Easier said than done, Ari thought grimly.
She didn’t want him to touch her.
Today, she didn’t want to look at him.
Was she frightened of the attraction she still felt with him, frightened of giving in to it? She would have to look at him at the wedding reception and suffer his touch during the bridal waltz. Not just a touch, either. Full body contact. He would make the waltz one of the most intimate dances she’d ever had, force the sexual chemistry between them to the surface so she couldn’t hide from it, couldn’t ignore it, couldn’t deny it.
She was not going to get away from him.
Tina listened to the marriage service as she stood beside her sister. These same words could be spoken to her soon if she said yes to Ari’s proposal. Would he take the vows seriously, or were they just mumbo-jumbo to him—the means to an end?
He had offered the fidelity clause in a prenuptial agreement. She would get full custody of Theo and any other children they might have together if he faltered on that front. Could she be happy with him if he kept faith with his marriage deal?
It was a risk she probably shouldn’t be considering. Cass’s wedding was getting to her, stirring up feelings that could land her in a terrible mess. Plus all the marriage talk amongst her Greek relatives yesterday had kept Ari’s offer pounding through her mind—no relief at all from the connection with him.
Her mother had raved on about how kind he’d been—taking Tina and Theo out for the day, the birthday party at his parents’ home—which had reminded the relatives of how attentive he’d been to Tina at the family party in Athens. Comments on how eligible he was followed, with speculative looks that clearly said Helen’s daughter might have a chance with him. Being a single mother was … so unfortunate.
Little did they know that Theo was the drawcard, not her. They would all be watching her with Ari today—watching, hoping, encouraging. She would have to look at him soon, take his arm as they followed Cass and George out of the church, be seated next to him at the wedding reception, dance with him. The whole thing was a nightmare with no escape, and it would be worse when the truth was told.
Her mother would want her to marry Ari.
Her relatives would think her mad if she didn’t.
Only Cass might take her side, asking what she wanted, but Cass wouldn’t be there. She and George would be off on their honeymoon. Besides, what Tina wanted was impossible—utterly impossible to go back to the time when she had loved Ari with all her heart and believed he loved her. How could she ever believe that now?
She felt a sharp stab of envy as George promised to love Cass for the rest of his life. There was no doubting the fervour in his voice, no doubting Cass, either, as she promised her love in return. A huge welling of emotion brought tears to Tina’s eyes as the two of them were declared husband and wife. She wished them all the happiness in the world. This was how it should be between a man and a woman, starting out on a life together.
She was still blinking away the wetness in her eyes when she had to link up with Ari for the walk out of the church. He wound her arm around his and hugged her close, instantly causing an eruption of agitation inside Tina.
‘Why do women always weep at weddings?’ he murmured, obviously wanting her to focus on him.
She didn’t. She swept her gaze around the gathered guests, swallowed hard to unblock her voice and answered, ‘Because change is scary and you hope with all your heart that everything will work out right.’
‘What is right in your mind, Christina?’ he persisted.
Christina … he invariably used her full name because it was what she had called herself for the modelling career that had been cut short after he had left her pregnant. During the months they’d spent together she’d loved how that name had rolled off his tongue in a caressing tone. She wished he wouldn’t keep using the same tone now, that he’d call her Tina like everyone else. Then she wouldn’t be constantly reminded of the girl she had been and how much she had once loved him.
She wasn’t that girl any more.
She’d moved on.
Except Ari could still twist her heart and shoot treacherous excitement through her veins.
It was wrong for him to have that power. Wrong! And the pain of her disillusionment with him lent a vehement conviction to her voice as she answered him. ‘It’s right if they keep loving each other for the rest of their lives, no matter what happens along the way.’ She looked at him then, meeting the quizzical amber eyes with as much hard directness as she could muster. ‘We don’t have that basis for marriage, do we?’
‘I don’t believe that love is the glue that keeps a marriage together,’ he shot back at her. ‘It’s a madness that’s blind to any sensible judgement and it quickly burns out when people’s expectations of it aren’t met. Absolute commitment is what I’m offering you, Christina. You can trust that more than love.’
His cynical view of love was deeply offensive to her, yet she felt the strength of his will encompassing her, battering at her resistance to what he wanted. ‘I’d rather have what Cass and George have than what you’re offering,’ she muttered, resenting the implication that her sister’s happiness with her marriage wouldn’t last.
‘I understand that change must be scary to you, Christina,’ he murmured in her ear. ‘I promise you I’ll do all I can to make the transition easy for both you and Theo.’
The transition! He expected her to give up her life in Australia—all she’d known, all she’d worked for—to be with him. It wouldn’t work the other way around. She knew that wouldn’t even be considered. She was supposed to see marriage to him as more desirable than anything else, and she would have seen it that way once, if he’d loved her.
That was the sticking point.
Tina couldn’t push herself past it.
The hurt that he didn’t wouldn’t go away.
Outside the church they had to pose for photographs. Tina pasted a smile on her face. Her facial muscles ached from keeping it there. Ari lifted Theo up to perch against his shoulder for some shots and everywhere she looked people seemed to be smiling and nodding benevolently at the grouping of the three of them—not as bridesmaid, best man and page boy, but as wife, husband and son. Ari’s parents stood next to her mother and Uncle Dimitri. They would all be allied against her if she decided to reject the marriage proposal.
She ached all over from the tension inside her. At least the drive to the reception spared her any active pressure from Ari. Theo rode in their car, sitting between them on the back seat, chatting happily to the man he would soon know as his father. Tina was grateful not have to say anything but she was acutely aware of Theo’s pleasure in Ari and Ari’s pleasure in his son. How could she explain to a five-year-old boy why they couldn’t all be together with the Papa he had wished for?