was that I was in Christopher’s arms and he was looking right into my eyes.

‘Are you cold?’ he asked.

‘No, I’m fine.’ I said, dazzled once again by his beautiful face. He smiled and stroked my naked back with his hand, as if trying to warm it up, oblivious to the fact that this only made things

worse for me. Behind him, I could still see Colin shaking hands with Harry, Bessie and Rose and going back to his girlfriend, who was now seated in the same table with Don.

When we got back to our table, I asked Christopher to excuse me and headed to the restroom. I checked my blushed cheeks and my make- up, put on a thin layer of lip-gloss and walked out.

Colin was waiting for me at the restroom door, taking me by surprise. I recognized the anger in his eyes and his frowned face. He grabbed my arm viciously and pushed me in the shadows.

‘What do you think you’re doing, Emma?’ he asked.

‘You shouldn’t be here Colin. And I shouldn’t be talking to you.’ I replied coldly, trying to free my arm. I was certain it was going to be bruised the next day.

‘Who’s he? Are you dating professors now? I’ve come here for you to find you…’ his anger was growing to fury now.

‘You’re really pathetic. Please, don’t keep your girlfriend waiting for my sake.’ I smiled coldly. I had managed to keep my voice low and calm, but I knew my eyes had started to fill with tears of tension and anger. I pulled my arm with all the strength I could find and managed to free myself.

‘We have to talk.’ he demanded. As I tried to walk past him, he took a step forward trying to take hold of my shoulder. He missed it, but his fingers were caught in the strap of my dress. Next minute, the strap was torn, and I heard the shiny Swarofski beads make a tinkling sound as they hit the pebbled floor. My eyes were full of tears ready to burst out, and I could only see a haze in front of me.

All of a sudden, I caught a glimpse of a hand grabbing Colin’s wrist and, through the curtain of my misted eyes, I was able to see Colin staring at Christopher, his eyes wide with surprise.

‘Are you all right Emma?’ Christopher asked me, without taking his eyes off Colin.

‘Yes.’ I muttered.

‘I think you owe the lady an apology.’ he said to Colin, and the threat was unconcealed in his voice.

What I saw in Christopher’s eyes, I had never seen before. I was sure that he could, that he wanted, to hurt Colin. His eyes were sparkling with such rage I had never imagined he was capable of, as his face seemed as stiff as his voice. I was scared he might get into serious trouble if he hurt Colin, who was now speechless at the sight of Christopher, probably realizing the danger he was in.

‘This is between Emma and me.’ Colin said eventually.

‘Hardly.’ Christopher replied, and I knew he had already started to lose his patience.

‘Please Christopher, let go of him. I want to leave, now. I don’t want to listen to anything he has to say!’

Christopher hesitated for a moment. Then, abruptly, he released Colin’s wrist and turned to me. The sparkle that had scared me before, had now left his eyes. He put his arm around my waist and walked me out, but not before casting a warning look at Colin over his shoulder. I felt Colin’s eyes glowering on us as we walked away and I knew he would not let this go so easily.

Back in Christopher’s car, I could not hold back the tears anymore. I had turned my head to the window because I did not want Christopher to see me crying. Not that he did not know.

‘Do you want me to take you home?’ he asked, making an effort to keep his voice soft and calm.

‘No. I can’t go home like this. Kate and Tony will have so many questions and…’

‘Okay then.’ he said decisively.

For a few minutes he was silent but I knew he was still trying to calm himself down.

‘He’s not worth it, you know.’ he remarked in a cold voice.

He was right. But I was not crying for Colin. I was crying out of humiliation and shock. Never before had I been treated this way and Colin’s violent burst had shocked me. Part of me still refused to acknowledge that Colin was capable of such ungracious and violent behavior towards me.

Christopher had already parked outside his apartment.

‘Why are we here?’ I asked him.

‘Harry is staying over at Bessie’s tonight. So we’ll fix your dress, and then I’ll take you home.’

A few moments later, I was sitting on the swinging loveseat at Christopher’s porch. The musical sound of the wind chimes hanging above me was soothingly relaxing as it swayed rhythmically to the soft breeze.

I was not crying now. I had overcome the shock and started to experience anger about my weakness for not being able to defend myself better when Colin had grabbed me. I should have slapped him with all my strength. I even regretted I did not let Christopher hit him. I would like to see this now. It would most certainly make my day.

Christopher sat next to me with two glasses of wine in his hands.

‘Here, take this. It’ll make you feel better.’ We both emptied our glasses at one gulp. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who needed the drink.

‘I’m sorry you had to see this.’ I said apologetically. ‘I don’t know what got into him.’

‘I think it’s pretty obvious.’ he said in the most natural manner. ‘He is jealous. And for good reason if you ask me.’ He seemed very calm and rather amused by the situation now.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked with my most innocent smile, but sensing something in his voice that made my heart beat fast.

‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but we kissed last night. Or do I have to refresh your memory?’ If he was trying to distract me, he did a good job.

‘Well, if I’ve forgotten about it, then…you’ve got a problem!’ I challenged him, unable to believe it had been me the one who had said those words.

He thought about it for a moment. ‘I guess this means I have to refresh your memory anyway.’ he grinned and took the glass of my hand to put it on the small table, next to his. He turned to me and held my face in his warm hands.

He leaned forward and kissed me. I was more than eager to kiss him back, of course. His sweet, cinnamon scented breath felt hot

in my mouth, making me shiver. I tried to hide a faint chuckle. He stopped without drawing back.

‘What?’ he asked.

‘I’d just like to see Colin’s face now.’ I said, looking into his eyes.

He sighed. ‘Still thinking about Colin, are you? I guess I should try harder then.’

He kissed me again; only his kiss was now more demanding, wilder, as his hands left my face to caress tenderly my arms and my back. There was nothing else on earth at that moment, the world around us had stopped turning. I knew my body was responding to his touch more than I intended to, but I was determined to let myself free, tired of holding down for so long. I was simply offering myself to him, unconditionally and without shame.

He stopped suddenly and drew back a little. ‘I should take you home now.’ he spoke in the same gruff, sexy voice I had heard him speak the previous night.

‘I don’t want to go home.’ I protested. ‘I… want to… stay.’

He looked at me, astonished. ‘You’re crazy. You know nothing about me.’

‘I know all I need to.’

He shook his head impatiently with his eyes closed as he sighed deeply.

‘Believe me, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. You’re going to hate me one of these days.’

‘I’m never going to hate you. I’m …’ He put his finger on my lips to stop me. He knew what I was going to say.

‘Have you ever thought I may be bad? Bad for you?’ That was the second time he was warning me but I did not want to think about it then. I could never think of him as the bad guy and I was determined to take the risk anyway. Right there, I had the chance to open my heart to him, so I took a deep breath and told him the most candid words that came to me.

‘Christopher, you’re the best thing that has ever happened to me. Don’t make me go. I need you.’ My last words must have

touched him deeply, because his expression changed, making him look like he was suffering. He kissed me again.

‘What about Colin?’ he whispered in my ear.

‘Who’s Colin?’ I felt him smile against my lips.

He lifted me in his arms and carried me to his bedroom. For the rest of the night, I lost track of place and time in the warmth of his body. I was in the center of the universe, experiencing a bizarre sense of fulfillment. The last piece of the puzzle was in place now. Still, a low, warning voice inside me kept warning me that this was only the beginning.

And this is how our love story started, in blissful ignorance of the nightmare that lay beneath and had already slyly changed my life in so many ways.

Chapter 5


I woke up with the sweet smell of toasted bread hitting my nostrils. For a few seconds, I lay back in the large bed confused at first, but gradually realizing I was not in my bedroom.

And then it hit me. A flow of emotions overwhelmed my whole body, as the kisses, the cuddling and the tender whispers of the previous night, all came back to me. It was no dream. In fact, it was a dream come true. And it had been a perfect one, beyond any possible imagination. I was experiencing a strange feeling of contentment, as if I had been able to find my way home, after a long course of misfortunes. Home, where I belonged. ‘Home is where your heart is’ my father used to say to me. My heart belonged to Christopher. Christopher. I had already missed him.

Still drowsy, I rolled the vivid orange sheets around my body hastily and got up. I tiptoed to peep into the empty kitchen when I suddenly felt Christopher behind me, his arms hugging me, his warm breath against the back of my neck. I leaned my back on him as I had imagined myself doing so many times.

It felt so good not being cautious anymore. I turned towards him and hugged him impatiently. He was smiling, but I caught a hint of worry in his eyes.

‘Good morning.’ he whispered in my ear. ‘Do you still not hate me?’

Instead of replying, I stood on the tips of my toes and kissed him softly.

‘That’ll do.’ He looked relieved. ‘I made breakfast.’

‘How come you’re dressed already? Have you been out?’ I said, still hanging from his neck, noticing his car keys and a shopping bag on the table.

‘You wouldn’t want to go out in the same, torn dress you wore last night, would you?’ he asked with the most innocent smile.


‘So, I bought you a dress …and a pair of sandals. I was very quick. I only left you for fifteen minutes. I hope you’ll like them.’

I was about to protest but he stopped me.

‘You will pay me back of course.’

‘Thank you.’ I said finally. ‘You take care of everything, don’t you?’

‘That’s the idea.’ He sighed. ‘I hate to say this, but Harry will be back in the next half hour. So, why don’t you take a shower, get dressed and join me for breakfast?’

‘Ok.’ I released him reluctantly and headed for the bathroom.

He knew how embarrassing it would be for me to let Harry know I had spent the night with one of my supervising tutors. At least, we should preserve appearances.

I had a quick shower, trying not to wet my hair. The short, white, linen dress he had bought for me was perfect. He had impressed me with his ability to find my size. I found him at the porch, leafing through a magazine. Breakfast was on the coffee table. When he saw me, he put the magazine next to him and grabbed my arm, making me sit on his lap.

‘I need a lot of coffee.’ I said.

‘Is that all you need?’ he whispered in my ear.

‘I’ve told you… I need you.’ I whispered back.

‘No regrets then?’ he asked kissing me behind my ear.

‘No regrets.’ I repeated. ‘Definitely.’

I looked at his beautiful face, thinking I just could not get enough of him. This beautiful man had been mine for a whole night and, I hoped, for many other nights to come. He was too good for me, much more than I deserved. I shivered as he kissed the curve of my shoulder.

‘How do you do that?’ I asked.

‘What?’ he whispered.

‘Take my breath away every time you touch me.’

‘Really? I thought this was one of your talents only.’ he said, without stopping his kisses, burning my skin with every touch. He was wearing a white, sleeveless T-shirt. I noticed for the first time the tattoo on the muscles of his armrest, the pattern of a cross penetrated by the sharp edge of a dagger.

‘That’s strange. I hadn’t noticed your tattoo before. Does this signify something?’ I asked curiously, examining the strange pattern.

He hesitated for a few seconds and then he said,

‘As a matter of fact, it does. But it’s bad. Nothing I would like to talk about…yet.’ I knew this was some of the things we would have to talk about in the future. For nothing in this world would I spoil this day, the first day of my life, my real life.

He sighed. ‘Emma, I just wish…we had more time. Take things… more slowly.’

‘But we do have time.’ I assured him. ‘Maybe not right now, but we have the rest of the day, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and….’ My smile froze when my eyes met his. He looked too serious.

‘Oh, Emma. I can’t help feeling that…our time is…just running out.’ He was playing with my hair as he said that, but I noticed the grief in his voice.

‘Are you telling me… you’re leaving?’ I asked him, truly worried this time. His expression changed at once. He touched the tip of my nose playfully.

‘No, silly. But we’re not staying in Greece forever, are we?’ His smile was back, although not entirely convincing. It surprised me that a man like him would be insecure. I was, of course, aware of the fact that he was risking more than me with our relationship.

I took a deep breath. ‘Look Christopher, let’s not worry about the future now. Let’s not spoil this, okay? ’

‘Not worry about the future, mmm.’ He thought about it for a moment. ‘I wish I could do that.’ he said in a sullen voice that didn’t match his smile.

‘Are you trying to tell me something?’ I asked again, unable to read his eyes, as he was looking down. He had got serious again for a few seconds. But then his beautiful smile lit his face again.

‘It can wait. Now eat or I’ll feed you.’ He made me sit next to him. I was really curious about what he meant but I was determined not to ruin our first morning together. Frustrating as it

was, I comforted myself with the idea that whatever was bugging him, we would face it together. Just not now, not today.

It turned out I was really hungry. ‘You do realize that we both missed the school meeting, right?’ he said as I was gobbling down a large piece of toasted bread.

‘Oh no!’

‘I know. Think of all the gossip!’ He seemed to find this amusing.

I pictured Rose, doing her best to give a full account of all our movements at the wedding the previous night.

‘Well, you know what? I don’t care. Let them gossip. We’re both adults.’ The determined sound of my voice impressed me. He laughed loudly, the most wonderful laugh. Of course, I had omitted an important detail, that he was a tutor at the university where I was a student. But no one knew we had slept together. We had just showed up together at the wedding. Besides, for some strange reason, Christopher did not seem to care at all about the possibility of losing his job because of me.

On the way back, I remembered to check my cell phone for any messages. I found three calls by Kate, one by Demetra, the archeologist, one by my mother and three calls by numbers that were not registered in my cell phone memory. I called Kate first.

‘Hey! We missed you today in class.’ Her voice was casual, not revealing any serious damage.

‘I’m sure you did. What’s up?’ I asked.

‘Just a few tidbits of gossip, you know. Oh, Colin called last night, three times actually.’

‘What did you tell him?’

‘Told him you weren’t back yet.’

‘Do you think he’s going to surprise me at home?’

‘I doubt it. His plane is leaving in two hours. He’s probably on his way.’ I was relieved.

‘Don wants to see you. He sounded rather serious.’

‘Ok.’ That wasn’t good.

‘Two questions. Were you with Christopher?’


‘Are you smiling now?’


‘By the way, Rose was really shocked when she saw you with him last night, from what I hear. See you.’ I could not help smiling at her last comment.

‘Is there a problem?’ Christopher asked.

‘Nothing serious.’ There was no reason to tell him about Don or Colin as I was going to deal with them on my own. Besides, we were already outside my apartment.

‘What are you going to do today?’ I asked, reluctant to leave him.

‘I have a few appointments. How about you?’

‘I’m meeting Don. He probably wants to say goodbye before flying to London. Then, I have a class.’

‘Call me as soon as you’re free, then.’ he said.

He came closer and gave me a soft kiss. And I got off.

As soon as Christopher had left, I called Demetra. She told me that everything was ready and the excavation could start the following week, if I could get the green light from Brantel, the project sponsor. This should not be a problem. I told her I would ask the finance department to get in touch with her for the details. The day was getting better and better and I was on top of the world.

I thought about calling my mother but I decided to postpone it for later that night. I checked my computer for messages and I took off. I was going to meet Steven De Marko, my tutor, to apologize for missing the morning session and then I would pay Don a visit just before the afternoon class. This would provide a perfect opportunity to toddle off quickly. I was certain that Colin had deliberately tipped Don off about last night but I was not going to put myself under the stress of inventing excuses or trying to justify my actions. They both just had to accept my choices and me. I had been expecting Don would launch a tirade against my affair with Christopher. I knew he had always envisaged Colin and me together, no less than my mother and stepfather had. But

there was no way I could have been prepared for what was about to happen.

An hour later, I was knocking on the door of Don’s office.

‘Emma, it’s good to see you. Sit down please.’ he said warmly, but I noticed that he was sitting behind his desk, putting a distance between us which, considering Don’s way of thinking, meant to signify his intentions; this was not a casual chat, he was making it clear.

Don was a tall, stout man with pale, gray eyes and thinning hair. In the brightly lit office by the hot rays of the afternoon sun, I could see the furrows on his forehead were deeper today. He was obviously too worried about something.

‘I thought you were leaving today Don.’ I said casually.

‘ As a matter of fact I decided to stay for a few more days.’

‘That’s great! If you are here next week you’ll have to come to Pylos to see the excavation.’ This was an effective distraction, and Don seemed very interested in the new developments.

‘You know, I’m totally with you in this, Emma. I’ll talk to Finance, ask them to expedite the procedure.’ But before I had the chance to say anything, he added seriously, ‘Your mother called me this morning. She was wondering how your presentation came out. I was surprised you didn’t mention anything about it yesterday.’ The hint was tactful, but still obvious.

‘Oh, it was fine. A bit stressful of course, but we… I… was well prepared. It will be included in the conference proceedings, you know, published and stuff like that.’

‘Great! Congratulations then. Your parents will be very happy for you.’

Still the same distant tone in his voice. I looked at my watch.

‘Well, I have to be going to class.’ I got up, straightening my dress.

‘Just give me a few minutes Emma. I won’t keep you long.’ he said, opening his cigar box. That was close, I thought. So much for my plans to retain my good mood.

He lit his cigar with an expensive golden lighter, breathed in and sat back in his armchair as he exhaled, filling the room with the sweet smell of cigar.

‘I hear you Don.’ I said impatiently, playing with my key ring among my fingers.

‘Colin visited me this morning. He was on his way to the airport. Yesterday I was under the impression he intended to stay.’

‘I wouldn’t know about that.’ I said coldly. He examined my face, which was stiff as rock, revealing no sign of emotion.

‘He told me you’ve become really close with this Auburn guy.’ I remained silent looking at the window, trying to calm myself down and avoid arguing with Don.

‘Don’t misunderstand me please. I’m the last person to advise a young woman like you about how to live her life. It’s just that….’ He put his cigar in the ashtray and folded his arms in front of his chest.

‘How well do you know this man, Emma?’

‘I know all I need to know.’ I replied without hiding my frustration about this conversation.

‘Has he told you about his past, how he came here, why he came here?’ He was guiding this conversation to the last thing I wanted to think about.

‘You should know better Don. Brantel sent him to spy on me, I didn’t ask for him. And Daugh, of course, thought I needed a baby sitter.’ I grinned bitterly at him.

He looked surprised. ‘Your stepfather doesn’t know this man and he certainly did not send him here.’

I tried to work out the meaning of what he had just said. Christopher had told me he was returning Daugh a favor. It had to be a misunderstanding or something that Don was missing. I sensed by the redness on his face that he was about to cross the line.

I stood up determined to avoid that.

‘Listen Don, I really appreciate the concern, but you shouldn’t worry about me. There’s nothing going on between Christopher

and me. Just two adults, hanging out together, that’s all. You wouldn’t like to have me mourn for having been cheated on by Colin for the rest of my life, would you? And for the record, Colin IS ancient history as far as I’m concerned. And YOU have no right to interfere in my personal life. So, if you’re finished I have a class to attend!’

I had been too carried away by anger and raised my voice higher than I wanted to. I had never spoken to my godfather this way and I knew he would never forgive me for this.

He stood up, leaning forward with his hands on his desk in a position of attack.

‘FOR GOD’S SAKE EMMA!’ he shouted. Then he went on making an effort to keep his voice down. ‘You are completely cluess as to his background. If you removed your blinkers you would realize he’s not what he claims. It’s a verifiable fact, you know.’

I shook my head in disbelief.

‘I’m really disappointed by you Don.’ I tried to control my trembling voice. I felt my eyes mist with tears and I turned for the door.

‘Ask him about his past, then! He has lied to you. It’s all a display, don’t you see? HE’S NOT WHO YOU THINK HE IS. IT’S A LIE; EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM IS A LIE. ASK HIM WHAT HE KNOWS ABOUT THE PROJECT AND…. YOUR FATHER’S MURDER!’

He regretted those last words immediately. I turned to look at him, my eyes wide open. He had collapsed in his chair, rubbing his forehead. He gave me the impression that he was talking to himself, but I could still hear him.

‘I shouldn’t have mentioned that. My god!’

He looked devastated, but I could not care less about him at that moment. My eyes were still wide with shock of what I had heard. I opened my mouth to say something, but words just did not seem to come out. I was on the verge of collapsing.

I opened the door and walked out. My legs felt numb. Leaning my back against the door, I took a deep breath wiping my tears

with my hand. A group of students suddenly appeared at the end of the corridor talking loudly, taking me out of my daze. I took the lift. I needed to go out of the building because I felt I could not breathe anymore.

My mind was blank. I did not know how long I had been walking when I realized I was at the end of the beach road, right where the sandy beach made a small, rocky curve. It was a quiet, secluded place, quiet enough for me to contemplate what I had heard from Don. I sat under the shade of a small eucalyptus tree.

All these allegations were, had to be, totally unfounded. I could not decide what had hurt me the most. The fact that I might have willingly let myself be deluded by Christopher, the verification of my darkest fears about him, or Don’s last hint about my dad? How could Christopher know anything about my dad’s murder? He must have been very young then. He had mentioned he knew my father but I had thought he was talking about Daugh, as everyone seemed to miscall him my dad. Could he be talking about my father? Why didn’t he just say it?

I called my mum, doing my best to hide the despair I was into. First, I answered to her questions about the conference patiently before saying: ‘Tell Daugh, Dr Auburn says hi.’ I heard her transferring my message to Daugh who was obviously next to her, eavesdropping on our conversation.

‘Are you sure about the name, honey? It doesn’t ring a bell to him.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’m probably wrong about it.’ I’ll call you again. Bye mum.’ I hung up on her, unable to pretend anymore. I put my head on my knees, closed my eyes and let the tears run down my cheeks.

I did not know how long I had been there. The sun was about to dive below the velvet-orange line of the horizon when my cell phone rang. I took it out of my bag to see Christopher’s number in the small screen. My first thought was to turn it off, but then I thought of the questions that had been torturing me and I knew I could not wait anymore for the answers.

‘Yes Christopher?’ I said anxiously and, suddenly, I couldn’t help wondering if that was his real name.

‘Are you still in? I can see your car here. I have a surprise for you.’ He sounded really excited, but I’d had enough surprises for one day.

I simply said ‘We have to talk.’

For a few seconds he was silent. ‘Where are you?’ he asked eventually.

‘I’m not sure. Somewhere at the end of the beach road.’

‘I’ll find you.’ he said and hung up.

My lips were salty from the sea breeze, my skin was hot from the sun and my limps felt numb. But it was the invisible, profusely bleeding wound in my chest that hurt the most. I stood up and leaned my back on the tree behind me, waiting for him.

Christopher came very quickly. He pulled over and opened the passenger door. I got in without a word.

‘Where do you want to go?’ he asked.

‘Nowhere.’ I said as I took off my sunglasses and he saw my swollen eyes.

‘Have you been crying? Emma, what’s wrong?’ He lifted my face with his hand under my chin. His voice sounded worried and impatient.

‘Everything is wrong.’ I replied, freeing my chin. I stared at the golden horizon that had just swallowed the sun.

‘What do you mean everything?’

‘Let’s start with your name. Who are you? Why are you here?’ The questions sounded like accusations and my voice was cold, the expression on my face bitter.

He lay back in his seat, closing his eyes and sighing deeply.

‘And…what do you know about my father’s death?’ I fired at him finally.

At this last question, his face became rigid and I thought he had stopped breathing for a while. When he spoke again, he sounded like a stranger.

‘Who told you that?’ His voice was cold, distant. ‘Of course. Don!’ He shook his head and smiled bitterly. Then he opened his eyes and looked at me. The grief that shaded them made my heart ache.

‘How much you must hate me now.’ he whispered. ‘I knew we would come to this. I just hoped that I would be the one to tell you.’

‘I just need answers Christopher. I want the truth.’

He stared at me for a second, estimating my limits of endurance.

‘Who are you Christopher?’ Ι repeated, more aggressively this time.

He stared at me for a long moment and then his eyes sparkled with determination.

‘Would you believe me if I told you I’m …a Crusader?’

His face was completely expressionless. I flinched back, startled, because with what he had just said, he sounded like he was mocking me, like another trick in order to get away with this.

‘Is this a joke?’ I asked him. My eyes slotted and I kept staring at him in silence, as waves of anger were making my chest swell, blocking my breath.

‘You wanted the truth. Can you handle the truth?’ I wondered how brave I was at that moment. I suddenly felt the strong urge to open the door and run away. But I knew that was never going to happen.

‘I don’t understand.’ I muttered helplessly. I was confused.

‘I will try to explain.’ he sighed. ‘This morning you asked me about the tattoo on my arm. Do you remember what I said?’

I nodded. ‘You said it signifies something bad, something you don’t want to remember.’

‘Exactly. This is a mark, a mark that signifies I’m not a free man.’ He smiled bitterly, pulling back the sleeve of his shirt to show me the tattoo. He looked at it, his face contorted with disgust.

‘You see Emma, this signifies my slavery.’ His voice revealed the pain the black pattern inflicted upon him, but I was too angry to experience any compassion.

I shook my head. ‘I still don’t understand.’

He sighed and looked at me again. His piercing eyes captured mine as he spoke, estimating my limits to every word he said.

‘You will understand, but you must put aside your scepticism and your disbelief. What I’m about to tell you has been classified as Top Secret. You cannot repeat any of this to anybody without putting your life and theirs in danger. The same way Don did today…the same way your father did.’

‘My father?’ I stared at him, confused.

‘I told your father exactly what I’m about to tell you, thirteen years ago.’

‘How can this be possible? You must have been a boy back then.’

He gazed at the sea and I knew what he was going to say was as hard for him as it was for me, because I could see with some sick gloat I didn’t know I was capable of till then, how it was making him suffer.

‘I think the best way to describe it, is to ask you to think of the world as something that… has no end, the same as time. This is your world, your time. I come from another world, another time. Only, my world belongs… to the future.’

His words made me shiver with fear. I was still confused and angry. But above all, I could not believe a word of what he was saying.

‘Are you telling me stories Christopher?’ I asked him abruptly.

‘It’s the truth Emma. I swear. Do you think you can handle this?’ He looked tired and, somehow, older. I started to believe there had to be some truth in his words.

‘Yes, I think so.’ I replied, determined to give him a chance to defend himself. Trying to be patient was my only option now.

‘I know it’s hard but… think of me as a traveler. A traveler in time, that’s what I am. Only, I don’t travel on my own free will, for pleasure or even for scientific purposes as you’ve seen in

science fiction films. Reality is much more cruel. Wherever I go, they send me.’

‘They? Who are they?’ I asked, my eyes wide with surprise.

‘They call themselves “The League”. The League owns me. I’m their property. Me and many others like me. They selected us carefully, trained us, and educated us. We should acquire all the qualifications needed; good looks, strength, education, cruelty. We made up “The Squad”.

I blinked, struggling to comprehend what he was trying to say.

‘The Squad?’ I repeated.

‘It’s a kind of an army, only it operates secretly, deviously. It is supposed to be protecting the League’s interests, to protect my world, to retain the preservation of my world. You see, mankind has come close to destruction many times, more than you know of. Their world, and mine, has managed to succeed in many areas. Preservation of the environment, peace, economy, and welfare. But all these achievements have been the outcome of the past, like this world and all the others that have preceded it, as well as the many others that will follow. The League has secured the future for mankind. Any alterations here that may cause changes to their world are considered as threats, possible dangers that must be eliminated.’

I tried to make sense of what he had just said. ‘You mean that all these theories about time are real? Alternate timelines and…parallel universes?

He nodded. He spoke in a calm voice in contrast with my high-pitched tone.

‘All I’m saying is that there is some truth in them. That’s all I’m allowed to reveal to you.’

‘And…This… League is some sort of… government of your world then? And you belong to their army?’ I was trying to understand, but I hated every part of it. I knew there was more to this, and even worse.

‘In simplified words, yes. Although you mustn’t confuse it to any of the numerous governments that you know of. It’s the only

government. My world is the League itself.’ I stared at him, expecting him to laugh, telling me all this was just a joke.

And then I felt brave enough to ask him the one thing that had been torturing me all evening.

‘And how does this make you bad?’

‘Because they will stop at nothing. They would kill just with the slightest possibility that someone might be a problem in the future. And to do this, they used us, the Squad.’ I shuddered, as I comprehended the meaning of his words.

‘That makes you …a killer then? Is that what you’re trying to say?’

I felt the slight sense of numbing in my knees and I recognized the source of it. Fear had started to petrify me. He looked at me with sadness in his beautiful eyes.

‘I’m not a killer Emma. Not any more. I’ve changed, because of you, believe it or not.’

‘Of me?’ He gazed back to the dark sea, to the small lights of the boats that had set sail for night fishing.

‘Two days before your father died, I had met him. He was taking his usual afternoon walk in the park. I approached him and told him exactly what I’ve just told you. My orders were simple. Make him a “Confidant”; warn him to take the secret to his grave. Of course he didn’t believe me at first. But when I started recounting incidents of his life, things that no one else could have known, he believed me. I had done my research on him, you see. This abated his reservations. I told him I knew about Project-Em and the dilemma that he was facing. I ordered him to drop it if he wanted to save his life. I remember his exact words, I’ll never forget them: Sir, I am a scientist. It is my nature and object of life to seek truth and knowledge and bequeath this knowledge to subsequent researchers. Therefore, you must understand I can’t stop my research. If this means I have to die, then I’ll take death stoically as many others have done before me. I only want to beg you to do me one favor. You are a good man deep down, I can see this in your eyes. Please, don’t let them harm my family. My little Emma, she must have a future. Will you do this for me?

I was shocked by what he had said. Normally, the League would have him exterminated without warning. But because of who he was, an eminent professor, they had decided to make him a Confidant and spare his life.

For the first time after so many years in this job, I’d met someone who had denied life and chosen death instead. I tried to make him change his mind, I almost begged him, which was very unusual for me. I told him how valuable he could be to the League if he obeyed. But it was vain. He considered obeying to them as a betrayal of his principles. He asked of me the same favor. I told him I couldn’t promise anything but I would do my best and left him sitting at the bench. I’ll never forget the expression on his face. It has marked my life forever, more than the tattoo on my arm.’

His voice was now calm, wistful. He looked at me and saw I was crying silently. What he had just said hurt so much. My chest felt too heavy as if the large wound was bleeding, burning me. A wound carved by him.

‘Am I a confidant?’ I asked, my voice could barely be heard.

‘You are now.’

‘And Don?’ But I already knew the answer to that.

‘Yes.’ he just said.

‘But then Don knew… That night…’ I said, suddenly feeling sick at the thought that had occurred to me.

‘He was only ordered to make sure your dad would be at home. He probably thought we were only going to pay him a visit. I’m sure he carries a heavy burden too.’

‘And… my mother?’

‘I don’t think she knows anything. Although Don must have used her to talk your dad out of it, I guess.’

I stared at the dark sea, feeling suffocated by the lump in my throat that would not go down. ‘I need to be alone.’ I said and got off the car to sit by the sea again. I took off my shoes and put my feet in the water, subconsciously trying to distract myself from the pain. The cool water was tickling my feet, as I was getting

more and more overwhelmed by disjoint thoughts. It was very hard to believe his story that resembled a plot of the films I enjoyed so often. But this one was true. I knew he was telling the truth. Either that, or he was mental. I wasn’t sure which option was worse.

Christopher was watching me from his car. After a while, he came to sit next to me.

‘Tell me about that night.’ I asked him.

‘I guess you have a right to know.’ Grief was obvious in his voice but I could not see his eyes, as he was looking to the distant boat lights again. He sighed and once again I knew he too was suffering. I wasn’t enjoying his suffering any more. I wanted to touch him, hug him and kiss him but I was not sure how far he had taken his display on me.

‘That night, three men came to your house. We knew he was going to be alone, it had been arranged this way. Only… you were there with him.’

‘I was sick.’ I muttered as I recalled that night with such accuracy it could have been yesterday.

‘We came in through the back door.’

I hadn’t missed that he had said we. My last hope had vanished.

‘Your father was in the living room, lying on the sofa, with you sleeping in his arms. Theo and Tex looked at me without speaking. I was in command you see. My mind was working fast. I knew we were supposed to kill you too just for being there, for interfering with our plans. We could not have any witnesses. Those are the Squad rules. This is inevitable collateral damage for the League.

I raised my hand to stop them and leaned over you. I took you from you father’s arms. I could see you were feverish, your cheeks were bright red and you groaned as I removed you. He woke up, but Theo and Tex were very quick, they gagged and tied him up. I walked up the stairs with you in my arms but you opened your eyes a little before the landing, looked at me and asked: Daddy? I hushed you. Go back to sleep Emma. I said. You smiled at me with that lovely smile of yours and I smiled back. I

put you into bed and you were fast asleep again. I’ll never forget your smile. I ran down. They were waiting for me. Tex was angry. Did she wake up? Did she see you? You know what you have to do if… I stopped him. She didn’t wake up. The child is pretty sick, almost unconscious. He didn’t bite it. Tex wasn’t very happy, I’m sure he wanted you dead, just in case. My eyes met your dad’s. I could see he was relieved. He nodded slightly and I thought he was thanking me. We all got into the car and drove to the river. I was in the front seat. When the car stopped by the river, I didn’t need to say anything. Then Tex…’

He stopped, but I knew the rest of the story. A bullet at the back of my dad’s head and his body left on the riverbank. The whole scene unfurled in my mind as if I’d seen it with my eyes. So much pain!

‘There you are Emma. Now you know what monster I am. What I’m capable of. I know you had thought of me as the perfect man so far.

I understand how you feel. There are a million reasons you should leave me. But, I…just wish you found only one a reason to stay with me.’

Silence prevailed once again. I knew the past was keeping us apart and I needed a little time before I could look into his eyes again. I was suffering silently, unable to cry anymore.

‘Have you ever regretted?’ I muttered eventually.

‘About your father? I regret every single moment, believe me.’

‘I mean about me, about saving me.’

He turned towards me abruptly. His eyes were burning me.

‘About you?’

He took my hand in his and squeezed it. ‘This choice is what helped me going. The knowledge that I did something good in this evil situation. The suspicion that I might still have some goodness inside me, this has saved me from myself. You are the light in my life Emma. I know it’s selfish of me but … you’re my absolution Emma.’ He kissed my hand and held it on his heart.

‘I know I’m exactly the opposite of what you thought of me. If you don’t want to see me again after this night, I will accept it and I will disappear.’

Not see him again? That was an option I could not consider at that moment. Everything was so complicated and I could not take it in. I was lost in a torrent of thoughts and contradictory feelings, trying to find my way back to sanity.

‘I’ve already lost enough people in my life.’ I whispered. I already knew my love for him was blind. A tear ran down my cheek and he brushed it with his finger.

‘Emma, please let me stay with you for as long as you need me. I’m not asking you to forgive me; this would be too high an aspiration. I am only hoping for you to give me the chance to redeem myself, to let me keep my promise to your father. I know this must sound selfish, but I need you too.’ He sighed at my silence.

‘I wasn’t lying last night, Emma. That was me, the real me you slept with. That was not part of the plan. It just was …inevitable. I have tried to deny my feelings for you, but …I can’t do this anymore.’

We were both silent for some time. After a while, he gave up and said, ‘It’s getting really late. Shall I take you home?’

‘Yes.’ I said. On the way home none of us spoke.

‘What about my car?’ I asked when he stopped the car outside my apartment.

‘I’ll ask Suzan to bring it to your house.’

‘Please, don’t hurt Don for telling me. He just did …he only meant well.’ I pleaded him, tears running on my cheeks once more.

He bit his lip and looked at me disappointed with what I had asked him.

‘I’m not like that anymore, Emma. I do have to pay him a visit though and warn him about the consequences if he does something like this again. I will also have to send him away until this is all over.’ He stopped and looked outside. ‘Harry and

Bessie are visiting.’ he said, gesturing towards my apartment. The lights were on in the living room and Harry’s car was parked outside.

‘ Jesus! I can’t go in.’ I said. ‘I’m not so good at acting.’

‘Do you prefer to come to my place?’ he asked.

‘I think so.’ I whispered.

I was exhausted. My eyes felt too heavy as my mind was seeking for remedy into the silent shelter of sleep. Unable to resist my need to detach myself from everything I had been told that day until I could take it all in, I fell asleep in his car, hoping to dream that everything would be as it should be. Simple. Uncomplicated.

I felt him carry me inside and put me to bed, as he had done thirteen years before. But I was tortured in my sleep, the same as when I was awake, because nightmares haunted my dreams. In one of them, the most torturing, I saw myself running across a riverbank, terrified, my face twisted from fear and screaming. I was being chased. My feet stubbed on something and I looked down to see it was a rotten corpse. But I had to keep running frantically, because I could feel my pursuers behind me were closing by.

All of a sudden, a hand grabbed my arm and a familiar, velvet voice whispered: ‘Over here Emma.’ I knew I was safe; all I could see was Christopher’s beautiful, reassuring face. I turned to see whether my pursuers had given up but I saw it was only one pursuer, Christopher, a Bad Christopher this time, with a devious smile and evil eyes. I screamed.

I sprang from my bed, waking up by my own scream. Christopher was lying next to me, his velvet voice trying to calm me.

‘It’s okay, it’s okay. It was only a dream.’ He hugged me and pushed me softly back to my pillow. I curled like a baby hiding my face in the warmth of his chest.

When I woke up, the sun was trying to creep into the room through the gaps on the shutters. I was in Christopher’s arms. For one moment the evil face I had dreamt the previous night appeared in front of me, making me want to run away and hide. I

moved my body slowly, trying not to wake him up, and looked at his beautiful face. It was so relaxed, so tranquil, so compellingly attractive that I felt the overwhelming desire to touch it, to kiss it. There was no chance of escaping from him. That was more than certain to me now.

I tried to reconsider my feelings for this man. He had feared that I would hate him and now I knew why. Truly, I should hate him. He was involved in the tragedy of my life in the most unforgivable way, a tragedy that had defined my life and me so irreversibly and in the most dramatic way.

But he had not done it by his own free will, he had been ordered to do so. What would have happened if he had refused to kill my dad? Probably, both of them would have ended up dead. Theo or Tex, as he had called his partners, would have finished the job by killing me too. The more I thought of it, the more convinced I became that Christopher was no less a victim than my father had been. My father was so good at reading between the lines and had seen through him. Christopher was suffering too, this was what my father had seen in his eyes; the same suffering I had seen the previous night.

Could I forgive him? I was not ready to answer this yet. But I knew I did not hate him. It was beyond my powers to do so. What I felt for him was much, much different. I wanted to comfort him, stop his suffering, and make it go away because it was killing me to see him in such pain.

He had said it was selfish of him to ask for my assistance in his pursuit of absolution and I knew that whatever he might ask of me, I would give to him unconditionally. If that was his chance for redemption, he could have it, because I simply wanted him in my life. He was my soul mate and it had taken me so long to find him, I just could not let him go. Wasn’t I being selfish now? Isn’t love selfish and yet unselfish at the same time? Because I was certain about my love for him. It overshadowed all the other feelings that had poisoned my heart the previous night.

He opened his eyes as if he had felt my intense staring, and I had the feeling the room became suddenly brighter. He rolled to his side to face me.

‘So, you are still here? I expected you to run away with the first light of day.’

‘Well, it did cross my mind.’ I said without taking my eyes off his.

‘What made you stay?’ he was smiling, but grief shadowed his eyes now.

‘It is just… impossible for me to go away from you.’ He was silent for a few moments.

‘How are you feeling?’ he asked, scrutinizing my face.

‘Better. Where are we?’ I asked him.

‘It’s my new house. This was supposed to be my surprise for you yesterday. Not that you weren’t surprised anyway.’ he added bitterly.

‘When did you…?’

‘I didn’t. Suzan did everything. She even did the decoration.’

‘I like it.’

‘You haven’t even seen it. But I think you will like it. It does have its own private beach you know!’ He smiled his disarming smile again and I knew those had been Suzan’s words. I preferred to talk about simple everyday things. But it could not last long.

‘What are you thinking right now?’ he asked, turning serious again.

‘I have so many questions.’

‘I know. I’ll tell you everything you need to know. That much I owe you. It’s the least I can do.’

He followed the shape of my lips with his finger and I could feel the heat on my face. I touched his face softly, following the perfect curve of his cheekbone, his chin, his neck.

He closed his eyes and I moved closer to him, unable to resist the strong desire to kiss him. Again and again and again.

‘Make me forget, Christopher. Please, make me forget.’ I whispered to him.

He rolled over me. His beautiful eyes were so intense, they were burning me, as passion and fervor were unconcealed in them. He started kissing me all over my body, his hands carving fiery paths on it… And we both forgot.

Later that afternoon, we were both in the porch, lying on the big double sun bed, one of Suzan’s major accomplishments. I have to admit I liked it, as I could enjoy the view and the summer sun without having to leave Christopher’s hug. Being with him made everything easier. He was the most effective distraction for my confused, overloaded mind. I was sure that if I went back to my apartment, the nightmare would take its substantive dimensions and I knew I couldn’t bare this. Everything seemed less hurtful when I was around him. He was wearing his swimsuit and had asked Suzan, who had also bought a house next to his, to lend me one of her bikinis. She had given me a purple one, which, under different circumstances, I would not even have thought of putting on.

‘How come Suzan hasn’t dropped in yet?’ I asked curiously.

‘I guess Tom is keeping her busy.’ he said with his eyes closed behind his sunglasses. ‘Tom is the third member of our team. He came yesterday.’ He smiled widely.

‘Suzan is crazy about him. I think you will like him. He and Suzan took your car home last night. By the way, I’ve texted Kate that you are staying with me, so that she wouldn’t be worried about you. Do you mind?’

‘You think of everything, as always.’

‘Least I could do. I’ve checked your schedule too. You’re free today.’

‘I know.’

‘But you shouldn’t miss classes anymore.’ I knew he was right but I wondered if he had thought about the following week. With the commencing of the excavation, I would be so busy I might have to quit summer school anyway. This was really frustrating, but the excavation was my top priority now.

‘Christopher? There is more to this, isn’t there?’ He knew immediately what I was talking about.

‘You are right, there is more.’ he said opening his eyes and turning his head to look at me as I rested my head on his shoulder.

‘Do you want to hear the rest now?’ I nodded and he started but not before sighing deeply, foreshadowing his oncoming moroseness.

‘After that night, everything changed for me. Tex had accused me to Denzel, my commanding officer, of breaking the Squad rules. Tex had always wanted to be in command of the team in my place. In fact, we never saw eye to eye. Denzel trusted my judgment and he would always take my side. You see, my boss’s intention had always been to take out all the evil in me, because he’d always thought I’m capable of more…and of worse. He had seen in me exactly the opposite to what your father had seen I guess. Or… as Plato once told me, he might have detected some signs of goodness in me that stood as a challenge for him, and he would have them vanished so that pure evil would prevail. Either way, he had to follow a procedure this time. Disobedience constitutes a crime for the League, which meant I had to go through a re-evaluation of my eligibility to serve them, much similar to court-marshal of your world. The League Operation Board would decide either for my eligibility to remain in the Squad or… for my extermination. I didn’t care about anything then, so, when it was time to make my statement, I stood up and simply asked them to exterminate me as I couldn’t go on with that life anymore.’

The word exterminate made me gasp as I was sure it must have meant death. He stroked my hair and went on.

‘It was the only solution I could think of. I had noticed a dark bearded man in the Board who had his eyes fixed on me during the whole process of the hearing. He was Plato, my present commander. The verdict was announced the following day. It was decided that I wouldn’t be exterminated, as Denzel had

persuaded them about my potential. However, the Board had decided that I shouldn’t serve the Squad anymore, and put me in another corps, called the Crusaders. Their commander, Plato, had asked for me, offering the Board the best alternative. Denzel hated this, of course. He was furious. He still wasn’t done with me, you see.

Since then, I have been working with Tom and Suzan, in one of the many Crusaders groups. Our duty is, mainly, to clean up the mess the Squad causes or, even better, to get there before them and solve problems bloodlessly. We’re some kind of negotiators, in other words. Our mission is to fix things.’

‘So, yesterday you were telling me the truth about been a Crusader. And Suzan… I could never have thought of this.’

‘Yes, we all follow Plato’s commands. Plato is my mentor, you see. He’s like a father to me. He knows the whole story of course, and approves of my determination to take care of you, although he thinks it is extremely risky and impulsive behavior. He is a very perceptive man, he knows me so well. He understands my obsession with you.’

‘You have an obsession with me?’

‘What would you call it? Every time I was on a mission, I slid off to your world, to check on you. I’ve been stalking you, peeping through in many occasions. Your walks with Alice in the park, graduation, parties, your first years in the university. This must be shocking to you, isn’t it?’

I realized my eyes were wide with astonishment and so was my mouth. I was simply stunned. Christopher had been stalking me ever since I was a child? Like a guardian angel? I only managed to say ‘I just can’t believe what you’re saying. All these years….’

He smiled, looking slightly embarrassed. ‘Sometimes, I overdid this and tried to change the future for you so that you would avoid difficulties. Small changes of course, no one would notice. I wouldn’t want to stand in front of the Board again you see.’ He hesitated before he said with a grin. ‘I did the same with your presentation, you know.’

‘You mean …you are able to …see my future?’ This was too hard to believe.

‘Hardly. I only got a glimpse of you in the auditorium and it was enough to understand you were having problems with the videos.’ he said, as if it was the most natural thing.

‘So ... you decided to help me.’ I was talking to myself, trying to absorb what he had said. He moved his body slightly, so he could see my face better and asked,

‘Emma, aren’t you angry at me now that you know I’ve been stalking you? Do you think of me as … a pervert or something?’

‘No, I don’t think you are a pervert’ I smiled, ‘…although I can think of other words that fit.’ He chuckled when I said that.

‘I’ve always thought of you too, you know. The image of that man, on that dreadful night I mean, I thought it had been an angel…’ an angel of death, who had come to take away my dad, was the rest of the sentence, but I decided to leave it there.

‘Not quite. I was more of a demon… although a repentant one.’ he said, losing his smile as grief had shaded his eyes again.

‘Tell me about Plato.’ I tried to distract him.

‘Plato is very perceptive, as I said before. He knew about all this from the beginning. There is no way I can fool him, you see. But he has allowed my small diversions every now and then. I guess he was the first to realize the truth, much sooner than I did.’

‘What is the truth?’ I asked.

‘That I love you. That I have always loved you.’ He had said that in the most disarming manner. My eyes had started to fill with tears.

‘This is only part of the truth.’ I whispered.

‘What’s the other part?’ he frowned.

‘That I have always loved you too, even before you came here. I just didn’t know where to find you… but…I’ve always known you existed. And… when I saw you… I knew it was you…it had to be you.’ I was delirious, speaking with my eyes shut. But I couldn’t go on, not because of the tears that had wetted my cheeks, or the sobbing that shook my chest, but because his lips

were on mine, tender, sweet lips. He wiped the tears of my face with the back of his hand.

How absurd it is, I thought, to find happiness through sorrow and devastation!

Time was on our side for now, going by slowly, as if trying to make up for the misery of the previous day. The soft wind the Greeks call meltemi that was blowing from the northwest, had made the sea rougher than usual but it had kept us cool enough as we still lay on the sun bed, our bodies unable to part.

At some point Christopher asked me if I was hungry and offered to cook his specialty for me, shrimp spaghetti. Suzan had taken good care of him. He had a full fridge. I offered to make the salad. He was a very good cook and the spaghetti was really delicious, despite my aversion for sea-food. When we were enjoying the cool white wine, I wondered if it was time to ask him about what I feared he had kept from me, a suspicion, which had started to grow in my mind.

‘Christopher, that’s not the whole truth, is it? You’ve come here for a reason, haven’t you? And that is not about my presentation.’

He focused on his glass without speaking, but I could tell he was taken abashed.

‘I mean, if you had been watching me for so long, what made you change your mind and …show up? And how come so many of you have come here? Is it about me?’

He cleared his throat, his eyes still on his glass. ‘I was hoping we wouldn’t get into this today. Haven’t you had enough for one day?’

‘I’ll risk it. It has to do with the project, right?’

He looked at me and sighed. The sound of a bird’s song in a high-pitched tone startled me.

‘That must be the doorbell.’ he said, unable to hide his relief, and went to the door.

‘I’m sorry sweetie, but I couldn’t wait any longer.’ Suzan’s voice sounded anxious from the living room. ‘I want to know what Emma thinks about the house.’

‘Hello to you too, Suzan. Do come in please!’ Christopher said sarcastically. ‘Hi Tom.’

‘Sorry pal, I did my best to stop her, but you know Suzan.’ Tom said apologetically. But Suzan had already found me in the kitchen, doing the washing up.

‘Well, what do you think?’ she hugged me and squeezed me on her body, ignoring the soap on my hands. She put her arms on my shoulders and looked straight into my eyes.

‘You really have done a great job here. You’ve thought of everything. You’ve amazed me!’ I tried to exaggerate.

Tom was right behind her smiling, his hand on his chest and his mouth silently pronouncing Thank you.

Christopher introduced us and Tom shook my hand with a cordial smile. I could understand why Suzan was so fond of him. He too was a handsome man. He was tall and athletic like Christopher but his hair was blond, and he had warm brown eyes and a beautiful face. I had a very good feeling about Tom from the very first moment. My intuition was about to be affirmed a few weeks later.

‘Emma darling, you shouldn’t be doing this. Christopher, why didn’t you tell her you have a dishwasher?’ Suzan complained. Christopher just shrugged. Although he had been relieved to avoid my questions when Suzan came and he was literally saved by the bell, I could see he was irritated by her now.

‘Never mind, I’m almost finished.’ I said.

‘You know what? You boys wait for us at the porch until we make cappuccinos. We girls want some time alone here. We have to try this coffee machine Emma. You will just love it!’

Christopher seemed reluctant to leave me alone with her but Tom pushed him out of the kitchen, probably following Suzan’s orders.

‘Off we go Christopher.’

‘I’m so happy the two of you are together, Emma!’ she said. ‘I knew it from the first day I saw you with him. You belong together.’ I just smiled in response.

‘We’ve all been worried about him, I have to say. He has been so preoccupied with you, that he asked to be excluded from any other mission.’

In a flash of inspiration, it occurred to me that Susan might tell me more than Christopher intended to say, so I just let her go on. And I was right of course.

‘And when they gave him only a month to get here and try to…’ She looked at me and I knew my face had given me away.

‘Oh, crap. I thought … he told me you knew everything. He’s going to be mad at me.’ Being upset made her careless too, and she spilt some milk on the floor. She bent down to wipe it and I took the chance.

‘ Don’t worry Suzan. I won’t tell him. Just … please. Can you explain to me this month thing?’

‘Sorry honey. This is something he has to tell you himself.’ She saw the disappointment in my face and added, ‘Don’t worry. It will be all right in the end, you’ll see.’

She wasn’t going to tell me more. She took the tray to the porch hastily.

When we joined Christopher and Tom they were talking about how Suzan had bargained the price of the two houses. I sat next to Christopher, on the day-bed, and he put his arm around my shoulders. Suzan and Tom were sharing the loveseat. For a couple of hours we were just two young couples, chatting about holidays, the sea, the weather, Greece and the warm, hospitable Greek people. But my mind was on other things and I couldn’t wait to get some answers.

It was already late afternoon. I was anxious to be alone with Christopher so that I could question him again. But there was no sign of Suzan’s intentions to leave us, quite the contrary. She even suggested going out for a stroll, as she was too bored to stay inside. Christopher, of course, found the idea perfect.

‘I think we should go, give them some space, baby.’ Tom told her, but Christopher cut him.

‘No, I think Suzan is right. Emma can show us around to the nearby town, Loutraki, right Emma?’ he turned to me, smiling playfully.

‘Sure.’ I sighed in defeat.

I realized that the only thing to put on was the dress he had bought for me the previous day, but Christopher was already one step ahead as always.

‘Suzan, give Emma something to wear, will you?’

‘Sure. Come on, Emma!’ Suzan got up instantly and I followed her casting Christopher a warning look. He smiled, putting on his angel face again.

Suzan lent me a short black dress and black sandals and let me use her make -up.

We drove to Loutraki in Christopher’s car. We walked along the beach road that was lined with cafeterias and restaurants.

Christopher was holding my hand the whole time. When we were alone for only a couple of minutes, walking behind Tom and Suzan, I told him seriously

‘You can’t put it off forever, you know. Sooner or later we will have to talk.’

‘I’ll take my chances.’ he grinned, but then added ‘Why don’t you forget about it now? Let’s enjoy our walk, shall we? I promise to tell you everything tomorrow. Do me a favor and try to be happy today. You’ve already got too much to deal with. ’

I recommended a beach bar for a drink, the Bow. Normally, I would have enjoyed every moment of that night. It was pretty cool, the music was soft and the faint murmur of the sea was so relaxing. But my mind was on Christopher’s secrets and again I was not very talkative. Thankfully, Suzan, seeming to understand my engrossment, covered for me with her constant questions and remarks about the place.

I had the slight feeling that the three of them had some kind of a secret code of communication but it was only a suspicion, nothing noticeable in their words.

‘What’s on your mind?’ Christopher leaned towards me, his eyes fixed into mine.

‘Don’t you know?’ I shot at him. A sudden flash of light startled us both and we turned to see Suzan holding a small digital camera, smiling triumphantly.

‘I just love these things!’ she said.

‘You know you shouldn’t be doing this.’ Tom warned her.

‘Darling, I have done lots of things I shouldn’t have, believe me.’ She looked into the small screen of her camera. ‘You two look so cute together. I wish you didn’t look so frowned Emma.’

‘Get rid of it!’ Christopher said angrily.

‘You boys have been such bores lately.’ She shoved the camera in her bag. They let her go along with this but I was sure they would deal with it later.

Tom offered to drive us home and Christopher threw him the car keys with a wink, saying ‘Thanks.’

Suzan sat at the front seat and Christopher held the back door open for me, grinning. I knew he was up to something and I had the feeling that his friends were in this too.

He sat next to me and put his arm around my shoulders. Tom turned on the stereo and soft jazz music filled the cabin, a little louder than usual.

Suzan started whispering to Tom about something, but I could not hear what they were saying. I had the impression they were trying to give us some privacy, but before I could utter a word, Christopher started kissing me. He kissed my hair and he went on behind my ear, my neck and my lips. He burnt my skin with his hot breath. I was already helpless, a piece of melting wax in his hands, letting him do whatever he wanted with me. I did not care if Tom and Susan could see us. The next moment I felt his hands all over my body, his hot lips on my breasts. I wondered whether he was going to stop, as he seemed to be just a click before crossing the line. For the next half hour, I was lost in his arms, his hands on me fierce, demanding. But he knew what he was

doing. When Tom pulled over outside his house, Christopher chuckled and pulled me out of the car muttering ‘Night guys.’

He pushed me into the house, walking behind me with his hands on both sides of my waist. I could hear Suzan’s soft laughter behind us.

I knew what he was doing and there was no way I could escape his plan. He closed the door and pushed my body against its cold surface. He crushed his body on mine, imprisoning me between his two arms. Every other thought was distant and unimportant now as this had been his intention, of course. He had used his charm to distract me but I did not care, because I knew he wanted this as much as I did.

That night it was simply impossible to sort things out with him since he had used all his charm in order to ensnare me.

Before sinking into deep sleep, as our hot, sweaty bodies were still tangled, I promised myself that the next morning it would be my turn.

I woke up before him and got up trying to make no noise, as I did not want him to wake up yet. I took a shower and put on one of his T-shirts before going into the kitchen to make coffee. I returned to the bedroom and seated myself on the big armchair across the bed, my knees folded in front of my chest.

I waited for him to wake up. It did not take long. He opened his eyes and looked straight at me, startling me and making me think how difficult it was to take a man like him aback.

‘Hey.’ he smiled, ‘Come back to bed.’ I did not say anything and he sat up leaning his back on the pillows.


‘You’re not going to play your tricks on me again. You have to tell me what I want to know.’

‘I could be playing my tricks all day, everyday, I don’t mind.’ he smiled disarmingly, having full knowledge of how hard it was for me to stay away from him. ‘We only have one hour before your class starts. Are you sure you want to waste this time talking?’ he kept on challenging me.

‘Please Christopher?’ I pleaded him. I knew how to use my own weapons too. But he was not going to give up so easily.

‘Pity me Emma. I haven’t even had coffee yet.’

‘You’ll have your coffee, afterwards. Tell me why you can only stay here for a month.’ His mood changed instantly.

‘Did Suzan tell you that?’ he frowned.

‘Please, Christopher, not knowing makes me crazy.’

He closed his eyes. ‘I was going to tell you as soon as you had dealt with all these first. It’s just too much bad news in such little time, don’t you think? I’m trying hard to help you face this awkward situation and, although I must say you’ve really put a brave face upon it, there is no need to test your limits of endurance, Emma. It can wait a few more days.’

His eyes were pleading and I knew he only cared about me, always trying to protect me, but I needed to know everything.

I shook my head. ‘No, it can’t wait, I can’t wait.’

He sighed. ‘So, you want to know the reason I’m here, right? But I’ve already told you that I am here for your protection.’

‘Who are you protecting me from?’ He opened his eyes and looked at me before he answered in a cold voice.

‘The Squad.’ His answer made me shiver. He went on before I was able to speak. ‘As long as the case remained closed, you were absolutely safe. When you came here to open the bank locker, the whole system was set in motion, waiting for your next move. At first, they would do anything to prevent the excavation, causing all kinds of problems until you decided to give up. It is only a matter of time until they find out you’re starting next week. They may even have known this by now. I had to move fast before they did. I persuaded Plato to let me come here and talk you out of it. The plan was simple. I would charm you, gain your trust and then, as your supervisor for Brantel, I would ask you to stop the excavations for…various reasons. Plato used his connections and they gave me one month before they assigned your case to the Squad.’

He stopped, waiting for my reaction, but I could not say anything as I still felt the cold waves of fear on my back. He looked into my eyes and went on.

‘The rest you already know. I had underestimated my feelings for you and fell into my own trap. But this doesn’t change anything. It just made me more… committed to my mission. I don’t want you to be scared Emma. I will not let them hurt you.’

‘The month is …almost over.’ I muttered.

‘Don’t be terrified, please. We’ll work it out, that’s why I’m here. It doesn’t mean I have to go when the month’s notice is over. I will be around after this is all over, Plato will understand. I told you I will stay for as long as you need me.’

I couldn’t stay away from him anymore. I lay next to him and hid my face in his chest as he stroked my hair.

‘You do realize you have to drop it, don’t you?’

‘Drop it?’ I looked at him. ‘How can you ask me such a thing? You, at least, should understand.’ My eyes were now filled with tears.

‘Let me ask you something Emma. How important is this project to you?’

‘Very important. You know that.’

‘Is it more important than your life, than what we have together?’

‘That’s not fair.’ I answered.

‘Nothing in this story is fair. But think, your dad was only asking you to use it wisely. Do you think he would want you to die for it?’

I couldn’t speak anymore. A pain in my throat made me breathe with difficulty.

‘Have you thought why this is so important to you? It’s about your dad, isn’t it? You want to restore his name in the University, right?’

‘Not only that. My dad had found something. I need to know what made him choose death instead of me, instead of his family.’

‘And if I told you exactly what your father had found, what he was going to bring into light, would that put your mind at ease?’

‘Can you?’

‘Yes. But will you promise to give up if I tell you?’

‘I promise to think it over.’ He was not pleased with my response but he decided to play all his cards.

‘Your father had discovered what the League calls a Gateway. One of the many Gateways that exist in Greece actually, as well as in other countries. It is a lapse in time, an opening among different worlds, and times. Ancient Greeks had suspected something was wrong with this place and gave the whole area the name Pylos. Think of it. Pylos means door in Greek. But they did not touch the place. Neither did the generations that followed. The League made sure that rumors would spread throughout the years, so that people would stay away. Through time, places like this are known as haunted, inhibited by elves or goblins, or even by aliens.

So, now you know everything. You realize how big this is and why they will never allow you to dig anywhere near this place.’

He stopped and all I could hear was the fast beating of my heart. I realized that I was entangled in a situation I could not handle. He must have guessed my thoughts because he said,

‘I’ll take care of everything. You’ll just have to sign the papers to withdraw from the project. We will get out of this unharmed Emma, as long as you do what I say. You’ll just have to trust me.’

‘How are you going to handle this? I mean, have you been given any specific orders?

‘You will simply declare to Brantel that you no longer wish to excavate the area and that you have decided to donate this piece of land to the university, as your father had always wanted. The League will reward you lavishly, of course. Then the area will be covered with concrete or maltha. They are willing to make a monument in memory of your dad on it. And that’s all. You just

walk away and go on with your life. You do understand that these are not just suggestions but orders, right?’

While he was announcing the League’s orders to me, he avoided looking at my face, having his eyes fixed on the ceiling. I knew he hated every part of it, the same as I did.

Fear had now given its place to anger. I wanted to shout that they had no right to do this. This piece of land belonged to me; my dad had paid for it with his own blood. How could I just give it up to his murderers?

My mind started working fast, thinking of millions of ways to fool them, without revealing anything to Christopher. I was playing my old game again, hiding my feelings deep inside me.

‘We’ll start tomorrow with announcing Brantel your withdrawal from the project and your decision to donate the piece of property to them. We shouldn’t waste anymore time now that you know everything. Then we can be together without worrying about them and you will be safe, forever. I’ll be spending most of the time in your world, here, in London, wherever you want.’

I did not say anything. I wanted to share his dream. It was the best option he could offer me. I instinctively clenched my body on his.

‘How many people in Brantel know about this besides Don?’

‘There are two more Senior Confidants.’

‘But you’re not going to tell me their names.’

‘You know I can’t.’ I did not speak for a long moment, lost in thoughts. He sensed there was something wrong.

‘Say something Emma. I know you’re angry.’

‘I need some time. Don’t worry. I’ll be okay. I’ve been through worse.’

He moved his body so that he could see into my eyes. He looked puzzled. It was obvious that he had expected a different reaction from me.

‘Are you sure?’ he scrutinized my face, still worried.

‘Yes. Don’t worry. I’ll do whatever it takes to be with you, to keep us both safe.’ He kissed me softly and sighed in relief.

It was time to get ready for school but I knew I could not deal with classes any longer.

‘I’m quitting the summer school. Can you drive me over there so that I tell my tutor?’

‘Are you sure about that? Don’t you want to think it over?’

‘No, I’m sure. I just have a lot on my mind right now.’

‘I guess you’re right.’ he agreed.

He drove me to my apartment to change first. I made up my mind and told him I wanted to drive to the university myself. I needed to be alone.

Christopher asked me if I wanted to go to his place again for the night and I told him to come and pick me up later in the afternoon.

I did not know how much time we had left.

Looking back, I think my mind was made up that afternoon. The plan was already set in my mind but as much as I wanted to trust Christopher, I would not let him into it for his own safety. If things went wrong, I would be the only one to take the blame and he would be safe.

Chapter 6


Three days later, I was sitting behind my desk, contemplating my plan, looking for possible mistakes or deficiencies. Christopher had taken care of the paperwork regarding my withdrawal from Project-Em and the donation of the piece of property to Brantel. I had just signed the papers and that was all. Christopher had also fired the archeologist on behalf of Brantel, since the excavation had been cancelled.

We had spent the last three days together and he had been very supportive and sweet, making it a lot easier for me to leave it all behind me. That last week I had deliberately avoided Kate and I had announced to her my decision to give up on my father’s dream, over the phone. She was surprised of course, but she had just said,

‘If that’s what you want, then go ahead with it.’ I knew that if I met her, she would read my eyes again and I would not be able to hide all those absurd secrets from her. Christopher had made it clear that even the slightest hint would put her life at risk.

She must have been startled by the unheralded change in my behavior, but I was sure she would justify it under the scope of my infatuation with Christopher. The truth is that I had really missed my friend and I knew she had missed me too. I promised myself I would make it up to her, when all this would be over.

On Friday morning, Christopher told me that he had to go on a mission with Tom, unintendently making me depressed at the thought that I would not see him from Saturday to Tuesday morning. I knew how much he too hated to leave me alone in such a difficult situation, but Plato needed him urgently. Saturday was the day the works for the coverage of the area, which now constituted Brantel’s property, would commence and Christopher knew that I would be especially vulnerable on that day. It did not help that I would have to be away from him as well. I assured

him that I would be okay with Suzan, trying to sound as convincing as I could. Besides, there was another aspect to this.

As much as I hated the idea of being away from him, I found the timing to be perfect, as it would be much easier for me to carry out my plan if he wasn’t checking on me all the time. Of course there was still Suzan, but I would manage to overcome this obstacle. Still, I had to settle things until Saturday morning, as Christopher had booked two rooms for Suzan and me in a four star hotel on the island of Hydra, in another effort to distract me from what was going on in Mesinia.

He had said in a worried voice, ‘I’ll be back on Tuesday morning and I don’t want you to be alone under any circumstances. Please go with Susan, try to have fun and don’t do anything foolish that will put you in danger. Will you do that for me?’

‘Just come back to me safe.’ I had just said in response.

As soon as he had left, I drove to my apartment before Suzan woke up. I had slipped a note under her door ‘Something came up at school. I’ll take care of it and I’ll meet you here as soon as possible, Emma.’

I turned on my computer to find the letter I had typed last Wednesday and made twenty copies, put them in envelopes, stamped them and wrote the addresses of the recipients. I checked my watch. It was time to call Yanni, the civil engineer I had recommended to work for Brantel on this project. I knew he would be in Pylos by now.

The noises of trucks and bulldozers made it hard for him to hear me, and I had to shout.

‘It’s Emma.’

‘Hi Emma.’

‘Is everything okay?’

‘Everything is going to be as you said. Nobody noticed the change.’

‘Remember, if anyone asks, you simply found the plan like this; you don’t know anything about the changes. Otherwise, you may be in serious trouble.’

‘When it comes to preservation of natural resources, I’m pretty fanatic, you know this. I’ll be as silent as a grave. Besides, you still owe me that drink.’

‘Deal. Call me when this is all over. Thank you Yanni.’

‘I’m simply doing the right thing, nothing more.’ he said.

I had played dirty this time. It had been very easy to have Yanni make a small change to the plan. I had asked him to put Point-X on the other side of the area, and leave a surface of 10 square meters uncovered, right above the real Point-X. I had to lie to him that my dad had found a well underneath, which would be useful for the surrounding area in the future, as the locals were facing problems of drought that had put their crops in great danger. He had strongly agreed that there was no point in covering a well with concrete and was more than willing to hide Point-X for me. I had deliberately exaggerated, of course, on how Brantel did not care about wasting such a valuable source of life for the area of Mesinia to arouse Yannis’ nationalistic instincts.

I was not sure what exactly I had achieved by doing that. I just hoped that I would gain some valuable time until some of the recipients of my letters decided to check this case anyway, looking for answers. The answers that I had been refused.

I had written to my lawyers, the district Attorney, the British Embassy, the Greek Ministry of Cultural affairs, some Greek and British members of the Parliament, journalists and TV channels. I had mentioned that some people in corridors of power had made me and Dr Auburn quit from the project, and had warned us to cancel the excavation, threatening our lives. I didn’t want to include Christopher among the bad guys in this story in any way. I did not mention anything about the League, of course, but I insinuated that certain people in Brantel were into this. I hoped that, if a scandal broke out, the League would withdraw and try to cover up the case without touching us.

I realized I was risking my life, I just hoped I was not risking his. I also wrote a note to Plato, which would be useful in case

something happened to me. I had decided to leave it in Suzan’s car on our way back from the port. I wrote:

To Plato

Everything I’ve done, I’ve done it on my own.

Christopher could not stop me as he was

away. Please do whatever you can to keep

him safe.


On my way to Suzan’s, I stopped to drop the letters in the letterbox outside the post office. They would probably be posted on Monday morning.

I would have had a great time with Suzan in Hydra had the circumstances been different. The hotel was luxurious and we made the most of its facilities, especially the spa that was Suzan’s favorite pastime.

She had even persuaded me to go shopping with her in the hotel boutique, where I had no choice but let her chose a couple of tiny dresses for me.

The weekend was dragging. Those were the longest two days in my life. I had missed Christopher so much it hurt. Most of the time, I was unable to concentrate on what Suzan was telling me, my mind slipping from Christopher to my great plan and back to Christopher again. I wondered how mad he would be at me when he found out what I had done. What was the following week going to be like? Would we be free from the League at last?

We came back on Monday afternoon. It would be just a few hours before I saw Christopher again. I clung to this thought to chase out the preapprehension that was slowly poisoning my mind. Suzan left me at my place and I saw Tony’s rented car parked outside. He had probably stayed with Kate while I was away, which made me feel better but still remorseful for being estranged from her. I found them at the porch.

‘Hey traveler. Did you have a good time?’ Kate asked casually.

‘Yes. It was really great.’ I said, not so convincingly. ‘Did anyone ask for me?’

‘No.’ she shrugged. ‘Did you expect anyone to?’ she gazed at me, a hint of worry in her expression.

‘Not really.’ I said, avoiding her inquisitive look. The only way to make it through was to hide in my room.

I looked around but my room was as I had left it. In fact, didn’t know what I had been expecting to see.

I took a shower and changed. I checked my e-mails but there was nothing unusual there either. I thought of going to Christopher’s house and wait for him to come back to me, but his house suddenly seemed so empty without him. I was certain I would be awfully lonely there. His absence would be unbearable, almost tangible. For I could not imagine his big house, the porch, and the bedroom without the brightness of his presence illuminating it. It just wouldn’t be the same.

With growing impatience in my heart, I decided to go to the university library to return some books I had borrowed when I was still a student in summer school.

I drove my car to the main building and parked outside. I took the lift to the second floor. Angela, the librarian, greeted me and I gave her the books. In the library it was very cool and quiet, and I thought I might find something interesting to read. I looked at the History department for books on Pylos and I found one written by a Greek historian under the title ‘Pylos in Ancient Greek literature.’

I read the first chapter, which included references on the origin of the place name, which verified Christopher’s theory.

I was so absorbed into it, that when I looked around, I realized the library was almost empty. I looked at my watch. It was 9.30. Angela had closed the doors and was working on her computer, but had the courtesy to let me and another girl stay in and finish our reading. (One thing I have always liked about Greeks is their eagerness to skip formalities, which has always made my life here easier.) But I did not want to take more advantage of Angela’s kindness. I thought it was time to go home, as it was already getting dark outside. I thanked her and left the library.

I wondered if my tutor, Dr De Marco would be in his office, as he used to work late when he had a class the next day. It might be a good idea to pay him a visit.

I took the lift to the third floor. I was thinking again it might be a good idea to sleep at Christopher’s place and wait for him to show up in the morning, when the lift door opened.

I only caught a glimpse of a hand grabbing my arm and pulling me violently to the side, behind the lift wall. Another hand was covering my mouth and I could not breathe. I was terrified, unable to understand what was going on. He held me on his body, my back against his chest.

‘Don’t make a sound Emma.’ he whispered in my ear.

My heart leapt. Christopher? He had obviously come back earlier, but why was he acting this way? His body felt stiff against mine and I thought he was not breathing.

Then I saw them. On my left, in the mirror of the glass doors, I saw the reflection of two men who had just run up the stairs. They were dressed in black suits, which were very unsuitable for this time of year. Their faces were cold, expressionless. They stopped at the landing and looked around. I didn’t have to ask who they were. I knew immediately it was the Squad.

I was frozen with fear. The lift door was still open. One of them, the one with darker hair and bulkier figure, made a slight move towards it. For one moment, I thought they were going to come towards us, but then someone called the lift and the door closed. He nodded to his partner pointing upwards and they walked up the stairs to the fourth floor, possibly meaning to check Christopher and Harry’s office right above us.

When it was safe to move, Christopher pulled me towards the fire escape. We flew down the narrow, metal staircase so fast I thought it only took us a few seconds. I wondered whether the two men might be able to see us through the windows. Christopher’s car was parked right at the end of the fire escape.

‘Get in!’ he said to me sharply. I sat next to him trying to hide my shaking hands. Something was wrong, very wrong. I wished I

had posted the letters earlier so that they would have reached their destination by now and the Squad would not dare touch us.

Christopher started the car without turning on the headlights and drove around the block. He rolled the car slowly, almost soundlessly, to the corner. I saw their car parked in front of the entrance to the main building, just behind mine, a black Grand Cherokee jeep, facing the opposite way to us. There was a third member of the Squad sitting behind the wheel. He only had to check his mirror to see us. I knew that the only way out of the campus was driving past their car.

Then Harry’s car appeared out of the blue and made a U-turn right behind the black Cherokee, only too fast, crushing the flashlight of the huge, black jeep with its bumper.

Harry got out and the two men started arguing. Did Harry know who he was dealing with? I was scared to death at the thought that the tall, beefy man might hurt him. Harry seemed so small next to him. Besides, I was sure his partners would appear in any moment.

‘Oh my God!’ I whispered.

Christopher took advantage of the diversion Harry had created for us and turned left very slowly. I wondered if he knew that he was going the wrong way. I looked at him but I hesitated to speak because I felt he was not my Christopher anymore. His face was expressionless, his eyes cold, his nostrils flared.

A gate, smaller than the one at the main entrance, appeared in front of us a few minutes later. I had no idea it existed, as I had never been to this side of the campus before. He turned right, towards the main street that would take us to the city. But then he surprised me again, taking the exit to the highway. He had not even looked at me or talked to me after his cold order to get in his car. I had a very bad feeling about this. This was not exactly what I had imagined our reunion to be like.

He was driving really fast, checking the mirrors to see if anyone was following us. Then he looked at me with the corner of his eye.

‘Seatbelt Emma.’ The same cold voice, a stranger’s voice said. I could tell by his tone how angry he was at me. I decided it was better to remain quiet and let the steam go off. Later on, I would explain to him all about my plan. Still, I could not understand why the Squad was inside the university premises. Had I missed something? I was sure I had done everything according to plan. No one else but me knew about it. Not even Christopher.

We must have been driving for about ten minutes in the highway when he pulled over into a parking lot shaded by tall trees, which hid us from the other cars passing by. He stopped the car and took a deep breath. Then he turned abruptly, glaring at me with his captivating eyes. It was a good thing it was so dark that I could not see clearly into them. Had I been able to do so, I was sure I wouldn’t have liked what I saw.

‘What have you done Emma?’ His voice was now deep, weary, as if he had been suffering from something. What he had just said had not sounded so much as a question but rather like an accusation.

‘I…don’t understand.’ I muttered, ‘I did what they asked of me.’

‘Did you?’ he asked.

I could not understand what he meant. Could he have known about my plan? I decided to be more honest with him.

‘Let me explain.’ I started. I could hear him breathe heavily and I knew he was about to explode.

‘You see, I have a plan.’ I started but he cut me.

‘A plan, is that right? And does this little plan of yours include getting you killed?’

I did not miss how he had deliberately stressed that last word.

‘Not at all. Quite the opposite I’d say. I mean to protect myself from your kind, without your help this time.’ I knew I shouldn’t have said that. The situation was getting out of hand. He knew it too.

When he spoke again he made an effort to keep his voice down.

‘And how will you protect yourself, may I ask?’

I ignored the sarcastic tone in his voice and took a deep breath.

‘You see, I’ve decided to expose them. They wouldn’t dare touch us after this. I … I wrote letters to so many people about our lives being threatened… Killing me now would only cause problems to them. I just need one more day till the first letters reach their destination. I’ve written to the head of school and to the university Dean, to the district attorney, to….’

All this time he had been looking at the dark shadows the pine trees made as they played with the moonlight.

Before I finished the last sentence, he had already leaned towards the back seat trying to reach something. He turned to me with a pack of envelopes in his hand. He threw them on my lap.

‘Do you mean these letters?’ his face more tense than ever, his voice sarcastic, his tone patronizing. I took the envelopes in my hands and recognized my handwriting immediately.

‘But how…I can’t …’ my voice trembled.

I could not find the words; I could not find my voice either. Fear overwhelmed my body like a cold wave. This couldn’t be happening. He shook his head apprehensively.

‘How could you do such a thing? Do you realize the danger you’ve put yourself into?’ He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his fingers as if trying to soothe himself from a terrible headache. He looked really tired now and his voice was still weary.

‘I told you they’re capable of anything. We were lucky that Plato got hold of these before them, but still, they’ve been notified. At least, they will have no evidence.’

It all made sense now. None of the letters had been posted. So much for my defense! The Squad had come to clean up the mess once more. And this time, they were really after me. He looked at me again.

‘I wish you hadn’t done it Emma. Now you’re in even more danger than before. I’ve told you how powerful they are. Did you think that a bunch of letters would put them off?’

I was nauseated and my whole body was shivering. My mouth felt dry as I tried to speak but my voice was inflected. ‘What shall we do?’ I asked, my voice could barely be heard.

‘We’re both on the run now.’ he said, looking down.

Both, I thought. We don’t have to be both on the run. He didn’t have to risk his life for me. I would not allow it. ‘You should leave me here. I’ll take full responsibility for my actions. You were not here, you couldn’t have known. You don’t have to risk your life.’ I turned to open the door and run out of the car. But he was faster. I only heard a clicking noise and my door was instantly locked.

‘What are you talking about? Leave you? Do you think they’re going to give you the chance to speak? To defend yourself or me? Where will you go? They’ll kill you in cold blood.’

‘You’re really angry at me, aren’t you?’ I asked, staring at my tangled fingers. My eyes were filled with tears and my chest had started shaking from the sobs. This softened him. He sighed before he came closer and hugged me.

‘I’m sorry baby. I shouldn’t have been so cruel with you. You’ve already been through so much and it is my entire fault. I got you into this and I will get you out of it too.’

I shook my head. ‘No, no. I’ve been so stupid. I risked your life…but I …I couldn’t let them…win.’

He stroked my face. ‘They always win Emma.’ He took my hand in his. ‘I just wish you’d told me about your plan.’

‘You’d try to talk me out of it.’

‘Sure I would. There could not be any way other way Emma. Not if you want to remain alive. If only you could imagine what I went through until I was able to find you back there. Not knowing whether Tex had reached you first. But you must promise never to lie to me again, never deliberately put yourself in such danger.’

‘I promise.’ I said. I could not hide the fear in my voice. I knew I had put him in danger too. Tex would probably still be looking for an opportunity to harm him. What had I done? I hid my face in his chest so he could not see the tears running down my cheeks. Christopher thought I was crying out of fear for my life and tried to relieve my mind.

‘Don’t worry. We’ll make it. We won’t give in easily. We make a good team, you and me.’ I felt him kiss my hair, inhaling its scent as he brushed it softly with his lips. I was conscious of his attempt to distract me, but I let him go on. This was what I’d been waiting for so many days. ‘I’ve missed you so much.’ he whispered.

‘I’ve been completely useless in this mission. All I could think of was coming back to you. It’s a good thing Tom was there with me.’

‘Where’s Tom now?’ I asked.

‘I left him behind to finish up the job. I had to run back to you before they found you.’

‘I’m so sorry.’ I said, still sobbing.

‘Don’t be. You’re a fighter, just like your father. I should have known you wouldn’t give up so easily. I shouldn’t have left you.’ He wiped my tears with his hand.

‘Don’t cry. I won’t let them hurt you. Not as long as I’m alive, I promise. They’ll have to get us both and that won’t be easy.’

He kissed my forehead, my nose, my lips and I eagerly surrendered to his fit of passion, forgetting everything else as I always did when I was in his arms.

The cabin was suddenly flooded with light, as a car had parked right behind us flashing its headlights.

‘It’s Suzan.’ he reassured me. ‘Stay in the car.’ He got off and ran to Suzan’s car. I could see him in the mirror. He talked to her for a few minutes before running back.

‘They’ve lost us…for now. Suzan will try to mislead them now. They’ve been to my place and yours but they haven’t found her yet.’

‘Kate?’ I muttered.

‘She’s fine. She wasn’t there. Harry had sent her and Tony a message to meet him in a beach café.’ He hesitated for a moment before he said, ‘Take your things. We’re swapping cars with Susan.’

I got off and met Suzan halfway. She did not look angry. Quite the contrary. She gave me the impression she was enjoying the whole thing. As it seemed, adventure and danger probably fascinated the female Crusader. Even better. I couldn’t stand it if she too criticized my naive reaction to the League’s murderous threats.

‘I’m sorry.’ I said.

‘It will be okay, don’t worry. It was about time for some action anyway. You’ve just expedited it.’ she smiled and took Christopher’s place behind the wheel.

We got into Susan’s light blue Toyota RAV Jeep.

‘Where are we going?’ I asked him.

‘Have you ever been to Monemvasia castle?’


‘We’ll be safe there. It’s a blind spot, which means they can’t detect me there. Try to close your eyes and sleep. We have a long journey before us. ’

The yellow light from the lamp posts that illuminated the highway was dazzling me, making my eyes dry and heavy as I had been trying to fight sleep for more than an hour.

I was half asleep when I heard Christopher talk on his cell phone, but I was unable to understand a word, as he was speaking in German. Another one of his talents, probably acquired with the help of the League, I thought.

As my mind was now at ease, everything I had been through the last couple of hours came back to me. I could not help wondering what would have happened if Christopher had been a few seconds late or if he had not found out that I was in danger. But it shouldn’t be so difficult to guess the answer to that, since he had so vividly described to me the Squad’s plans. They would have probably dragged me into one of the empty offices so that they could finish me up without anybody in the building noticing them. I felt sick at the thought of it. The only comforting thought was that Christopher, at least, would be safer then, safer than he was now.

That little plan of mine seemed so silly and childish now. I wondered if Christopher had also found out about the misleading changes in the project plans. Should I tell him now? No, he had a lot on his mind; I should leave it for later. Besides, I was already sinking into a deep, nightmarish sleep.

I woke up feeling his lips on my forehead. ‘Wake up Emma. We are almost there.’ he whispered softly to my ear. I opened my eyes and looked around to see that he had stopped the car inside a garage. He was stroking my hair as he said,

‘We will have to walk from here. Can you make it?’

‘Sure.’ I said, still drowsy.

We got out and the garage door closed behind us. Christopher put his arm around my shoulder and we started walking. When we turned at the corner of the block I saw the huge, dark shape of a

mountain that looked like an island, as the sea surrounded it. The fortress-village was connected to the Laconian coast where we stood now, only by a long, narrow causeway, at the end of which I could see the castle gate. From where we stood, it seemed uninhabited. Although it was dark, except for the lamp posts that illuminated the causeway and the spotlights on the medieval castle walls, it looked absolutely enchanting, reminding me of pictures from storybooks.

‘Nobody knows of this hideout besides Suzan and Tom.’ he said as we were walking towards the castle.

‘It’s a house, a guesthouse actually, that belongs to an old friend of mine, Sebastian. He’s a retired senior officer of the American army, and a Senior Confidant, of course. He has been living here with his wife Martha for the last ten years. She’s German but she can speak English. She has no idea about the League, yet she’s been very helpful and wise enough not to ask any questions.’

‘How did you get to know them?’ I asked him, trying to fight back the state of torpidity I was still in.

‘I helped Sebastian once, when I was on a mission in the Gulf, and we became close friends since then. He has offered me shelter whenever I needed it.’

‘Then I’m not the only one you’ve saved.’ I said approvingly. He shook his head.

‘It’s not the same. I saved Sebastian simply following orders. He was very important to the League back then. I didn’t choose to save him.’

‘Still, it sounds as a noble action to me. I think you have forejudged and condemned yourself Christopher. You shouldn’t be so harsh about your past.’ I insisted.

‘I give myself as much credit as I deserve, believe me.’ he just said. I had no more strength to argue with him.

It took us about twenty minutes to walk to the gate. Behind the heavy door and the medieval castle walls, we walked through arches under which the cobbled streets intersected, surprisingly throbbing with life.

The narrow, pebbled alley was lined with gift shops, coffeehouses, traditional guesthouses and romantic candlelit bars. It was a cool night and people, mostly young couples, were enjoying their drinks, chatting under the soft sound of music. I looked around in search for any black- suited men that might have followed us, but nobody seemed to be paying attention to Christopher and me.

We crossed a square with tall trees and benches and a very old Byzantine church in the middle. I remembered having read that there were forty churches inside this medieval fortress.

The alley became even narrower and more complex, like a labyrinth. We took a last turn and Christopher stopped in front of a stone built, three-storey building. It was a guesthouse with the name “Pelagos” carved on its wooden door. Christopher opened the door and led me into a room that looked like the inside of a traditional house, decorated with antiques and handmade embroideries. A door on my left opened and a white-haired woman, probably Martha, welcomed us. She looked really happy to see Christopher and she hugged him warmly.

‘It’s so good to see you again Martha.’ He smiled to her. ‘This is Emma.’

‘Welcome to our house Emma.’ she said to me. ‘Oh, you both look so tired!’ She turned to Christopher again. ‘How bad is it this time?’

‘Pretty bad, but you know me. I’ll make it somehow.’ he smiled, casting me a side look.

‘Sebastian is waiting for you upstairs.’ she said in the same hearty manner.

Christopher turned to me. ‘Emma, I won’t be long. You’re in good hands.’

Martha put her arm around my waist. ‘I’ll take care of her. She needs to eat something before a good sleep.’

‘Don’t worry about me.’ I said trying to conceal how much I hated to be away from him again.

He kissed my hair. ‘I’ll be back soon.’ he said before running up the stairs.

‘Come my dear.’ Martha said following him. ‘I’ll show you your room.’

By the time we got to the landing, Christopher had disappeared.

‘I hope you will like your room. I call it ‘Nefeli.’ she said before she opened a door with a small, wooden sign with the name of the room carved on it.

I was astounded by the wonderful decoration of the room. It was large, with stonewalls and two arches, one of them on my left serving as an entrance to the bedroom and the other one right in front of me, leading to a three-piece suit. The furniture was made of carved oak wood and spotlights gave off the sense of homeliness. I walked inside and looked at the bedroom. In the center there was a big, four-poster bed with white linen covers, decorated with blue embroideries. The night tables, with the antique lamps on them, and the big wardrobe were in the same carved oak wood. A big glass door led to a large balcony, which overlooked the sea.

‘It’s beautiful!’ I said ecstatically.

‘Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get you a snack.’ Martha smiled to me.

The coolness of the night and Christopher’s unexpected absence had managed to chase out my drowsiness, so I took a long shower feeling my body instantly relaxed under the warm water. I wrapped myself in the white, soft towel thinking I had nothing to put on for the night but then I noticed that Martha had been in the room and left me a white silk nightdress carefully folded on the bed. The glass door was open and there was a tray with a glass of milk, some cookies and small sandwiches on the table.

I put on the nightdress and combed my hair, wishing Christopher would soon be back. I sat at the porch, took a few sips of milk and ate one of the sandwiches. I was exhausted. I thought how tired Christopher must have been as he had just come back from a mission, wherever that may have been, and had to drive here

afterwards. He had been through so much for me and it was for me he was on the run now, risking his life. My silly plan and me. And he was so eager to take the blame for everything!

With pain in my heart, I thought of the burden he had been carrying for so long, and here I was, making it worse for him.

My eyes felt heavy again so I put the tray inside and brushed my teeth. Martha had thought of everything, she even had new toothbrushes for us. I lay down in the large bed, suddenly feeling very lonely. I fought the strong urge to dial Kate’s number on my cell phone and concentrated on the silver moon that illuminated the darkness of the night, praying with my eyes full of tears for him to come back to me quickly. I had missed him so much.

But sleep got to me first.

I felt him lie next to me as if in a dream. I turned towards him impatiently and hugged him, totally conscious of the awakening of my senses by the familiar smell of his body. He felt delightfully cool, still humid from the shower and he eagerly responded to my embrace with his burning, breathtaking kisses. None of us spoke; only our bodies were now speaking their own passionate language, as they swayed rhythmically under the silver moonlight.

He was already awake when I opened my eyes, leaning his back on the fluffy pillows with his hand in my hair.

‘Good morning baby.’ he said, smiling. I smiled back, thinking how blessed I must have been to wake up with an angel on my side. I just stared at his beautiful face thinking, once again how I just could not get enough of him. I had suddenly got emotional and my eyes misted over. I hid my face in his chest.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked anxiously.

I held him tightly in my arms. ‘I’ve missed you so much. I don’t want you to go away again.’

‘I’m not going away Emma. Not as long as you need me.’ he reassured me stroking my hair.

‘But I will always need you. Forever. I can never go back to my old life.’ I protested.

‘Emma, I’ve seen enough to believe that nothing lasts forever. But you’ve said it before, and you were right. Let’s not worry about the future, let’s live for the moment.’

‘It’s not what I meant, you know it isn’t.’ I looked at him really worried, but he seemed to be at ease.

‘Don’t get so upset Emma. I love you; nothing’s going to change that. I am also tortured every minute I have to be away from you and I don’t want to miss a second of our time together. But I think, we must be prepared for everything.’

Whatever did he mean by that? I could never be prepared to lose him.

‘But…you said …you will stay, that Plato will understand.’ my voice sounded weak, disillusioned.

‘I know what I’ve said and I still intend to do so. But…things may change.’

‘My heart won’t change. It belongs to you now. There’s no coming back, don’t you see?’

He sighed. ‘Oh, Emma. I wish you didn’t feel this way about me. I’m afraid you will end up hurt by me. I can deal with my own pain, but you…’ Grief was unconcealed in his voice.

‘Why are you being such a pessimist? Aren’t we going to fight? Isn’t that what you told me?’

‘I will fight to keep you safe. You can count on that.’

‘Well that works both ways.’

‘Emma, I’m pretty sure I can save you from the League. It’s me I can’t keep your heart safe from. I love you too much and I’m too selfish to let you go, I’m afraid.’

‘Let me go? What are you talking about Christopher?’

‘There comes a time one has to choose. I remember reading somewhere that you can only measure love with what you are willing to sacrifice for its sake, …even if you have to sacrifice… love itself.’ He kept his eyes closed as he said that and he seemed absorbed in it, distant, as if he was talking to himself.

‘Don’t talk like that. Please. I don’t want you to sacrifice anything for me. I need you to stay with me.’ I said desperately,

for now I had realized his mind was set on something, something bad which I did not even want to think of.

He opened his eyes and his mood changed when he read the distress on my face. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve upset you.’ He smiled invitingly and pulled me upwards. ‘Come here.’

He gave me his wild, breathtaking kiss. When he stopped, he looked into my dazzled eyes.

‘My god! I can be doing this with you all day. We could as well spend the rest of our lives on this bed.’

‘Then let’s just do this.’ I challenged him. He smiled again, cunningly, and rolled over me with such a fast move that I let out a cry, biting my lips instantly, fearing someone might have heard me.

He chuckled. ‘Don’t you get shy on me now. Our landlords have a pretty good idea what we’ve been doing up here, otherwise they wouldn’t have given us this huge bed.’ He laughed at my blushed cheeks and kissed them softly, moving lower to my neck, then to my chest. I didn’t care anymore if anyone could hear us. All I cared about was how to make the most of the time we shared.

We had a late brunch and then we strolled into the narrow alleys of the castle. We weren’t on the run anymore; we were two lovers spending holiday time together. Christopher was committed to his decision to live for the moment and I followed him willingly, trying to forget I would sooner or later have to face the music.

We found a small boutique and I bought a short turquoise, backless dress and a swimsuit. When I got out of the dressing room I saw him holding a pair of white shorts and a striped white and blue t-shirt.

‘We’re going to need these too if we go sailing.’ he said. Noticing my obvious mystification he added ‘I’ll explain later.’ I noticed he had also bought some clothes for himself as he was holding another bag.

Martha was expecting us for lunch. She had laid the table in the backyard, under the shade of a big mulberry tree. Christopher introduced me to Sebastian who sat right across him. He was a

tall, strong man with thinning gray hair and piercing black eyes. He looked at me with a scowl, but when he spoke his voice was unexpectedly warm and friendly.

‘I’m delighted to meet you Emma. You are welcome to my house any time, the same as Christopher.’ he said.

I thanked him and enjoyed the delicious lunch Martha had made for us. The conversation was light, nothing revealed the adventure we had got ourselves into as Martha asked about my studies and life in London. Afterwards, she insisted on serving coffee, but Sebastian stopped her.

‘They don’t need coffee Martha. They’re young, they just want to be alone.’ She smiled and Christopher took the chance to say,

‘Then you will excuse us. We both need a nap. Come on Emma.’ I thanked them both for the wonderful lunch and their hospitality and followed him upstairs.

It was true we both needed some sleep as exhaustion from the previous night still hung heavy upon our eyes. I took a nap in the shelter of his warm embrace and in the afternoon Martha served us coffee and homemade ice cream, which we took in the balcony, lying on our sun beds. Christopher was wearing his new black swimsuit and had his eyes closed so I let my gaze rest on his perfect face again. He opened his eyes and they locked with mine.

‘What’s on your mind, baby?’ he asked.

‘I was just thinking that you know everything about me but I know nothing about you.’

He looked at me surprised. ‘What do you want to know?’

‘About your family, your childhood, you know what I mean.’

‘It’s not a good story Emma, believe me.’ he warned me.

‘I don’t care if it’s good. I just want to know about you.’ I insisted.

‘Ok then.’ He kept his eyes closed and his voice sounded impassive as he went on. ‘ I was born in Zurich. My mother was Canadian. I never met my dad but I know he was Swiss. When I was five, we moved to New York. You see, my mother was the kind of woman who could not make it on her own, so she had

many men in her life, until she met Bob. He worked for the League, a civil servant as you call it in your time. I never liked him. I suspected that he often got violent at her. Oh yes, awful things still happen in my time too. People are always the same, no matter where or when they live. One night, I saw him beat her. I just lost it. I thought he was going to kill her. I took a knife from the kitchen and attacked him. Next thing I remember is blood flowing from his back as he lay on the floor. I thought he was dead. I turned to her and saw she was terrified by me. She begged me not to hurt her too.

I left my house that night and never came back. I had nowhere to go to. I was only sixteen.’ He scrutinized my face.

‘I told you it was no good story. Now I’ve shocked you, haven’t I? It just proves how bad I am, I told you.’ he said calmly, his eyes still closed.

‘And… your mother?’ I tried to keep a steady voice.

His tone hardened. ‘I never saw her again. It was easier for both of us this way.’

I tried to retain a composed reaction but it was impossible to be unaffected by the tragic story of his life. I could feel his pain. That outburst of temper in an effort to protect his mother at such a tender age had sealed his doom in his eyes, deserving eternal damnation. The penalty he had inflicted upon himself was life sentence. Plunging in sorrow, I thought that protecting the weak and the innocent was a steadfast attribute of his, like a hero would have done in a film, like a guardian angel.

Only, sometimes, people did not wish to be saved, and that should not be his fault.

My eyes misted with tears as I said ‘Oh, Christopher, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. I just wish there was something I could do to…’

He opened his doleful eyes and his voice was saturated with adoration as he said,

‘But you have. Don’t you see Emma? Your unintended interference with my life has transformed me from an angel of death to an angel of mercy. I’ve left my old self behind me. I’m

fully aware, of course, of the fact that I cannot erase it, as my mistakes cannot be rectified, they will always be haunting me. But with you, I am a free man, I can make a choice, one I can live with. And to be able to love me, after what I’ve done to you, and to forgive me! You don’t know what it means to me.’ He touched my face with his fingers. ‘I’ve told you again, you have brought forth salvation to my soul.’

‘The way I see it, I can think of many arguments for your defense. You were just a child, for god’s sake! You’ve been misled and maltreated by the League. It’s a clear case of brainwashing, don’t you see?’ I said.

‘ There is such a thing as free will you know. And most of my crimes I have committed in my adult life so…save your breath please, Emma.’ he cut me.

We sat in silence, each one lost in different thoughts. The atmosphere suddenly felt too heavy and I tried to change the subject.

‘How old are you now?’ I asked him.

He smiled bitterly. ‘I’m twenty eight but I’m too old at heart, have you heard of this song?’ I remembered the first time I saw him he had told me he might be older than he looked. Now I knew what he had meant.

I turned on my side, my finger slowly following the line of his jaw, heading to the muscles of his chest. The grief in his face made me feel guilty for the question that had triggered it. I could not undo the damage. Now that I started it, I thought it would be my chance to fill in the gaps about him. I was determined never to bring up the same discussion in the future.

‘Christopher, how do you do it? I mean, the time travel, is there a time capsule you get in or something like that?’ I asked, making my voice sound casual.

He laughed softly. I was happy that my question had chased away the grief from his face.

‘It’s nothing like that. Nothing you’ve seen in films. And it’s much easier. I’m afraid I am not allowed to tell you exactly how it works but you can think of it like a lift, where you select the

day and time you want to go to, like pressing the floor number. It’s quite simple actually. A miracle of serendipity, as many other major human discoveries. It just proved Einstein’s theory of relativity and time travel, to be right.’

‘Does it affect your… health in any way?

‘I’ve been through thousands of tests, but no, it hasn’t.’ He smiled. ‘Although, personally, I think my mind is pretty messed up.’

‘Can you tell me… the year… what year you come from?’


‘When were you born?’


That was frustrating, but I made another effort.

‘The country behind the League?’

‘Classified. Information like that can increase the risk you are at. You know there is no way I will do such a thing.’ I bit my lip, trying to think of any possibly “innocent” questions, although I was sure that was all he would let me know. He was smiling, amused by my frustration as always, but when he opened his eyes and looked at my disappointed face he went on.

‘I can tell you this. The first time I saw you in your father’s arms was thirteen years ago for you, but it’s been much less for me.’

‘Can you…change things? Going back I mean? Some of the things you have regretted?’ He looked at me with a curtain of grief upon his eyes.

‘I know what you’re thinking of. I’m sorry. Had I been able to do it, I would have changed that night in your house. But going back to save your dad, would only mean greater danger. The League would never allow it.’ He took a deep breath.

‘Besides, for some reason we have not yet been able to identify, there seems to be some kind of higher universal power determined to maintain the balance among the different worlds, which doesn’t allow for certain things to happen. If someone tried to kill me here, in this world, he would probably fail, miss the target or the gun could suddenly be blocked.’

‘The grandfather’s paradox.’ I whispered. ‘I remember reading about it. You can’t go back and kill your grandfather before he gave birth to your father, because then you wouldn’t exist in your world. I thought it was only fiction.’

‘You impress me.’ he smiled. ‘I’d say that some cosmic laws, or powers, forbid me, the traveler, from doing something wrong, something that would result in my time. No action I take to affect change will ever succeed. Either there will be bad luck, or coincidence preventing the outcome. But enough with the science fiction. This is the first and the last time we’re having this conversation. I fear that you already know too much for your own safety.’ I decided to get a little bolder and ask him something more personal.

‘In your world, do you live…by yourself?’

‘Yes.’ he replied with a faint smile.

‘In a house or flat?’

‘I guess you could call it a flat.’ his tone was now wary.

‘Have you ever been…married?’


‘But there have been other women, right?’

‘Emma!’ he smiled widely. ‘Yes …and no. Nobody really mattered to me. Do you believe me?’

‘Yes, I believe you.’ I moved closer to him and rested my head on his chest, unable to resist to another question about his past.

‘Will you tell me about the League? How did they find you?’

His hands held me tight and it was obviously safer to him to talk to me without letting me look at his face.

I was determined not to move an inch, afraid this might make him change his mind about unfolding to me the story of his life. Christopher sighed. ‘My life was much different then. Now it seems so distant. As if it’s been someone else’s life.’ I could feel he was trying hard to go back. And it was not easy for him. For a moment, I was sure he was not going to say anything at all. But then he spoke in the same impassive manner.

‘After I had left my house, I was living in the streets. That meant I was an outlaw. There’s no such thing as homeless people in my time, you see. Anyone who’s found to be living in the streets gets arrested. So I had to hide. I’d put myself in an awful situation. I found shelter in a deserted building. I didn’t know of course that the League had already their eye set on me. Bob had turned me in. Teenagers with violent behavior must be reported to the authorities.’ He sighed again. ‘I soon got cold and hungry so I left my hideout. Now that I look back, I think I might have done it on purpose. I mean, with the aim of getting arrested. They tracked me at once. It was so easy for them.’

He smiled wryly and I could hear his fast breathing, but his face remained calm and expressionless. I was not making a sound. I promised myself never to bring him in such a hurtful recollection of his past again. On the other hand, I was really curious. Somehow I could not imagine him the way he was describing himself. He looked like the man who would never do such mistakes.

‘I tried to escape of course. I managed to disarm one of my warders by knocking him unconscious and threatened the other one with his gun. Some luck, uh? A hard blow on the back of my head stopped me from running away with the heavy gun in my hand. I woke up in the back of a vehicle. Two men in black suits were watching me. I tried to set free but a penetrating pain in my head for the second time put me out of my misery for a few hours. They took me to their boss. You can guess who that was, right? Denzel, of course. And that was the first time I was facing my personal demon. He offered me a choice, the one you cannot deny. Oblivion for my so-called-crimes or life imprisonment to one of the League’s institutions. He could not recruit me against my will, you see. I accepted his offer. And that’s how it all began.’

‘What else could you do?’ I said calmly, hoping to sooth his pain.

‘Don’t you see Emma? He made a monster out of me.’ He was looking anxiously into my eyes. Suddenly he looked away, as if

he had seen something in my face that was intolerable; his heavy lashes were hiding the blue again.

‘You know…’ I tried to make my voice sound amused, ‘…all this may have happened for a reason. Have you ever thought about that?’

I could see the blue again. He touched my jaw and I could see he was smiling again. ‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning, how else would you have come to me, if it wasn’t for the League?’

He frowned for a moment. Then he shook his head.

‘I’m pretty sure I would have found you one way or the other. You’re a huge part of my destiny, I’m afraid. Plato has a theory about us. He says, we seem to be connected in a weird, cosmic way.’

For a few minutes none of us spoke, but I was sure he too was thinking about how happier life would have been for us under different circumstances. The menace hanging over us like an invisible cloud made itself almost apprehensible.

‘What’s the plan?’ I asked him, in an effort to comfort myself that there was an escape out of this. He turned on his side too and looked into my eyes.

‘Remember I told you we may go sailing?’ I nodded.

‘When a member of the League wishes to meet a Confidant, the meeting usually takes place on a boat, a yacht to be more precise, for reasons you can understand.’

‘They don’t want to leave any traces. So, do you think they may ask to see me?’

‘It’s a possibility. Do you think you can make it?’

‘I think so. As long as you’re with me.’

‘I will. Always.’ He touched my face with the back of his hand.

‘How long are we going to stay here?’

‘We just have to wait. Plato will have Tom notify us when it’s time to go. I just hope we will be able to reach a kind of agreement with them, or should I say… a trade.’

He kissed my forehead and he was still smiling.

‘What …’ I started but he was not going to tell me anymore.

He put his finger on my lips to stop me. ‘Shh. That’s just enough for today, don’t you think?’

‘So, confession is over for today?’ I asked, my face pleading him.

‘Emma, we’re all alone in this beautiful place and you want me to go on confessing? I can think of much better things to do.’

He leaned towards me and kissed me. Instinctively, as always, I held my breath. He talked to me as he was kissing me.

‘I’ll never find out how you do it. How do you make me tell you all these things?’

He was kissing my neck now and I knew he was smiling.

‘You know I haven’t told anybody about all these. You must be a spell caster or something, I’m starting to think.’

‘No more than you are.’ I replied shivering under his touch.

He chuckled and kissed me again only this time fiercely, making my heart beat fast. I felt the heat on my cheeks and my body moved closer to his. Once again I was losing control of place and time. The knock on the door of our room startled us.

‘Christopher, are you in?’ Tom’s voice was asking.

Christopher looked at my burning face and smiled. He seemed to be well in hand of himself. Before I could speak or move he said

‘Yeah, Tom, out here.’

I tried to draw back so I could hide my face or at least not let Tom understand what we had been just doing, but his arms held me tight on him.

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ Tom said smiling. ‘Shall I come back later?’

‘No, stay. What’s up?’ Christopher turned to look at him keeping his arm around my shoulder.

‘You know damn well what’s up.’ Tom said in an angry manner. But Christopher remained at ease.

‘Emma, will you please leave us for a minute?’ he asked me with his most disarming smile, releasing me from his embrace, but Tom spoke again before I was able to move.

‘No Emma. Stay. I’m sure you will find this interesting.’ he said looking at Christopher angrily.

‘Please, Emma?’ Christopher asked again.

‘I was going to have a shower anyway.’ I said as I stood up and headed to the bathroom. I was wondering what their argument was about, although I could make a few guesses.

Taking off my swimsuit I remembered I had nothing to put on when I’d get out, so I wrapped myself in a towel and tiptoed to the room again. I could not help overhearing. Tom was shouting.


‘There is no other way. Should anything else fail, it’s my only option. You know I’m right.’ Christopher said calmly.

I saw Tom turn my way so I ran back to the bathroom wondering what had made him so angry. With anxiety overwhelming my mind, I had a quick shower and got dressed in a hurry.

I met Christopher on the porch a few minutes later. He still seemed to be at ease.

‘Where is Tom?’ I asked warily.

‘He had to leave.’ he said in a sullen tone.

‘Did you two fight over something?’

‘Tom can be stubborn sometimes. We’ll work it out, don’t worry.’ the same sullen voice said.

‘Did you argue…about me?’

‘Emma, I wish you stopped blaming yourself about everything. It’s not your problem.’ His voice had softened now. ‘So, what about that romantic bar near the square? It overlooks the whole bay and, if we hurry we may catch the sunset.’

‘Okay, but… I just wish you let me know what is bothering you.’

‘Let me deal with this. I just want you to be relaxed, can you do this for me?’

I sighed, as I knew there was no way I could make him tell me more.

We did catch the sunset and it was the perfect place to be, with the perfect man next to me.

If it had not been for the fear that kept creeping into my mind, it would have been the happiest moment in my life. But it was there, the invisible cloud, blurring my thoughts and my eyes. If

only time could stand still and we could stay like this forever, if he had not been born in the wrong time and place, if…

Sebastian and Martha had been waiting for us in the backyard, for light dinner. Sebastian passed me a small glass of ouzo, which matched perfectly the taste of the Greek tidbits, but I found out too late that it was too strong for me.

I was really drowsy and my legs felt too heavy to walk. Sebastian laughed when Christopher had to carry me upstairs and put me to bed.

‘No.’ I protested when he took my dress off, my head spinning fast. ‘I don’t want to sleep, I want to be with you…’

‘I’ll be right here.’ Christopher whispered and kissed my eyes softly.

‘Not my eyes, no.’ I complained.

He chuckled. ‘Why not?’

‘In Greece… they say… it implies… separation.’ I muttered, unable to fight back sleep anymore.

He did not say anything, just held me tight and stroked my hair until I was fast asleep.

Chapter 7


He was already up when I opened my eyes the next morning, staring at me from the armchair across the bed. It must have been very early, as the sunrays had not yet broken into our room through the small arch window on the eastern wall.

He was dressed in his sailing outfit, white shorts and a blue polo shirt, looking gorgeous, as always. But the shade of gloom over his eyes was obvious once more, despite his sweet smile.

I sat up and looked at him warily. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘We’re going sailing.’ he said, trying to keep his face expressionless.

‘Right now?’

He shrugged. ‘As soon as you are ready.’

I got up and walked around the bed to sit on his lap. I put my arms around his neck and kissed him.

‘How’s your head?’ he asked, reminding me of my last night’s foolhardiness.

‘A little heavy. I’m sorry for that. I hope I didn’t make a complete fool of myself, again.’

He smiled widely, raising his eyebrow. ‘Quite the opposite, you were really amusing. You laughed a lot you know, and …you’ve been very childish about going to bed.’

‘How long have you been up?’ I changed the subject quickly.

‘An hour or so.’ The black circles under his eyes betrayed him. He must have been up for much longer.

‘And what have you been doing all this time?’

‘Mostly… looking at you.’

‘I wish you had woken me up too.’ I said, looking down. I hated having lost so much time sleeping when he was right there.

‘And miss all the fun?’ he teased but then he saw my embarrassed face and went on. ‘I’m just joking. You sleep like a baby. So calm, so… ignorant.’ He touched my face softly.

There was no doubt I was ignorant of many things, but right now what I wanted to learn was the reason for his apprehension.

‘You’re worried about the meeting, aren’t you?’ I asked him.

‘Well, I count on Plato’s help. Much of it will depend on the impression you will make on him. But that’s the easy part. You just have to be yourself.’


‘There are several other factors I have to consider.’

‘Christopher, I need to tell you this. If this doesn’t work out, I don’t want you to take the blame once again. You can’t protect everyone forever, you know. You carry too much of a burden already.’

‘Emma, I will keep you safe one way or another. You can count on that. When it comes to you, I can take on any burden because you are my one and only priority.’

I would rather he had said we were his one and only priority. My instincts warned me. There was something really wrong in his eyes, something he was trying to conceal.

He kissed my forehead. ‘I’ve already packed everything. Your clothes are right here. We’ve got to be to the meeting point before noon and we have a long drive ahead.’

He pointed towards the chair where he had put the shorts and T- shirt he had bought for me, with a pair of matching white sneakers.

Martha brought us a tray with breakfast that we ate very hastily before thanking her and Sebastian for their hospitality. Sebastian wished us good luck and reminded me that I would always be welcome to his house. Then, he took Christopher aside to talk to him in private, they shook hands and we left.

We were back in Suzan’s car, leaving the medieval fortress behind us. With sorrow in my heart, I wondered whether we would be able to return here together in the future. The future. The thought of it made me shiver as I felt the cold hand of time squeeze my heart, causing me pain.

He reached for my hand, reading my face as always. ‘We will be okay.’ he said trying to comfort me.

‘I know.’ I said in response, but I was lying.

The landscape changed and the jeep roared as it ascended the road on a mountain slope.

I was anxious about the meeting with Plato, wondering whether he would be angry at my silly plan and me.

I suddenly remembered that I still had not told Christopher the whole truth about the excavation plans. I wriggled anxiously in my seat, trying to find a way to break the news to him, but I did not have the time to worry for long as he perceived my anxiety instantly.

‘What’s bothering you?’ he asked calmly, without taking his eyes off the road.

‘I think you will be angry if I tell you.’

He smiled. ‘Try me.’

I took a deep breath. ‘You know, I still haven’t told you about something … Something I’ve done.’

He nodded. ‘You mean changing the plans and messing with Point-X?’ he said in the same calm tone.

My eyes widened with surprise. ‘You know? But why didn’t you say anything?’

He looked at me and said in the most natural manner ‘I thought you wanted to keep it a secret. I didn’t want to spoil it for you.’

‘So… you’re not angry?’

‘Am I disappointing you?’ he teased.

‘No, I mean, I wouldn’t blame you if you were angry.’

‘I have already taken care of the most part. There are a few things left to do. I was thinking, maybe we should keep this between us; use it to our benefit later on. It doesn’t hurt to keep an ace up our sleeve.’ he said, his face becoming suddenly serious.

‘It’s okay with me.’ I responded.

‘Can I ask you something?’


‘Why did you keep it from me?’

‘Well, that night you seemed to be carrying the world on your shoulders and I didn’t want to make it harder for you. And then, you kept me so distracted that I completely forgot about it.’

‘So, it wasn’t a matter of trust.’ he sounded relieved.

‘No, never. Initially, I just didn’t want to put you in more trouble with the League, that’s why I acted on my own. I wouldn’t have you go through Court Marshal again for me.’

He shook his head in disapproval.

‘Now you’re angry.’ I tried to joke.

‘I don’t have time to waste arguing with you.’ he said as he squeezed my hand.

‘I know. You are living for the moment, right?’ I tried to scrutinize his face but he was keeping his emotions from me.

‘Right.’ he said in a stiff, wrong voice.

We reached the town of Nafplio thirty minutes before twelve. Christopher parked the car near the port. Before getting off, he turned to me.

‘Emma, I need you to stay very close to me until we get on the boat.’

‘Is anything wrong?’ I asked warily.

‘I’m not sure.’ His eyes were scanning the area around us.

‘Come on.’ he said and we got off.

We walked towards the pier, hand in hand. The sea on my right seemed still and the heat was almost smothering. The coffee places and the street on our left were very busy and made me think that it would be very easy for someone to be following us; there was no way we could notice. We were closer to the pier now, but the line of shops was interrupted by a small square. We were behind a cluster of trees that blocked our view to the cafés. A seagull, diving into the still water for food, drew my attention. It was then that I heard the cold, gleeful voice.

‘Well, well. Look who’s here.’

I froze, but Christopher turned around abruptly, shielding me with his body. I turned slowly to see the three black-suited men who looked like chucker-outs or gatekeepers in nightclubs.

‘Tex.’ Christopher said in a cold voice, not the least surprised. I could not see his face as I was still standing behind him, but I felt his body tense in front of mine.

‘Isn’t it a little too early in the day for such an outfit?’ he mocked.

Tex, my father’s murderer, kept his expression unchanged.

‘Don’t worry about me. There are plenty of other things you should worry about.’ He pointed at me. ‘She’s really messed up this time. You can’t protect her anymore. She’s ours.’ he hissed with a sardonic, baleful grin twisting his face.

‘Somehow I don’t see it happen.’ Christopher said in the same calm, sarcastic manner.

Tex ignored him. ‘You could have saved us the trouble, if it hadn’t been for that sensitive conscience of yours.’ He made a step towards us. ‘Step aside Christopher.’ he commanded. ‘I have orders.’

Christopher did not move an inch, but I felt his body hardening.

‘So have I. And I don’t intend to disobey them this time. Call your boss. He should put the three of you on a leash.’

With fear overwhelming my body and mind, I wondered why he was trying to infuriate them. Tex slid his hand on his jacket, hiding the tips of his fingers behind it, at the level of his chest. I had seen this happening in films, when someone intended to get reach of a gun hidden inside the jacket.

I felt the strong urge to run away but Christopher squeezed my hand again, trying to calm me. The place seemed suddenly deserted, as if we were away from any other human being. My stomach flickered as I waited for Tex to point his gun at us. I wondered if Christopher was carrying a gun too.

‘Why don’t we relax a little, boys?’ Suzan’s voice sounded amused. She was standing behind the other Squad member, the driver of the black jeep I had seen that night at the university. Tom also nodded to us behind the third black-suited man, who looked startled like his partner. I was sure Tom and Suzan were holding their guns behind the men’s backs, although I could not see them. I wondered what would happen if they pulled the trigger? Was it possible that the Squad could be killed outside their world? Would they risk it?

‘There is no need for blood.’ Christopher said in the same sarcastic manner.

Tex’s face was furious but Christopher went on. ‘Call your boss. Your orders have changed. You’re not that fool to act on your own, are you?’

Tex looked at his watch, which, as I noticed, was like the one Christopher was wearing. He pressed something on it and then he seemed to be having a conversation with someone, probably through an invisible earphone.

‘Yes sir.’ I heard him say reluctantly and then he pressed the same button on his watch. I wondered whether their watches worked as time machines too.

Christopher turned his face to the side and I could see he was smiling triumphantly. ‘I told you, on a leash.’ he mocked again as Tex dropped his hand.

‘We’re not over yet.’ he threatened us, gnashing his teeth with fury. He turned and waved to his partners to follow him. As soon as they were at a safe distance, Suzan and Tome came closer.

‘Are you all right?’ Christopher hugged me. I was about to burst into tears, so I just nodded and he leaned to kiss my forehead.

‘Thank you guys. I thought you would never come.’

‘Damn traffic. How can they have so many cars in such a small town?’ Suzan complained. Christopher gave Tom his car keys.

‘You’d better go now. Plato doesn’t like to wait.’ Tom said. He patted Christopher’s shoulder. ‘Good luck.’ he said.

‘Thanks.’ Christopher responded. Whatever the dispute they’d had, it seemed to be over now.

Christopher put his arm around my waist and we started walking to the pier again. ‘Are you all right? Can you make it to the tender?’ he asked me.

‘I…think so.’ I muttered, walking like a robot, having lost any sense of place or direction.

A young man in white appeared in front of us. ‘Good morning sir.’ he greeted. Christopher left me for a second to jump into the boat and then he turned to help me do the same. The vessel was

unsteady under my feet and I was too jittery for that. Still shocked, I fell clumsily into his arms and I would have taken him down too, hadn’t it been for another young man in white who helped us.

‘Steady Emma. Sit down.’ he said pushing me softly backwards and seating me on a soft leather seat I had not noticed since then. He sat next to me and I cuddled in his arms, trying to pull myself together.

‘We’re ready.’ he said to the men in white. ‘I’m sorry baby.’ he whispered to my ear. ‘I was expecting that. It was all under control. It’s over now. You’re safe.’ He stroked my hair but I could not speak yet.

The boat was going fast now and I closed my eyes, letting the fresh air take me out of the state of panic I was in. In front of us, in the open sea, I could make out the shape of a large yacht, the kind you see on TV, used by VIPs for their holidays away from the paparazzi's curious eyes.

The tender stopped at the side of the yacht and one of our attendants climbed a metal staircase to tie the dingy to it. Then Christopher asked me ‘Are you ready?’

I took a deep breath. ‘Yes.’ I said. I was feeling much better now, although the image of Tex’s sardonic smile was still on my mind, and I was sure he would be haunting my dreams every night from now on.

Climbing up the yacht was much easier than it I thought. A man in his early thirties, dressed in white too, welcomed us aboard and led us inside. From the way he spoke to Christopher it was obvious that they knew each other well.

It was a luxurious yacht, but my mind was too busy to notice the details. We were in a cabin that looked like a hotel lounge.

‘Wait here, please.’ the man said. ‘Would you like to drink something as you wait?’

‘Juice will be fine.’ Christopher replied. He sat on a black, leather loveseat and pulled me next to him.

‘Relax Emma. Plato is very friendly; he’s not going to make you uncomfortable. The worst part is over.’

But I was not worrying about Plato, as I was still thinking what would have happened if Tom and Suzan had not shown up in time.

‘I’ll be okay. I just need a few more minutes.’ I said.

A waiter appeared through the door carrying a tray with two crystal glasses of cool, fresh juice.

‘Try some.’ Christopher said, but it was impossible for me to do so, as my stomach was still fluttering. I simply shook my head.

‘Have you been on a yacht before?’ he tried to distract me.

‘No, never. I’m not so much into sailing anyway.’

‘I thought that being half Greek you’d have a better relationship with the sea.’ he teased. He lifted my chin and brought his face closer to mine.

‘The sailing outfit suits you perfectly you know. You would make a very sexy mariner.’ He gave me one his wild, distracting kisses that always made me forget about anything else. When he stopped he did not draw back but went on brushing the back of my ear with his lips.

‘Too bad you were drunk last night.’ he whispered.

‘I know.’ I sighed in response.

‘I can get us a cabin, you know.’ he said and I felt him smile against my cheek. I drew back, blushing with embarrassment and he laughed at my reaction.

The man in white came back. ‘You can both go in now.’ he said.

‘Thank you.’ Christopher smiled, without taking his eyes off mine.

‘Ready?’ he asked.

I stood up and he followed. We let the man lead us to another cabin. Christopher knocked softly and the door opened.

Plato welcomed us with a warm smile. He was a tall, black man, with gray hair and a beard, inspiring respect and admiration at first sight. He embraced Christopher and looked into his face for one long moment as if he was able to read on it all the adventures he had gone through the past few days.

‘It’s good to have you back, son.’ Plato said. Christopher introduced me to him.

‘This is Emma.’ he said, putting his arm around my waist.

‘Emma, we meet at last.’ he held my hand in his, squeezing it warmly for a few minutes. ‘You’ve made my boy crazy, you know. But now I see why he’s been acting this way.’ He smiled, as he cast a side look to Christopher.

‘I’m sorry about that.’ I apologized.

‘Don’t be.’ he said as his eyes penetrated mine. ‘I’m sure he has told you how important you are to him. Of course, there is a cost to everything.’

I could not agree more. He released my eyes and turned to Christopher again.

‘I understand there was an incident with the Squad. Denzel made a last effort to get you, letting his men know about the new orders at the last minute. So typical of him!’ he said with disappointment.

‘It was all under control.’ Christopher reassured him in his usual calm voice.

‘I’m sure it was.’ Plato smiled to him. ‘Will you give us a minute Christopher?’ he said, sitting in the armchair behind him.

Christopher’s expression changed instantly. ‘No way!’ he frowned.

Plato widened his eyes with fake-surprise and smiled. ‘Don’t you trust me?’

I hated to see Christopher argue with Plato over me. ‘I’ll be okay.’ I assured him, squeezing his hand. He looked at Plato who nodded with a hint of a reassuring smile on his face. He hesitated for a second.

‘I’ll be right outside.’ he told me, and turned reluctantly to the door.

As soon as Christopher had closed the door behind him, Plato pointed to the armchair next to him. ‘Please, sit down Emma.’

‘He really loves you. I knew it of course, but it is so intense when the two of you are together. And you?’

I took a deep breath. So it was time for the truth, but I was prepared for it. I had been thinking all morning about what I was going to tell Plato.

‘I love him too. He has changed my life. I’m… not the same person anymore.’

He shook his head, his eyes fixed on mine. ‘Do you know why he has brought you here?’

‘He wants you to help us. I don’t know exactly what he’s asked you to do for him, but I really hope you won’t let him down.’

‘Not let him down.’ he repeated. ‘Christopher is like a son to me, Emma. When I first met him, he was devastated. He had been facing his personal demons and they had defeated him. I offered him a family. I like to think of my Crusaders as my children. Each one of them is very special to me. But Christopher…is my favorite. My efforts to bring him on his feet again were not enough for him. I was often scared he might do something foolish until… he became obsessed with you. I knew about his secret visits to you and I just let him go along because you were good for him. He had found a meaning in life. He had found hope. He was determined to save you, bound to the promise he had given your father, to protect your future. And he has protected it in many ways you may never be aware of. I knew he had fallen in love with you, of course. May be I should have stopped him. But how could I take away from him what made him going? A father must face the dilemma to let his son spread his wings and fly even if it hurts so much to watch him fall.’

I was impressed and deeply touched by his feelings for Christopher but his last sentence echoed warningly in my head. Fall he had said. He was watching Christopher fall? Before I found my voice again, he took a deep breath and went on.

‘I am glad you have responded to his love. Things like that are very rare among our worlds. I hoped that you would make him get rid of all the qualms of conscience he has about his past.’ He stood up and walked to the small window. Once again I tried to

say something, but I had got too emotional and I could not find my voice.

‘I haven’t been able to make him forgive himself. You see Emma, I strongly believe that a man is defined by his choices, by the decisions he makes, on his own. Christopher’s choices have been wise, but he has been so unfair to himself. I wish you could change that. Much depends on this you see.’

This time my response was spontaneous, unsolicited. This was a very sensitive subject after all, and I had spent hours trying to find the way to comfort Christopher.

‘I am… working on this. I hate to see him tortured because of what they had him do. He’s not what he thinks he is. If only you had found him before them. He would be a different man.’ I whispered.

He gazed at me with a smile before he spoke again. ‘The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.’

‘Aristotle.’ I added.

He nodded approvingly. ‘Tell me Emma, when you look at him what do you see? Does he frighten you at some point?’

It was very easy for me to talk about Christopher now. I closed my eyes, determined to express my feelings in all sincerity.

‘I was never frightened by him. So, I guess my answer to this is…I see a brave man, a super hero, a guardian angel, and at the same time… a lonely, abused child with so much love to offer. Ultimately, I see …pure, unselfish love.’ He seemed contented with my answer. He stood up and walked around his desk to open a drawer. He took out a small envelope on which I recognized my handwriting. It was the note I had sent to him with Susan.

‘This is yours, I believe.’ He unfolded the piece of paper, looked at it, then folded it carefully and put it in the envelope again. ‘You have asked me to keep him safe. What does safe mean to you, Emma?’

‘I don’t want him to take the blame for my poor judgment, for what I’ve done to fight back the League. They might hold him

responsible for that and punish him for something he hasn’t done.’

‘But it’s too late for that, as he chose to protect you once more instead of giving you in. Let me ask you something more. What if keeping him safe means keeping him away from you?’

I was hoping he would not ask me that. I took a deep breath to fight the tears that had started to moist my eyes. Trying to keep my voice steady, I surprised myself as I said,

‘He once told me that true love is measured by the sacrifice you are willing to make for its sake.’

‘And… are you ready to sacrifice your love for him to keep him safe?’

If this was a test, it was a very cruel one. I closed my eyes trying to endure the throbbing pain in my chest. ‘I would do anything for him, anything.’ I said, unable to stop the tears any longer.

Plato sat next to me again; his voice was soft and careful as he went on.

‘Has he told you that he has not been able to locate your future anymore? I mean, ever since you met him?’ I was shocked by what he had said. He probably read the fear on my face, for he went on. ‘Don’t be frightened. This doesn’t actually mean you don’t have a future, but that your future is being…reformed. Like, you haven’t decided about it yet. As I have often told Christopher, it’s free will that determines everything. Nature will soon find a way; it only takes a decision to be made, by you or… by him. You see, I’ve always thought that the two of you are connected in some kind of cosmic way. I think it wasn’t pure luck or coincidence that has brought you together. Do you think that everything happens for a purpose, Emma?’

‘I guess so. I just…. can’t imagine my future without him.’ I said, feeling the pain in my chest grow, as if an invisible hand was squeezing my heart, the cold, cruel hand of a monster, the hand of the League.

Plato leaned forward and took my hand in his, looking straight into my eyes. ‘I am not going to lie to you, Emma. I cannot see how you can have a future together. In your world he does not

exist and you do not exist in his. It’s not like any other couple that gets married, have children and live happily ever after. The odds are against you, you do realize that, don’t you?’

He was right of course. I had known this all the way, but I had decided to ignore it and hope for an alternative.

‘Even if this is so, I will fight for him, for us.’ I whispered.

He sat back and sighed. ‘I've heard all I wanted to hear.’ he said.

‘Let him have it his way, then.’ He put his hand in his pocket and took out a blue handkerchief.

‘Dry your eyes please Emma. I don’t want him to get angry with me for making you cry.’ he said with a bitter smile.

I did as he said, fully aware of the fact that Christopher could not be fooled that easily.

‘Come in Christopher.’ he said in a voice a little louder than before, assuming that he was standing behind the door, which was probably the case, as the door opened before he had finished his sentence.

Christopher put his hands on my shoulders and inspected my face with a frown.

‘Are you all right?’ he asked. I nodded, forcing out a smile.

Plato stood by the window. ‘Will you give us a moment Emma? I need to talk to my boy.’

It was the only time I did not mind walking away from Christopher, as I needed some time to overcome the emotional outburst that was threatening to overwhelm me. When he came back to me, his face was expressionless.

He put his arm around my shoulder and said in the most casual manner,

‘We have a few hours before they drop us off in Loutraki. So, what do you want to do now? Plato said we have the whole yacht to ourselves.’

‘What happened? Is he going to help?’ I asked anxiously.

‘Oh, yes, he is going to help.’ He pushed me softly towards a staircase.

‘Let’s enjoy the view from the deck.’ he suggested. I thought he was joking but his face looked serious. He wasn’t so eager to fill me in on the outcome of the meeting.

‘Isn’t Plato joining us?’ I asked, mystified.

‘No, he was called up. He told me to say goodbye to you on his behalf. He’s a very busy man, you know.’

So Plato was already gone. He must have vaporized or something because there was no sign of a dingy around and we were sailing in the open sea. They come and go just like that, I thought in awe. I was dying to know how they did it, but I was certain that Christopher would never reveal this to me.

We climbed the narrow staircase to the deck, to find a comfortable lounge in the shade and two sun beds. We lay on the soft, comfortable sun beds, which looked more like huge armchairs. I was aware of his determination to carry on the silent agreement between us, to put on the facade of the ordinary, happy couple. I decided to go along with it.

The sun was burning hot. Christopher took off his polo and I looked around to make sure we were alone before following his example, taking off my clothes to lie under the hot sun in my bikini. The absurdity of our situation made me chuckle nervously. Christopher looked at me mystified, but then the waiter showed up again to serve us ice-tea and cold sandwiches.

‘Do you want to talk about your conversation with Plato?’ he asked, sipping his ice tea, while his eyes were trying to read mine.

I tried to avoid his look. ‘Not really.’

‘Was it that hard?’ I could feel his eyes calling for mine, like magnets. I gave up and turned my face to him.

‘Well, mostly, we talked about you. It’s a subject I am specifically sensitive about.’ I smiled. He could not hide the grief on his face at my words, however funny I had tried to sound.

‘I shouldn’t have left you alone with him.’

‘For God’s sake Christopher! I’m not made of sugar! I’m much tougher than you think. Stop trying to protect me from everything.’

He was not angry about my outburst. He just shrugged and smiled, his disarming, childlike smile.

‘Force of habit.’ he said, and I could not help laughing at his honest, self-criticizing remark.

I was curious to find out what impression I had made to Plato. ‘What did he tell you about me?’ I asked imitating Christopher’s casual manner.

‘That you intend to fight for us.’

‘It’s true. I do.’ I said with all sincerity.

He shook his head. ‘That won’t be necessary. I will fight for both of us.’

I thought that this was not the place or time to argue over this.

‘So, what’s next?’ I asked him anxiously.

‘For starters, we are free for now. He has managed to buy us some time. So there is no need to hide anymore.’

‘Pity. I was kind of enjoying hiding with you.’ It was true. He had turned our manhunt into a lovers’ escape.

‘I know. It wasn’t that bad, was it?’

‘What else?’

‘Plato has asked for a Board Hearing, hoping to reach a compromise.’ he said, keeping his face completely expressionless. But he didn’t fool me this time.

‘Why would the League care for a compromise?’

‘He can offer them something they might want.’

‘Is this confidential too?’

‘I’m afraid so.’

‘Are you going to tell me when the hearing is going to take place?’

‘There is no need for you to worry in advance. It will not help anybody.’

As he lay next to me, my eyes fell on the tattoo on his arm. Since then, I had been determined to ignore this too, trying to forget its

tragic significance to both of us. But at that moment, I was unable to take my eyes off it. It was there, mocking me, reminding me that they would always win, as he had once told me.

Christopher noticed my frustration, of course, and his face became sad as he reached for my hand. ‘You cheat. Living for the day, remember? Don’t let them poison our time together.’

I closed my eyes and he put his hand on my chest to sooth the pain.

For the rest of the trip, we played Christopher’s game. We were still the two carefree lovers, enjoying their time together, as if there was no menace hanging over us, as we would have done if things had been normal, if we both belonged in this world.

They left us in Loutraki, a little after 9.00 p.m. Tom had parked the awesome Audi Q7 near the port and we had no difficulty finding it.

On the way home, I was wondering whether he was taking me to his house or mine for the night. The truth was, a short visit home would not hurt, as I was in need of clean clothes and some of my make-up essentials. But it was hard for me to stay away from him even for a few minutes. I had become so attached to him these last few days that I felt like I was addicted to his presence. His absence, however short it would be, was so profound it caused to me an intolerable pain.

Plato had warned me that there was no future picturing Christopher and me together, but to me, that was totally unacceptable. I was fully aware of my impuissance to go on living without him, there just had to be another way.

Trying to put aside that painful thought, I asked, ‘Christopher, can I stay with you tonight?’

He looked at me surprised. ‘And I thought you would never ask!’ he teased me. ‘Where did you think I was taking you? Besides, we have to make up for the night we missed, don’t we?’ He put his arm around my shoulders and I rested my head on his chest, lost in Christopher’s world again.

His house felt cozy and safe. It felt like home. I took a shower and Christopher gave me one of his long, sleeveless cotton T-

shirts to put on. When he was in the shower, I started making a light dinner for us with omelette, Greek salad and cold beer.

I was putting everything in the large tray to take it to the porch, when my mind started playing tricks on me. I pictured us being normal and together in a world big enough for both of us, with me taking care of him and our children, in this beautiful house by the sea. My eyes began to moist. What would it take to be worth of such bliss? Living for the day, Christopher had insisted, but I knew this was not enough anymore. For I did not want just a glimpse, just a taste of paradise. I craved for the whole package.

I wondered what life in his world would be like. Would there be room for me in his real life? The thought started to grow with tremendous speed in my mind. What if…he took me there with him? I was more than eager to follow him, because my life here would be meaningless without him. I would be ready to do what the League asked me as long as they allowed me to be with Christopher. Why hadn’t I thought of this when I was with Plato? Could he be expecting me to ask him exactly that? Or, was there any chance that this was what Christopher had asked him to help us with? I decided to talk to him about it that night.

I found him at the porch. He was lying on the sun bed with his hands folded behind his head. In the dim light of the vanilla scented candles, another detail of Suzan’s decoration ideas, he looked even more gorgeous. His hair was still wet and he was only wearing a pair of long, black shorts. His strong, slim but muscular body seemed more attractive than ever, an absolute magnet to mine.

‘You’ve gone too far tonight Emma.’ he teased. ‘You didn’t have to cook, love. I was about to order us some pizza.’

I pretended to be offended. ‘Well, I wanted to take care of you for a change. Does it bother you?’

‘Quite the contrary. But I don’t want you to waste your time in the kitchen. I want you right here.’

He grabbed my arm with a sudden move, as he had done so many times, a second after I had placed the tray on the table, and pulled me close to him. I fell clumsily once again, but his fast, strong

arms were able to hold me before I crushed my face on his shoulder. He laughed and tightened his embrace pressing me on his chest, permitting me no escape, not that I needed one. He kissed me with a deep, demanding and much promising kiss, as his hands burnt my skin, touching me under the soft, cotton T-shirt. I felt his hot breath in my mouth and the fast movement of his chest, as once again I was not the only one breathing fast.

‘Our dinner will get very cold if we go on like this. I don’t want it to be a waste of effort for you.’ he whispered.

‘Mmm.’ was all I was able to utter. I needed all my strength to let him push me backwards as he sat up. Besides, I had to take the chance to talk to him before he was able to distract me again.

Christopher either pretended he loved my omelette or was really hungry, because he emptied his dish before I was able to take down a couple of bites. The truth is I had suddenly lost my appetite, as I was engrossed in this new idea of mine.

He noticed I was playing with my food. ‘Is there something I should know about this omelette?’ he asked playfully, raising his eyebrows.

I looked at him surprised. ‘What? It’s not good?’

‘No, I don’t mean that. I’m just wondering if it is poisoned or something because you’ve barely touched yours.’

‘Oh, well, I was not really hungry, as it seems.’

‘Aha!’ He wiped his mouth with his napkin with a slow move and leaned back on his chair. ‘I know this look. Last time I saw it, you were plotting against the League. So, let’s hear it.’

‘Hear what?’ I pretended to be ignorant of whatever he had suspected. He knew me so well; I couldn’t keep a secret from him anymore.

‘Obviously, something is troubling you. Do you care to share it with me?’ he insisted.

I looked at my dish, playing with a piece of my omelette.

‘I’m not sure.’ His intense look made me have second thoughts.

‘Emma,’ he said in an authoritative manner but then softened his voice, ‘…please?’

I put on a brave face and took my chances. ‘Do you think you can arrange another meeting with Plato?’

He certainly did not expect me to ask this. He slotted his eyes, trying to comprehend the meaning of what I had asked him. ‘It depends. Why do you want to see him?’

‘You see, I’ve come up with an idea that might get us both out of this, together.’

‘Let’s hear it then.’ he said in a composed manner, but I couldn’t help feeling that the look on his face was not at all encouraging.

I put my fork down and hid my hands under the table, trying to conceal my nervousness. He was staring at me, with his hand under his chin, his eyes fixed on mine, imprisoning me again in his deep blue.

‘You’ve said you and Plato are going to trade with the League. Well, I have something to trade with.’

It was obvious that he was making a considerable effort to keep himself composed now. ‘You mean the excavation plans.’

‘Exactly.’ I smiled, a little jaunty this time. ‘And something you don’t know. The rest of the files in my father’s archives. I’m sure that if I study them I’ll be able to find information about other Gateways. You’ve said it yourself. This is not the only one in Greece.’

‘It is true.’ he agreed. ‘But may I ask, what you intend to trade this with?’

That was the worst part. There was no easy way to say this, as I had been able to realize Christopher’s mind-set a long time ago. He was obsessed with protecting me. This meant that there was no way he would welcome my idea. I decided to get over with this fast, so I let it out, speaking surprisingly fast.

‘With their permission to let me come with you.’

He slotted his eyes again, leaning his head sideways. ‘Come with me where?’

I took a deep breath. ‘In your world. To let me stay with you, in your world and time.’

His expression changed instantly. His face twisted with anger and his blue eyes were as cold as ice when he spoke again.

‘That is certainly out of question!’

I cringed in surprise, taken aback by his abrupt tone. ‘But why?’

‘Because it will never happen.’ He had stressed every word to underline the impossibility of what I had suggested. But he should know better than that. I was not going to give up that easily. After the first shock, I was ready for a second blow.

‘Can’t you see that it is the only way to stay together? They may never let you stay here but they have no power over me. It’s easier for me to follow you there, don’t you see?’

‘Follow me there? Where? To a world hundreds of years away from this? Do you have any idea what this means? Leaving behind everything, your family, your career, your friends, to start over in a world you hardly understand? Do you realize the huge gap between your world and mine?’

‘I know it will be hard in the beginning. But you will be there to help me get over the problems.’

‘What if I’m not there? What if something happens to me? Let’s face it, I’m doing a dangerous job, will you be able to go on, on your own?’

I looked at him, totally crestfallen. ‘Don’t talk like that.’ I whispered.

‘Why not? I’m not immortal, you know. Besides, what makes you think that I am willing to carry the burden for such a sacrifice?’

That was an option I had not considered. He should not take the blame for this too. It would have to be entirely my decision. Plato had said it needed a decision for my future to be reformed.

‘So, I guess that means this is not what you have asked Plato to help us with.’ I said, disappointed.

‘Of course not. I would never do anything like that.’

I thought he was being very cruel to me. My stomach fluttered, as a new fear had started to grow in my mind.

‘Don’t you…want me in your life back there?’ I muttered.

He looked down with his hands supporting his forehead. ‘I wish … I wish I could lie to you about it. I wish I could tell you I don’t want you and sound convincing to you. But I have promised myself never to lie to you again.’

He looked straight into my eyes and his voice sounded unbearably sad as he went on.

‘Don’t you think I would do anything to be with you? Make no mistake though. I’m talking about what I would do, not what I would have you do. You are so special to me as you are, and I want you to remain like this. I have seen people who were accidentally transported into a different world and lost their sanity. I’d never like to see such a thing happen to you. I will not be the cause for your destruction.’

‘But you do it all the time, Susan and Tom do it.’

‘It’s not the same. We are soldiers. We are trained to do so, it is who we are, what we do. It isn’t common even in my world for normal people to travel in time.’

‘Fine.’ I said stubbornly. If you don’t help me I’ll find some other way. Let’s see what Susan and Tom will have to say about it. I’m sure they will be more willing to help.’

‘I doubt it.’ he said calmly.

‘We’ll see about that.’

‘Emma, this discussion is over.’ he said in the same abrupt tone.

‘Fine.’ I stood up and started putting everything on the tray. He helped me and before I was able to touch the tray he had lifted it and carried it to the kitchen. I followed him and started putting the dishes in his brand new dishwasher, making sure my every movement revealed my anger.

Christopher was leaning against the kitchen table and I was absolutely conscious of his staring, but I was still too angry to respond. Acknowledging my sulkiness, he came behind me and put his arms around me as his lips were brushing the back of my neck. I heard him chuckle.

‘What?’ I tried to sound cold and surly but I knew my defenses were about to go down.

‘It is the first time I see you angry and…I like it.’ he whispered kissing me behind my ear. ‘The way you knit your eyebrows, how you keep your lips tight, and the sparkle in your eyes… And the best of all… the red on your cheeks. You’re just so… irresistible.’

‘You’re crazy.’ I said, accidentally dropping the last plate in the sink. My hands felt unsteady under his scrutiny. He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me towards him.

‘I haven’t finished the washing up yet.’ I tried to sound angry again.

‘Forget it. Your time is over.’ he whispered, making my heart pound. He lifted me in his arms and carried me to the bedroom. He put me on his bed softly.

‘I am still angry, you know.’ I told him as he was getting rid of the T-shirt I was wearing.

‘I know. Keep it up. I like you even more when you’re angry.’ he said, drawing a path with kisses from my breast to my lips.

‘I’m …not…going…to… give up.’ I tried to say.

‘I know.’ he whispered. ‘You will fight.’ Then he stopped and looked into my eyes. His look was full of passion and desire, but when he spoke he sounded amazingly serious.

‘When you get to a deadlock, will you please remember that I love you …that you are my life…my heart and my soul…belong to you…wherever I am…whatever I do?’ As he said that, he stopped in between words to kiss my lips. ‘Promise me…you won’t hate me.’ he pleaded without stopping his kisses.

‘But …I can never hate you. Whatever you do or say, you just…make me love you …more.’ I whispered.

He stopped kissing me and looked at me with burning eyes. ‘Promise me.’ he demanded. His perfect face, suffused with the weirdest expression, almost unearthly, made me shiver. How could I deny him anything?

‘I promise.’

He sealed my promise with a deep, passionate kiss. I could not remember anymore why I was angry with him. I only craved for

his love, anxious to show him how deeply I loved him and feel his torrid passion overwhelm my whole existence once again.

The next morning I woke up in my angel’s arms. Every morning I found him lying next to me, waking me up with sweet kisses, and every time I experienced so much happiness and gratefulness that I became emotional. Christopher knew it and tried to joke about small, unimportant things to make me smile.

We had breakfast in the porch, gazing at the calm sea.

‘I need to drop over to my apartment to get a few things.’ I said after we had finished breakfast. I couldn’t postpone it any longer.

‘I’ll drive you there. I need to take care of a few things too, and you should spend some time with your friends. I have monopolized you long enough.’ I felt his warm breath as he brushed his face in my hair.

He was right. It had been a long time since I had last really talked to Kate. But I was not sure this was how I wanted to spend my day. Mainly, I did not want to spend it away from him, but he knew this of course. I moved closer and rested my head on his strong chest.

‘I can stay with Susan.’ I said casually, but he guessed the implication of my suggestion and gave me a warning look.

‘Susan and Tom are on a mission.’ he smiled triumphantly.

‘Well, they will be back, won’t they?’

‘I guess so. But they won’t be coming back today.’

He had won this one. My plans could wait a little longer. I tried to hide my frustration and changed the subject. ‘Will you be long?’ I asked him.

‘Just a couple of hours.’ he reassured me.

I did not want to know where he was going. I did not want to hear anything about the League right now. I needed to pretend we were normal, ordinary people, discussing their plans for the day.

Christopher took me to my apartment an hour later. From the car window, it did not seem the same; it was not my house anymore. My house was wherever he was.

He noticed my unwillingness to get off. ‘It will be just for a couple of hours, I promise. Try to catch up with your friends, Emma. You need them too. Call me when you are ready to go.’

I put my arms around his neck and kissed him softly.

‘See you later.’ he smiled.

My apartment seemed strangely small. I knocked on Kate’s door but there was no answer. I thought it might be better this way. If she were not in, I would have a perfect excuse to be with Christopher sooner. Of course, he had said he would be busy for the next couple of hours. At that moment, time away from him seemed too long and frustrating.

I went into my room, opened one of my suitcases and started filling it with my clothes. I did not know how many I needed, considering the possibility that Plato accepted my offer. I smiled at the thought of how my clothes would definitely be old-fashioned in Christopher’s world. I put my dirty clothes in the washing machine but I decided to give the clothes he had bought for me to the dry-cleaner’s, worrying my washing machine might ruin them. I checked my watch.

All this had hardly taken me half an hour. I turned on my laptop and looked at my e-mail. My inbox was full of unread messages. This would keep me busy for a while. I started clicking on each one, taking my time to read them.

I was startled by the knock on the door. I turned and saw Kate’s face in the opening. She looked drowsy, probably having just got up.

‘Hey. Good morning. Can I come in?’ she asked warily.

‘Do you really have to ask?’

She came in and dropped herself on my bed, yawning.

‘How come you’re here? Everything okay with Christopher? ‘

‘Everything is fine.’ for now, I thought. ‘I just needed a few clean clothes.’

She looked disappointed. ‘That means you have to go right away?’

‘Not necessarily. I still have about an hour. Why?’

‘Nothing really. I just …hoped you would stay longer.’ She looked really disappointed and, for some reason, I felt the guilt of having let her down again.

I left my chair and went to lie next to her. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked her, stroking her hair. ‘Anything wrong with Tony?’

‘No. Tony and I are just fine. At least, we’re fine now. It’s a long story. I only … miss my friend. I worry about you Emma. You don’t show up, you don’t call. ’

‘How can you be so silly and let yourself worry about me?’ I teased her. ‘I’m in very good hands.’

‘Are you? I have a very strange feeling about Christopher, Emma. You just seem so attached to him. I mean…you left summer school. He has changed your life in a month. What will happen after he finishes with the supervision of the project? Have you thought about it?’

I wanted so desperately to open my heart to her, tell her everything, as any girl would confide her best friend, without worrying about the consequences. But I knew this would only put her life in danger. So I decided to lie again.

‘He has a few ideas about working in U. K. this year. But nothing is certain yet. How can you ever be certain when it comes to love?’ I had said this last one as if I was talking to myself.

‘It is love then? Are you sure?’

‘Oh yes, it is absolute, mad, compelling love. Nothing I can describe to you in words. It is so …beyond anything I could ever imagine. But…it is torturing too.’

I was speaking with my eyes fixed on the ceiling, picturing his face on it, his beautiful lips smiling to me.

‘Wow! I had no idea. Girl, you are really love-sick.’ she laughed. ‘I’m happy for you, happy you feel this way. I have to admit, I thought you were just trying to get even with Colin.’

‘Colin? I couldn’t care less about him right now. Ever since the incident at Tina’s wedding, he simply disgusts me.’

Kate looked at me surprised. ‘You never really told me what happened that night.’

That night was unforgettable. It was my first night with Christopher. It was the start of my new life. But I was not going to share that with Kate. I started describing the incident with Colin at the wedding reception, how Christopher had come to my defense and how Colin had abased himself by turning Daugh against me, who took his turn to dispraise Christopher. Of course, Daugh had his own reasons to dislike Christopher, but there was no reason to reveal this to Kate. I only told her about Colin.

Kate blinked. ‘I just don’t get it. Colin came to make up with you and he brought another woman with him? What was he thinking?’

‘I’m pretty sure he did it out of pure vanity. He didn’t want anybody to notice he had come for me. He wanted to make it look like I was the one who wished to get together again. Besides, he wanted a back up in case I turned him down.’

She seemed thoughtful for a moment. ‘I guess there must be some truth in the rumors then.’

‘What rumors?’

She hesitated for a moment, considering whether it would be wise to let me know.

‘Well, some of us thought that he was dating you for your connections with the academic community, you know, your stepfather, and Daugh… We all know how ambitious Colin is.’

I nodded in agreement. ‘Over ambitious… and quite haughty.’ I added. We both laughed loudly. It was so refreshingly delightful to be with Kate again. I realized how much I had missed this.

She became serious when she talked again. ‘You were good for him, you know. Whenever he was with you, I always thought you brought out his good side. I can’t believe he could be so fair-faced. No, I think you were too good for him. Pity it didn’t work out. It’s his loss anyway.’

‘He’s out of my life. Forever. My life belongs with Christopher. It always will. It’s as simple as that.’

We were both silent for a few minutes.

‘Enough about me. Tell me about you and Tony now. I want to know everything I’ve missed.’

She smiled, contented with my question, as if she had been expecting it all along.

‘This needs a lot of coffee.’ she said. ‘Come on.’ She got up and walked out of the room. I followed her looking anxiously at my watch. Surely time was flying when I was with Kate. There were forty-five minutes left.

We made two huge cappuccinos freddo, put on our sunglasses and sank in the bamboo armchairs, under the shade of the olive tree in our garden.

Kate started explaining to me how Tony had been induced by Mick and Bill to follow them for a crazy weekend on the island of Myconos, a boys’ weekend they had named it. Poor Tony was challenged to prove to them how much Kate trusted him and would let him have fun with the boys whenever he wanted. His ego was hurt when Kate got mad about this boys’ trip. Tony put his foot down and after an awful fight with Kate, he decided to go with the boys.

Of course, he was at her doorstep on Monday morning, at the crack of dawn, begging her to forgive him. Kate played tough and tortured him for as long as she could take it. Then, realizing she had made her point, she decided to forgive him. Since then, Tony had been trying to make up for what he had done by “treating her like a princess’’ as she said proudly.

As Kate was talking, I realized how different her relationship with Tony was from what Christopher and I had. I could not help envying her insignificant, almost trifling to me apprehension about their argument. But wasn’t this how a woman in love was supposed to feel? Wasn’t this the normal, healthy state lovers should be in? Why should I be the only woman on earth right now to worry about chasing the love of my life in the realms of time?

I was glad I had my sunglasses on, otherwise it would be very hard for me to explain to Kate my sudden plunge in grief. I took a

glance at my watch. My time with Kate was almost over. My cell phone was on the table, almost yelling at me. Kate noticed my abstractedness with a sigh.

‘Do you really have to go?’ her face was filled with dismay but my heart was already replete with remorse for her. She had always been an open book to me, trusting me with her fears, her hopes, her dreams and I had been avoiding her in return, lying to her, even putting her life, involuntarily, in danger. I could not have been a worse friend.

‘I think I can stay for lunch…only if you let me cook!’ I said.

Her face became bright at once. ‘That was my intention.’ she teased, making us both laugh.

The sound of Christopher’s horn startled us. ‘Oops! Too late I’m afraid.’ Kate frowned.

‘Would you mind if Christopher joined us?’ I asked, hoping for a golden mean.

Her eyes widened with surprise. ‘Are you crazy? Mind about having a gorgeous man around?’

‘Give me a minute.’ I said laughing, making my way to the door.

Christopher seemed surprised to see me walk around his car instead of jumping into the passenger seat. I leaned over his window.

‘Am I too early? You didn’t call and…’ he said guardedly.

‘You’re on time, as always. It’s just Kate. She has invited us to lunch and I hate to disappoint her.’

He scrutinized my face for a long moment before saying with his angelic smile,

‘Okay, but…are you sure you two don’t want to have more girls’ time?’

‘Just get off the damn car, Christopher.’ I replied wearily opening his door. I had outworn my limits of endurance having to be away from him for the last couple of hours. He chuckled at my curt reply before getting off and walking into the studio holding my hand.

Christopher was absolutely perfect with Kate. He was not keeping up his tutor façade anymore. Kate asked Tony to join us

and he showed up at the doorstep within minutes. He seemed a little aloof towards Christopher at first, but this lasted only a few minutes. As soon as he realized Christopher’s cool and laid-back manner, he loosened up too.

We used the common barbeque to make steaks and sausages with homemade fries. Christopher was all over me and I discovered he had another talent; his glib tongue on that day revealed a remarkable sense of humor that made Kate and Tony worship him. I watched him, considering how much at ease he was, released from all the restraints of his past life. There was nothing on that gorgeous, lighthearted face to imply the man who had suffered so much, who had taken people’s lives; the man who had served the League both as a mercenary and a Crusader of the future. This is how it would be if we were simple, ordinary people. Just another glimpse of paradise, I thought.

We were two young couples having fun, carefree and merry, but superficially only. Under the joyous surface, the menace that had been misting our bliss for so long was lurking, ready to ruin everything. Kate’s instinct had already foreseen the storm that was coming. I felt the same, but I had chosen to ignore it, hoping for a miracle. After all, my life had become full of miracles those days. I wondered how much time Plato had bought for us. Christopher had told me a few weeks ago that our time was running out. I reminded myself to call Suzan as soon as I skipped Christopher’s attention but that did not happen until late in the evening. We were back in Christopher’s house and he was in the shower. I called Suzan but her answering machine asked me to leave a message.

‘This is Emma. I have to talk to you A.S.A.P. Not a word to Christopher.’

Next morning I woke up with the same nightmare that had been haunting my dreams for a long time. Only now, it was more intense than ever. I was in Christopher’s house and it was very dark. I was searching the rooms for him desperately, shouting his name, but he was nowhere to be found. I got out to the porch but still no sign of him. I scanned the dark sea and shouted his name

again, crying, until my voice faded out, unable to be heard anymore.

I woke up with a start to find that he was not lying next to me. I was in the worst mood ever. I got out of the bedroom to find him but then I heard his voice from the porch. He was not alone. Feeling kind of under the weather, I decided to take a shower and try to calm down before joining them. Then, I put on a short, white, cotton dress and flumped about to the porch. My mood got worse when I saw that our guest was Suzan. I noticed that they stopped talking when they saw me.

‘Good morning baby. We didn’t wake you up, did we?’ Christopher asked silkily. I did not respond, just seated myself on the armchair across him, for the first time refusing his embrace. His eyes became overcast but he kept his angelic smile. I knew what he was up to.

‘Emma, honey, you look awful. What have you done to her Christopher? She looks like she needs a good sleep.’ Suzan remarked, making my day worse. Christopher had his lovely blue eyes fixed on my face, obviously bewildered by my reaction.

‘She’s just too much addicted to caffeine, I’m afraid. She’ll be fine after I get her a large cup of strong coffee.’

I shot him a withering look and he stood up and came to me, leaned over me and lifted my chin. I did not look at him as he kissed my lips. He chuckled when he found them still and frozen under his. Then he sighed and made his way to the kitchen.

As soon as he had disappeared into the house, I turned anxiously to Suzan. ‘Didn’t you get my message?’

‘I did. I am here, aren’t I? I’ve just come back you see, but Christopher heard my car and asked me in. I could not think of an excuse to avoid him.’ She looked at the open glass door before she went on in a lower voice. ‘I’m dying to hear what this is all about.’

‘He hasn’t told you?’ I stared at her in disbelief.

‘No.’ Her face looked too innocent to make me believe her, but I took my chances. I told her about my plan as concisely as

possible. ‘All I need you to do is arrange a meeting with Plato.’ I concluded.

She looked thoughtful for a few minutes. ‘I don’t know Emma… if Christopher does not approve…’

‘Don’t tell me you are afraid of him.’ I challenged her.

‘Well, you haven’t seen him angry, have you?’

I recalled Christopher’s face when he was ready to attack Colin. I had some idea of what she meant.

‘Anyway, let me think about it, but…I can’t promise you anything.’ she finally said. ‘You can’t even be sure Plato will be willing for another meeting, in the first place.’

‘Will you at least try?’ I pleaded.

Christopher walked through the open glass door carrying a tray with breakfast before Susan was able to respond.

He is so accommodating because he feels guilty, I thought, convinced that he had got to Susan first in order to prepossess her in his favor.

He and Suzan enjoyed their breakfast, chatting in a carefree manner, but I retained my silent and frowned countenance, pretending not to notice Christopher’s fleeting glances. Soon Susan asked to be excused, saying she needed a good sleep and advising me to do the same.

It was only the two of us in the porch now. Christopher stared at me.

‘Emma, why do you have to be so surly today?’

I glowered at him. ‘I’m not.’ I protested.

‘You look really angry to me.’

‘You’re wrong.’ I insisted.

‘Come and sit with me then.’ he challenged me in the soft, unbelievably inviting voice I heard every night among his kisses and cuddles.

He was totally aware of how irresistible he could be. I decided it was hopeless to keep the long face any longer, as it would only make us waste time. Time was precious. Each second we shared was irreplaceable. I sat next to him.

‘Well, what have I done this time?’ he asked.

‘Nothing.’ I lied. ‘I just had a bad dream and… I didn’t see you next to me when I woke up… That’s all.’

‘I’m so sorry. What can I do to make you feel better?’

‘Coffee helped a lot.’ I tried to smile.

‘Shall I try something… more drastic?’ he said, his irresistible voice was like music to my ears.

He came closer and put his arms around me. He kissed my lips softly.

‘I’m sorry you’re having nightmares. And I promise to be next to you every morning from now on.’

‘Every morning?’ I was aware of his limited definition of the word “every” in our situation .

He kissed me again, changing the subject, ‘Do you want to talk to me about your dream? Will it make you feel better?’

‘No. I just want to forget it.’ I said, hiding my face in his chest as he squeezed me softly against it.

Chapter 8


‘We never shall have anymore time we have,

and we have always had, all the time there is.’

Thomas A. Bennet

For the next six days, which added in my list of best days in my life, we retained the carefree lovers’ façade. Superficially, there was no sign to foreshadow the disaster that was about to break out, but we both knew that the clock was ticking and sooner or later we would have to face harsh reality. We spent each day with Tom and Suzan, lying on the beach in the morning and hanging out in beach clubs at nights. I was staying at Christopher’s house and I shared every single moment with him, which was enough to make me experience total bliss. Yet, he was determined not to let me alone with Tom and Susan, so I had only managed to get a ‘Nothing yet’ from her, which was not hopeful at all for my plans to meet Plato.

I thought I was prepared for what was about to happen, but I could have never imagined how soon my nightmare was about to come true. On Friday morning, just after breakfast, Christopher asked me to walk with him to the beach. I had apprehended that something was wrong, as he had not been himself that morning. He seemed unusually silent and too absorbed in his thoughts during breakfast. I had tried to ignore his clouded brow, which could only foreshadow what I did not want to hear but, inevitably, his attitude had made me jumpy.

We walked silently, hand in hand, as the morning sun caressed our overcast faces. A hurtful, evanescent memory crossed my mind momentarily. The image of my mother, thirteen years ago, standing under the threshold and facing the policeman, who had looked huge to my puerile eyes.

‘Is it time?’ I asked him, trying to keep a steady voice when silence became unbearable. He stopped walking and put his arms

around me. A flicker of a smile twisted his lips. I looked fondly at his face. It was the face of grief.

‘Yes.’ he said. I pressed my cheek on his warm chest and felt him sigh. ‘I have to go Emma. The hearing has been scheduled.’



‘For …how long?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘We will be all right, won’t we?’ My voice sounded strange, it was someone else’s voice, because the lump in my throat was in place again, making every word painful.

He did not say anything. He just held me in his arms for a long moment and then he took my hand again and we kept walking towards the blinding sun, as if we were trying to escape from the queer twists of our fate.

Time seemed ruthless on that day. It lapsed so fast, so pitilessly, reducing us to despair with every tick of the clock. Time had been my enemy ever since Christopher had revealed his identity to me. It was not just an abstract concept anymore. It had an evil face and a gleeful smirk. It had Tex’s face.

He left me outside my apartment at sunset. I had managed to keep myself composed, trying to make it easier for him to leave me. I had not cried, but the lump in my throat was growing bigger and bigger, blocking my voice.

‘I will be back, whatever happens. They can’t keep us apart.’ he said before he kissed me for the last time.

I heard his car growing away as I was making my way into my apartment.

When I closed the door behind me, I let myself loose. I ran into my room, unable to hold back the sobs that wrung my heart. I fell on my bed, face down, soaking the soft cover.

In a few seconds, I felt Kate’s warm hand on my back. She was talking to me, but her voice sounded distant to my ears.

‘For God’s sake Emma! What’s happened to you?’

‘He’s gone!’ I mumbled.

‘Christopher? Christopher is gone? Where to?’

‘Where he came from.’ It was all I could reveal to her but it was, at least, the truth.

‘But … he’s coming back, isn’t he?’

‘I …don’t…know.’

‘Of course he is. He loves you so much. He will come back to you sweetie.’

I cried myself out that night and Kate lay next to me, keeping her arms around me until the morning.

The next day was even worse. I could not cry anymore. There was nothing left inside me to let out, only the feeling of being torn up, missing a huge part of me.

I stayed in bed all day in the same clothes I had been wearing the previous night. Kate was such a sweet comfort once again. She stayed with me, skipping school under the excuse of a sudden brash.

But my torment was far from over. The days went by excruciatingly slowly, as time showed me its evil face once more. I felt like every moment, every second was distancing me from Christopher more and more. I could not eat, I could not sleep. I was ill, experiencing physical pain in my whole body. I was a living dead.

Kate pretended not to notice that Christopher had not even called. But I was aware of her mystification about this inexplicable lack of contact, as well as about his sudden departure. She never mentioned anything about it though, determined to take me out of my misery at any cost.

‘When he’ s back, it will kill him to see you like this.’ was her strongest argument. It was good enough to make me leave my bed, take a shower and try to eat.

It had already been a week, a horrible week without him. I tried to make sense of what this meant. Why would it take them so long to make a decision? Could it be a good sign? A sign that Christopher was fighting for us, that he had not given up, or….

I wished Susan and Tony did not have to follow him there. Susan could enlighten me had she been able to contact me. I had left her

countless messages on her cell phone. Had she been able to tell Plato about my idea or was it too late for that? If only Plato had agreed to meet me, I was sure I would have been able to persuade him to accept my offer.

I received the strangest call on that Friday by Yannis. Ever since the change in the excavation plans, I had not talked to him. I had promised him a drink but, if that was the reason he was calling me, the timing just could not be worse. But I was wrong.

‘Hi Emma. I hope I’m not bothering you.’

‘Not at all. What’s up?’

‘I think someone has stolen the plans, the original plans I mean. I just can’t find them anywhere.’

‘What do you mean stolen?’

‘Well, I kept them in my office as I always do. But they’re gone. The whole file is gone, to be precise.’

‘Just think, Yanni. When did you last see them?’

‘The day the Brantel guy paid me a visit. You know, Aubin, something like that?’

‘Auburn?’ I asked, holding my breath at the sound of his name.

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘What did he want from you?’

He sounded surprised at my question. ‘He said you had sent him. He told me to cover the real Point-X with concrete because people in Brantel had found out. He said you were into this. Did he lie to me?’

‘No, don’t worry, it’s okay. When did this happen?’ I could almost hear the fast beating of my heart as I prayed for his answer to be the one I hoped for.

‘More than a week ago. What about the plans?’

I sighed. ‘Don’t worry. They are not our problem anymore.’ I said, totally disillusioned.

He hesitated for a moment before he said ‘Okay then. I’ll let you know if I find them. And I have to tell you something that can’t be said over the phone.’

‘I’ll see you soon Yanni. I just can’t deal with this right now.’

I knew he was trying to make sense of the sudden change in my attitude, but this was all I could say to him. I could not risk it. He was already more involved than he should have been.

‘Bye Yanni. Thanks for everything.’

I hung up, graveled. What was Christopher thinking? I wondered why he hadn’t told me about his decision to cover Point –X. He was probably trying to protect me again. Could he have taken the plans? He did not really need them, he had his own copy, I had given it to him. Perhaps he did not want anybody else to get them from Yanni; perhaps he wanted to destroy them himself. He had told me he was going to use the changes to our benefit. So, only two people had a copy of the plan that revealed the exact position of Point – X now. Christopher and me.

It was two days after my conscious effort to come out of depression that Susan visited me. It was little after 10 p.m. and I was alone in my apartment watching TV. I had refused Kate and Tony’s invitation to go out with them, insisting that if they stayed inside one more night for my sake, it would only make me feel worse.

When I heard the bell ring, I made a dart for the door, hoping it would be him.

When I saw Susan I jumped at her and hugged her impatiently, unable to control myself. I soon realized she was not sharing my enthusiasm, which was very unusual of her. I drew back, alarmed, to scrutinize her face.

My heart started pounding. ‘How bad is it?’ I whispered.

‘I’m really sorry. I wish I could tell you everything is fine but… It’s bad…really bad Emma.’

‘Is he…?’

‘No, physically he’s fine.’ She hesitated. ‘Come on. You’re going to need your laptop.’

We went into my bedroom and I turned on my laptop with shivering hands. Susan took a Cd out of her bag and gave it to me, silently, avoiding my eyes. I inserted it in the computer and waited. A black background filled the screen and small, white

letters started to appear one by one, like shooting stars, falling onto the screen from nowhere. The lump in my throat had now extended to my chest and the old throbbing pain torn my heart in two as I read Christopher’s message.

My love, Emma,

I’m giving you back your heart because

I don’t deserve it anymore, for I am the

old monster again.

Forgive me for not keeping my promise

to come back to you, as it would only

put your life in imminent danger.

I’m asking you to forget me and to

fight for yourself. Fight to survive.

Move on with your life. Be happy.

And please, don’t ever make me come for you.

My heart will always belong with you, never doubt that.


My eyes narrowed as I made an effort to fathom the meaning of the short, harrowing lines. Suddenly, the letters started to vanish in front of my eyes, one by one, from the beginning to the end of the message, the same way they had appeared.

‘No, no!’ I cried, hitting hard on the keyboard. His name had started to disappear now, from the first letter to the last.









‘No!’ I whispered crying silently, my voice weak from the despair that overwhelmed me.

‘I’m sorry.’ Susan said in a sad voice. ‘There must be no evidence left. You see, they have warned him that they will rescind the agreement if he contacts you in any way.’

She looked at my twisted face and perceived the confusion suffused with despair on it.

‘It was Denzel. He persuaded the Board to compromise and never threaten you again in exchange for… Christopher’s return to the Squad.’

‘The Squad?’ My eyes widened with horror. That would be Christopher’s worst nightmare. ‘How… How could you let him do it? Don’t you know what it will do to him?’

‘He has agreed. He joined them voluntarily. There was no chance he would let them hurt you.’ Susan did not realize that every word was making it harder for me.

‘He loves you too much to allow that. That’s why he has chosen his own sacrifice, as it was the only way out…for you. Christopher knew about it a long time ago but we all hoped for another solution, even at the last minute… Now we’ve lost him.’ Her eyes filled with tears as she tried to hug me. I recoiled in terror.

‘He said he would come back, whatever happened. He said they could not tear us apart.’ I cried.

She shook her beautiful head. ‘I’m sorry honey. You must be strong and move on with your life. Listen, I only have a few minutes. His house, it’s yours. I’ve done all the paperwork for you. You must…’

Move on with my life. The words kept echoing like the song of a ruined Cd. I was not listening to her anymore. Shattered by the news, I opened my drawer and took my car keys. I was frantic. His house. I had to go there, see with my own eyes, his clothes, his books, his smell…

I rushed outside as Susan followed me, shouting my name. I started the car, wasting no time to fasten my seatbelt.

‘It can’t be true. It can’t be happening. Please, God, no! Don’t let me be too late. Oh, Christopher, what have you done?’ I repeated to myself, speeding off, my face soaked from the tears.

I only caught a glimpse of the car that appeared out of the blue, ignoring the stop sign. My Beetle swerved dangerously in a last effort to avoid the collision and I found myself heading towards a cluster of trees, having lost control of the wheel.

The awful sound of the crash sounded as a blast to my ears. Then, the darkness of the night surrounded me, swallowing me into the blessed oblivion of nothingness.

Chapter 9


I was sinking deeper and deeper into the ravaging darkness. The voices around me had now turned into whispers and sobs. I felt weaker everyday. But I was welcoming death, I craved for it.

Then the most unexpected thing happened to pull me out of the blackness I was so eagerly subsiding into. I remember hearing a distant, familiar voice in my ear. It was a voice of the past, a voice full of memories. I was not sure whose voice it was. I only was aware of whose voice I wanted it to be.

‘Emma?’ the musical voice whispered to my ear. ‘It’s Tom. If you can hear me, just squeeze my hand.’

He slid his warm hand under my cold fingers.

Tom? A whole slew of images filled my mind instantly; beautiful faces laughing, a glass of a cool drink under the relaxing plash of waves, the warmth of the summer night, an angry, warning voice on a porch, deep blue eyes. Life. Christopher. I had to respond to this request.

I put all my strength in my hand and managed to move my fingers only for a split of a second.

The Crusader sighed in my ear. Then he spoke slowly, stressing each word carefully, as if he was talking to a child.

‘You must fight this Emma. Don’t give up. We need you to come back. We need you to save Christopher. Do it for him. Not everything is lost, yet. When you are back on your feet, if you still love him, come to us, try to find us. We will be waiting for you.’

He drew his hand back, slowly, but I felt something among my fingers. Something he had left for me. I tried hard to feel it, I had to open my eyes and see. I concentrated on it, repeating to myself that I had to wake up. I had so many questions to ask him.

Voices filled the room again. But they were not so distant anymore.

‘I’ll stay with her tonight. You need to take some rest. Harry is waiting to take you to your hotel.’

Kate must have just walked into the room. If I could talk to her, make her call Tom back.

‘I wanted to say goodnight to her.’ my mother’s weary voice replied.

‘What is this? Kate, there’s something in her hand. I can’t take it from her. She’s… Oh, my god! Kate! She’s clasping it!’ she cried, her voice twisted with anxiety.

‘It’s a photograph. I…don’t believe it! Was someone here?’ Kate asked breathlessly.

‘This young doctor… I’ve never seen him before. He’s just left…’

Kate did not say anything. In a blur, behind my half open eyes, I caught a glimpse of her rushing to the corridor.

‘Emma, darling, you are awake! Oh, my God! You are back! Thank you God, thank you!’ My mother stroked my forehead, with the warmest smile on her face. She looked so beautiful! I tried to smile back but I guess I only managed a weird twist of my lips. Even the slightest movement brought about severe pain to my numb body.

She broke out in tears, pressing her face on my chest, enclosing me in her soft embrace, as if she was afraid I might slip away again.

The doctors were surprised at my remarkable speed of recovery. They said that I had to undergo long-term physiotherapy but I would be on my feet again in a few months.

‘You had us worried, sweetie.’ Kate told me the next day. ‘The doctors told us that you should have woken up a long time ago. They just couldn’t explain why you were still in …such a state. They said you just …gave up.’

She told me I had been unconscious for more than two weeks, which I had found very hard to believe.

‘And it took only a picture to wake you up.’

‘Give it to me.’ I whispered. She took the picture from the bedside table and brought it in front of my face.

It was the photograph of Christopher and me; he was leaning towards me, smiling, so unbelievably handsome. I could recall his exact words at that moment.

‘What’s on your mind?’ he had asked me before the flash of Susan’s camera interrupted us.

It was such bliss to see his face again. I had almost forgotten how beautiful he was. This was the only thing I had left from him, from my Christopher. When would I be strong enough to look for him, as Tom had asked me to do? I was determined to put all my strength into this. I felt warm tears wetting my cheeks.

‘Don’t cry Emma. Please.’ Kate pleaded.

‘I’m …okay’

‘Who was it Emma? Who gave you this? Did he come here?’

‘It …was…Tom.’

‘I see.’ She shook her head, disillusioned. ‘I will never forgive myself for leaving you that night, you know. If I had been there…’

‘It wasn’t your …fault, Kate. Don’t torture yourself. I… would have taken the… car that night… anyway.’

She did not argue that, but I could read on her face the guilt with which she, so undeservedly, faulted herself. I wondered how much Kate knew about that night. As for myself, I could recall all the facts until the accident. The doorbell, Susan’s weird expression, the shooting stars on the laptop screen, Christopher’s name disappearing, my hands clasping the wheel, speeding off…

For the next three weeks it took until the doctors gave their permission to transfer me back to London, I was making remarkable progress day by day. Flowers and stuffed animals from my friends and my tutors constantly decorated my room, making it look friendlier, less stark. I had also received so many cards and letters, that it surprised me to realize how many people had been worried about me.

Kate had insisted on staying in Greece after summer school was over to assist my mother until it was safe for me to travel.

I could not walk yet, as the most of my injuries had been at the lower part of my abdomen and on my spine, at the back of my neck. Had I fastened my seatbelt on that night, I would have suffered much less injury as the doctors said.

But the nightmare was far from over yet, as I soon had to face another blow. It was my mother the one who had to break the news to me this time.

‘Emma, honey, there is something you should know.’ she told me one night, a few days before our departure for London. I put down the book Kate had brought me and looked at her. We had become really close now. Inside the cold walls of the hospital room, I had found the warm, affectionate embrace of my mother, the one I had been missing for thirteen years.

The expression on her face had alarmed me. I knew my mum really well. This was not easy for her.

‘What’s wrong, mum?’ I asked her.

‘I don’t know how to tell you this Emma. There is no easy way. I know you still hurt, so I asked the doctors not to tell you. I wanted you to hear it from me when you would be strong enough.’

‘Now you’re scaring me mum.’ I tried to smile. My only fear was that I would be stuck in the wheel chair, unable to start over, unable to look for him.

My heat pounded. ‘Does it have to do with my…recovery? They told me that in time I will be able to…walk again, right?’

‘This is true, although it mostly depends on you, on the effort you will make to be back on your feet. And your physiotherapist says you have been amazing so far. But that is not what I want to talk to you about. You see, that night, at the crash, you were so badly hurt that the doctors had to …’ she inhaled deeply, ‘Honey, did you know that, at the time of the crash, you were …pregnant?’

No, not that, please God, no! I thought. ‘What?’ I asked her, my eyes wide in horror.

‘I’m sorry sweetheart.’ She took my hand in hers. ‘Sweetie, there have been some…complications. Your injuries were too deep.

There was too much bleeding…You may have… problems in the future.’

I blinked, considering what she was trying to say. ‘You mean I will not be able to have…children? Is that what you mean?’ I asked, my voice distorted from anguish.

‘It will not be impossible, just very difficult.’ she admitted in an unsteady voice.

‘Besides, there are so many ways to have a child today. Science has gone very far in this field. Doctor Matis will talk to you about it tomorrow, so I thought you should be prepared.’

She stroked my face. What she saw on it made her hug me tenderly. ‘You will get over this. You have to.’ she whispered trying to comfort me, but there was nothing that could ease that new, unexpected pain.

So, I had been carrying his baby, Christopher’s baby, and I had finally lost it! After the first shock I realized I was frozen; I could not breathe, I could not cry anymore, probably because the drugs had served their purpose. I felt so empty, so totally useless. With broken spirit, I put my hand on my abdomen and felt the gauge covering the stitches of the last surgery. I tried to imagine the new life that had tried to grow, despite all the insurmountable obstacles, in my now empty womb.

‘The grandfather’s paradox.’ I whispered, with a bitter smile.

‘What are you talking about honey?’ My mother asked, alarmed.

I shook my head. It all made sense now. How could I bring to the world a baby I had with someone who did not exist, who was not even born in this world? Nature had found the way to work this out.

Strange thoughts filled my mind. How did I become pregnant in the first place? Christopher’s obsession with my safety had him insist on using protection every time we made love. It was so ironic! I felt like someone was playing a sick game with me. Like I was acting in some sort of a puppet theatre and an evil brain was pulling the strings. My initial disappointment about my possibly amputated feminism began to fade away. If I could not have Christopher’s baby, I would never want a child anyway.

‘This man you were involved with.’ my mum said, casting a glance at the photo that Kate had put in a bronze frame. ‘Daugh tried to find him, you know. But he has …disappeared.’

‘I know.’ She looked at me confused.

‘There’s a house. It’s yours. Did you buy it with the sum granted as recompense by the University?’

‘Something like that.’

‘What do you want to do with it darling?’

‘I haven’t thought about it yet.’ I did not want to talk anymore. I wanted to be alone and mourn for my lost love, my lost baby, my lost life. The absurdity of the situation had worn me out. But I could not cry, I could not even think clearly. Damn drugs! I just sat there, frozen, expressionless, suppressing a sorrow that seemed to have curled in the form of a tangle deep in my chest, blocking my breath.

‘Honey, I want you to know that I understand exactly how it feels. I have been there, you know I have.’

‘Mum, please don’t do that!’ I pleaded, as I saw the tears that had started to moist her eyes.

‘No, I need to say this. I know you’re mourning and it’s the right thing to do, for now. But try not to stay in this for too long. I’ve seen what it does and I am terrified at the thought that you may go through the madness I’ve suffered. I’ll be with you all along. I wish I had done this before, before it had gone too far.’

‘It wouldn’t have changed anything.’ I said in a sullen voice, closing my eyes, as I did not want her to read the indescribable sorrow in them.

‘What I mean is you should focus on yourself now. You’re so young, there’s a whole life out there waiting for you. You have your studies, your career, your friends, and, if he really loves you, he will come back.’

‘What if he just can’t? If he wants to but … he has to stay away?’

She looked at me, mystified. There were so many things I could not explain to her, like my sudden decision to give up my dad’s project. Then she raised her head and looked towards the

window, focusing on the darkness, as if she saw something in it that gave her the strength to go on in a stiff voice.

‘Then, you simply try to live with this. And when you are ready, you move on.’

I took the bronze framed photo in my hands. His face was smiling to me. Was he smiling now? I wondered. I had to hold on to this thought, I would have to find him, see his smile again. I knew he needed me. Time was not on my side for once more, but I could wait, I could be patient. I knew that sooner or later we would be even, time and me.

We did not say anything else that night. She stayed next to me until I was asleep.

Next morning I had the most unexpected visit. Colin’s face popped out at the opening of the door, seeming rather circumspect about coming in, probably measuring my reaction.

‘Come in Colin.’ I told him impatiently. He seemed relieved by the tone of my voice. Our last encounter still felt fresh in my memory and I guessed he felt the same. But I had thought it over, deciding it was time to settle things once and for all.

He came to sit next to me and leaned over me to kiss my cheek. I was happy to see him. Lying on this bed for so long, I had plenty of time to reconsider my relationship with certain people like Daugh, Colin, and Don. It is true that a near death experience changes your whole life perspective, so I was no longer angry with them as I could see no point in bearing a grudge against them anymore. The last two both had their reasons for not speaking favorably of my relationship with Christopher, but I could not blame them for my aspirations finally coming to grief.

‘How are you doing?’ he asked examining my face.

‘I’m much better now. You should have seen me a couple of weeks ago.’ I tried to joke.

‘I know. Your mother asked us not to come when you were still…Well, I hear you’re coming back in a few days.’

‘Yes. You shouldn’t have got into so much trouble flying here.’

‘I wanted to help your mother with this whole transfer situation. I wish I could have done more.’

‘You know my mum. She gets really lonesome when she suffers. I’m surprised she’s managed to get on with Kate for so long.’ He looked pleased at my remark, without hiding his dislike for Kate.

He was sitting with his elbows on his knees, leaning slightly forward, his fingers tangled. Suddenly, he seemed very absorbed in them.

‘You know, I really feel very bad about that night. I don’t know what got into me. I am really sorry. Will you please forgive me?’

‘I’ve already forgotten that night Colin.’ That was not exactly true, I had only forgotten the part that involved him.

‘Emma, I know I’ve treated you badly. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. The thought that something… might have happened to you… before I had the chance to apologize…just…drove me crazy. Please, let me be your friend again. I’m not asking for anything more…if that’s what you want.’

I sighed, but part of me was quite relieved, thinking that I should make things clear between us.

‘Colin, you are my friend. You are an important part of my life but…that’s just about that.’ His face stiffened at my last words. He glanced at the photo on my bedside table.

‘So, Tony says you broke up with that guy.’ He waited for my reaction but I did not say anything, so he went on. ‘Said, he left?’

So he was not going to drop this.

‘Yeah, he had to leave.’ This was not a lie, just not the whole truth.

‘Any chance of… relapsing?’ he asked in a bitter manner.

Good as my intention had been towards him, he had started to irritate me. I cast him a warning look. ‘It’s possible.’

‘Well, can I be honest, or you’ll be mad at me?’

‘Let it out.’ I replied wearily. Did we really have to get into this?

‘He was no good for you, Emma. He seemed…too serious about you.’

I looked at him, bemused. He had been well informed. ‘And you think that was bad because…?

‘It’s not necessarily bad. It’s just that you are not in that place yet, are you? I mean, you have plans, your studies, and your career. Do you think a serious relationship is what you need at this point of your life? ’ He noticed my abashed face and went on. ‘I know I’ve made mistakes but…what you and I had was different. We were in the same place, I mean. We still are.’

‘I guess this weird mindset of yours justifies your cheating on me?’

‘I’d never do this to you again, I swear.’

‘I thought you said just friends.’

‘I did, only if that’s what you want.’

‘It is.’ I replied in a sullen manner. I lay back closing my eyes and inhaled deeply.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked, apparently concerned.

‘I’m just…tired.’ He stood up instantly.

‘I’ll let you rest then. Can I come tomorrow?’

‘Suit yourself.’ I said, my eyes still closed. I felt him kiss my forehead.

When I opened my eyes he was walking to the door but then the door opened and he came face to face with Kate. She glowered at him with slotted eyes and her voice was sarcastic when she said

‘That’s a surprise! What brings you here Colin?’

‘Good morning Kate.’ he said, ignoring her challenging manner.

‘Why so fast? Is there a girlfriend waiting for you downstairs or did you find the courage to come on your own?’

I pressed my lips tightly to hold back laughter, not only because it would irritate Colin but mostly because it would make my stitches ache. Colin cast her an angry look before he left.

‘Have I missed something?’ I asked her as soon as we were alone.

‘We had a nice chat on the phone the other day. What’s he doing here anyway?’

‘He wanted to apologize.’

‘Oh! That’s a first!’

‘And, he wants to help.’

‘We don’t need any help, didn’t you tell him? Here. I’ve brought you your favorite cookies. You need some extra calories.’ She put a paper box of chocolate chip cookies in front of me, the ones Christopher had offered me a few weeks ago. The image flashed in my mind for a fraction of a second.

‘You were really mellow to him. I thought you would be angry.’

‘I’ve thought it over. One of the benefits of spending too long lying on a bed is thinking too much. I feel the same about Don too.’

‘Don? Did I mention he has called many times but insisted on not bothering you?

‘I know. Mum told me. I’ll see him in London.’ What I had to tell Don could not be said over the phone.

Kate put another biscuit in her mouth before she said casually. ‘We took care of the house yesterday.’ I knew she was talking about Christopher’s house, which now belonged to me. She had it cleaned and locked up. I wondered when I would be ready to go there again, if I would ever be ready. I would probably never be able to stay there without him. The pain would be unbearable.

Harry had bought Susan’s house and he had already moved in with Bessie. He had accepted a job offer by the University of Corinth and had decided to stay in Greece. He and Bessie had offered to take care of Christopher’s house for me.

Kate had been the first to go there after that dreadful night. It turned out that Susan had followed me and had got to me first after the crash. She had called the ambulance and escorted me to hospital. She had stayed there until she was able to contact Kate and Harry. Then, she gave Kate the house keys and disappeared simply saying ‘I’m sorry.’

When Kate got to the house, a week later, everything that belonged to Christopher was gone, his clothes, his books, his Cds, his computer. That had not surprised me at all. I knew how the League worked. They would leave no clues.

I thought of the rest of the things I had to take care of before leaving. My mum and Kate had made all the necessary

arrangements for me, but there was still something I wanted to make sure of. I took my cell phone and called Yannis. A female voice answered his phone in Greek.


‘Good morning, Can I talk to Yannis please?’

‘Yannis?’ She sounded surprised.

‘Yes, tell him it’s Emma.’ I said, hoping she could speak English.

‘I’m sorry.’ Her voice lowered as if she was about to confide something to me.

‘ I’m afraid ...Yannis is…dead.’

I felt my body stiffen from shock. It took me a few seconds before I could speak again. ‘Did you say… dead?’

‘Yes, I’m really sorry.’

‘When did it happen?’

‘Last week.’

‘But …how?’

‘He was …stubbed by some burglars who broke into his apartment. There was a fight and… they killed him.’ she said in the same low voice.

‘Oh my God! Do they know who did it?’

‘No, not yet. I can give you Mr. Terzis. He has taken over all of Yannis’ cases.’

‘No, thank you. I’ll call some other time.’

Could it have been a coincidence? What were the chances that some burglars had killed Yannis now that I had made him risk his life without even warning him? I only hoped Christopher had nothing to do with it.

Kate was talking to me. ‘Did you know this guy?’

‘He was the civil engineer who worked for the Project.’ I replied, my distress unconcealed on my face.

‘Poor guy! I heard about his murder. It was quite a shock for the local community. Crimes like that are very rare here. Are you okay? You look pale.’

‘Kate, I need my lap top.’

‘Okay. I’ll ask your mother to bring it.’ She called my mother and an hour later I was searching the headlines of the local

newspapers on the Internet. This was another benefit of the Private Clinic my mother had decided to transfer me in order to achieve the best conditions for my recuperation.

It was not difficult to find the articles on Yannis’ murder. I shivered when I read that they had tortured him before killing him. The police had not been able to identify the murderers’ motive as nothing valuable was missing from his house, although everything was in a mess. The murderers were obviously looking for something.

I did not need to read anymore. There was no doubt that the League had decided to get rid of him. I felt responsible for his death, thinking that if I had not involved him, he would be alive now. Christopher was right. I should have taken his warnings about the Squad more seriously. But I never expected they would get to Yannis, I had no idea how much he had risked his life following my instructions. I felt sick at the idea that it could have been my name in those headlines, if Christopher had not sacrificed his life to spare mine.

The murderers were probably looking for the plans. They must have found out that The Gateway had been transferred on the map. Had they tortured him in order to make him reveal the original Point-X? Yannis was tough, but I wondered how tough he would be in front of Tex. So that meant that only two people knew the truth about The Gateway now. Susan had told me that the main condition of the settlement was that the Squad shouldn’t cause any harm to me, but would that stop them? Did that put Christopher’s life in greater danger? How could I make use of this knowledge to both our benefit?

I had to consider all possibilities. There were two main points I should focus on for the following months: getting on my feet again and taking Christopher away from the Squad’s claws. But first, I had to find a way to contact the Crusaders. It was probably one of Plato’s tests to make me search for them, to struggle in order to prove my dedication to the cause. I did not know exactly how I would achieve that, but a dim light had started to illume the dark tunnel I had to walk along.

Chapter 10

Going back

I checked the time on my watch once again. It would take another thirty minutes to arrive at Athens airport and then, in a couple of hours, I would be in Corinth for the night. I was trying not to think about having to stay in the big house by the sea, where I had spent the best moments of my life a year ago, determined to take one step each time, acting according to the plan I had devised in every detail all those months of my obligatory confinement until I was able to walk again. The next morning, with the first light of day, I would set out on my search for the Crusaders.

A year without Christopher. It hadn’t been easy. I had to fight against my physical endurance, against my own body. It was my heart versus my wounded body. I had endured all those months of physiotherapy, countless pills, too much crying, self-pity and unbearable sleepless nights in pain and despair. But I hadn’t given up. I had to get over the persistency of my spine to remain immobile, as soon as possible. Christopher was running out of time. He needed me. As the months went by, I wasn’t satisfied with the slow progress in my movements, despite the doctors’ reassurances that I had exhibited a remarkable recovery. To me, it wasn’t enough. Not enough to enable me to travel back to Greece and look for him. I had to try harder. Refusing to go to university on a wheel chair, I had taken a leave of absence ignoring my mother’s entreaties that studying would keep me distracted from my recent ordeal. I did not have time for studying. I didn’t have time for anything else but how to stand on my feet. Of course, this obsession had a cost. I had changed, become hot-tempered, remote, and edgy. Kate had stood by me all these months, aware of my fixation with going back to Greece. All Kate could do about it was to persuade me not to attempt the trip until the doctors gave me permission to do so.

And it happened. In the end of August, a year after the accident that had cost me my baby and months of frustration and despair,

the doctor finally gave me the green light, not without warning me of the possible dangers if I overdid it, though. I had taken his orders seriously. Hurting myself again, would not help Christopher.

I had managed to avoid Kate’s demands to travel to Greece together. Kate should stay away form this. She had accepted my flat refusal to explain to her the situation with Christopher, probably thinking that the reason for our separation had been another woman. I let her go along with this, as it was a much safer and less harrowing explanation. I had bought a ticket to Greece without telling Kate about it and here I was, just one more day and I would be following the tracks of the man who had marked my life so irrevocably and in so many ways.

The blond little girl next to me showed me her book and smiled. I smiled back, approvingly. The picture of the beach she was coloring had kept her busy for a while.

Her image made me think that I had never found out if the baby I’d lost in the crash had been a boy or a girl. Meaning to comfort me, my mother had pointed out how hard it would have been for me to raise a child on my own at such a young age, being still a child myself in her eyes. But I could not fall in with her view of that tragic outcome although I realized she wasn’t totally wrong. I wasn’t ready to become a mother. Besides, this trip would have been much more difficult, if not impossible to carry through, had there been a baby waiting for me back in London. Then, why did I feel so empty? Why did I wake up all those nights with the sound of a baby weeping in my dreams? Why did my eyes mist over every time I saw one? I had never really mourned for my lost child. I had tried to bury the grief deep inside me instead. My son or daughter would be five months old now. What difference would it make? Sooner or later my baby would die. How could Christopher’s child, a time-traveler’s child, survive in this world? It would have been much harder if I had seen that child, if I had become attached to him or her. Would my child have Christopher’s eyes?

That’s enough! I told myself. You have to stop thinking like this. Concentrate on finding Christopher.

Harry was waiting for me at the airport, probably notified by Kate. My dear Kate! I should know that she would not be fooled that easily. On the way to Corinth, I could not resist asking Harry about the Crusaders. I was hoping that he, as a recent recruit to the group of Confidants, would give me a lead to the Crusaders.

‘I’m sorry Emma. I’ve had no contact with them since that summer, since Christopher left. But you can count on me if you need any help. You’ve come back to find him, haven’t you?’

‘Yes.’ I nodded. It had been wishful thinking to assume it would be so easy to track the Crusaders. I would have, as it seemed, to deviate from my original plan to the second, less desirable choice.

Harry offered to put me up in his house for the night, but I refused. Standing in front of the wooden door, I felt like Christopher’s house was inviting me in. It felt so familiar, made me nostalgic, it made me feel closer to him. The night was cool. Inside, the soft breeze blowing through the open window brought back all those memories.

That night I dreamed he was lying next to me and I was sleeping in his arms. I could hear his breath; his soft voice whispering my name woke me up. It was still dawn and I was all alone in the room. A sweet grief overwhelmed me and I burst into tears, lying all by myself on the huge bed. And I cried. Eventually, I was able to cry for my lost love, my lost baby, my lost life.

When there were no more tears left to shed, I tried to pull myself together, remembering it was time to set out on my journey to him.

Checking the map on the passenger seat a couple of hours later, I estimated it would take at least another three hours to get to Monemvasia. Despite being quite busy, the street was narrow, with dangerous curves that obligated me to drive very carefully and too slowly.

Only when I saw the arresting spectacle of the long-standing fort, I finally relaxed. I parked my car at the beach and walked towards the medieval gate. It was late afternoon and I felt tired and hungry, but I chose to ignore the small restaurants and cafés, anxious about the purpose of my journey. Besides, I could not stand looking around. It tormented me to see how everything looked the same as last time I was there with Christopher and yet, how everything had changed.

I found the guesthouse much more easily than I had expected. When I saw the wooden door, I suddenly became intimidated. What would I say to Sebastian? Was there any chance he might already have known what had happened to Christopher? That it was me who had been the culprit for all his misfortunes of last year?

It was Martha who opened the door. She seemed pleasurably surprised to see me but the hint of worry flickered in her eyes for a second.

‘Emma! What a surprise! Come in sweetie. Is Christopher with you?’

‘I’m afraid he isn’t.’ I said, without trying to hide my grief caused by Martha’s predictable question.

‘Oh! Is he all right?’

I felt the strong urge to embrace the motherly figure in front of me and burst into tears, but I managed to remain composed. Yet, I knew that everything about me gave away the despair that I had been trying to suppress all those months. My uncared appearance and sloppy hair, in combination with my bewildered face, totally revealed the graveness of the situation.

‘He…I need help to find him. I need Sebastian’s help. That’s why I’m here.’ I whispered, aware of the mist that shaded my eyes. The heartbreaking morning in Christopher’s house, the long tiring journey, the fear that Sebastian might decide not to help me, had worn me out.

Martha opened her arms and hugged me.

‘Don’t cry, honey. It will be all right. Of course Sebastian will help you. He’s not here now but he’s coming tonight. You know how much he loves Christopher.’ She put her arm around my waist pushing me softly inside the room.

‘You look so tired. You need to eat something and take some rest. ’

I would like to believe that some food and a nap would solve my problems and I wished Martha had known the whole truth. If only I could share my fears with someone! The ignorant woman could never imagine what I’d been fighting against. I tried to keep myself calm and wiped my eyes. After that emotional outburst I was feeling slightly relieved.

I accepted Martha’s offer for a meal with gratitude. We sat in the backyard under the shade of the mulberry tree where Christopher and I had dinner that night before the drink went to my head and…NO! Not now! I thought. I couldn’t, I shouldn’t break now. At least not before I found out what Sebastian’s decision would be.

Martha put me in a nice, small room that overlooked the sea. I tortured myself once more, thinking that I was exactly one floor below the room where I had shared all those passionate moments of sheer happiness with Christopher.

I was half asleep when I heard the knock on my door. I must have been in this condition for more than three hours because I could see through the open window the golden light that brightened the horizon as a huge sun slowly sank below it.

Martha’s smiling face showed up at the open door.

‘Sebastian is back. You can talk to him when you’re ready.’ Her voice sounded reassuring, but I acknowledged the double meaning in what she had said.

‘Just give me five minutes.’ I said, popping out of bed.

‘No need to hurry. He’s not going anywhere.’ Martha said and closed the door behind her.

I washed my face and took a few deep breaths before leaving my room. I found Martha in the garden, watering the big pots with fragrant gardenias.

‘He’s in the backyard.’ she shouted.

I nodded to her. I thought I was prepared to encounter Sebastian and his reaction when I would break the news to him, unless of course he had already been notified about Christopher’s decision to rejoin the Squad. One way or the other, I could foresee his fury, which would be totally justifiable in this case. I would have to put up with his anger and stick to my goal: persuade him to help me contact the Crusaders.

Sebastian was enjoying his raki in the cool evening. I felt less brave now that I gazed the back of the old, wise man in front of me. Hadn’t he heard me coming? He didn’t move an inch and when he suddenly spoke to me, I instinctively flinched back.

‘So, he finally went on with it.’

Was that a question or a statement? I couldn’t tell. I tried to find my voice.

‘Have you heard about it?’ I asked.

‘You’re here, safe and sound, so what else can that mean?’

I took a deep breath trying not to be offended by his tone, which clearly made the fact that I was still in one piece sound like an insult. I sat on the chair across him.

‘He needs help. I must find him. You see, I need you to help me find him.’

He turned his face to look at me for the first time. It was frowned, accusation was obvious on it.

‘You’ve helped him enough, don’t you think?’

His words felt like stabs right through my heart. As much as it hurt, I knew I deserved this.

‘I know how you must feel about me. And… I won’t disagree with you on this. But I just wish you could put these feelings aside for his sake.’

Sebastian looked away again indifferent, like he hadn’t heard a word I said.

‘I knew you were bad news from the first moment I saw you. Christopher could not be a boyfriend to you, not without risking his life. And you …To expose him to them like that!’ He looked at me with fierce eyes.

‘He’s a soldier, for God’s sake! Not a silly lover boy!’

He poured more raki in his glass and emptied it hastily, trying to calm himself down with the strong, homemade drink.

Thinking this would be my only chance, I started telling him about that summer, about my visit to Plato’s yacht, Tex’s ambush, the decision at the Board Hearing, the crash, Tom’s visit and his challenge to make me find the strength to fight for my life and look for Christopher if I still loved him, the whole year it took me to walk again and my commitment to my love for Christopher.

Sebastian listened to me in silence. His face rigid, absolutely expressionless, was looking away from me. When I finished, an awful silence spread between us. Then he spoke in a deep, stern voice.

‘He’s more than a friend to me. Christopher has saved my life, you know. Mine and my men’s lives. He wasn’t ordered to save them. His mission was to save a General and me. But he did fight next to me when we were ambushed. He had seen the future, so he knew the outcome of the battle. Still, he risked his life to warn me and wouldn’t leave without me. He persuaded me to follow him, but he fought on my side the whole time. I would not leave unless he took my men too. And he did it. He saved them. All of them. I wasn’t aware of the danger I’d put him in. He never told me. He had balked at his orders for my sake. The League’s orders. Back then I didn’t know what that meant, what the implications could be. But when I found out, I swore to repay him.’

He turned to me, really slowly. ‘ You are his death. I wish you had never met him.’

It wasn’t just what he had said, but how he said it. Each word carried so much cruelty, more than I could take. I tried to say

something but I couldn’t find the right words. My eyes filled with tears as I looked down in retreat. Everything was lost.

Sebastian wasn’t going to change his mind, I was sure about that. I would have to come up with another plan. Yet, I knew this was the only plan left.

Sebastian was walking by himself in the garden. He had a good life here with Martha. He was happy. He had his wife, his house, his flowers. What else did he need to be happy? He sighed. Martha had always known his sore spot. She knew the exact words to say to him. And he hated it when she was so angry with him.

‘Are you proud of yourself now?’ Martha’s voice had said scornfully.

‘She’s done enough harm to him. You know nothing.’ Sebastian had answered stubbornly.

Martha had sat on Emma’s chair. ‘I know all I need to understand what you’ve done. She’s in love, you old fool! And she’s desperate. Didn’t you notice how happy she made Christopher when he was with her? Because he’s a soldier, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the right to find love. You found love too late! Remember what you told me that night after our first kiss? “Why did we lose so many years, Martha? I wish I had found you sooner.” Those were your exact words. How can you decide that for Christopher? I thought you loved him like a son. Will you carry the blame for their misery? I hope you can live with this.’

I was lying on my bed, my eyes fixed on the ceiling. My mind was frantically working overtime, looking for a new plan. I had thought of numerous ways to provoke the League’s reaction but none of them protected Christopher and me from the Squad. There I was, alone and miserable, unable to hold on to my commitment to Christopher. And the clock was ticking. Time, that cruel, baleful monster, was not on my side, once again. I was really sick of fighting against the ticking of the clock. The silver alarm clock on my bedside table was mocking me, with its constant chuckle, tick, tick, tick. I took it in my hand, glaring at with slotted eyes before I threw it at the wall. It left a small mark on it, but still the noise kept on. I picked it up, took the batteries out of it and made it stop.

The knock on my door startled me. Martha wanted to invite me to dinner but I refused kindly. I could not face Sebastian again and I was certain he felt exactly the same. I had outgone my limits of endurance and I had already decided to set off first thing in the morning.

I woke up with the dreadful feeling that I wasn’t alone in the room. In the dim light of dawn, I was able to make out the shape of a man standing at the open door.

‘Get ready. We’re leaving in ten minutes. I’ll be waiting for you downstairs.’ Sebastian told me abruptly, before disappearing in the corridor. I blinked as I tried to comprehend his words. My mind was still half asleep. Then I popped out of bed to dress in a hurry. I didn’t have time to think what had made him change his mind, although I assumed Martha had been involved. I put on my khakis and a white T-shirt, dropped everything else in my backpack, and rushed downstairs. Still drowsy from the abrupt awakening, I walked to the yard. If only I could have a cup of coffee! But it would be too much to ask Sebastian to wait for that.

‘Emma, wait!’ Martha shouted behind me. She looked so small in her nightdress. ‘I’ve made coffee and sandwiches.’ she said breathlessly and gave me a thermos and a packet of sandwiches wrapped in aluminum.

‘God bless you Martha. Thank you ...for everything.’ I smiled to my only ally so far.

‘He’s not bad, just know, he’s trying to do the right thing. He’ll do anything in his power to help Christopher but don’t make him wait or he’ll give you a hard time.’

‘Give Christopher my kisses when you see him!’ Martha shouted as I started running after Sebastian.

I found Sebastian at the gate and walked with him in silence on the roadway that took us to the coast.

‘Where are we going?’ I asked him as soon as we were in his car, determined to break the silence.

‘To the outskirts of Athens. It’s a long journey. Perhaps you should get some sleep.’

Was it my idea or was his manner more caring today? I was impressed by his unexpected change of heart. Yet, looking at his frowned face I realized that his expression didn’t mach his voice, so he must have been trying hard to behave himself. He probably felt no remorse for his behavior the previous night. Is it because of me that he is constantly in a bad mood or is he predisposed to being moody? I wondered, determined to let him have it his way. It shouldn’t be like this. We had something in common; we both cared deeply about Christopher, so why couldn’t we just get on? Of course this would happen if Sebastian didn’t hold me responsible for bringing about Christopher’s predicament and I couldn’t argue that. Right now, in his car, I could guess Sebastian’s thoughts, since they could as well have been mine had I been in his shoes. He was probably wondering whether his decision to help me did even more harm to Christopher. I closed my eyes. I had to believe that this would not happen.

Chapter 11

Gipsy camp

‘Sebastian! It’s been so long!’

The dark, young man shook hands with Sebastian casting me a furtive look.

‘Alex! How are you my friend?’

Sebastian seemed to have been in a much better mood ever since we had approached the place. He’d explained to me that we would meet our contact in a gipsy camp. He believed this contact was the least possible to betray us to the League.

We must have been near Athens, somewhere northwest. We had left the highway half an hour before then, taking a peripheral route that had finally turned into a dirt road. As the car sped up on the dry soil, it left a huge cloud of dust behind it. After a bouncing journey, I had noticed the gipsy camp trolleys and houses, most of them looking like shacks, made of scrap material.

As soon as we had entered the camp, we were escorted by a group of children who ran after the car screaming, all of them barefoot, the youngest completely naked.

We had driven through the camp till we reached a small but decent white house with a rose garden at the front. I noticed a young man sitting at the porch. As soon as he saw our car approach, he got to the yard to welcome us.

‘This is Emma.’ Sebastian introduced me to Alex in a way that made me grateful for not revealing his dislike for me. ‘She’s recently become one of us.’ he added meaningfully.

Alex looked at me with exaggerated enthusiasm as he shook my hand. He had dark hair and his skin was tanned but he obviously wasn’t a gipsy. I wondered if he was the contact we were looking for. He didn’t look much older than me.

‘Emma! It’s been a long time since I last met such a beautiful Confidant.’ he said with a charming smile.

Sebastian nodded in agreement but I did not miss his patronizing glance.

‘Well, you kids get to know each other while I talk to Angelica.’ He looked anxiously to the house and Alex told him without taking his eyes off me,

‘You’ll find her in the backyard.’

Sebastian was already on his way and Alex offered to make me a cup of coffee.

‘No more coffee for me. Thanks.’ I said. I had emptied the whole thermos Martha had given me but my mouth felt awfully dry.

‘Some juice, then?’ Alex insisted.

‘I wouldn’t say no to that.’

The way he was looking at me made me feel embarrassed. The last thing I wanted was to give him the wrong impression, making him think that I was available. I thought I should keep myself composed, considering that if Alex was one of the people who could help me contact the Crusaders, I would have to be, at least, polite to him.

I followed him inside. The house looked very simple, possibly not used as a permanent residence. There were only a few pieces of furniture, most of them made of bamboo, and a small TV set. What I found impressing was the huge pot with flowers that Angelica probably kept inside the house to protect them from the heat.

The kitchen was an extension of the living room, a low wall separating them. Behind it I could see Alex pouring juice in the glasses. Was he and Angelica a couple? He certainly looked conversant with moving around the house. Whatever the case was, his constant stare made me uneasy, as under no circumstances would I want to irritate my contact, either Alex or Angelica.

‘So, why do you need my sister’s help?’ he asked, giving me the glass. So he wasn’t the one. And he wouldn’t beat about the bush. Even better. I felt relieved for two reasons. First, Angelica was his sister, not his girlfriend, and second, because he wasn’t my contact. Both meant that there was no reason to be frustrated by

his flirting attitude. Still, I wasn’t sure whether I should entrust him with the reason for my visit.

‘I’m trying to locate someone.’ I said eventually.

‘Will that be, by any chance, the team of Crusaders?’

I tried to conceal my surprise at how easy it had been for him to guess my plans.

‘Don’t worry. It’s not the first time it happens. You’re not the first Confidant looking for them. Why do you need to find them?’

That was the hardest part to explain.

‘It’s kind of…personal.’

‘Oh. I see.’ He looked a little disappointed with my persistence to be secretive.

‘Angelica will probably be of help to you anyway. Would you like some more?’ He pointed to my already empty glass.

‘No, thanks. I’m fine.’ I said smiling.

There were a few awkward moments of silence that made me swerve on the armchair as his intense look was making me uncomfortable again. I decided to start a conversation.

‘So, do you live here? I mean, permanently?’

He smiled broadly.

‘No. I’m not one of them. Angelica usually spends a couple of months here every autumn. She helps the children with their school. In fact, she tries to persuade their parents to send them to school. She helps them with their homework until they get used to a schedule. They usually drop out you know. With my sister’s help they keep their routine until Christmas, some of them even make it through the whole school year. But I’m here only for a few days. She’s asked me to get her a few things. I was planning to leave tomorrow.’

I pretended to ignore the past tense he had used.

‘Do you live in Athens?’

‘Athens? No. My sister and I own a hotel in Corfu. We usually take some time off in autumn when there aren’t so many tourists. She’s very committed to her volunteering duties, you see.’

The voices behind us made him stop. I heard a woman’s voice talking loudly enough to make me realize that she and Sebastian

were arguing over something. That couldn’t be good. Alex comprehended my frustration instantly.

‘Don’t worry. Her bark is worse than her bite.’

A door opened behind us.

‘It’s not your decision Angelica. Or mine.’ I heard Sebastian’s angry voice.

Alex winked at me. ‘And that’s my sister.’ he whispered, adding

‘ She’s not in her best mood, as you see.’

I turned around to look at the tall slim woman dressed in a long blue dress who had just dashed into the kitchen. She had dark hair that she wore in a bun. Her inquisitive dark eyes were examining me suspiciously.

‘Angelica, meet Emma. Emma, this is the contact I told you about.’ Sebastian’s voice was cooler now.

‘Nice to meet you.’ I stood up to greet Angelica with a handshake that never happened. Angelica turned her back at me and started whispering to Sebastian. He nodded, his eyes fixed on the floor. Then he looked at the dark-haired woman.

‘That’s all we’re asking. Thank you Angelica. I knew you wouldn’t let me down.’ He turned to me. ‘I’m afraid you have to be patient for a couple of days. You’re staying here until Angelica gets in touch with Plato.’

My eyes widened in surprise. ‘Here?’ I asked, doing my best to hide my disappointment under the fear that Angelica might change her mind. ‘But…’

‘Do you have a problem with that?’ I perceived the hint of warning in Angelica’s tone.

‘No, of course not. I just don’t want to be a nuisance.’

‘Well, some things take time, you see. The whole world can’t be moving around you.’ Angelica’s scornful voice scolded.

Alex intervened as a pacifier. ‘Angelica, please. Emma already feels bad, it doesn’t help if you make her feel unwelcome.’

Angelica glared at him but Alex ignored her. His eyes were on me again.

‘Don’t worry Emma. There’s plenty of room. Besides, my sister spends too much time with her students and I really need the company.’

‘So, you’ll be all right?’ Sebastian asked, looking at me first and then at Angelica.

‘Yes Sebastian, we will.’ she said before leaving the room.

Her reaction had taken me by surprise and I was trying to get over her attack.

‘Sebastian, my car is in Monemvasia. I have to take it back.’ I said.

‘I’ll take care of it. Here’s my phone number, in case something goes wrong.’ He gave me a small card with the address and phone number of “Pelagos”.

The three of us walked to the car. Unbearable as he had been to me all morning, I hated to see Sebastian leave. I didn’t know those people. My insecurities stroke me suddenly like a whip.

‘Listen,’ Sebastian told me in an unexpected tone of compassion, ‘you’ll be all right with them. They’re good people. I’d never leave you if I didn’t know you are in good hands.’

I nodded, trying to keep myself unabashed. I shouldn’t behave like a child. I had to ignore the strong urge to ask Sebastian to take me back to Monemvasia. Besides, my instincts told me that those people would take me closer to Christopher. The best thing to do was to cling to this thought. Christopher’s thought.

Sebastian sat behind the wheel, looking undecided for a few minutes. He turned to Emma. She looked so helpless as she smiled to him guardedly. Her sad face distressed him. She was still a child for God’s sake! How did she get into this mess?

‘Emma, just…find Christopher and… take care of yourself.’

‘I will.’ I said. Was that a tear in the corner of the old man’s eye? I wasn’t sure. But I didn’t have time to find out, as he started the engine and set off, leaving a thin cloud of dust behind him. I was able to understand what Christopher had seen to this man that made him feel so close to him. The frowned, angry Sebastian had

vanished, transformed into a sweet, caring, father-like figure for those last few minutes.

‘He’s right you know.’ Alex’s voice sounded reassuring behind me. ‘Despite my sister’s unpredictable countenance, we’re in general terms good people.’ He was standing next to me now. ‘So how about a walk? I’d love to show you around.’

Aware of my reluctance to confront Angelica’s hostile behavior, I had no option but to accept his offer.

It was still quite hot and I felt the drops of sweat slide down my back, damping my T-shirt. We walked up a small hill that overlooked the whole area. I could even make out the dim shapes of the buildings of a city, probably Athens. We sat silently on a flat rock, under the cool shade of a pine tree.

‘When there’s no smog you can see as far as the sea.’ Alex said in a dreamy manner. ‘But it’s at night that I think it’s best.’

‘So, what is Christopher to you?’ he asked in a carefree manner, startling me.

Sooner or later I’d have to explain to him and Angelica the reason I was looking for the Crusaders anyway. Those people had offered me their house and deserved an explanation. I wasn’t sure how much Sebastian had revealed to Angelica but there was no reason for more secrets. I had been so tired of keeping so many secrets from so many people. Alex was a Confidant, I could tell him everything without putting his life at risk. In fact, I wanted to tell someone, share my aspirations, my fears, my suffering.

‘Christopher is my life.’ I said, matter-of- factly.

‘Is he a Crusader?’

‘Ex. He’s in the Squad now.’

‘The Squad?’ His repulsed expression made me smile. He shook his head taking a deep breath. ‘Sounds dangerous. And what would someone like you have to do with a Squad guy?’

‘It’s a long story.’

‘I have plenty of time. And, as it seems, so do you. So let me try again. How did you meet him?’

Right there, sitting next to a stranger, in a place I wasn’t sure I could locate on a map, unsure of where I would be spending the

night or where I would be the next day, I started talking about Christopher. I recalled all the details. When I finished the story of my life, it was already dark. The lights of the city were flickering in the darkness. I sighed, still lost in my memories of Christopher’s gorgeous face.

Alex’s voice startled me.

‘Honestly, do you want to make up with him?’

‘Don’t you understand how I feel about him?’ I glared at him. ‘What we had was…so special. He was so special.’

‘He’s just a killer. He was involved in your father’s murder and then he came here to make you fall for him. Can’t you see? This is them, it’s how they work in order to accomplish their purpose.’

His prejudiced attitude and his accusations irritated me. He didn’t even know Christopher, how could he be so critical of him? I made a last effort to convince him.

‘He has regretted everything about the past. You just don’t get it, do you?’

‘Okay, let’s just think it over. A killer has a moment of epiphany and saves a girl and that erases his crimes? Makes him a saint? He’s a trained killer. What makes you think he can change? If you ask me, he’s where he wants to be.’

‘I have faith in him. And I don’t have to explain myself to you.’ I said dryly.

‘Don’t get me wrong but you need a normal life, Emma. The way things turned out, however hurtful it might have been, it’s for your best. Forget about him. You need to be with a normal guy.’

‘Really? Like you, for instance?’ I couldn’t help being ironic.

‘Why not?’ He smiled broadly, unaffected by my comment. ‘You could at least try.’ His smile made me furious.

‘Are you always so irritating?’ I looked at him with a frown. ‘Can we go back now?’ I asked anxiously as I stood up. He shrugged and then he stood up to follow me.

Luckily, Angelica was not in the house. I helped Alex make dinner, burgers and chips. Loss of appetite had probably been the first side effect of the stress I was under, because I had hardly touched my food. Feeling guilty, Alex was now in his best

behavior and did everything to make me feel at home. There was no more reference of Christopher, as if our argument had never taken place. I had decided it would be unwise to keep a long face to my hosts. Alex wasn’t bad after all, if I could just forget his earlier attack about Christopher, we would get along. I needed a friend desperately and, despite the fact that I’d only known Alex for a few hours, I really liked him. Under the circumstances, he was the only friend I had at that moment.

When Angelica showed up, she didn’t say a word. She just disappeared behind her bedroom door.

Second side effect. That night I hardly slept at all. Alex had offered me his room and he had slept on the sofa. But that wasn’t enough. My mind was on Christopher, the same as any other sleepless night. If only Angelica had been able to put aside her unsubstantiated dislike for me and reveal how and when she intended to contact the Crusaders instead of keeping me in the dark…

For the next couple of days I was still in the dark. Alex hadn’t left me alone for a minute. Acknowledging my frustration about the delay in my mission and about his sister’s behavior, he did his best to make my stay at the camp as pleasant as possible. He introduced me to the elders of the camp who insisted on organizing a feast to honor me, considering me as one of Angelica’s friends. Angelica was their benefactor and with good reason. When Alex took me to help the children while they were redecorating their school, a prefabricated single classroom painted in lively colors, with a handmade artistic sign on the door, I saw a dozen of huge boxes that Angelica had brought for them with things that intended to transform the pre-fabricated container so that it would resemble a school classroom; books, posters, maps, and colorful cartons. Alex saw my amazed expression and joked that most of this stuff would go on the black market sooner or later. He could be right, but I thought that the excitement on the children’s faces was worth the effort.

I was really impressed by the simplicity of the Roma life. Things that other children had for granted, were priceless to them. I was

impressed by their enthusiasm and next thing I knew, I was opening boxes of colorful children’s books and started organizing the bookcase. I didn’t stop until Alex saw me swallowing a couple of pills as the first signs of tiredness had made their appearance. My body was still fragile, I had almost forgotten.

All this time Angelica pretended to ignore me. When Alex insisted on having a break, his sister didn’t have a choice. Right then, the camp chief brought ice creams and beverages for everyone. Angelica sat next to me for the first time. I didn’t dare speak to her. I just hoped that her cold heart might have relented by now. It was my heart that was throbbing with excitement when Angelica spoke without looking at me, concentrated on the bubbles of the sparkling coke in her glass.

‘Tomorrow morning we’re going sailing. You could have told me it was so urgent.’

Last summer, Christopher had explained to me that Sailing was the code word for meeting a League member.

‘Urgent?’ I was mystified. Who had Angelica talked to?

‘For some strange reason, you seem to be very important to them.’

‘Have you talked to them?’ I asked unable to conceal my enthusiasm.

But Angelica ignored my question. ‘Alex told me your story. I don’t know what you expect the Crusaders to do for you, though. But…it’s your life.’ She shrugged.

‘I’m looking for someone.’

‘I know. Did it occur to you that he might not want you to find him?’

Not her too, I thought. Of course it had occurred to me. Even more, he might have changed; he might have stopped loving me.

‘I’ll give it a try.’ I said calmly. ‘I have to.’

Angelica looked at me as if she wanted to say something more, but eventually she stood up straightening her dress.

‘Come on kids. Time for a shower. Line up.’ She turned to me. ‘There’s only one shower. Not enough water, I’m afraid. You can use the hose in my house.’

‘I know. Alex told me.’

In fact, Alex had said that the main reason he couldn’t wait to go back to his house in Corfu was his longing of a normal bathroom where he could take a real shower. At that time I had thought he was exaggerating but when I saw the hose I had to use in the narrow bathroom, I sympathized with him.

Alex sat next to me. ‘Well? Did she tell you about tomorrow? Big day for you, right?’

‘You knew this? And you didn’t say anything all morning? I don’t believe it!’

He wasn’t sharing my enthusiasm, I was aware of that. Nevertheless, he retained his good mood and his smile made me forget the bitter discussion with Angelica that had awakened all my doubts and insecurities about Christopher.

That night Alex suggested a celebration for the occasion was in order but I was aware of the fact that the occasion was just about saying goodbye.

He took me to a fair in a nearby village, Megara. I had accepted the invitation without second thoughts. Besides, the alternative would be to stay at home with Angelica and her pessimistic forecast. But soon I came to regret it.

Alex suggested going to the funfair, a huge amusement park. I hadn’t been to such a place for years but I found it an absolutely invigorating experience. We tried almost all the games, shooting bottles with ball pistols being my favorite. Alex was better at it than I was and he won a teddy bear at the second shot. It was very cute, with a pink hat on and a pink heart sewn on its chest with the phrase ‘Thinking of you.’ Alex’s childlike face revealed his contagious excitement and his sparkling eyes were fixed on mine, making it hard for me to escape his stare.

‘I want you to have it.’ he said seriously, giving me the teddy bear.

I took it from his hands, pretending to ignore the tension in his voice.

‘Of course I’ll take it, silly. What do you need a pink teddy anyway?’

We strolled among the stalls until we found one with the typical, Greek, delicious, junk food: souvlaki. We enjoyed our “light” dinner with cold beer joking and laughing like children. I was grateful to him for making me forget about my problems even for a few hours. Of course, Christopher’s face was still everywhere; his thought had never left me, not even for a minute.

Alex went a little overboard that night and almost crossed the line. He tried to sweep a drop of sauce from the corner of my mouth, leaning his finger on it longer than he should, before he put the back of his hand against my cheek. I froze, certain that he was going to kiss me. I drew back when his face was only inches from mine.

‘It’s getting late.’ I said.

‘Yes. It’s a big day for you tomorrow.’ His voice was bitter and it hurt me that there was no way to make it easier for him.

‘I’m sorry.’ I said, touching his hand softly.

He turned away from me. ‘Let’s go.’

On the way to the car, the silence was awkward. It was Alex who broke it first.

‘I’ll miss you, you know.’

‘I know. You’ve been a good friend. The best.’ I tried to sound funny and managed to get a smile from him.

‘I’m leaving tomorrow too.’

‘Going back to Corfu?’

He nodded. ‘It will be very boring without you around.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Angelica has met him, you know.’ He wouldn’t say Christopher’s name.

I almost drowned, as I gulped a piece of meat from my souvlaki in my effort to say ‘She has?’

He took his time to respond, taking another sip of beer, as if he wanted to torment me a little. Yet, I didn’t lose my temper. I knew he was angry at me so I didn’t want to irritate him more. I let him take another bite of his souvlaki, pretending to be patient

but in fact I was getting more and more curious with every second.

‘Well?’ I asked him eventually, my voice now obviously anxious.

‘They often come to our hotel. For a couple of nights or so, until a yacht appears in the bay. I guess he’s been there a few times. Two, maybe three years ago.’

I felt silly for the hope that had started to grow in my mind. All of Christopher’s traces had been lost ever since that summer. He was not coming back to this world.

Sometimes I wondered if he had really existed. I often thought of him like a character in one of my favorite novels. When you finish reading it, you know you’re never going to find the hero again. And all you can do, is go back to read the same pages, to refresh your memories of him, so many times that you will be able to recall the scenes later without looking them up. But the fact remains. The story is over. You’re left with the bittersweet taste of nostalgia. But sometimes there is a sequel. And Christopher’s story was not over yet. I had to believe it.

I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to Alex. He was long gone when I woke up. I had hurt his feelings the previous night and there was nothing I could do about it now. Although I could not justify his childish attitude, I could fathom the reasons for it. To his eyes, I was in love with the wrong person. Besides, he had expected a different response to his flirting, too proud to accept rejection so easily. I wished things hadn’t turned out like that. It made me even gloomier. Why couldn’t I be happy about today? Wasn’t this sailing trip what I had always wished for? I knew it was the outcome of the meeting that worried me the most. It would be another step closer to Christopher, nothing else mattered.

We set off a little after ten.

Chapter 12


At first, it was only a white spot in the horizon.

After a while, the spot became larger as it approached the coast in a steady speed. Angelica and I had been waiting for this sign in the car, silently, each one lost in her own thoughts. Unthinkable though it seemed now, a few hours before we had shared some of our most valuable secrets, the turning point of our lives, when we became conversant with the cosmic, undisclosed power that ruled the past, the present and the future.

It didn’t take me long to confirm my presumption that Angelica was no more pleasant a companion than Sebastian had been. In fact, I was sure the two of them would get on fine with each other. It was amazing how long they both could remain silent. Under different conditions, I would have enjoyed the privacy of my thoughts, but not this time.

I remember I was too nervous. I had to distract myself otherwise my anxious heart would explode. That’s how I had started a conversation with Angelica, hoping for reconciliation.

What Angelica had told me, totally justified hers and her brother’s attitude towards the Squad. In a dry voice, Angelica had narrated her story, sounding intentionally detached, as if it had been someone else’s story, not hers. In a weird way, I had the feeling that there was much more to it. I’d felt like that after the short conversation the two of us had in the Roma school the previous day. I wondered what Angelica could be keeping from me and whether I would make her loosen up at some point during that long day. But then Angelica turned silent again. After a couple of one-word responses, I got the message and gave up.

Ever since that dim outline had appeared in the horizon, it had consumed every cell of my mind and body. I couldn’t think about Angelica anymore. Never before had I experienced such impatience and anxiety. Sitting on the hot sand in a feat of endurance, my arms around my knees, my eyes fixed on the white spot, I felt as if my mind was empty of any other thought.

The world had suddenly shrunk, minimized to this flickering white spot that grew larger and larger now on the blue of the sea.

Half an hour before, Angelica had driven past the ancient temple of Sounio and parked her car near a deserted fishing port, where a few old, weather-beaten boats were swaying lazily to the slow, rhythmic music of the sea. When the yacht appeared, Emma had left the car to walk to the beach. Angelica thought it would seem awkward of her to stay in the car, so she followed Emma reluctantly and sat a few meters away from her on the hot sand. She let out a large puff of smoke before she buried the rest of her cigarette in the sand. She could feel Emma’s tension as the yacht approached the coast.

She wondered whether this frivolous young woman realized the risk she was taking by getting on board. She had heard stories about men, strong, capable confidants who never came back on shore after such sailing trips. But Emma didn’t look frightened at all. Quite the contrary. She was so anxious to meet them.

Angelica didn’t like Emma. She was determined not to let herself like her. She was nothing but a menace, hidden behind her warm eyes and her sweet smile. This menace had already destroyed Christopher, alluring him with her romantic outbursts and turning him from a tough soldier to a romantic fool. Even worse, it was her fault that the Crusaders had been deprived of one of their most skillful comrades. Angelica had forbidden herself that same aspiration three years ago, when she had first met Christopher. She had fallen for him from the very first moment. How could she not? Christopher was so unbelievably perfect. And he has always been so kind to her. She could recall perfectly that time when he had stood by her at her mother’s funeral, how he had comforted her and offered to help her with the details. How she had cried on his shoulder later that night when she realized the loss and how she had instinctively reached for his lips. Christopher had put his finger on her lips meaning to stop her.

‘It will be best if I go now Angelica, you know it.’ He was right. He was a soldier; he shouldn’t allow any strings to tie him to one of the worlds he was fighting in. He kissed her forehead before

he left. She never saw him after that night. She had tried to forget him...until Emma showed up to her house. Emma and her absurd demands. Could this be more ironic?

What on Earth was she thinking to talk to Emma about her family? She regretted every word now, but when Emma had asked her how she became a Confidant, the whole story came back to her. It had been so long since she had last talked to someone about it. After all, she had not been allowed to do so. There was no doubt about the punishment, had she disobeyed the League’s rule of secrecy. But there were moments when she felt strangely related to someone like this girl with the tortured body and the broken heart, who kept searching for the impossible, for the ghost of her condemned love. The words had automatically come out of her mouth.

‘‘That day, a stranger came to our house. It was a warm evening in mid–October and my mother was in the backyard. Our house was isolated from the rest of the village, the last one before a small forest. The door was open; it’s very common to have open doors in the villages when it’s not cold outside. The people usually feel safe, you see. The man had been running, he was out of breath, sweaty. He was being chased, looking for shelter. My father came in after him. He sent us to our room and tried to calm down the stranger, probably thinking that he was crazy. We all did. He was frantic, not making any sense.

‘They’re coming, they’ll find me. They know everything. Close the door, turn off the lights!’ he kept telling my father.

My mother came into the kitchen through the back door and managed to call the police. He didn’t notice her. He was in the living room with my dad, hiding behind the curtain, not taking his eyes from the window. Alex and I were watching from the top of the stairs. We saw everything. Alex was shaking, clasping my hand.

Then there were cars outside, loud voices, hard blows on the doors and people dashed into our house. The stranger had attempted to take my dad as a shield to protect himself from them, but my dad was faster. He managed to free himself before

they shot the man dead. I remember Alex was crying. I stepped back slowly, terrified they might see us, holding my little brother’s hand the whole time. We hid under the bed but we could still hear everything. My mother pleading for mercy, my father’s unsteady voice trying to reason with the men in black.

Then, a new voice made everything stop. The last thing I heard was

‘We’ll take over from here. You may go now.’

I don’t know how long we waited hiding under the bed. At some point, my father called us downstairs. He was making an effort to look calm but my mother’s face was still soaked in tears. There was nobody else in the room. I remember how serious my dad’s face had been when he told us to forget everything about that night, never to tell anybody; otherwise the bad men would be back.

After that night, my parents came in possession of a lot of money. They never told us where it came from, but Alex and I have always known it had been a reward for our silence.

A few months later, my father sold our house and we moved to a village by the sea, where he bought a small guesthouse. He turned it into a nice, small hotel. From time to time, strange guests stayed over. We could tell they were related to that night from my dad’s face.

When he died, Alex and I took over. A Crusader that often came to the hotel told us everything. He explained to us how the Squad was determined to kill my family that night. The Crusaders had come literally at the last moment and persuaded the Squad to let us live on condition that we would never tell anybody about that night. Once the agreement was broken, the Crusaders would not be able to protect us anymore. And that’s how Alex and I became Confidants.’

That Angelica had shared her secret with me made me feel obliged to reveal my own story in return. Angelica had listened to me silently as I unraveled my new life; this is how I prefer to think of the last two years, my after- Christopher life.

As soon as I had finished, Angelica said in a surly manner,

‘Nobody leaves the Squad. Certainly not twice. You should know that.’

Her bitter voice, sounding like an omen, sent cold shivers down my back.

The Poseidon was still now. The dingy that had come off was approaching the shore, leaving a foamy white path behind it. Two men were on it. Blinking, I tried to make out the figure of the man who was moving like he was waving to us. Tom? My heart leapt. It was definitely Tom.

When he jumped off the dingy, I ran to hug him, like I would hug a long lost friend. He responded to my enthusiasm eagerly.

‘You look much better than the last time I saw you!’ Tom said smiling, examining my face. I had forgotten how beautiful his smile was. Almost as beautiful as…

‘I surely do! You’ve done this, you know. If it hadn’t been for you…’

‘But you’re fine now. That’s all that counts. You’re a strong, healthy, committed woman. Otherwise you wouldn’t have found us.’

His hands were on my shoulders. ‘Ready to go?’

I took a deep breath. ‘Ready.’

Tom’s eyes fell on Angelica. He left me to shake her hand.

‘Angelica! Thank you for helping our friend. She’s very important to us.’ He gave me a meaningful, quick glance. ‘Plato will owe you forever.’

Angelica’s brows furrowed as she looked at me with contempt.

‘Seriously? Her?’ her ironic voice asked.

Tom didn’t answer. Instead, he smiled broadly. ‘Let’s go then. They’re waiting for us. Angelica, you’re coming along. Plato will like to thank you in person.’ Then he whispered to me ‘Another great fan of yours I guess.’

‘Where’s Susan?’ I asked him a few minutes later on the dingy, trying to distract my mind from Christopher’s memories.

‘Right there! ‘He pointed to the yacht. ‘She’s probably spying on us now.’ he said, waving to an invisible Susan. ‘She wanted to come but… she feels very bad.’


‘About that night. For delivering the bad news that made you lose your mind and for leaving you at the hospital.’

‘That’s silly. None of those was her fault.’ I protested.

‘Maybe you can persuade her about it. You must understand that she was already risking too much by coming to your house that night.’

I turned to the yacht. Susan’s waving blond hair could be seen now.

A few minutes later, Susan’s arms were around me, squeezing me tight, blocking my breath.

‘Emma, darling! It’s so good to see you again!’ Looking into my face, she saw my tearful eyes and her smile was instantly swept away.

‘I’m ...I’m sorry. I just…I’ve missed you all so much.’ I whispered.

Susan seemed unusually self-conscious as her slim hand brushed the tears from my face. Then she took her usual inspectional expression before she said,

‘Jesus! What have you done to yourself?’ She shook her head disapprovingly. ‘Skinny doesn’t suit you, honey. We’ve got to fix you for him.’

‘I was counting on that.’ I smiled, feeling less emotional.

Susan’s face became serious again. She looked straight into my eyes and held my hands.

‘I’m so sorry Emma.’ she whispered.

‘I know. But no one blames you for it. It was my fault.’

‘I shouldn’t have left you.’

‘You couldn’t have done anything else.’

‘He will kill me if he finds out.’

‘I won’t tell.’

‘He will find out some day.’

‘Ladies,’ Tom’s voice interrupted us, ‘you will have plenty of time to catch up. Plato will be getting impatient. Shall we?’ He led the way to Plato’s cabin.

Every step was painful to me, as the place was filled with Christopher’s memories. I wondered if I would I find anything that didn’t remind me of him ever again.

This time Plato was waiting for us in front of his cabin, his face revealing his absolute content at my sight.

‘Emma! Welcome back! It’s really good to see you again.’ He took my hand in his and squeezed it in a warm, welcoming gesture.

‘Thank you sir. Good to see you too.’

Plato made a step backwards to let us into his cabin.

‘Please, come in.’ he said. Susan and I walked in as Tom stood next to Plato and whispered to him. Then Plato turned to Angelica who was still standing in the corridor.

‘You must be Angelica. You were a child when I first saw you. My dear, I can never thank you enough for your help. I will owe you, forever.’

‘Always at your service, sir.’ Angelica replied bashfully, surprising me. Her usual sarcastic manner was gone and the awe and respect for the man standing in front of her was obvious.

‘Please make yourself at home. We won’t keep you long. I just need to talk to Emma. You will excuse us.’

‘Of course.’ Angelica replied before Plato nodded to a young man standing behind her.

The Crusader’s Commander closed the door behind him and walked to his shiny, oak desk. ‘You’ve really impressed me Emma. You’ve passed the test with flying colors. You’ve managed to find us so easily. I must take this in mind next time I think about safety measures.’

‘I just knew the right people.’ I smiled.

‘One way or the other, I’m really proud of you. And… how is your health? Tom has told me about your accident.’

‘I’m fine. It’s all behind me now.’

‘Of course. You had a very strong motive power after all. We’ll have to keep that in mind.’ He exchanged a look with Tom.

‘Where is he? Have you seen him?’ I asked, unable to hide my impatience any longer.

Tom spoke first. ‘We never saw him again after the hearing.’

I was confused. Fathoming my frustration, Plato tried to explain the situation.

‘We know exactly where he is but I’m afraid we still can’t get close to him. Of course we keep ourselves updated on his whereabouts. He is still under supervision, you see, which means he’s not allowed to contact any of us. He doesn’t live in his apartment either. His lodgings are in the Squad headquarters. We know he’s taken part in a few missions till now…’ he hesitated, ‘…under Tex’s orders. We have reasons to think that Denzel is not satisfied by his level of commitment yet.’

I thought about Yannis’ vicious murder, the engineer who worked for Project-Em, and the familiar lump found its place in my throat again. I hesitated to ask whether Christopher had been involved in it. Somehow I was sure of it. I was also aware of what it must have meant to Christopher to re-live his worst nightmare. All this should be over soon. This time I would be the one to save him. He had been tortured enough.

‘Emma? Are you with us?’ Plato’s worried voice startled me.

‘What’s the plan?’ I asked him anxiously.

‘The plan?’ Plato sat back, apprehending my impatience.

‘Of course you must have a plan!’ I protested, startled by his tone.

Plato spoke in a steady, calm voice. ‘Emma, we can’t act yet. Not as long as Denzel has him under supervision. There’s nothing we can do for the time being, but wait.’

My first reaction to those words was that Plato was probably joking. I felt anger burning my cheeks as I glared at the three Crusaders.

‘I don’t believe you! There’s no plan? I got through all this just to hear that …I must wait?’ I was aware of the fact that I had

crossed the line, forgetting who I was talking to, but it was too late to control myself.

‘Emma!’ Susan cut me in a patronizing tone, in an effort to remind me I should contain my anger.

Plato made a gesture with his hand, meaning to stop Susan’s intervention. ‘It’s okay Susan.’ he said in his usual calm voice. Then he got up and stood in front of the porthole to gaze at the sea.

‘Please, bear with me my dear child. I’ll explain everything. There are so many factors that bear on the situation we are facing. I never expected this would go on for so long. I feel exactly the same, believe me. We just have to be patient while Christopher tries to convince Denzel that he has reverted to his past life, one way or another. If that’s what’s he doing.’ The silver-haired Crusader turned to me with his usual warm smile. His gray eyes looked deeply into mine.

‘This doesn’t mean that what you’ve accomplished so far is not significant. It proves how committed you are to him. That was all I needed to know. Because, what you’ve experienced so far will be nothing compared to what’s lying ahead. Many things will be at risk. Even your own life.’ He drew a deep breath and went on. ‘It’s a one-way door, Emma. Once you walk through it, there’s no coming back.’

‘I can do it.’ I said decisively. Plato nodded satisfied by my eager response.

‘Then you will have to follow my orders from now on. What I want you to do now is go back home. You will be expecting new orders there.’

‘Home? You don’t mean…London?’

‘Exactly.’ He scrutinized my bewildered expression and went on. ‘We have to be very careful Emma. A careless move can destroy everything. It can destroy Christopher forever. Or you. This meeting, we can keep a secret, but we have to convince them that you’ve forgotten about Christopher, that you’ve left everything behind you. Don’t forget the conditions of the settlement between him and the Squad. Christopher must not have any kind of

contact with you or with us, otherwise the agreement will be violated. So, go back to your life and to your studies. We both know he wouldn’t like you to give up your studies for his sake. Make sure you check your e-mail everyday because you’ll hear from us soon.’

His words made me think that Plato in fact had a plan. He just had to postpone it until the timing was right. This must have raised the veil of grief from my face. But when he spoke again I felt utterly hopeless.

‘Tom will give you a ride to Corinth. Tomorrow morning you’re flying to London.’ He walked me to the door and shook my hand in a farewell gesture before I could say a word. ‘Goodbye my dear. We’ll be in touch.’

I was confused, feeling like I had been hypnotized. I didn’t want the meeting to be over so soon, but there was nothing I could do. Before I knew it, Susan had taken me out of the cabin.

‘Let’s go, Emma. I’ll come with you to the shore.’ Her musical voice tried to calm me down.

Ten minutes later I was back on shore, saying goodbye to Angelica. I thanked her for her help but Angelica still seemed confused about how to behave. The smug look and her sarcastic grin had left her face as she, not so enthusiastically, shook hands with me.

‘Glad to be of help.’ she said, but the tone of her voice revealed exactly the opposite. She headed for her car while Tom approached me, giggling.

‘What have you done to her?’ he whispered, opening the passenger door of the silver car.

‘What makes you say that?’ I smiled. I wanted to tell him that she’d always been on at me but I didn’t want to waste time. ‘So Susan, I guess I’ll see you soon?’ I asked the blonde Crusader who was giving Tom a goodbye kiss.

‘Sooner than you think, honey.’ Susan replied.

‘You look angry.’ Tom’s voice remarked a few minutes later, taking me out of my thoughts. We were already on our way to Corinth.

‘No, not angry. Disappointed.’

‘You were expecting much more from this meeting, weren’t you?’ He looked at my pursed lips and went on. ‘I know it’s as hard for you as it is for us. But we all have to trust Plato. Somehow, he always makes the right decisions.’

‘I hope you’re right. I just wish he hadn’t asked me to leave.’

‘There’s no point in wasting your time here. He wants you to move on with your life, convince Denzel that everything is behind you, until it’s time for the first move.’

Deep down, I knew what Tom had just said made sense. At least, I knew I could not argue that.

‘Is it true? That you don’t know anything about him?’

‘We’ve already told you everything we know. It works both ways Emma. Christopher probably ignores everything that has happened to you since he left. About the accident…and the baby.’

‘You know about the baby?’ I was startled. That was a painful memory I still couldn’t bear to talk about.

‘I was a doctor for a few minutes, don’t you remember?’

‘Of course I remember.’ I said and my mind was suddenly filled with hurtful images that I had tried hard to bury deep into my subconscious.

‘It’s better this way. That he doesn’t know. I can’t think of his reaction if he finds out. He’d risk everything to come to you.’

Of course he would. Christopher had always been obsessed with my safety. Only this time he hadn’t been able to save me. I remembered with gratefulness how Tom had taken me out of the darkness I was plunging in.

‘You know Tom, I can never thank you enough for what you’ve done for me.’

‘Again, Plato’s idea. I wouldn’t take credit for this.’

‘Anyway, I’m sure Christopher will be grateful.’

‘Come now, Emma. Susan was right. When he finds out what we’ve kept from him… He’s gonna want to kill me!’

Tom had said that in a way that made me smile. But my smile froze as I pictured Christopher’s reaction when Tom would break the news about my accident and the baby I had lost. How guilty he would feel once again, always willing to take the blame for everything. Always carrying the burden of my misfortunes.

‘Tom, you’ve got to promise me. No word to Christopher about the baby.’

Tom shook his head. ‘I knew you would ask me this. He will find out someday. You know he will. And then…’

‘I’ll take responsibility for this. I’ll tell him how I’ve made you promise to keep it a secret.’

‘Too many people know Emma.’

‘But you’ll tell Susan and Plato I need this as a favor, won’t you?’

‘I’ll do what I can.’

‘Do you promise?’

‘I promise.’

Chapter 13


Twenty-four hours later I was back in London. For the following three months I tried hard to convince everyone that I was back to my pre-Christopher routine. But that was far from true. More than ever had I become obsessed with my laptop, carrying it always with me and checking my e-mails every two hours for a sign of the Crusaders. In the meantime, I found countless things that reminded me of Christopher everyday. A song, a word, a smell.

When I had already started thinking that Plato had told me to wait for them to call me back just to get rid of me, things changed. Two weeks before Christmas, the most unexpected thing happened. My cell phone vibrated in my bag as I was heading towards the university library. Alex’s name flashed in the small screen. I was really happy to hear his voice, despite feeling a little guilty at the same time. Somehow, my delight at hearing his voice felt like cheating on Christopher. All those months I had often thought about calling him, but every time I started dialing his number something stopped me. That guilty feeling grew even more when Alex told me he was coming to London for a few days and he wondered if I would find time for him. I tried to hide the hesitation in my voice and told him I was looking forward to it. Part of me was really excited with the idea of seeing him again, as he was the only person I could really talk to about Christopher. Of course, I knew he wouldn’t share my enthusiasm about the save-Christopher mission I had undertaken but, at least, I would have someone to share my thoughts with before I went crazy with anticipation. Still, there was that other part of me who worried about the feelings that Alex had for me. I hoped he wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardize our friendship. Because right now I needed a friend, not a lover. I had a lover. He just had to be away from me for a while but that didn’t change anything. I was his. I would always be his. Forever.

Alex had booked a room at Hilton Paddington. I had offered to pick him up from the airport but he had strangely insisted on meeting me later in the afternoon under the excuse that airplanes gave him a migraine and he would prefer to rest for a couple of hours before we met.

Before setting off for my date with Alex I gave my e-mail a last check to find a strange message under the subject GREEK CAVERS CLUB. It seemed that I had offered a considerable sum of money to this club, as the person who had signed the message thanked me for my donation. He also informed me that the cave I was interested in had become private property and it would be hard to get permission for exploring it. Nevertheless, if I thought it was necessary for my research, he would try to set up a clandestine expedition, but the risk of getting caught remained.

Nothing of these made sense. I was sure he had confused me for someone else. But the message was addressed to me; my name was on top. I had no time to deal with this, as my date with Alex was in less than an hour. I shut down the computer, thinking that I’d better reply to the message as soon as I came back. One thousand euros was a lot of money, I should be able to remember donating it to some club I’d never heard of. Or was I losing my mind? Could I be suffering from a split personality disorder? Whatever the case was, I was sure I smelled a rat and I would have to deal with this as soon as possible.

It was raining hard that afternoon and I’ve always hated driving in such weather. The best way to get to Alex’s hotel would be by taxi. When I was just a few blocks away I called his cell phone and asked him to wait for me in the lobby.

‘I think it will be better if we meet in my room.’ he said playfully. I could picture him perfectly as he said that, with his teasing, whimsical smile and his shifty eyes.

There was a moment of silence before I said ‘That sounds like an indecent suggestion.’ I tried to sound casual but my mind was working fast for an excuse that would not hurt his feelings.

I heard his laughter at the other end of the line. ‘I wish it was.’ he said and there was an unaccounted strange tone in his voice.

‘Trust me Emma. Come to my room. There is someone here who is anxious to see you. Besides me, of course.’

‘Ok. I’m right outside.’ I was confused. Now I was even more worried whether I was doing the right thing by meeting him. I was wondering about who could be with Alex in that room. Could I be in any kind of danger? Alex had asked me to trust him and I had no other option. I breathed deeply before I knocked on the door of room 504. My heart was bumping hard and I had ridiculously my hand tight around my cell phone in case I would have to use it as a weapon.

The door opened and I saw Susan’s smiling face. ‘Surpri-I-se!’ she shouted.

‘Unbelievable!’ I whispered, totally taken aback. She was laughing as she pulled me inside, closing the door behind me, finding my reaction amusing.

‘If you could just see your face!’ I’m sorry it had to be this way.’ She lowered her voice. ‘I’m here undercover you see.’

After the first shock, I looked around for Alex. He was sitting on a red sofa across the room watching us as if we were the most boring sight. I went to him smiling awkwardly.

‘Alex. Welcome to London.’ I stretched out my hand self-consciously. Alex grinned broadly before he stood up and put his arms around me, squeezing me on his chest.

‘I forget how demonstrative you Greeks are.’ I said bashfully.

Alex giggled. ‘I’ve forgotten how beautiful you are.’ he said before kissing my cheek. I was aware of my blushed face but I was so startled, I couldn’t make a move.

‘It’s so good to see you again Emma.’ He looked at my face. I was still petrified but I was also totally aware of Susan’s curious eyes on us. Alex released me finally and I turned to Susan again but I couldn’t read her face.

‘But how… I don’t understand.’ Then it struck me. ‘ Is it …time?’

‘When did you last check you e-mail?’ Susan was now sitting on the red sofa, crossing her legs gracefully.

Alex sighed as he lay on the bed and closed his eyes, folding his arms behind his head. I wondered if he really was suffering from migraine. I sat next to Susan.

‘Funny that you mention it. I got the strangest message from… Oh!’

She shrugged. ‘We’ve prepared your return.’

‘That’s why I donated the money to…’

‘To the Cavers’ Club. Yes. You’ve been really generous. I hope you like caving.’

‘I’ve never thought about it.’

‘It’s never too late. In the meantime, I have been ordered to teach you a few useful strategies. Your friend here, was kind enough to offer us an alibi for our meetings. We thought his sister would be a better choice but…she was unavailable this time.’

‘I see.’ I said, trying to put everything together. I cast a furtive look at Alex but he still kept his eyes closed.

‘Is there…any news?’ I asked, trying to keep my voice down although I was sure Alex could still hear me.

‘He’s out. But he’s never alone. We haven’t been able to contact him yet.’

I shook my head.

‘Emma, he’s fine. He can deal with it, don’t worry. Christopher is a very strong man. Besides, we will bring him back. Always keep this in mind. Plato has a very promising plan and you, young lady, are the one who will have to carry it through. And as for me, I have been assigned to get you ready for what is going to happen. You’ll pick the details of the plan as we go through it.’ She looked at Alex.

‘I will have to leave you with your friend now. I have to go.’

‘So soon?’ I asked, obviously disappointed.

‘Meet me here tomorrow at six for about half an hour. I’ll fill you in and we’ll start some… espionage lessons.’

‘Espionage?’ I blinked.

Susan smiled and stood up. She opened the wardrobe to take out a black leather coat and put it on. I always hated to say goodbye to her. It felt like scratching an old wound. I stood up to walk her out.

‘No.’ she stopped me. ‘ Stay in. I’ll see you both tomorrow.’

When I turned to Alex, he wasn’t pretending to be asleep any more. He sat up and smiled playfully.

‘The weird lady’s gone. It’s time for fun!’

I fell heavily on the sofa, already exhausted.

We had dinner in a pub near the hotel. Alex asked me about the meeting with Plato and I was more than eager to finally talk to someone about it. When I finished, Alex gulped down his Guinness and wiped his mouth with his napkin, revealing no sign of reaction to what he had heard.

‘So, what do you think?’ I asked him, slightly irritated by his impassiveness.

‘You know what I think.’ he said in the same manner.

‘That’s not fair. I know you don’t agree with my decision but you’re my friend. You’re supposed to support me in this.’

‘Okay, okay. You don’t want to hear what I think about it, but to me it’s obvious that they’re using you to get their man back. You’re just a mere pawn in their hands. But you have made up your mind and if there’s no way to…’

‘There is absolutely no way.’

‘…of course I’ll stand by you in this. I’m here anyway, aren’t I?’

‘I’m sorry. I should thank you for doing this. I had no idea your trip was all about me.’

‘That’s what friends are for. By the way, am I going to meet any of your friends?’

‘Of course. Mick and Tony are in Germany now but you’re going to meet Kate and Sue. I’m afraid you’ll be stuck with three women, not too bad, is it?’ I teased him.

‘Sounds good to me.’ he smiled irresistibly. ‘It’s not too far to walk to the center, is it?’ he asked as he waved to waitress.

To most people, London is a vast, chaotic city. But if you ride a Piaggio to move around like I do, during the hottest months at least, you save time and you get anywhere you want to. It would have been much funnier if Alex had come in spring or summer. When we were at the Roma camp, I had promised to show him around my London, my favorite places. Enjoying the early morning sun as you walk on the moist lawn by Serpentine lake in Hyde Park is something you can’t do in winter. Neither is walking along the Thames at the South Bank or going on a boat ride to Greenwich. We would do all these anyway, but it was a pity Alex would only get a small portion of my London. Still, there were always other things to do, the delight of which would not be affected by the weather conditions, like strolling along the marbled Portobello road, enjoying the delicious cupcakes in my favorite bakery and having lunch in the best Italian restaurant in Hammersmith that Colin and I had discovered when we were still dating. Besides, I was certain Alex would also love to see one of the historic cafés that in the 60s had been the hangout of famous rock stars.

I gazed sorrowfully through the clouded pane of the window next to me, thinking how wonderful it would be if Christopher was there with me instead of Alex.

The rain had stopped and although it was pretty cold outside, I found his idea of taking a walk quite convenient, as it was easier for me to be with him in the open air. After a few minutes of walking, I realized it was a mistake as it had started dripping again and we had to be both under my umbrella, too close to each other. Alex was obviously enjoying it, as he seemed to be in the best mood ever since I’d met him. He had his arm around my shoulders and every time he spoke to me he turned to whisper in my ear, his breath too hot on my cheek, his lips too close to my face. And that’s about how we spent our first date, until it was time to get back. Alex let me take the first taxi that stopped and gave me a quick kiss on my cheek before saying good night. I could imagine his thoughts, undoubtedly full of contentment that

night. I, on the other hand, was more confused than ever. The developments of the last few hours had been too much for me. I went to bed with the most disjoint thoughts troubling me, until I was finally able to fall asleep.

When Alex met Kate and Sue it wasn’t difficult for him to charm them. He was in his best behavior, a real gentleman and a child in the same person. I often stared at him thinking it was this childlike vivacity that had attracted me in the first place.

We took him to the National Gallery and to Victoria and Albert’s Museum since he had expressed an interest in art. We spent almost all day touring until it was time for Alex and me to meet Susan. I fabricated an excuse about an appointment with my doctor, implying that we should call it a day. To my surprise, Sue suggested continuing their tour without me. Alex looked at me with mellow eyes and for a moment I was terrified he was going to expose me. Obviously, he wasn’t going to make it easy for me. Nobody noticed me exhaling with relief when he finally said,

‘I’m sorry girls. I’ve promised Emma to accompany her to the doctor. But there’s always tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow night we’re definitely going clubbing.’ Kate said. ‘Time for you to get a taste of London nightlife.’

Hadn’t it been for my great anticipation to see Susan, I would have given Alex a piece of my mind. But I didn’t say a word to him until we got off the taxi.

‘Are you all right?’ he asked me when we were walking towards the lift.

‘I’m fine.’ I said, still frowned. Threatened by my expression, he gave up and was wise enough to be silent.

Susan was a refreshing interval in my dragging day. She could only afford to stay for half an hour in my world, so she spoke too quickly for me to understand. There were too many things she intended to prepare me for and all possible alterations from the original plan had to be taken into consideration. I asked her to repeat to me the same things over and over again and it was inevitable to feel embarrassed as I did so. Susan was very patient, like she was used to training benighted people like me. When she

looked at her watch, which was exactly like Christopher’s, I knew it was time for her to go.

The same pattern was repeated the next day. Only this time Susan was frowned the whole time, because she could not go clubbing with us.

She wasn’t the only one to be frowned that night. A few hours later in Matter London Club, having drunk a lot more than he should, Alex’s courting became bolder and I had to be quite abrupt to him.

‘I thought I’d made myself clear on this Alex. Why do you have to spoil our friendship with such nonsense?’ I exploded, pushing him away when he came behind me to hug me and whisper in my ear what a perfect ending of the day it would be if I followed him to his hotel. When I had already started to feel sorry about the way I had spoken to him, I found him making out with Sue. I could not believe my eyes! What was he thinking? As for Sue, she was way out of line. For more than eight months she had been Mick’s girlfriend. That was right after Mick had given up his hopes on me, to be honest. They double-dated with Kate and Tony and, now that the boys were in Germany taking a student-exchange course, the girls were hanging out together. Since Kate had been my closest friend, my only old-life-friend in fact, I had to tolerate Sue’s company as well. She wasn’t bad but she wasn’t the kind of person I would choose to be friends with and, although I can’t really justify this, I’ve always felt that this feeling was mutual. She was tall and thin with dull gray eyes and freckles. She wasn’t exactly the woman you would call pretty. Her strongest point was her long, shiny blond hair that looked as if she had it done almost every other day. But what I found most annoying on her, was the high-pitched tone of her voice every time she was excited about something, reminding me of the peacocks’ cries from the zoo where I used to go so often when I was a little girl. It was exactly the voice she spoke to me in that night, when she asked me about my relationship with Alex.

‘Your Greek friend is really cute, Emma. I like him very much. I had the impression that the two of you were together. Of course

Alex’s just told me he’s available. But I wanted to ask you too, are you okay with is?’

‘I am, but do you think it’s right to Mick?’

‘Well, who knows what Mick’s doing with the fraulines? Besides, I’ve warned him not to go to Germany without me. When he left, we weren’t so close, if you know what I mean.’

Kate had told me that Sue had applied for the same course, hoping that she might get chosen too. When she found out that only Mick was going, she had asked him to withdraw, but for Mick that wasn’t really an option.

‘Oh, I need a drink. I’m so hot! You don’t look like you’re having fun Emma. Are you all right?’

‘No I’m not. I think I should go. Tell Alex I’ll call him tomorrow.’

‘I wouldn’t be worried about him. Are you sure you want to leave?’

‘Absolutely.’ I said, grabbing my purse. As far as I was concerned, my Greek friend was all hers. He deserved her. With glee for which I knew I would be soon ashamed of, I imagined her shrieking into his ear, bringing about another attack of migraine. Did he really think I would get jealous of Sue? I wondered what else I should say to him to make him understand I only saw him as a friend.

We were supposed to meet the next day in his hotel, as always. I was determined not to go there earlier, as I had done in all our meetings so far, since I was still angry at him for his irresponsible, immature behavior the previous night. The girl at the concierge told me that Mr. Pavlidis wanted me to wait for him in the hotel lounge. Confused with Alex’s unusual demand, I ordered a cup of hot chocolate to the smiling read-head waiter who seemed to be watching me from the first moment I had set foot in the luxurious lounge. Checking my watch, I saw that despite my effort to be late, I was at least ten minutes earlier than I had planned.

Alex showed up a couple of minutes after the waiter had put an elegant cup with hot chocolate on the low table in front of me. He

behaved awkwardly and his pale face and dark circles under his eyes revealed his last night binge. He ordered black coffee, verifying my suspicions.

‘What’s the problem?’ I asked him in a cold voice.

‘Nothing really. I asked them to tide up a little.’ He was obviously lying. His eyes avoided mine the whole time.

A familiar shriek startled me, making me spill a few drops of the hot drink on the table, which the obliging waiter wiped quickly with a condescending smile.

‘Hey! You didn’t say Emma was here?’

Alex bit his lip, nailed by Sue’s frivolity. ‘What can I do for you Sue?’ he asked without looking at her.

‘I think I’ve left my cell-phone upstairs.’ Sue answered, retaining her smile.

‘Help yourself.’ He gave her his key-card.

I blinked as I realized what this meant. ‘What have you done?’ I asked him.

‘What do you mean?’ He was still looking at his cup.

‘How long has Sue been here? Oh my God! I don’t believe you.’

‘Why? What difference does it make? You’re not jealous, are you?’ he said coldly.

‘She’s with Mick, remember? My friend Mick. How could you? How could she do this? I knew she fancied you, but this!’

‘Well, she cannot wait until the prince comes back. We did not get engaged. We just had a good time. One night, that’s all. No commitment. She’s young, she has needs. Don’t you have needs? Oh, I forgot. You keep yourself for Christopher.’

I wouldn’t tolerate for his insults any more. I thought of giving him a piece of my mind but then I decided I’d better go. I nodded to the waiter for the bill.

Alex grabbed my arm but I broke off.

‘It’s on me.’ he said to the waiter.

‘Keep your money. I want nothing from you.’ I took my coat and walked out, uninspired by his hurt face. I bumped into Susan on my way out.

‘Where are you off to? Are you all right?’ she asked, examining my face.

‘I’m fine.’ I said, unable to convince her of course.

‘Let’s go then.’ She nodded.

Turning around I saw Alex behind me. Without anymore talking, we all got into the lift. I was sure everyone could sense the tense atmosphere inside the cubicle.

For as long as Susan was with us, I had totally forgotten about Alex who was leafing through a magazine with his I-pod headphones on his ears. I just could not believe he would be so insensitive. I left the room right after Susan, without saying a word to him.

The next day I tried the same showing-up-late plan. But on my way to his hotel I decided it was childish of me not to be talking to him. When Alex let me sulkily into his room that afternoon, Susan was not there. I thought it would be a chance to settle things between us but before I was able to say a word, Alex put on his jacket and looked around for his cell-phone.

‘Are you going out?’

‘You don’t mind waiting for her alone, do you?’ He avoided looking at me.

‘Alex, I…’ Finding the right words seemed impossible to me. Luckily, there was a soft knock on the door and next minute a breathless Susan dashed into the room.

She took off her leather jacket hurriedly. ‘Sorry I’m late.’

‘Is everything okay?’ Every time I saw her I was afraid she would bring me bad news about Christopher.

‘Fine, fine.’ she said a little too absentmindedly. ‘Where are you off to, handsome?’

‘Don’t worry about me.’ Alex was obviously still angry. Then with a creepy grin he spoke in a fake-casual tone. ‘By the way, as much as I’ve enjoyed our dates here, I’m leaving tomorrow. I’m kind of…bored here. So you two have to go on without me.’

He closed the door behind him leaving us both speechless, taken aback by his unheralded decision.

Susan looked at me. ‘What happened? Did you break the boy’s heart?’

‘He’s so pig-headed. Ever since we met, I’ve told him I see him as a friend.’

‘Is that right?’ Susan opened the cupboard next to the small fridge and poured some cold gin in two glasses.

‘What’s this supposed to mean?’

She added some tonic to the drinks. ‘The other day I saw you two coming. I was in the lobby. You were too much absorbed in one another to notice me. I could swear there was something more there, more than friendship I mean. It’s obvious he’s in love with you. But I think you have more feelings for him than you admit.’

‘Susan, just…forget it. I don’t know what you think you saw, but there is no room in my heart for anybody else but Christopher. Alex is a good friend, period.’

She nodded. ‘If you say so. Anyway, we can’t let him go. We still need him. At least for a couple of days. It’s getting more and more difficult to fool Tex anymore. ’

‘I’m not sure he’ll change his mind. He’s really stubborn. He won’t relent.’

‘Sugar, you know so little about men. Let me tell you a secret. There are those who are precious to us and there are those who are useful to us. The latter we have to keep satisfied, no matter what we do. You can make him change his mind. Believe me.’

‘I don’t believe what you’re saying. You know this isn’t like me.’

‘Relax. All I’m saying is give him some hope. If you’re important to him, which I think is true, he won’t deny you anything. He’s just waiting for you to ask him to stay. Why do you think he’s come all this way if not to capture your heart?’

‘You think so?’

‘I’m sure. Tonight, after I’m gone, ask him to have a drink with you. Enchant him. It shouldn’t be difficult.

‘I don’t know. It will be like I’m using him.’

‘So what? Haven’t you been using him all this time?’

She was right, but I hated to admit it.

‘Listen Emma. Nobody said it’s going to be easy, but if you’re going to stay in this, you must be more flexible.’ I knew the right word was manipulative.

Susan was long gone when Alex came back. In the dark room, with the glass of gin refilled and my head spinning, I was lying on the sofa. I heard him stumping behind me. He threw the keys on the table. He wasn’t expecting to find me waiting for him.

‘What are you doing here?’ he asked, sparing the effort to hide the aggressive tone in his voice.

My voice faltered. ‘I don’t believe you were going away without saying goodbye.’ I pretended to sound hurt. I didn’t have to try hard because I really felt hurt. Not by him. By the way I was treating him.

‘I would call you.’ The change in his voice was obvious.

‘Alex,’ I sat up. ‘…I wanted to thank you for what you’ve done. Coming here I mean. I know it wasn’t easy for you. It hasn’t been easy for me either… To see you as a friend, when you could be …much, much more than that.’

He sat next to me looking confused. ‘I thought that was what you wanted.’

‘That is what I must do. It doesn’t mean I want it. But I don’t know when I’ll see you again. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me once I ...’

He touched my face. ‘It only takes a word.’

‘Will you please stay a few more days? I…I’m not ready to say goodbye.’

‘Do you really want me to stay? Or do you need me as a cover up?’

‘Is that how you think of me?’

‘I don’t know what to think. I thought you were jealous when you found out about Sue. I swear I saw jealousy in your eyes.’

‘I was.’

He looked at me with his warm, dark eyes sparkling. He moved closer.

‘Alex, I…’


He kissed me softly, like I was something fragile. Then he kissed me again deeper, his hot breath felt sweet in my mouth and his tongue touched mine. I hadn’t kissed anybody else after Christopher.

In a sudden burst of emotion triggered by his memory, tears filled my eyes.

‘Are you crying?’ he whispered tenderly.

‘I’m okay.’ I drew back inhaling deeply. I had to get out. I couldn’t despise myself more. I stood up and took my bag. One last act. ‘Just don’t go yet.’ Or not an act? What if Susan was right? Why did I really want him to stay?

‘I won’t.’ he said. Surprise and confusion were unconcealed on his face. I, on the other hand, was so able to hide the disgust I felt for myself really well. I don’t know what intimidated me the most. The fact that I had just discovered what I was capable of, or that I could go away like that, feeling that this was the day I eventually came to construe the supporters’ of ‘end justifies the means’ attitude.

For the following days I artfully avoided being alone with Alex. This would be impossible of course if it hadn’t been for my newly discovered skill of exploiting the people who were close to me. This time it was Kate. Once again she was willing to offer me her help without making questions, although she made no effort to hide her disapprobation to my demands either. I knew she hoped Alex and I would sooner or later be together and my determination to avoid him obviously proved to her I was still abstaining from relationships.

At the hotel, I would wait in the lobby until I saw Susan enter and we got to his room together. I had arranged with Kate to call me and I had her complain she’d been waiting for us in the cold outside the hotel so we should hurry. Alex barely had time to take his coat and gloves before he joined me waiting for the lift or having already got to the lobby. I didn’t have to explain myself to Susan. I knew she had a good grasp of the subject after that night.

But it would be naive to think that Alex wasn’t aware of my deliberate attempts to avoid being alone with him. His warm eyes looked at me with mystification the first two days and then his look changed into a rueful tolerance that made my heart ache every time I forgot about my personal limitations and permitted myself to look at his face.

Thankfully, this torment lasted only for a week. Three days before Christmas, Susan announced to us that I didn’t need any more instruction and gave Alex his return ticket. He examined it with an impassive face.

‘It’s for tomorrow morning.’ Susan told him. ‘You have been very helpful to us Alex. This will not be forgotten.’

Alex put the ticket in his pocket with the same poker face.

‘So how are you kids spending your evening?’ Susan asked, as she was putting on her long leather coat.

I was taken aback by her question and tried to hide my agitation saying ‘Whatever Alex wants. It’s his last night here. I guess it’s fair to let him choose where to go.’

I wished I could see his reaction to my words, because Alex had turned his back to get reach of his jacket, leaving me and Susan mystified by his silence.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked him as he put on his jacket and gloves.

‘I’m sorry.’ he said with mock confusion. ‘Isn’t Kate going to call us in the next three minutes?’ He looked at his watch.

I opened my mouth to say something but words seemed to be impossible. I could only hear the music of the ring-tone coming from my mobile phone that vibrated on the bedside table as Kate’s name flashed on the small screen.

‘I thought so.’ Alex said, walking to the door.

Susan was smiling to me, knowingly. ‘He’ll be all right.’ she told me. ‘You should focus on your mission now. Think of Christopher and how much he needs us.’ I nodded, trying to stop the tears that threatened to break out.

‘Emma,’ she said, taking my hand in hers ‘…are you sure you want to go through this? Are you sure you’re not having second thoughts?’

I shook my head. ‘I’m sure. It’s the only thing I’m sure about right now.’

‘Next time I see you, you will be close to him. Until then, we cannot be in touch. But we’ll be always keeping an eye on you. Remember, when it starts, technically, you will be on your own. The only thing that can help you, will be to remember everything you’ve learnt from me.’ She hugged me. ‘Please, take care of yourself. Do everything you can to be safe.’ she whispered, reminding me of him.

‘Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.’ I said, but my voice betrayed my fear.

‘I almost forgot. We’ve bought four seats to all those theatres. Just pick any one of them. It’s our treat.’ She gave me a pack of tickets.

‘All of them? I’m sure Alex will be thrilled. Or, we can sell them in the black market.’ I joked. The theatre would be the last thing Alex cared about now.

I was wrong. Alex totally enjoyed the Phantom of the Opera. However, when we got out, he asked us to call it a day, under the excuse of having to pack and get up very early the next morning. Surprised, I asked him if he needed any help with packing. Part of me was hoping that he would refuse my offer, which he did.

‘What time is your flight? We can meet…’

‘No.’ he cut me. ‘You don’t have to come.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t want you to come. I’m a big boy. I’ll find my way.’

‘Of course. I didn’t mean…’

‘Then let’s say goodbye now. Kate, thank you for everything. And please don’t forget to say goodbye to Sue for me.’ Sue had mysteriously vanished after that disastrous morning at the hotel.

‘Alex, are you sure you can’t stay for Christmas? It’s only a couple of days.’ Kate asked him.

‘No. That’s out of the question Kate. I have to go. So, goodbye ladies.’

‘What? We don’t even get a kiss? ’Kate teased him.

‘You’re right. Come here.’ He smiled, leaning towards her to kiss her cheek, making her giggle. Then he turned to me and kissed mine.

‘It’s been a holiday I’ll never forget. By the way, nothing happened with Sue. We were both too drunk and the hangover was awful. And that voice! You know, you can still count on me when the chips are down, Emma.’ he whispered to my ear.

‘Until we meet again.’ he smiled bitterly as he put his hands on my shoulders and looked deeply into my eyes.

‘Until we meet again.’ I repeated stupidly and watched him walk away, his figure disappearing in the colorful maze of people and blazing Christmas lights, fighting with my strong urge to run after him and tell him how much he meant to me.

‘I’m sorry.’ I whispered aware of the fact that it was pointless. That he could not hear me.

Chapter 14

Starting over

‘Free rope!’ I shouted after I had put my feet on the ground and released the ascender, unhooking it from my safety belt. I felt hot although it was only 14ºC inside the cave, and my cheeks were burning with excitement. Stratos was right. Ascending was much more difficult than descending, but the right equipment and guidance by an expert like him, had made things much easier. I had copied his every movement, followed his instructions step by step, and I finally made it through.

Stratos looked at me concerned as he asked ‘Was it that bad?’

‘No. It was great!’ I replied, apparently excited but making an effort to control my voice, as I was still out of breath. Ascending wasn’t the best thing I could do to my still sensitive spine. My back was sending me warning signs. Stratos shook his head meditatively, obviously concerned about me.

‘You should take some rest until the others join us. I’ll check on Nick.’ he said, heading to the edge of the precipice.

I was leaning with my back against the cave wall. I let myself slide down slowly until I felt the hard bottom of the cave. I curled with my head on my knees, my arms embracing my legs. All we had to do now was walk for about five kilometers to the exit of the cave. It was a magnificent spectacle, a path among snow-white stalactites, carved by water flows in past geological periods, thousands of years ago.

I opened my backpack and took out the small box of painkillers that had been my permanent companions ever since the accident. I took a couple of them and swallowed them quickly with the help of the cool water I was carrying in my thermos. It was a good thing Stratos did not notice that. The last thing I needed now was to attract their attention, to look helpless and weak. The plan was to make them believe I was capable of taking care of myself, even a little edgy when they offered to help me, so that it would be easier to carry out Plato’s orders.

Nick looked really excited when his face popped out from the gap on the cave surface. For amateurs, we had both done really well. Stratos and Panos were experienced cavers and had been extremely eager to induce us to the thrill of cave exploration. This specific expedition was especially thrilling as the cave had been restricted area for the last ten years and its exploration required special permission by the authorities. But that was the point, to attract attention. Not the local authorities’ attention of course. We had decided to take our chances instead of waiting for months for permission to explore the cave. My companions had been highly enthusiastic about it from the very first moment.

Half an hour later, we started our journey back. We found the opening that had amazed me when we were looking for the precipice. A natural monument, a creation of time, water and rock. A magical, mystical place that had given birth to legends of gods, heroes, fairies and nymphs. The natural decoration was astounding. White stalactites were hanging from the ceiling and either united in magnificent pillars with their other half that was uplifting from the bottom, or struggling to meet each other’s sharp pick, drop by drop, inch by inch, patiently waiting throughout the ages, certain that it was inevitable for them to be united some day, to become one.

We were only a few meters from the exit. I could already see the blinding daylight at the end of the tunnel. Plato’s orders were to stay back a little before the exit so that he Crusaders had time to save Nick, Panos and Stratos from the Squad who would be on their way to get us, protecting another Gateway, extremely valuable to the League. I was sure that the Crusaders would already be waiting for us outside, disguised as local policemen, pretending to arrest the cavers for trespassing. Then, I would have to wait for no more than five minutes until the Squad would be here to get me.

I shivered at the thought of facing Tex’s cruel face, but this was the last thing I cared about. I hoped that Christopher would be among them, that he would have come for me despite his last

warning. It had been so long since I had last seen him. Plato had not neglected to warn me that I should control myself when I would see him again, otherwise the whole plan would go up in smoke.

I stopped, pretending to be looking for something.

‘Damn!’ I said. Panos had stopped behind me.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.

‘I left my backpack at the last bent where I stopped for water.’

‘I’ll get it for you. You go ahead.’ he volunteered to help me.

‘No!’ I replied, a little too abruptly. ‘I can do it myself. I can see it from here.’ I pointed to the red bag with my flashlight.

‘You go ahead. I’ll meet you outside.’

Panos hesitated for a moment. Then he shrugged and walked past me. I was almost at the bent, when I heard voices arguing.

‘Stay here!’ Panos shouted at me as he ran to join the others. I was sure that the Crusaders outnumbered my friends. My ignorant companions would have to do what the “policemen” asked them. I knew the Crusaders were supposed to take them a few kilometers away, in a safe distance, until the Squad had finished with me. Plato had personally guaranteed that no harm would happen to the three cavers, sharing my persistence in keeping them safe at any cost. I did not want to be an accessory for another death. Somehow, Yannis’ blood still felt hot on my hands.

I ducked waiting, until the voices and the sound of the cars faded away. Then I stood up again and started walking towards the exit. Now it was a good time to start panicking. But, surprisingly enough, I was not panicked. I was extremely anxious to see Christopher, this was the only emotion that overwhelmed my whole existence at that moment and there was no room for fear and panic.

It was very silent outside. I looked around. I was all alone, or at least it seemed so, 340 meters above the sea.

I was not ignorant of the place.

My father had told me stories about this mountain where you’re surrounded by the fairies of the source of the immortal water. The ancient gods took their oaths on this mountain. It was here that the deity of Soul went through incredible ordeals when she was searching for her sweetheart, Cupid. The legend is that she still wanders on the frosty peak, leaving her elf-tracks on the soft snow. The dreadful queen Styx lived on this sacred mountain, Zeus’ally in his war with the Titans. She had the power to punish the Olympian gods if they broke their oaths. Her palace was in front of the Gate of Ades, the gate to the Underworld, to death. It’s no wonder why the locals had respected that place and considered the opening of roads and the intrusion of technology on the sacred slopes that had been protected by the millennium-lasting awe, a hubris, an abuse.

I wished my father’s stories had been true. I wished I could invoke the ancient spirits to protect Christopher and me. But reality was so uninspiring, so dramatic and terrible at the same time.

I walked to the jeep and got rid of the equipment I was carrying, aware of the fact that Tex might be hiding among the trees behind me, watching, waiting for the right moment to terrify me the most. My mouth felt dry and I looked for some water, as my thermos was empty. Stratos had left a spare thermos in the jeep but I could not find it. I bent down to look for it under the passenger seat. I stretched my arm to reach it.

Then I heard the cold voice behind me, the voice that had haunted my dreams for so long.

‘At last! We meet again!’ He spoke slowly, softly, and his voice was sarcastic as always, mocking me. My body stiffened at once but I tried to keep my temper. I did not care if he wanted to hurt me. I was dying to see the beautiful face I had been missing for so long. Was he standing there? Right behind me?

I turned around slowly, my face frozen, expressionless, but my heart was about to jump out of my chest.

Chapter 15


‘You always seem to be in the wrong place, don’t you?’ Tex’s cold voice mocked, testing my reflexes. Threat was obvious in his tone. I was no more under any misapprehension as to how dangerous this man was. But I couldn’t care less. My eyes were fixed on the slim, tall man behind him. He was dressed in the Squad’s typical black suit and he was standing still, his arms folded in front of his chest. His dark sunglasses were hiding his eyes but his beautiful face and his golden-brown hair left no doubt. It was him. It was Christopher. My Christopher.

For a brief moment I felt like it was only the two of us in front of the ancient cave the Squad had come to protect. There was no one around, no sound, even the birds had stopped singing. Then, a gust of cool wind blew, scattering the leaves around us, bringing me back to reality. I was overwhelmed by the strong need to run to him, touch him, feel him, see if he was real. I wanted to lose myself in his warm embrace, tell him how much I’d missed him. But I couldn’t do that. Not only because my knees felt weak, making me feel I was about to faint, but also because I had strict orders from Plato. Susan had warned me several times that this would be a critical moment for my mission. So I had to control myself and avoid any impulsive reaction at Christopher’s sight. Plato had asked Susan to warn me about the chance that Christopher might have changed but I had found that hard to believe. Yet, watching him stand still, not even making the slightest move towards me, his face absolutely rigid, expressionless, as if he hadn’t recognized me, made me wonder if Plato was right. Then, the deepest fear I had been suppressing for so long started creeping from my knees to my spine and to my chest, trying to find a way to sneak into my heart. What if Christopher had really changed? Would there still be room in his heart for me?

‘You don’t seem very happy to see us. And I’ve brought over your favorite killer!’ Tex’s voice took me out of my thoughts and

I instinctively made a few steps back when I noticed that he was approaching me. His appalling smirk made me shiver. Susan had reassured me that the Squad had strict orders not to hurt me. It was part of the deal Christopher had made with the devil to save me that summer. But I knew Tex was unpredictable. He often acted by his own initiative, got carried away by his instincts. I wondered what Christopher would do if Tex attempted to challenge him by hurting me right there.

‘Oh, come on! I didn’t do anything!’ I protested. ‘Is it forbidden to go caving with my friends?’ I tried to sound as convincing as I did when I was practicing this conversation with Susan.

‘So you’ve found a new hobby, is that it? You gave up on archeology, I guess. Where are the others, by the way?’

‘They’ve just left. I’m afraid you missed them.’

He walked slowly around me, like an animal circling its prey, meaning to prolong the attack in order to enjoy it more. I probably missed his nodding to his men as two of them, thankfully not Christopher, came to stand in front of me as the other two walked into the cave, in search for the rest of our team. I hadn’t noticed how many of his men he had brought along. All my attention was drawn to Christopher. Now I could see there were four of them besides Tex and him.

Tex looked at me and I could easily guess his thoughts. He was battling with himself about whether he should obey to the League’s orders or just kill me right there. Although I could not see his eyes behind the dark glasses, it was as if every inch of his face, every pore of his skin revealed pure hatred. I wondered how someone could make it through a life full of bitterness, like his. But of course Tex was no ordinary man. He was a vicious killer. Just like Christopher was once and, hopefully, pretended to be now. I wished Christopher had not truly relapsed. I wished it wasn’t too late.

Tex spoke again, his voice deep, slow, like announcing my sentence. ‘You’re coming with us.’

‘What do you mean come with you? Where?’ I shouted following Susan’s directions as I recalled our rehearsals. Tex nodded to his

men and they both grabbed my arms and dragged me towards the black jeep that had mysteriously appeared next to a cluster of trees a second before. I tried to free myself but their grip was too strong for me and they seemed totally indifferent to my screams of pain.

I could not see Christopher anymore and that made me even more worried. One of the men pushed me in the back seat of the car and Tex sat next to me. Another van stopped in front of us and two of his men got on. Christopher was coming our way and one of the men in black who was about to sit next to me, walked around the car. I thought of making my arrest a little more dramatic by adding a more realistic reaction. In a fraction of a moment, when the man on my right was distracted whispering something to his companions in the van, I suddenly ejected from my seat attempting a ridiculous escape. I would have managed to run a few meters further, hadn’t Christopher’s hand grabbed my arm and pulled me back. For the first time I felt him hurt me and the surprise on my face was instantly replaced by fear when I turned to see his cold, cruel face. It was a stranger’s face and it horrified me more than Tex’s did.

Tex was out of the car now, watching me with a syringe in his hand. ‘Now you’ve really pissed me off.’ His voice however low, revealed his rage. ‘Roll up her sleeve!’ he ordered Christopher.

‘No!’ I cried. This was not in the plan. Plato hadn’t mentioned anything about injections.

‘Let me go!’ I shouted. ‘Christopher, please! Don’t let him hurt me!’ I regretted begging him in the next second. I shouldn’t put him in that position. Christopher remained calm. With steady movements he rolled up my sleeve and pulled me abruptly on him, holding both my arms down, forcing me to stand still.

‘I’m sorry.’ he whispered in my ear, but there was no sign of regret in that cold, ironic voice, a stranger’s voice. I did not fight anymore. I knew it was pointless to resist from the moment he had come close to me, the moment he had touched me. I closed my eyes and surrendered to the feeling I had longed for so many months. The last thing I remember before sinking into a dark,

dreamless sleep was Tex’s horrible laughter as he pressed the needle into the muscles of my forearm.

Christopher was staring at the dirt road in front of him without really seeing anything at all. He was clenching his fists so hard he could feel his nails cut the skin of his palms. He had to control himself. Too much depended on this. He had to forget that the young woman lying unconscious behind him, next to her worst enemy, was Emma. He should convince himself she was a stranger, someone he didn’t care about, that it wasn’t his only desire to take her in his arms and run away. Then he wouldn’t experience the strong urge to kill Tex just for sitting so close to her or, even worse, for the gross way he had treated her a few minutes ago and flagrantly enjoying it.

He closed his eyes. He was so worn out. He had needed all his strength the first minute he’d recognized her. She was bending inside the car, hiding her face, but he would have recognized her anyway. He would have recognized a tiny toe of hers or just a curl of her hair, the hair he had smelled so many times when he held her in his arms. Although he was totally unprepared to see her, he had done really well. Tex’s expression, the moment he had announced Christopher they were going on a mission, had alarmed him. This was no ordinary mission, Christopher’s instinct had warned him. It was making Tex happy, in other words it had to be bad news for Christopher. Tex had kept his disgusting smirk until he dialed the numbers for the year they were traveling back, casting glances at Christopher with the corner of his eye. By then, Christopher was certain it was all about Emma.

Should he take a look at the back seat, make sure she’s okay, make sure he’s not touching her with his murderous hands or would his face give him away and offer Tex the opportunity to revenge on him by hurting her again? Protecting her would have a high cost this time. But this was what he lived for, he had made it the mission of his life ever since her father had asked him so, a few hours before the Squad killed him. Protect her. This is what he was doing now. Only she didn’t know, she couldn’t have

known. If only he could tell her. But no. It would be too risky. The only way to go on was to pretend he didn’t care about her. Emma, his love, his life, the reason he was still alive, was nothing to him.

Anger. Being angry with her made it easier for him. Why on Earth didn’t she follow his advice and not make the Squad come for her again? She should have learnt by now how dangerous they were. Or wasn’t this her fault but a test of the League for him in order to make him give them the rationale for violating their agreement? Besides, this was the first time since he had rejoined the Squad that their Commander, Denzel, had decided to send him to Emma’s world. Tex would fill him up on Christopher’s reaction later, in every detail. That was certain. But he had done really well. He had fooled everyone, even Emma. He had seen the horror in her eyes when he grabbed her arm to bring her back to Tex. He couldn’t let her run. He knew what Tex’s next move would be. By attempting to run away she offered him the perfect excuse to hurt her. Christopher thought of how dreadful he must have looked in her eyes, standing totally expressionless in front of her, irresponsive to her entreaties. But he hadn’t fooled his heart. Because the way she had looked at him hurt so much.

Denzel would be the hardest to fool. When he had been alone with Denzel after the League had ordered Christopher’s re-enlistment to the Squad, he had stared at him for a few moments before speaking.

‘This woman must be very important to you. I’ve used any possible means to make you come back to us to no effect. And finally, you’re coming by your own will because you want to save her life.’ Denzel had tried to see through Christopher’s rigid mask but Christopher couldn’t allow that.

‘Isn’t it better to spare a life instead of wasting it? That must be a change for you…sir.’ Christopher had said coldly. Denzel had pretended not to notice the sarcasm in his words. Only Christopher would have the courage to talk to him like this. Christopher was not afraid of him, Denzel knew this well.

‘They’ve made you soft. They’ve turned you into a negotiator. You! One of the most effective weapons in the League’s armory.’ He had said after the Board Hearing. He had put his hand on Christopher’s shoulder and added, ‘You belong here. With us. You know you do.’ His lips twisted in his usual cold sneer and he went on. ‘Of course, we won’t take you back in open arms. You’re going through a trial period of a year, as everyone else. And you’ll be under Tex’s command.’ He’d scrutinized Christopher’s face looking for a reaction of protest or discontent but not even tracing a hint of fret.

‘Does this bother you?’ he’d persisted.

‘No.’ Christopher had replied coldly. As much as he despised Tex, nothing seemed important to him anymore. A little before leaving the room, Denzel had spoken again.

‘Christopher, I trust you will keep your part of the deal and cut off any kind of contact with the Crusaders and that girl. Especially the girl. Take her out of your mind for good. Otherwise, I’ll do it for you.’

Christopher hadn’t said anything. Denzel had meant every word, he was sure about that. He knew what he had to do. Emma would not be in any more danger because of him.

The car bounced on the rocky surface of the country road.

‘Slowly Garret. You don’t want to wake up our princess, do you? Then I’ll have to drug her again. And who knows, I might not be very careful with the dose this time.’

Christopher’s temples throbbed with pain as his nails cut his palms deeper.



I must have been sleeping for hours. I wanted to wake up but it seemed awfully hard. I felt warmth coming from some kind of radiator that must have been close to me. Suddenly I realized I was very cold, I was shivering. I wished I could go closer to the source of heat, but my body felt unbelievably stiff. I guessed I had crushed the living room sofa the previous night and the heat I felt was probably coming from the fireplace in front of me. My mother often found me sleeping there with a book next to me if I hadn’t dropped it on the floor. She would always bring me breakfast and then we… But if I was at home why did I have the feeling that I was in danger? Why was everything so wrong, the smells, the sounds, the voices… Voices?

‘Well? Is she stable?’ an impatient voice was asking, certainly not my mother’s.

‘No, not yet. She’ll be in shock if we don’t sedate her again.’ another worried voice replied.

If only I could open my eyes. Wait, I thought. Is this dejavou? No! No! I’m still in hospital. I never woke up after the crash. It’s all been a dream. A hallucination. I never got out of hospital, I never walked!

‘She’s waking up.’ The same worried voice said.

‘Rise and shine sleepyhead!’ someone else was addressing to me.

‘Well?’ the same cold voice asked. I sensed it was full of menace. It sounded like a pin scratching against a smooth surface, making your spine shudder.

I’ve heard it again in my nightmares. If I try hard I can recall the face it’s coming from, I thought.

‘She wouldn’t be in this state if you had injected her the right dose.’

‘I brought her back in one piece, didn’t I? Those had been my orders.’

‘You do realize you could have killed her, don’t you?’

‘You don’t know what she’s capable of. I had to be sure she wouldn’t pull something off with him.’

I had to find my strength. My instinct of self-preservation warned me that I was in danger. I had to protect myself. Now it was the time to wake up. I was perfectly aware of whose the voice was and where I was. But a strong wave of convulsions overwhelmed me.

‘That’s it. I’m sedating her again. When she calms down take her to her room.’

My last actions performed in full consciousness started coming back to me. I had probably overdone it back there, on that mountain. I should have known better not to bandy words with Tex as he was very unpredictable and really dangerous. For a long time I’d been number one in his hit-list. He had always exhibited his eagerness to harm me. And he had obviously done it with the drug he had given me.

A strange noise made my ears buzz. Grrrr…It sounded like a hurt animal. An animal in a hospital room? That can’t be. No, of course not, because the strange noise was coming from me.

The convulsions had stopped as abruptly as they had started. I could feel the heat again but I couldn’t hear the voices anymore. The only thing I could hear was my breath as it slowed down and then… nothing.

‘How do you feel?’

A young woman with very short black hair and Asian features was asking me the same question, over and over again.

‘Dizzy.’ I said eventually.

‘Do you know where you are?’

‘I think so.’

‘You will be feeling much better in a few minutes.’ she said. In the meantime, you can wash and change. I’ll be back again in an hour to take you to the headquarters. In case you need something just speak loudly and I’ll be with you within a second.’ Her tone was dry, but still polite and her accent was strange, a foreigner’s accent.


She turned around. ‘She’s awake.’ she said, making me wonder who she was talking to. I looked around but there was nobody else. My mind was trying hard to adjust to the new environment and I remembered Susan telling me that once I would be in the Squad premises, Denzel’s eyes would be on me the whole time.

The room looked exactly like Susan had described it to me. It was a replica of a hotel room of my era that the League used for those who had to travel to their time. The traveler shouldn’t see any of the developments of the future so that future could be protected, she had told me. The replica was very convincing. A simple, modest room with all the essential facilities. Only the minimal, white uniforms in the wardrobe were not matching the context. That, and the fact that there were no windows on the white walls.

The shower was refreshing and my head had stopped spinning after a few minutes. I put on the clothes they had left for me and sat on a comfortable armchair to wait for my Asian maid, this is how I wanted to think of her instead of my warder, to come. The elastic fabric made the tight uniform fit on my body perfectly, but it also made me feel uncomfortable. Kate would say I look sexy and Christopher wouldn’t find it hard to make me blush dressed like this. I wondered if the Squad guys could see me through transparent walls or tiny, invisible cameras and I couldn’t help feeling like I was a museum sample behind a glass wall on the other side of which scientists were watching me, keeping notes of my every move.

I recalled everything that had happened in front of the ancient cave on the sacred mountain, trying not to jump to conclusions about Christopher’s attitude. Still, the possibility that he might now be a different man was poisoning my thoughts. His image showed up in my mind, the image of a man who belonged to the Squad. Nothing more, nothing less.

The door opened and the young woman appeared behind it.

‘Are you ready?’

‘Yes.’ I replied decisively, standing up at the same time.

‘You must put these on.’

She gave me a pair of black glasses like those I’d seen in science fiction films. Susan had told me all about them. Once I put them on they automatically adjusted to my head and I could not see anything in front of me apart from a pattern of the room in a screen, like a virtual reality simulator. I knew where the door and the walls were and I could make out the figure of the Asian woman so that our journey to the headquarters would be safe for me and the League could be sure that their world would remain a secret at the same time.

We walked through long, narrow corridors and met a few people on the way but nobody spoke to us. Susan had told me that there was one of Plato’s men in the Squad, working under false pretences but I wished she had also told me his name. I was now aware of how dangerous Denzel could really be. He was the one who called the shots down here. My life depended upon his decision. But that would be the worst time to get cold feet. There was no going back.

We got into a kind of shuttle bus, at least that was what it felt like. Then we walked again and I felt like we were raised as if we’d been in a huge elevator. Another automatic door opened and eventually we stopped in a round room where I could see the figures of two other persons. I remembered how desperately I’d wished to come to Christopher’s world once. He wouldn’t even talk about it, concerned about the effect such a huge change might have on me. He had said that he’d seen people lose their mind doing so. Now I wondered how safe my mind was anyway.

‘You can take off your glasses now.’ my companion told me before she left.

The room was dimly lit and my eyes took a few seconds to adjust. The man standing in front of me spoke softly.

‘We meet at last, Miss Ioannou.’

He made no move to approach me. I tried to make out the expression on his face because his flat voice allowed me no

conclusions as to his intentions. He was a tall, slim man, dressed in a black uniform. His head was shaved and his small, animal-like dark eyes were horribly cold, hostile and annoying as if they were trying to see through me. I had to avoid his eyes so I tried to concentrate a little higher, at the level of his brows. Susan’s voice was echoing in my head as I was trying to remember her instructions, but I was suddenly scared. I heard Tex’s disgusting chuckle behind me.

‘I guess introductions are needless.’ Denzel said.

‘Why am I here?’ I asked, doing my best to hide the tremor in my voice.

‘It seems that you have broken the terms of our agreement. Instead of applying our law, as we would normally do in any other case, we’ve brought you here until we find a solution to this…inconvenience. I apologize for the overzealous effort of my men. Things got a little out of hand for a couple of hours as I have been informed, but it’s over now. Your health is not affected by your transport here, this I can confirm.’

‘What did I do to break the agreement? As far as I remember, I haven’t made any agreement with you, so how do you expect me to know the terms?’

He cast a disapproving glance at me.

‘Oh, the terms are simple. You just stay away from everything that is related to my era. But I’m sure you know this. You’ve been informed about the risk. It was so precipitate of you to think that you could expose us so easily. Such a waste of effort! Anyway, there is no reason to go back to the past. Let bygones be bygones. I think it’s time to bury the hatchet, don’t you?’

‘You mean I should forget that you’ve murdered my father, that you’ve taken away my inheritance and that you’ve threatened to kill me more than once. Should I just sweep this under the carpet and pretend it never happened?’

‘Ah, my dear Miss Ioannou. I think those are issues we’d better evade. There will be much greater benefit for you if you cooperate with us instead of being our enemy. This is an offer I

don’t often make you know. You should consider yourself very lucky you’re still alive in the first place.’

‘Why don’t you get to the point? There is no need to waste our time with gratuitous assumptions and threats you know you’re not permitted to carry out. What do you want from me?’

‘A brave woman. You’re exactly as they have described you to me. Tex thinks we should get rid of you because you’ve threatened our world enough. But I think his opinion of you is …overrated. Still, I warn you not to underestimate me. I’ve disobeyed my orders many times for the sake of our leaders. I can do it again.’ He walked around me, like Tex had done on the mountain. I didn’t move an inch.

‘I will try to make it simple for you, miss Ioannou. After our settlement, there was a small… side effect. You see, the reason we claimed the piece of land your father left you … it was important to us for a specific reason which for the time being is…lost.’

‘Are you talking about Point –X?’

‘Exactly. It is not an uncustomary phenomenon in cases like this. But it can be undone, with your help.’

‘So, if I’ve got it right, you want me to help you relocate Point –X for you? You’ve got the map and the excavation plans, don’t you?’

‘They’re useless. They don’t show what we want. Not anymore.’

‘I don’t understand. How can I find what you need? If you can’t do it, what makes you think I can?’

‘The cosmic laws are a mystery even to us. You are the only person who can do it. I have reasons for not revealing to you the importance of Point-X to my world. But I will tell you this. The future of both our worlds depends upon a sequence of events. And this place is part of this long chain, an important, essential part I should say. Our people have been working hard for an alternative but they’ve come up with nothing so far. In the meantime, somewhere between you era and mine, the world is fighting for survival. Certain people, saviors of mankind I should say, are entrapped and this place is their only way out. So you do

realize this is bigger than you and me and our animosity. It’s in your hands. Of course you only have my word, as nobody else has the authority to confirm or belie what I’ve told you. You have to make a decision. Soon. The clock is ticking.’

‘Can I think about it?’

‘Of course. I will be expecting your decision tonight.’

‘I wonder…What will happen to me if I refuse?’

‘I was hoping it wouldn’t be necessary for you to find out. You see, I can’t touch you, but accidents happen all the time to the people we love. That is something we don’t want to happen, do we?’ He nodded to Tex. ‘Take her to her room and give her dinner. We don’t want our dear Emma to starve. Otherwise, she will think we’re not hospitable enough. I’m afraid you have to put on the glasses again.’ he said to me with a devious grin that made my whole body bristle. That he would flaunt his power by threatening my life was expected. But to threaten the life of the people I cared about?

My Asian maid took me back to my room where a huge tray with junk food was expecting me. I had to put my stance about healthy diet aside because I was too hungry. Later, the young woman came back to take the empty tray. She gave me a surprised look. Obviously she wasn’t expecting me to polish off the whole tray.

‘Wait!’ I stopped her. ’What’s your name?’

‘Lian.’ she said, taken aback. ‘Is that all?’ She seemed anxious to go.

‘Yes, Lian. I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful dinner.’

She tried to hide a smile of contentment. ‘I’m glad you liked it. If you will excuse me now. I must leave you.’

I tried to persuade my watchers that I was thinking about Denzel’s proposition. Of course, there wasn’t much to think about. Not because of the danger my family and friends would be into if I refused to help him. My Commander, Plato, had in fact carefully planned that proposition. I wondered who that double agent was, who was working for the Crusaders behind the scenes. Would he let them know that everything was according to plan and that I was safe, at least for now? The thought of putting in

danger the people I loved was something I was trying hard not to consider as a possibility. My mother’s worried face came to my mind and, with a pang of guilt, I realized I hadn’t thought about her or any other person who was part of my normal life since I had got to the League’s time. I didn’t have the time to think of them. I’d been really pressed. But Denzel’s threat had brought me back to reality.

The deadline soon drew to an end and it was time to announce my decision. It wasn’t long before I was called back in the same dark room.

‘Well? Have you made up your mind Miss Ioannou?’ Denzel asked with his eyes fixed on mine. I had to remember not to look into his but concentrate an inch above them, otherwise I was sure I would lose my train of thoughts.

‘I have. I will help you. I cannot guarantee I will find what you’re looking for but I will do my best. You have my word for it. You must know, I’ve always adhered to my decisions.’

‘This is a very wise decision. I’m absolutely certain you will make it. You are the only one who can find that Gateway.’

‘Still, I have one condition.’

‘Let’s hear it then.’ For a split of a second, I got the impression that he’d looked alarmed but that had been so fleeting that it could have been my imagination. ‘I can give you whatever you want, as long as it is within reason. How do you call it in your world? A catch 22 situation.’

‘I need a helper. Someone who knows what to do.’

‘Of course. I can give you more than one of my men.’

‘I want a specific helper. I think you know who I mean.’

He shook his head. ‘So you want Christopher. That’s quite a fit of daring!’

‘Yes. I’ve waited a long time to revenge on him for the lies he’s told me. For making me fall for him so he could achieve his purpose. What? Haven’t you seen an avenging woman before?’ I had to play all my cards. Susan had warned me that the chances of letting Christopher come with me were thin.

‘And of course, I want your word of honor that you will stay away from my family and my friends. Otherwise, you can’t count on me. And I’m sure your boss would like to know that you have failed your mission to secure the Gate.’ The rage that was apparent in his eyes satisfied me instead of frightening me.

‘They don’t know, do they? They don’t even know I’m here. Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me, as long as you accept my conditions.’

‘I should know that you’re not an ordinary woman. The more I get to know you, the more I understand why my best soldier liked you. I think you too are where you belong Miss Ioannou. I will enjoy working with you. Under the force of circumstances and as a token of my goodwill, I cannot but accept your conditions. I hope you know what you’re doing. You see, some people persist on hankering after things they can’t have. I’ve always considered that a pitiful attitude. Have it your way then. You’re going back tomorrow with Christopher, of course. You know, he has displayed a great presence of mind by coming back to us. There is no way to flout the law in our world and get away with it. He knew what was going to happen to him.’

He was challenging me, hoping I would reveal more to him about my feelings for Christopher. But I knew better than that. When he acknowledged my determination to remain silent, he let me go.

‘I’ll see you both in the morning.’ He nodded to Tex and I put on my glasses without waiting for him to remind me.

Back in my room, I recollected everything that had happened in the cold, circular room. I had done it. The biggest part of my mission was over. I wondered if I had been convincing enough. Had I made Denzel believe me? Susan had warned me that he was a cunning man who could not easily be fooled. What were the chances that he was playing with me instead?

Susan had trained me well. During those thirty-minute meetings we had covered every possible deviation to the plan. For instance, I knew that if they hadn’t put me in that ‘replica room’ or if they hadn’t given me the glasses that made me look like a cyber-chick,

it would mean I was in danger. To put it simply, it would imply that either Denzel had not been deceived or that he had inside information from the corps of the Crusaders that betrayed Plato’s plan. The only weapon I had in this case to defend myself, would be that double agent and, of course, Christopher. There was no way Christopher would let them hurt me, I had to believe that, despite his weird attitude when he helped Tex arrest me. That had to be an act. This was the only explanation I could accept. He had to go along with the League’s terms in order to protect me. The memory of his cold voice made me shiver. This wasn’t my Christopher, not the one I had loved so deeply. But he wasn’t the only one who had changed. I also wasn’t the girl he had loved that summer. I never expected myself to be such a good actress, for one thing. It was one of my new talents, my new dark talents that I didn’t know I possessed before this part of my double life had started. Because I had a double life now. And that newly discovered part of me, I wasn’t sure I like it. Denzel had seen this too. That’s where his contentment was coming from after he had overcome his initial anger when I, indirectly but effectively, threatened him. What else was left for me to do? Because I had already tried manipulation, lying, extortion and hypocrisy. To my old self, all these were unforgivable sins. I had touched bottom. And the worst of all, I had felt a wild satisfaction with what I had achieved through them. The only comforting thought was that the people of my old life had no clue of my comedown. To them, I was still the naive university student who lived under the shadow of her father’s vision. Still, the man I adored would sooner or later find out what I had become. Because I was changed. A lot. I wasn’t the innocent girl he had fallen in love with that summer, but a strong, daring and devious woman, willing to try anything to get what she wanted. I knew I couldn’t feel safe until I was back in my world with Christopher on my side. How he would feel about this change I could easily guess. And yet, it had been the only way. I wondered how he would react when Denzel told him that he was coming back with me. Back, to my life. One thing I knew. He had no choice. He would have to follow

Denzel’s orders. And then everything would be as it should. I had to believe it.

The same tour to the Squad’s headquarters took place the next morning, after Lian had served me breakfast. She didn’t speak much but the expression on her face made me think she was expecting my comment on the food.

‘That was exactly like British breakfast Lian. You’ve really done it.’ I told her.

She bowed her head to hide a smile.

Denzel was waiting for me in the same, impersonal room. Only this time he was sitting in an armchair with his back turned to me. The circular wall in front of him was transformed into a huge screen where a video was on. It was like silent movies, the volume had been turned off and I didn’t really pay attention to it as I was expecting to see Christopher in any moment. The abandoned building in which some people were running frantically in their effort to protect themselves from their pursuers was probably a show of force by Denzel. I didn’t know that he hadn’t played his last card yet.

‘Are you ready to leave us, Miss Ioannou?’

‘Yes, I am ready.’

‘And you’re anxious to meet your old friend I guess. He’ll join you in a few minutes. But I’m afraid you’ll have to accept another one of my men to come with you. Just in case you run off again. Which of course if you’re clever, as I think you are, will not cross your mind.’

The people in the video had reached a dead end. They were desperately looking for a way out but they must have got to the basement of the building and their faces revealed pure horror as they realized that the only way out was behind their pursuers. It was a sickening film.

‘I believe you like adventure films, don’t you?’ Was there anything about me they didn’t know?

‘Consider this as my farewell present to you. I just wanted you to be fully aware of the potential of the man who will be next to you

until your mission is over. I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss, you see. To consider him as just a soldier would be an understatement. That he has the makings of an executioner is certain. See for yourself. ’

I thought he was talking about the man he was sending to spy on Christopher and me. I was sure this man was going to be Tex. But, before I had time to protest, the video camera had turned towards the other side of the room where I was able to see the face of the condemned people’s pursuers. The man whose ponytail hair and unshaved face carried a wild attraction as he smiled to his victims before shooting at them with something that looked like an advanced machine gun, was the man I loved, the man who I had considered to be my guardian angel, the man whose soul I was trying so hard to save. It was Christopher who was laughing after he had executed those poor, unarmed men and women. I could see his distorted features, his mouth wide open and his head moving backwards in a horrible silent laughter the echo of which I was certain I could clearly hear in my head. The video camera turned to the mass of dead people and started zooming in to the bloody parts of their lifeless bodies. Among them I saw the dead body of a child.

I didn’t want to watch anymore. I realized I was sobbing and the laughter was so loud now. But it wasn’t coming from the video. It was coming from the man in front of me who was laughing out of delight either for the images before him or for my reaction to them.

‘Show our friend out. And make sure she’s not given an overdose this time. ’ he ordered Tex in a threatening manner.

If I hadn’t been in shock I’d have enjoyed the humiliation on his henchman’s face a second before putting on my glasses. The sooner I got out of that room, the better for the plan and for my sanity. What I had feared the most had finally happened. I was paralyzed out of shock. But I never expected this to be caused by Christopher. You’ll deal with this later, a voice whispered in my head. There must be an explanation for this. It has to be a lie. Fake videos come up all the time even in your world. He’s

obviously trying to drive a wedge between you and Christopher. It has to be a lie.

‘You’re in really deep water now, sugar!’ Tex whispered to me in an amused, nasty voice as he walked next to me.

He took me to another room. Behind my dark glasses I was able to see three figures moving. Someone made me sit on a hard, uncomfortable chair. There were two other similar chairs on my left that were now taken by the two dark figures. I knew one of them had to be Christopher. Normally, I would feel safe being so close to him. That was before Denzel’s farewell present. I wished Susan could have prepared me for this. I wondered if Susan and Plato knew about the dark part of Christopher’s personality.

I remembered his cold face the day I was captured by Tex on that mountain. I had chosen to believe that it had all been an act. I had decided not to even think that Christopher, my Christopher, had become the cruel criminal the Squad wanted him to be. It wasn’t making any sense. How double-faced could he be? How fool did this make me?

The third figure was next to me. ‘You won’t feel a thing.’ he said. I recognized the voice of the “doctor” I had heard the previous day before going into convulsions. He must have thought I was afraid of becoming sick by the drug he was injecting me. But I had bigger problems than that.

Chapter 17


This time waking up was much easier. Yet, trying to sit up, I felt a fleeting spell of dizziness. I looked around. Okay, I was in the back seat of a car. A big car. Probably the black jeep that I’d seen the Squad guys drive when they were after me two years ago. I heard music coming from the radio. Christopher was behind the wheel and next to him there was a young, black man I’d never seen before. I was relieved to see it wasn’t Tex. His head was shaved, reminding me of Denzel, but the smooth curves of his face and the well-shaped lips revealed a handsome face. Of course, he too was wearing black glasses.

‘Good! You’re up. It’s about time.’ The new guy said. ‘I’m Mateo and of course you know Christopher.’

My angel didn’t take his eyes off the wheel but, despite the fact that I could only see the right side of his face, I could tell by the pounding vein on his temple and his clenched jaw that he was really tense.

‘Where are we?’ I asked, trying to get rid of the familiar feeling of the lump in my throat.

‘Outside Pylos.’ Mateo answered. ‘We’re heading to our lodgings. We’re almost there. See that cluster of houses? That’s where we’re staying. It’s all ours.’ He laughed.

‘We’re the only residents.’

The car stopped and I followed my companions as they got off. The sky was dark and, suddenly, a bolt of lightning lit it, followed by a deafening clap of thunder that promised a storm. I was surprised to see that my luggage was in the trunk, even the huge, black suitcase I had left in the house in Corinth. That’s one of the benefits of working with them, I thought.

They carried my luggage into one of the low houses that I guessed would be mine. Mateo put the suitcases on the floor and went back to the car leaving Christopher and me in the living room. Christopher opened the windows and dim daylight flooded the room. Then he looked around the house, opened the wardrobe

and cupboards and examined them as if he was expecting to find something inside. A very familiar image, I thought, as my heart was about to explode.

I stared at him, thinking how much I had missed his kisses that used to take my breath away, hoping desperately for him to make the first move. He didn’t have to pretend anymore. Mateo could not hear us. Suddenly, I realized the silence had taken too long. Something felt wrong. Really wrong. Again.

It was then that he spoke to me for the first time. But what he said seemed so irrelevant to the situation and his voice so unbelievably detached, that I could not believe my ears.

‘We’ll be staying in the house right next to yours. You’d better take some rest. We’ll meet you in a couple of hours, to get organized.’ He looked at me in perplexity. ‘Do you need anything else?’ he asked, making me furious. I couldn’t take it any longer.

‘Do I need anything else? I don’t believe you! You must be joking!’

He didn’t say anything. He just watched me impassively, taking no pains to make it easier for me.

‘Come on Christopher! It’s me!’ I shouted, bewildered by his attitude. Had it been wishful thinking to assume that he’d take me in his arms at once and forget about everything that kept us apart? ‘What is wrong with you? Have you been lobotomized? Do you know what I have been through to get you back? Didn’t you want this?’

‘Get me back?’ His smile was very wrong. ‘There’s no such thing. You shouldn’t have done anything. I’ve warned you not to.’

‘Is this what you have to say to me after… after all this time?’

He shrugged, as if he was stating the most implicit fact in the most nonchalant manner. ‘I thought I’d made it clear. But I’ll go over this again. This is who I am. Who I really am. You’d better erase the past because the time for romance is over. I’ve turned over a new leaf and you should do the same. So, let go off your fantasies and concentrate on your mission. The sooner it’s over, the better for all of us. So many lives are at stake!’ A cruel smile

twisted his sweet lips. ‘I really hope I’m not the reason for such a folly! It’ll be the biggest mistake in your life.’ His words could as well have been bullets aiming at my heart. I was sure I could feel the pain in my chest.

‘You said you’d always be with me. That I was your top priority, that …’

‘Look, I’m really sorry it got so personal. It happens sometimes, when attractive women like you are involved in our missions. The mistake was all mine. I shouldn’t have let things get so far. But, have no doubt. It was all part of the game. Again, nothing personal.’

‘Is everything all right?’ Mateo asked behind him.

‘What about your message? Was that a fantasy? Have you forgotten about it too? You wrote that your heart will always belong to me.’

It was a bit below the belt to remind him of the letter in front of Mateo, but I could not control myself anymore. I was hoping that somehow I would be able to find that soft part in his heart, the part that he had decided to hide under the disguise of his cold face and his cruel words. The whole world had shrunk once again to my microcosm, which was now threatening to blow up.

‘I’ve tried to make it easier for you. If you still like to believe in fairy tales, it’s your problem. But I’ve got to say, this whole situation leaves me cold.’ he said in the same, unbearable tone, like he’d lost his patience with me.

He turned around and left. I stood aghast on the same spot, until I heard the car speed off.

So that was it. It was all done in vain. Christopher had taken me out of his life. Forever. The man I had brought back was someone else, a stranger with a cold, grim face and a cruel voice. I had tried to find on his face the slightest trace of the man I had bound my life to, but it had been useless. And I would have to live with this, to suffer this torment for the following days, weeks or months since we were supposed to be working together on this mission.

I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t even think about it anymore. My mind refused to accept it. Suddenly, I was panicked, certain that I was about to go insane. I had to go away from him. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. I wanted to die.

And that’s exactly what I did, the only thing I knew well, without realizing the repercussions of my impulsive reaction until much later. The voice in my head, synchronized with the ear-splitting rumble of thunder, kept shouting one word, over and over again.


Keep reading for the first chapters of

5-starred time-travel romance


The Gate Deadlock Series #2

(available in e-book and paperback)


The war between the present and the future has started. Compelled to cooperate with the forces of the future in order to gain Christopher back, Emma has taken on a new mission. The portal that connects the two worlds must be relocated otherwise there is no hope for humanity. But there are so many obstacles she has to overcome; Christopher has given up on their love, her best friend has been kidnapped and the life-changing truth about her family is revealed. Worst of all, a new, unexpected menace under the name Frederick, Christopher’s evil double, threatens their lives.

Will she be able to secure the future of mankind and claim the love she has fought so hard for? What if Christopher has decided to sacrifice himself again in order to save her?

In “Beguiled”, the second book of the “Gate Deadlock” series, love knows no deadlocks.


When the rain got me, I was still running along an unfamiliar street that seemed endless on both directions. Within seconds, the drizzle became a cold downpour that soaked me to the bone, plastering the thin shirt and jeans onto my body. My hair was sticking on my face, pricking my eyes like dozens of needles, but I didn’t stop. Lost in a haze of despair, I could not comprehend the faint voice in my head that warned me to go back. I kept running away. Where I was heading, I could not tell anymore.

Everything around me seemed strange and obscure; no houses, no shelter, only the perennial olive trees and the murky veil of rain.

For the last two years in my life, every day, every minute, every second had been spinning around one single pivot; that rescue mission had been the only pivot of my new life. It had defined my actions, my thoughts, and my whole existence. I had gone a long way, overcoming any personal limit and fear, transcending time, only because I was fixed on a purpose. I had left my old life behind.

I had a life once.

Now, my mission was my life. A mission that’d taken me far away from my family, my friends, my studies and my future. But I did not care anymore. I had chosen my destiny. It had always been about him. Christopher. He had turned his back on me and the pivot support had suddenly vanished. I had nothing to lean on. My whole life was collapsing. I was collapsing. There was no angel coming to my rescue this time.

A sharp pain in my chest blocked my breath, forcing me to stop. But I welcomed the pain, didn’t want it to ease out. Strangely enough, it seemed to be the right thing to feel. This is how some people have died, right? Perhaps this could be the end…

“Hey, you’re standing in the middle of the street!” a voice in my head shouted. “And that yellow light approaching is about to crash into you in minutes. Can’t you hear it? You have to move to the side. Don’t just stand there. It’s a car! It’s definitely a car and the veil of hale certainly does not help. MOVE!”

Then why wasn’t I moving? Could I be waiting for the car to put an end to this excruciating obstacle race I had started?

I closed my eyes and held my breath as the roaring sound of the car approached.


Angels didn’t always look gorgeous. Sometimes, they had rough hands and smoked-yellow moustaches. Their faces could be wrinkled, carved with paths that reveal the burden of each year of

hard living. Even more, they could hit the brake at the very last moment if they meant to spare your life. But they did cover you with their worn-out coat to protect you from the hailstorm and they didn’t ask a lot of questions. They took you in their old, rattling truck and drove you to the nearest village to find someone who could speak your language.

He asked for my name.

“Emma.” I mumbled. “My name’s Emma.”

“Tourist?” he asked.

“Yes, tourist.” I lied.

Angels could tell when you needed help. They even bought you a drink and waited until you found the strength to speak again.

“What’s happened to you?” a stout, young woman with long, curly black hair asked me, having been assigned with the interpreter’s role by my angel. I guessed she must have been the café owner’s daughter, judging by the resemblance they shared. He’d been the first to storm out of the café to my assistance when my angel pulled over and called frantically for help. The poor man had been so alarmed by my shivering.

“Was anyone after you?” About a dozen saucer eyes around me were waiting for answers as she tried to wipe my hair with a towel. She smelled of fresh lemon. A faint but still invigorating scent, released every time she brought her hands close to my face.

“Yes.” I nodded, still shivering. I thought it was not a good time to tell her I could speak Greek.

“Who was it?”

I sat up on the uncomfortable, plastic chair, searching vainly for a lie. “I’m not sure.”

She put the towel on the table, looking worried. “Shall I call the police?”

“The police?” That brought me to my senses. The police were the last thing I needed right now. “No. I’m fine now. I was just scared of…the storm.” I tried to sound embarrassed. If I had started lying, I must have been my self again. She turned to translate my silly explanation to our audience, and next minute, I

realized I had disappointed her customers who’d been expecting something more exciting to disturb the tranquillity of their simple life. Just normal, ordinary life. Deadlock-free.

“Where are you staying? I can call a taxi to take you home.”

Home. Home is where your heart is. Once again, my dad’s voice repeated in my head, like a broken CD. Where was my heart now? Did I have a heart anymore? It must have been shattered. Its pieces felt scattered all over my chest.

“Yes. I need a taxi. I must go to Korinth,” I said.

“Korinth? It’s three hours drive at the least.”

“I have money.” I had been wearing my bag across my chest ever since I’d left the Squad Headquarters. Just a few hours ago, I was still in the future, a time-traveller to Christopher’s world, determined to set him free and get him back.

For a fleeting moment, I thought of what those villagers’ reaction would be if I tried to tell them what was lying ahead. To warn them. Tell them we were all being watched; and those of us who stood as a threat to the future world, like me, were in mortal danger. Those villagers would not call a taxi for me then, but the fastest means to the closest mental health institution. Who could blame them?

“Okay. I’ll take care of it. Just drink your ouzo. It’ll make you feel better,” the chubby, young woman said and turned to our curious audience, who reminded me of the chorus of old men in ancient Greek plays, to translate our short conversation. Obviously, my situation was of no interest to them anymore. They smiled in front of the naïve tourist who had gotten scared of the thunderstorm and started running. They probably had other problems to deal with now that the hail was ripping against the blossomed trees, destroying the crop of this year. Maybe their lives weren’t really as simple as I’d thought.

“Your taxi is coming,” the young woman shouted behind the counter.

Curled in the backseat of the taxi, I watched the headlights of the cars passing by. We were already on the highway and despite the

fact that it was still early in the afternoon, the gloomy shroud of the menacing storm covered everything, stalking my escape.

Angels could tell when you needed them. They sometimes called you when you least expected them to; when you thought they’d forgotten about you the same as you had forgotten about them.

“Hey? Did I catch you in a bad time?” Alex’s voice sounded worried through my cell phone. Alex. A rainbow in the storm of my torment.

“Alex! Thank God!”

“What’s going on, Emma? Where are you? You don’t sound good.”

“It’s over, Alex. It’s all over. You were right. I shouldn’t have gone there. Now, it’s too late.” My voice broke. Tears were streaming down my face and I realized I was sobbing.

“Emma, can you hear me? Concentrate. Where are you?”

“In a taxi…somewhere…near Pylos.”

“Where are you going?”

It was so hard to collect my thoughts. “I’m going to …Korinth. Yes, I’m going to Korinth.”

“Okay. I’ll find you there as soon as I can. Just go home and wait for me. I’ll take you away from them. Do you hear me?”

“Yes. Hurry, please.”

“I’ll see you soon. Just call me when you get there, okay?”


“Hang on, Emma. Listen to me. Try to relax. Everything will be all right.”

I wiped the blurred glass with my sleeve and looked outside. The dark clouds that carried the torrential hailstorm were now moving to the north, hiding the mountain-tops behind the haze.

Were angels likely to play tricks on you? To try and fool you? Was it possible that they might let you take a glimpse of paradise just to make you realize what you would lose afterwards, when they’d deserted you? Did they let you believe they’d always be there, eternal guardians of your soul, until one day you’d wake up

to find you were on your own, wondering if they’d ever really existed or they’d been just a figment of your imagination?

I had a guardian angel once. In his eyes I found the bluest skies. It was the hint of the oncoming storm that I missed. His face tortuously gorgeous, altogether perfect. His heart a bleeding wound because of his haunting past, searching for healing. When he first revealed to me that he came from the future, I was certain he was a compulsive liar. Yet, when he unveiled his assignment in my world, he scared me to death because the charming tutor I thought I had spent the night with, was transformed into an ex-assassin, a Crusader of the Future World, entrusted with the mission of protecting my life. Because on that same night, I discovered I was going to be murdered for the same reason my father had been murdered thirteen years ago.

The deplorable twist of the story had totally been my fault. After all, Christopher would still be one of the Crusaders if he hadn’t traded his freedom for my life. I wouldn’t have suffered the ordeal of the car crash the night I was told he’d left me, a near-death experience, months in a wheel-chair and, worst of all, the loss of our baby. Although I found out about my pregnancy after the car crash, when it was too late, the loss was still an open sore for me. But he didn’t know anything about it. I would always wonder if there was a chance we could still be together had I gone along with the League’s orders. If Christopher hadn’t chosen to offer himself to his worst nightmare, Denzel, commander of the Squad, the Special Forces of The League. He had been Christopher’s boss in the past, after he had him arrested years ago in their time, when Christopher was just an abused teenager. He’d recruited him to the Squad and trained him until Christopher became the most efficient Squad agent: a ruthless killer, a soldier of The Future, condemned to defend the secrets of The League. They had ordered my father’s murder when he refused to cooperate and conceal their secrets. And Christopher had taken part in what happened, although not directly. The League had ordered my death too when they found out I was following on my dad’s steps to excavate the area where the

Gateway that connected our worlds lay. That was when Christopher came to my time to save me. And he did it out of love. Unfortunately, it was just for a while. Because when I challenged the League, I turned them against Christopher too. That was how he had decided to put an end to the threat by surrendering to Denzel and going back to a life he’d tried so hard to redeem his soul from. I knew it was worse than death for him, but I knew he did it for me.

I’d do everything to get him back, to disentangle him from the Squad’s claws. That was no secret to Denzel. So, here I was, a double agent, ostensibly on a new mission assigned by the same people who had ordered my death. I was supposed to locate the Gateway for them, which had for some strange reason, moved. For an even stranger reason I couldn’t fathom, Denzel was convinced I was the only one who could carry this mission through. Such was his despair to find the Gate that he had accepted my one and only condition: to let Christopher come with me. To my astonishment, Denzel had no clue of the clandestine save-Christopher-mission the Crusaders had organized to get their comrade back. Which was going pretty well and according to plan apart from a slight detail which changed everything. No sooner had I gotten back to my world with Christopher when I discovered he was different. A changed man, a cruel assassin once again, a loyal Squad member who made it clear I meant nothing to him anymore. In his eyes, my mission to save him was nothing but a huge blunter. And my life was hanging in the balance.

That was why I had no other choice but run away from him in the rain; because I was pretty sure I couldn’t endure another second near him without risking my sanity.

When I got out of the taxi I took a moment to stare at the beach house in front of me. The house Christopher had bought that summer for us. I was determined to clear my thoughts of anything related to him. Since he was gone, the place felt desolate, forlorn and abandoned.

I found the key behind the gardenia pot where I always left it in case he came back. Every time I tried to reach it I prayed for it not to be there. But just like today, it was always there. I unlocked the heavy wooden door and took a few seconds before I entered. This would be my first time there without the hope that Christopher would return. Never before had that place seemed emptier to me. I closed the door behind me and almost ran up the stairs. My movements were mechanical, fast. I took off the clothes that had already dried on me and showered. It was unbearable and, at the same time, wistful for me to stay here. I should not let my mind play the same tricks again, recalling his face, imagining him sitting in the living room, on the porch, or lying in bed next to me.

After the shower that did little to alleviate the ache inside my chest, I curled on the sofa in my bathrobe with a glass of wine. I turned on the TV hoping it would distract me. Alex wouldn’t answer his cell phone, but I kept calling him several times and left a couple of messages. What could have happened to him?

Things would have been much different if I hadn’t crushed Alex’s hopes last Christmas, when I told him outright that I only saw him as a friend. We had a terrible fight, which ended with his departure for Greece. I had no one to blame but myself. If I hadn’t taken advantage of Alex’s feelings for me for as long as Suzan, my Crusader friend, needed him as a cover up while she prepared me for my time-travel and my encounter with Denzel, maybe things would have turned out differently. Alex had forgiven me for what I did. But it didn’t mean I forgave myself.

It was already dark outside when I began to wonder how long it would take for him to get here. More than four hours had passed since he’d called, but I told myself I shouldn’t panic. He should be here in any minute. Then he would take me away from here and we’d try to find Tom or Susan. They would know what to do. As long as I didn’t have to look into those empty, deep-blue eyes again. I would manage to go on somehow, to find a way to survive. I had done this before. I should know.

Under Duress

The ear-splitting sound of thunder jerked me awake. Someone was in the room. My eyes felt awfully heavy, and despite my instincts warning me, my body refused to cooperate. The house was dark. Trying to figure out where the intruder was, I quietly reached for the bottle of wine on the coffee table, the only way to protect myself. But I couldn’t find it. My heart was pounding.

In a sudden flash of lightning, I saw him sitting in the red armchair, right across the sofa. A familiar, still figure in his usual black Squad suit; broad shoulders upright against the back of the chair, hands resting on the armrests.

“That was a very foolish thing to do,” Christopher said calmly, a second before panic punched my chest.

My relief lasted only for a split of a second. I remembered he was the one I’d been running away from, unable to deal with the change in him. Why on earth did he have to follow me here? Why did he keep on torturing me with his adorable face and his irresistible voice?

“Why are you here?” I whispered sitting up. “Why don’t you leave me alone?” I continued, my voice faltered. “Haven’t you tortured me enough?”

“It’s too late for that I’m afraid. It was you who brought me back, remember? You started this, Emma, and no one can stop it now.” His voice sounded milder than a few hours ago, when he had drawn the line between us. Still, underneath his composed façade, I had the feeling there was something he was trying to hide.

“I’m perfectly sure I can stop it now. I won’t be bothering you anymore; you’ve made it clear that you want nothing to do with me.”

“As I said, it’s too late. They’ve got your boyfriend.”


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