Tina suffered major heartburn as they strolled on into town. It was so easy for Ari to win Theo over. It had been easy for him to win her over. He had everything going for him. Even now, knowing how treacherous it was, she still had to fight the pull of his attraction. After him, no other man had interested her, not once in the years since he had left her behind. While he, no doubt, had had his pick of any number of beautiful women who had sparked his interest. Like the blonde in Dubai and probably dozens of others.
It was all terribly wrong. He had been the only man in her life and she’d meant nothing to him. She only meant something to him now because she was the mother of his child and he had to deal with her.
On the road up to the beautiful white church dominating the hillside, a statue of a donkey stood outside a tourist shop displaying many stands of postcards. The donkey was painted pink and it had a slot for letters in its mid-section. Over the slot was painted a red heart with the words POST OF LOVE printed on it.
‘I didn’t get to sit on the camel, Mama. Can I sit on this donkey?’ Theo pleaded.
‘You’ll be sitting on a real donkey soon. Won’t that be better?’ Tina cajoled, mentally shying from anything connected with love.
Theo shook his head. ‘It won’t be pink. I’d like a photo of me on this one.’
‘Then we must do it for the birthday boy,’ Ari said, hoisting Theo up on the donkey and standing beside him to ensure he sat on it safely.
They both grinned at her, so much a picture of father and son it tore at Tina’s heart as she viewed it through the camera and took the requested shot.
‘Now if you’ll stand by Theo, I’ll take one of the two of you together,’ Ari quickly suggested.
‘Yes! Come on, Mama!’ Theo backed him up.
She handed Ari her camera and swapped places with him.
‘Smile!’ he commanded.
She put a smile on her face. As soon as he’d used her camera he whipped a mobile phone out of his shirt pocket and clicked off another shot of them. To show his parents, Tina instantly thought. This is the woman who is Theo’s mother and this is your grandson. It would probably answer some fleeting curiosity about her, but they would zero straight in on Theo, seeing Ari in him—a Zavros, not a Savalas.
‘You have a beautiful smile, Christina,’ Ari said warmly as he returned her camera and lifted Theo off the donkey.
‘Stop it!’ she muttered, glaring a hostile rejection at him. She couldn’t bear him buttering her up when he probably had some killing blow in mind to gain custody of his son.
He returned a puzzled frown. ‘Stop what?’ Theo was distracted by a basket of soft toys set out beside the postcard stands, giving her space enough to warn Ari off the totally unwelcome sweet-talking. ‘I don’t want any more of your compliments.’ His gesture denied any harm in them. ‘I was only speaking the truth.’
‘They remind me of what a fool I was with you. I won’t be fooled again, Ari.’
He grimaced. ‘I’m sorry you read more into our previous relationship than was meant, Christina.’
‘Oh! What exactly did you mean when you said I was special?’ she sliced back at him, her eyes flashing outright scepticism.
He gave her a look that sent a wave of heat through her, right down to her toes. ‘You were special. Very special. I just wasn’t ready to take on a long-term relationship at the time. But I am now. I want to marry you, Christina.’
Her heart stopped. She stared at him in total shock. No way had she expected this. It was Theo, her stunned mind started to reason. Ari thought it was the best way—the easiest way—to get Theo. Who she was, and what she wanted was irrelevant.
‘Forget it!’ she said tersely. ‘I’m not about to change my life for your convenience.’
‘I could make it convenient for you, too,’ he quickly countered.
Her eyes mocked his assertion. ‘How do you figure that?’
‘A life of ease. No fighting over Theo. We bring him up together. You’ll have ample opportunity to do whatever you want within reason.’
‘Marriage to you is no guarantee of that. You can dangle as many carrots as you like in front of me, Ari. I’m not biting.’
‘What if I give you a guarantee? I’ll have a prenuptial agreement drawn up that would assure you and Theo of financial security for the rest of your lives.’ His mouth took on an ironic twist. ‘Think of it as fair payment for the pain I’ve given you.’
‘I’m perfectly capable of supporting Theo.’
‘Not to the extent of giving him every advantage that wealth can provide.’
‘Money isn’t everything. Besides, I don’t want to be your wife. That would simply be asking for more pain.’
He frowned. ‘I remember the pleasure we both took in making love. It can be that way again, Christina.’
She flushed at the reminder of how slavishly she had adored him. ‘You think a seductive honeymoon makes a marriage, Ari? Taking me as your wife is just a cynical exercise in legality. It gives you full access to our son. Once you have that, I won’t matter to you. You’ll meet other women who will be happy to provide you with a special experience. Can you honestly say you’ll pass that up?’
‘If I have you willing to share my bed, and the family I hope we’ll have together, I shall be a faithful husband like my father,’ he said with every appearance of sincerity.
‘How can I believe that?’ she cried, sure that his sincerity couldn’t be genuine.
‘Tonight you will meet my parents. Their marriage was arranged but they made it work. It was bonded in family and they are completely devoted to each other. I see no reason why we cannot achieve that same happiness, given enough goodwill between us. Goodwill for the sake of our son, Christina.’
‘Except I don’t trust you,’ she flashed back at him. ‘I have no reason to trust you.’
‘Then we can have it written into the prenuptial agreement that should you file for divorce because of my proven infidelity, you will get full custody of our children, as well as a financial settlement that will cover every possible need.’
Tina was stunned again. ‘You’d go that far?’
‘Yes. That is the deal I’m offering you, Christina.’ As Theo moved back to claim their attention, Ari shot her one last purposeful look and muttered, ‘Think about it!’
ARI was deeply vexed with himself. Christina had pushed him too far. He should have stuck to the financial deal and not let her mocking mistrust goad him into offering full custody if he didn’t remain faithful to their marriage. It was impossible to backtrack on it now. If she remained cold and hard towards him, he’d just condemned himself to a bed he certainly wouldn’t want to lie in for long.