They arrived at the Santo winery. Its reception centre was perched on top of a cliff overlooking the sea. To the side of the dining section was a large open area shaded by pergolas and normally used for wine-tasting. Guests gathered here while the bridal party posed for more photographs. Waiters offered drinks and canapés. A festive mood was very quickly in full swing.
Tina thought she might escape from Ari’s side for a while after the photographer was satisfied but that proved impossible. He led her straight over to George’s family who were all in high spirits, delighted to meet their new daughter-in-law’s sister and press invitations to be their guest on Patmos at any time.
Then he insisted on introducing her to his sisters and their husbands—beautiful women, handsome men, bright beautiful people who welcomed Tina into their group, making friendly chat about the wedding. Their children, Ari’s nephews, all four of them around Theo’s age, quickly drew him off with them to play boy games. Which left Tina very much the centre of attention and as pleasant as the conversation was, she knew they were measuring her up as wife material for Ari.
After a reasonable interval she excused herself, saying she should check if Cass needed her for anything.
It didn’t provide much of an escape.
‘I’ll come with you,’ Ari instantly said. ‘George might require something from me.’
As soon as they were out of earshot, Tina muttered, ‘You told them, didn’t you?’
‘Not the children. Theo won’t hear it from them. Keeping it from your family until after the wedding will be respected, Christina. I simply wanted my sisters to understand where you are with me.’
‘I’m not anywhere with you,’ she snapped defensively, giving him a reproachful glare.
He held her gaze with a blaze of resolute purpose. ‘You’re my intended wife and I told them so.’
‘Why are you rushing into this?’ she cried in exasperation. ‘We can make reasonable arrangements about sharing Theo. Other people do it all the time. You don’t have to marry me!’
‘I want to marry you.’
‘Only because of Theo and that’s not right, Ari.’
‘You’re wrong. I want you, too, Christina.’
She shook her head in anguished denial, instantly shying away from letting herself believe him. Cass and George were chatting to a group of their modellingworld friends and Tina gestured to the gorgeous women amongst them. ‘Look at what you could have. I’m not in their class. And I bet they’d lap up your attention.’
‘You’re in a class of your own and I don’t want their attention. I want yours.’
‘Today you do, but what about the rest of your future, Ari?’
‘I’ll make my future with you if you’ll give it a chance.’
Again she shook her head. There was no point in arguing with him. He had his mind set on a course of action and nothing she said was going to shift him from it.
‘It’s worth a chance, isn’t it, Christina?’ he pressed. ‘We were both happy when we were intimately involved. It can be that way again. You can’t really want to be separated from Theo during the time he spends with me if you insist he has to bounce between us.’
She would hate it.
But she was also hating the way Cass’s girlfriends were gobbling Ari up with their eyes, watching him approach the bride and groom. Not that she could blame them for doing it. He was even more of a sex magnet today, dressed in a formal dinner suit which enhanced his perfect male physique, highlighting how stunningly handsome he was. A Greek God. Tina had no doubt they were thinking that. And envying her for having him at her side.
Could she stand a lifetime of that with Ari?
Would he always stay at her side?
She felt sick from all the churning inside her. Any distraction from it was intensely welcome. Hopefully Cass would provide it for a while. She and Ari joined the celebrity group and were quickly introduced around. One of George’s friends, another photographer, took the opportunity to give Tina his business card.
‘Come to me and I’ll turn you into a model as famous as your sister. No disrespect to you, Cass, but this girl has quite a unique look that I’d love to capture.’
Cass laughed and turned a beaming smile to Tina. ‘I’ve always said you don’t have to be a homebody.’
‘But I like being a homebody.’ She tried to hand the card back, embarrassed by the spotlight being turned on her. ‘Thank you, but no.’
‘Keep it,’ he insisted. ‘I mean it. I would love to work with that wonderful long neck and those marvellous cheekbones. Your short hair sets them off to perfection.’
‘No, please, I don’t want it. I have nowhere to put your card anyway.’
‘I’ll keep it for you. You might have second thoughts,’ Ari said, taking the card and sliding it into his breast pocket. He smiled around at the group. ‘No disrespect to any of you lovely ladies, but I also think Christina is unique. And very special.’
Which was virtually a public declaration of his interest in her, putting off the interest that any of the lovely ladies might want to show in him.
Tina’s marvellous cheekbones were instantly illuminated by heat.
Cass leaned over to whisper in her ear. ‘Mama is right. Ari is very taken by you. Give him a chance, Tina. He’s rather special, too.’
Even Cass was on Ari’s side.
Tina felt the whole world was conspiring to make her take the step she was frightened of taking.
‘I think I need some cool air,’ she muttered.
Ari heard her. He took her arm. ‘Please excuse us, everyone. We’re off to catch the sea breeze for a breather.’
He drew her over to the stone wall along the cliff edge. Tina didn’t protest the move. It was useless. She was trapped into being Ari’s companion at this wedding and he was not about to release her.
‘Why did you take that card?’ she demanded crossly.
‘Because it was my fault that you didn’t continue the modelling career you might have had. It’s not too late to try again, Christina. You actually have a more individual beauty now. If you’d like to pursue that path you’d have my full support.’
She frowned at him. ‘I’m a mother, Ari. That comes first. And isn’t it what you want from me, to be the mother of your children?’
‘Yes, but there are models who are also mothers. It can be done, Christina.’ He lifted his hand and gently stroked her hot cheek, his eyes burning with what seemed like absolute sincerity. ‘I destroyed two of your dreams. At least I can give one of them back to you. Maybe the other … with enough time together. ‘