And she thought he might hurt Theo in the same way—apparently loving him, then leaving him.
He had to change her perception of him, make her understand he would never abandon his child. He had to show her that Theo would be welcomed into his family and genuinely loved. As for winning her over to being his wife … trying to charm her into marrying him wasn’t likely to work. Those blazing dark eyes of hers would shoot down every move he made in that direction. So what would work?
She had just offered him a deal.
Why not offer her one?
Make it a deal too attractive to refuse.
Ari worked on that idea as he drove to the El Greco resort.
‘He looks just like a Greek God,’ her mother remarked admiringly as Ari Zavros strode across the terrace to where they were still sitting in the open-air section of the restaurant, enjoying a last cup of coffee after breakfast.
Tina’s stomach instantly cramped. She had thought that once—the golden Greek with his sun-streaked hair and sparkling amber eyes and skin that shone like bronze. And, of course, it was still true. The white shorts and sports shirt he wore this morning made him look even more striking, showing off his athletic physique, the masculine strength in his arms and legs, the broad manly chest. The man was totally charismatic.
This time, however, Tina wasn’t about to melt at his feet. ‘Bearing gifts, as well,’ she said ironically, eyeing the package he was carrying under his arm.
‘For me?’ Theo cried excitedly.
Ari heard him, beaming a wide grin at his son as he arrived at their table and presented him with the large package. ‘Yes, for you. Happy birthday, Theo.’
‘Can I open it?’ Theo asked, eagerly eyeing the wrapping paper.
‘You should thank Ari first,’ Tina prompted.
‘Thank you very much,’ he obeyed enthusiastically.
Ari laughed. ‘Go right ahead. Something for you to build when you have nothing else to do.’
It was a Lego train station, much to Theo’s delight.
‘He loves Lego,’ her mother remarked, finding even more favour with the Greek God.
‘I thought he would,’ Ari answered. ‘My nephews do. Their rooms are full of it.’
‘Talking of family,’ her mother quickly slid in. ‘Your father has apparently insisted on paying for all our accommodation here and …’
‘It is his pleasure to do so, Mrs Savalas,’ Ari broke in with a smile to wipe out her concern. ‘If you were staying on Patmos, George’s family would see to it. Here, on Santorini, my father is your host and he has asked me to extend an invitation to all of you for dinner tonight at our family home. Then we will not be strangers at the wedding.’
Her mother instantly melted. ‘Oh! How kind!’
Tina glared at Ari. Had he lied about keeping the deal? And what of his parents? Had he warned them not to reveal their relationship to Theo? He was pursuing his own agenda and she wasn’t at all sure he would respect hers. Far from melting at his kindness, every nerve in her body stiffened with battle tension.
Ari kept smiling. ‘I’ve told my mother it’s your birthday, Theo. She’s planning a special cake with five candles for you to blow out and make a wish. You’ve got all day to think about what to wish for.’
All day to worm his way into Theo’s heart with his facile charm, Tina thought grimly. She knew only too well he could be Mr Wonderful for a while. It was the long haul that worried her—how constant Ari would be as a father.
‘Are you coming with us today, Mrs Savalas?’ he asked, apparently happy to have her mother’s company, as well, probably wanting the opportunity to get her even more onside with him.
‘No, no. It sounds too busy for me. I shall stroll into the township in my own time, take a look at the church where the wedding is to be held, do a little shopping, visit the museum.’ She smiled at Tina, her eyes full of encouraging speculation. ‘Much better for you young people to go off together.’
Tina barely stopped herself from rolling her own eyes at what was obviously some romantic delusion. Gorgeous man—unmarried daughter—Greek island in the sun.
‘I shall look forward to the family dinner tonight,’ her mother added, giving whole-hearted approval to Ari’s plans for the whole day.
Tina smothered a groan.
She had agreed to letting him into their lives in return for his silence until after the wedding, but if he or his parents let the cat out of the bag tonight, she would bite their heads off for putting their self-interest ahead of everything else.
After a brief return to their room to put the Lego gift on Theo’s bed, refresh themselves, and collect hats and swimming costumes, they re-met Ari and set off for the five-minute walk into the main township of Fira. Tina deliberately placed Theo between them. He held her hand, and unknowingly, his father’s. She wondered how she was going to explain this truth to him—another nail in her heart.
‘Are your parents aware of our deal?’ she asked Ari over Theo’s head.
‘They will be in good time,’ he assured her.
She had to believe him … until his assurance proved false, like the words he had spoken to her in the past. Would he play fair with her this time? She could only hope so. This wasn’t about him. Or her. It was about the life of their child.
The view from the path into town was spectacular, overlooking the fantastic sea-filled crater with its towering cliffs. Two splendid white cruise ships stood in the middle of the glittering blue harbour and Theo pointed to them excitedly.
‘Are we going to ride in one of those boats?’
‘No, they’re far too big to move close to land,’ Ari answered. ‘See the smaller boats going out to them? They’re to take the people off and bring them to the island. We’ll be riding in a motor-launch that can take us wherever we want to go. You can even steer it for a while if you like.’
Theo was agog. ‘Can I? Can I really?’
Ari laughed. ‘You can sit on my lap and be the captain. I’ll show you what to do.’
‘Did you hear that, Mama? I’ll be captain of the boat.’
‘Your boat, Ari?’ Tina asked, anxiously wondering what other goodies he had up his sleeve, ready to roll out for Theo’s pleasure.
‘A family boat. It will be waiting for us at the town wharf.’
His family. His very wealthy family. How could she stop the seduction of her son by these people? He was a total innocent, as she had been before meeting Ari. He was bound to be deeply impressed by them and the outcome might be a terrible tug-of-war for his love.