When and if he did she would have played it very cool. No melting on the spot. She would have made him chase her, earn her, and she wouldn’t have given in to him until he’d declared himself helplessly in love with her and couldn’t live without her. He would have had to propose marriage.
Which he’d done today.
Except the circumstances were very different to what might have been if Theo had never been conceived. That completely changed the plot, making the marriage proposal worth nothing to her.
Though Ari’s face had lit up with pleasure at seeing her in Dubai.
But that was only a fond memory rekindled.
She wasn’t the same naive, stars-in-her-eyes girl and never would be again, so it was impossible for him to recapture the pleasure he’d had in her company in the past. Surely he had to realise that. Empty words, meaning nothing.
She shouldn’t let herself be affected by anything he said. Or by his mega sex appeal which was an unsettling distraction, pulling her into wanting to believe he was sincere when he was probably intent on conducting a softening-up process so she would bend to his will. It was important to keep her head straight tonight. He had rights where Theo was concerned. He had none over her.
It was still very hot outside their room when it came time to dress for the birthday party. Her mother, of course, was wearing black—a smart tunic and skirt with an array of gold jewellery to make it look festive. Tina chose a red and white sundress for herself, teaming it with white sandals and dangly earrings made of little white shells.
She put Theo in navy shorts, navy sandals, and a navy and white top with red stripes across the chest. He insisted on having the big red birthday badge with the smiley face and the number 5 pinned onto it. Ari had bought it for him this morning on their stroll around the shops and Theo wore it proudly.
‘See!’ he cried, pointing to his badge when Ari came to pick them up.
Ari laughed, lifted him up high, whirled him around, then held him against his shoulder, grinning at him as he said, ‘It’s a grand thing to be five, Theo.’
There was little doubt in Tina’s mind that Theo would love to have Ari as his Papa. Her heart sank at the thought of how much would have to change when the truth had to be admitted. Ari’s parents already knew. She could only hope they would handle this meeting with care and discretion.
To her immense relief, Ari seated her mother beside him on the drive to his home on the other end of the island. It was near the Santo winery, he said. Which reminded Tina that he had come to Australia on a tour of the wine industry there. As they passed terraces of grapevines, it was fascinating to see the vines spread across the ground instead of trained to stand in upright rows. To protect the grapes from the strong winds, Ari explained to her mother who happily chatted to him the whole way.
Eventually they arrived at the Zavros home. The semicircular driveway was dominated by a fountain with three mermaids as its centrepiece, which instantly fascinated Theo. The home itself appeared to be three Mediterranean-style villas linked by colonnades. Naturally it was white, like most of the buildings on Santorini. Ari led them to the central building which was larger than the other two. It all shrieked of great wealth. Intimidating wealth to Tina.
‘We’re dining on the terrace,’ he informed them, shepherding them along a high spacious hallway that clearly bisected this villa.
The floor was magnificently tiled in a pattern of waves and seashells. They emerged onto a huge terrace overlooking the sea. In front of them was a sparkling blue swimming pool. To the left was a long vine-covered pergola and Tina’s heart instantly kicked into a faster beat as she saw what had to be Ari’s parents, seated at a table underneath it.
They rose from their chairs to extend a welcome to their guests. Tension whipped along Tina’s nerves as both of them looked at Theo first. However their attention on him didn’t last too long. They greeted her mother very graciously and waited for her to introduce her daughter and grandson.
Maximus Zavros was an older version of Ari in looks. His wife, Sophie, was still quite a striking woman with a lovely head of soft wavy hair, warm brown eyes and a slightly plump, very curvaceous figure. Although they smiled at her as she was introduced, Tina was acutely conscious of their scrutiny—sizing her up as the mother of their grandson. It was a relief when they finally turned their gaze to Theo again.
‘And this is the birthday boy,’ Sophie Zavros said indulgently.
‘Five!’ Theo said proudly, pointing to his badge. Then he gave Ari’s father a curious look. ‘Your name is Maximus?’
‘Yes, it is. If it is easier for you, tonight you can call me Max,’ he invited, smiling benevolently.
‘Oh, no! I like Maximus,’ Theo said with a broad smile back. ‘Mama took me to a movie about a girl with very long hair. What was her name, Mama?’
‘Rapunzel,’ Tina supplied, barely stopping herself from rolling her eyes at what was bound to come next.
‘Rapunzel,’ he repeated. ‘But the best part of the movie was the horse. His name was Maximus and he was a great horse!’
‘I’m glad he was a great horse,’ Ari’s father said, amused by the connection.
‘He was so good at everything!’ Theo assured him. ‘And he saved them in the end, didn’t he, Mama?’
‘Yes, he did.’
Ari’s father crouched down to Theo’s eye level. ‘I think I must get hold of this movie. Maybe you and I could watch it together sometime. Would you like to see it again?’
Theo nodded happily.
‘Well, I’m not a horse but I can give you a ride over to the table.’
He swept his grandson up in his arms and trotted him to the table, making Theo bubble with laughter. It startled Tina that such a powerful man would be so playful. Her mother and Sophie were laughing, too—any awkwardness at meeting strangers completely broken. She glanced at Ari who was also looking on in amusement.
He quickly moved closer to her, murmuring, ‘Relax, Christina. We just want to make this a special night for Theo.’
‘Have you told them of your plan to marry me?’ she asked quickly, wanting to know if she was being sized up as a possible daughter-in-law.
‘Yes, but there will be no pressure for you to agree tonight. This is a different beginning for us, Christina, with our families involved, because it is about family this time.’
His eyes burned serious conviction into hers.
It rattled her deep-seated prejudice against believing anything he said. She sucked in a deep breath and tried to let her inner angst go. This was a different scenario between them with their families involved. She decided to judge the night on its merits, see how she felt about it afterwards. To begin with she told herself to be glad that Ari’s parents were the kind of people Theo could take to because there was no avoiding the fact they would feature in his future.