CHAPTER ONE

‘IT’S like a great big sail, Mama,’ Theo said in awe, staring up at the most famous building in Dubai—Burj Al Arab, the only seven-star hotel in the world.

Tina Savalas smiled at her beautiful five-year-old son. ‘Yes, it’s meant to look like that.’

Built on a man-made island surrounded by the sea, the huge white glittering structure had all the glorious elegance of a sail billowed by the wind. Tina was looking forward to seeing as much of its interior as she could. Her sister, Cassandra, had declared it absolutely fabulous, a must-see on their two-day stopover before flying on to Athens.

Actually staying in the hotel was way too expensive—thousands of dollars a night—which was fine for the super-rich to whom the cost was totally irrelevant. People like Theo’s father. No doubt he had occupied one of the luxury suites with butler on his way back to Greece from Australia, having put his charming episode with her behind him.

Tina shut down on the bitter thought. Being left pregnant by Ari Zavros was her own stupid fault. She’d been a completely blind naive fool to have believed he was as much in love with her as she was with him. Sheer fantasy land. Besides, how could she regret having Theo? He was the most adorable little boy, and from time to time, knowing Ari was missing out on his son gave her considerable secret satisfaction.

Their taxi stopped at the checkpoint gates which prevented anyone but paying guests from proceeding to the hotel. Her mother produced the necessary paperwork, showing confirmation that they had booked for the early afternoon tea session. Even that was costing them one hundred and seventy dollars each, but they had decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience they should indulge in.

The security man waved them on and the taxi drove slowly over the bridge which led to the hotel entrance, allowing them time to take in the whole amazing setting.

‘Look, Mama, a camel!’ Theo cried, delighted at recognising the animal standing on a side lawn.

‘Yes, but not a real one, Theo. It’s a statue.’ ‘Can I sit on it?’

‘We’ll ask if you can, but later, when we’re leaving.’

‘And take a photo of me on it so I can show my friends,’ he pressed eagerly.

‘I’m sure we’ll have plenty of great photos to show from this trip,’ Tina assured him.

They alighted from the taxi and were welcomed into the grand lobby of the hotel which was so incredibly opulent, photographs couldn’t possibly capture all of its utter magnificence. They simply stood and stared upwards at the huge gold columns supporting the first few tiers of inner balconies of too many floors to count, the rows of their scalloped ceilings graduating from midnight-blue to aqua and green and gold at the top with lots of little spotlights embedded in them, twinkling like stars.

When they finally lowered their heads, right in front of them and dividing two sets of escalators, was a wonderful cascade of dancing fountains, each level repeating the same range of colours in the tower of ceilings. The escalators were flanked by side-walls which were gigantic aquariums where hosts of gorgeous tropical fish darted and glided around the underwater rocks and foliage.

‘Oh, look at the fish, Mama!’ Theo cried, instantly entranced by them.

‘This truly is amazing,’ Tina’s mother murmured in awe. ‘Your father always liked the architecture of the old world. He thought nothing could beat the palaces and the cathedrals that were built in the past, but this is absolutely splendid in its own way. I wish he was here to see it.’

He had died a year ago and her mother still wore black in mourning. Tina missed him, too. Despite his disappointment in her—getting pregnant to a man who was not interested in partnering her for life—he had given her the support she’d needed and been a marvellous grandfather to Theo, proud that she’d named her son after him.

It was a terrible shame that he hadn’t lived long enough to see Cassandra married. Her older sister had done everything right; made a success of her modelling career without the slightest taint of scandal in her private life, fell in love with a Greek photographer—the right nationality—who wanted their wedding to take place on Santorini, the most romantic Greek island of all. He would have been bursting with pride, walking Cassandra down the aisle next week, his good girl.

But at least the bad girl had given him the pleasure of having a little boy in the family. Having only two daughters and no son had been another disappointment to her father. Tina told herself she had made up for her mistake with Theo. And she’d been on hand to take over the management of his restaurant, doing everything his way when he’d become too ill to do it all himself. He’d called her a good girl then.

Yet while Tina thought she had redeemed herself in her father’s eyes, she didn’t feel good inside. Not since Ari Zavros had taken all that she was and walked away from her as though she was nothing. The sense of being totally crushed had never gone away. Theo held her together. He made life worth living. And there were things to enjoy, like this hotel with all its splendours.

There was another glorious fountain at the top of the escalator. They were escorted down a corridor to the elevator which would whiz them up to the SkyView Bar on the twenty-seventh floor. They walked over a large circle of mosaic tiles, a blazing sun at its centre, over a carpet shaped like a fish in red and gold. Her mother pointed out vases of tightly clustered red roses, dozens of them in each perfect pompom-like arrangement. The doors of the elevator were patterned in blue and gold—everything unbelievably rich.

On arriving in the shimmering gold lobby of the bar, they were welcomed again and escorted into the dining area where the decor was a stunning blue and green, the ceiling designed like waves with white crests. They were seated in comfortable armchairs at a table by a window which gave a fantastic view of the city of Dubai and the man-made island of Palm Jumeirah where the very wealthy owned mansions with sand and sea frontage.

A whole world away from her life in every sense, Tina thought, but she was having a little taste of it today, smiling at the waiter who handed them a menu listing dozens of varieties of tea from which they could choose, as many different ones as they liked to try throughout the afternoon. He poured them glasses of champagne to go with their first course which was a mix of fresh berries with cream. Tina didn’t know how she was going to get through all the marvellous food listed—probably not—but she was determined on enjoying all she could.

Her mother was smiling.

Theo was wide-eyed at the view.

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