The will to win was in his blood but usually his mind warned him when the price to be paid was becoming unacceptable. Why hadn’t he weighed it up this time? It was as though he was mesmerised by the fierce challenge emanating from her, the dark blaze of energy fighting him with all her might, making him want to win regardless of the cost.
The stakes were high. He wanted his son full-time, living in his home, not on the other side of the world with visits parcelled out by a family law-court. But something very strong in him wanted to win Christina over, too. Maybe it was instinct telling him she could make him the kind of wife he’d be happy to live with— better than any of the other women he knew. She’d proved herself a good mother—a deeply caring mother. As for the sharing his bed part, surely it wouldn’t prove too difficult to establish some workable accord there.
She’d been putty in his hands once, a beautiful rosebud of a girl whose petals he had gradually unfurled, bringing her to full glorious bloom. She was made of much stronger stuff now. The power of her passion excited him. It was negative passion towards him at the moment, but if he could turn it around, push it into a positive flow.
She did have a beautiful smile. He wanted to make it light up for him. And he wanted to see her magnificent dark eyes sparkling with pleasure—pleasure in him. The marriage bed need not be cold. If he could press the right buttons … he had to or he’d just proposed the worst deal of his life.
He took stock of this different Christina as they wandered through the alleys of shops leading up to the summit of the town. The short hair did suit her, giving more emphasis to her striking cheekbones and her lovely long neck. Her full-lipped mouth was very sexy—bee-stung lips like Angelina Jolie’s, though not quite as pronounced. She wasn’t quite as tall as her sister, nor as slim. She was, in fact, very sweetly curved, her breasts fuller than when she was younger, her waist not as tiny—probably because of childbirth—but still provocatively feminine in the flow to her neatly rounded hips.
Today she was wearing a pretty lemon and white striped top that was cut into clever angles that spelled designer wear—possibly a gift from Cassandra. She’d teamed it with white Capri pants and she certainly had the legs to wear them with distinction—legs that Ari wanted wound around him in urgent need. She could make him a fine wife, one he would be proud to own, one he wouldn’t stray from if she let herself respond to him.
He would make it happen.
One way or another he had to make it happen.
Marriage! Never in her wildest imagination had Tina thought it might be a possibility with Ari Zavros, not since he’d left Australia, putting a decisive end to any such romantic notion. But this wasn’t romance. It was a coldly calculated deal to get what he wanted and he probably thought he could fool her on the fidelity front.
How on earth could she believe he wouldn’t stray in the future? Even as they strolled along the alleys filled with fascinating shops women stared at him, gobbling him up with their eyes. When she stopped to buy a pretty scarf, the saleswoman kept looking at him, barely glancing at Tina as she paid for it.
The man was a sex magnet. Despite how he’d left her flat, she wasn’t immune to the vibrations, either, which made it doubly dangerous to get involved with him on any intimate level. He’d only hurt her again. To marry him would be masochistic madness. But it was probably best to pretend to be thinking about his deal until after Cass’s wedding to ensure he kept her deal.
Then the truth could come out without it being such a distracting bombshell and visitation rights could be discussed. She wouldn’t deny him time with his son since he seemed so intent on embracing fatherhood, but he would have to come to Australia for it. Greece was not Theo’s home and she wasn’t about to let that be changed.
They reached the summit of the town where a cable-car ran down to the old port. Alternatively one could take a donkey-ride along a zig-zag path from top to bottom. Tina would have much preferred to take the cable-car. Ari, however, was bent on making good his promise to Theo, and she made no protest as he selected three donkeys for them to ride—the smallest one for their son, the biggest one for himself and an average-sized one for her.
Theo was beside himself with excitement as Ari lifted him onto the one chosen for him. Tina quickly refused any need for his help, using a stool to mount her donkey. She didn’t want to feel Ari’s hands on her, nor have him so close that he would have a disturbing physical effect on her. She’d been unsettled enough by his ridiculous offer of marriage.
He grinned at her as he mounted his own donkey, probably arrogantly confident of getting his own way, just as he was getting his own way about Theo’s birthday. She gave him a beautiful smile back, letting him think whatever he liked, knowing in her heart she would do what she considered best for her child, and being a miserable mother in a miserable marriage was definitely not best.
‘I’ll ride beside Theo,’ he said. ‘If you keep your donkey walking behind his, I’ll be able to control both of them.’
‘Are they likely to get out of control?’ she asked apprehensively.
‘They’re fed at the bottom and some of them have a tendency to bolt when they near the end of the path.’
He flashed another confident grin. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you both. That’s a promise, Christina.’
His eyes telegraphed it was meant for the future, too.
He could work overtime on his deal, making it as attractive as he could, but she wasn’t having any of it, Tina thought grimly. However, she did have to concede he kept their donkeys at a controlled pace when others started to rush past them. And he cheerfully answered Theo’s constant questions with all the patience of an indulgent father.
Her son was laughing with delight and giving Ari an impulsive hug as he was lifted off the donkey. For Tina, it was a relief to get her feet back on solid ground. She’d been far too tense to enjoy her ride.
‘We’ll take the cable-car back up when we return,’ Ari said soothingly, aware of her unease.
She nodded, muttering, ‘That would be good.’
‘Which boat is ours?’ Theo asked, eagerly looking forward to the next treat.
Ari pointed. ‘This one coming into the wharf now.’
‘Looks like you already have a captain,’ Tina remarked.
‘Oh, Jason will be happy to turn the wheel over to Theo while he’s preparing lunch for us. It will be an easy day for him. When the boat is not in family use, he takes out charters, up to eight people at a time. Today he only has three to look after.’