But she could make him pay for it.
He would lose Theo and any other children they might have if he broke his promise of fidelity. She wouldn’t have to worry over the custody issue. All rights would be hers. In which case, it was worth taking the chance, wasn’t it?
Her father’s favourite song came to an end. She saw Cass go over to her mother who had danced with Uncle Dimitri and give her a hug and a kiss. It caused a painful drag on Tina’s heart. She knew her father would have wanted her to marry Ari. It might have made him proud of her if she did.
She looked up at the man who was her son’s father, and the seductive amber eyes instantly locked onto hers, simmering with the promise of all the pleasure they’d once had together. Her heart quivered over the decision she had made but it was made and she wasn’t going to fret over it any longer.
‘Let’s go where we can talk privately,’ she said firmly.
He nodded, quickly obliging her by steering her off the dance floor, then taking her arm and walking her out to the large open patio where they’d been before the reception dinner.
‘Would you like to sit down?’ he asked, waving to the wooden tables under the pergola.
‘Yes.’ Her legs were feeling wobbly. Besides, sitting across from him at a table would be more comfortable for laying out the deal she would accept.
They sat. Ari spread his hands in an open gesture, inviting her confidence. ‘What do you want to say, Christina?’
Her hands were tightly clenched in her lap. This was it—the moment when her life would begin to take a totally different direction. A wave of trepidation mangled her vocal chords. She looked hard at him, forcing her imagination to see him as a caring and committed father and husband. If she could believe it, maybe the marriage would work out right. She desperately wanted it to.
The first step was to say the words.
Just do it and have done with the whole nerve-wracking dilemma.
‘I … I …’
‘Yes?’ Ari encouraged, leaning forward, giving her his concentrated attention.
A surge of panic had made her hesitate. Her mind was screaming wait! Don’t commit yet! But what would she be waiting for? The situation wasn’t going to change. This man was Theo’s father and she had loved him with all her heart once. If he was serious about forging a good relationship with her, shouldn’t she give it a chance?
‘I’ll marry you,’ she blurted out, sealing the decision.
His face broke into a happy grin. His eyes sparkled with pleasure. Or was it triumph, having won what he wanted? ‘That’s great, Christina!’ he enthused. ‘I’m glad you’ve decided it’s the best course because it is.’
He was so positive it instantly raised doubts in Tina’s mind. Was she a fool for giving in? She had to put a high value on the marriage so he would treat her as he should.
‘Give me your hand,’ he pressed, reaching across the table to take it.
She shook her head, keeping both hands tightly in her lap. ‘I haven’t finished what I want to say.’
He frowned at her reluctance to meet his offered hand. He spread his fingers in open appeal. ‘Tell me what you need from me.’
‘I need you to sign the prenuptial agreement you offered me,’ she threw back at him, determined that those terms be kept. It was her safeguard against being used to give Ari a stronger paternal position than he had now.
He drew back, his mouth twisting into an ironic grimace. A sharp wariness wiped the sparkle from his eyes. Tina’s stomach cramped with tension. If he retracted the offer, she could not go ahead with the marriage, regardless of any pressure from any source. It was risking too much. He might walk away from her again and take Theo with him.
She waited for his reply.
Waited … and waited … her nerves stretching tighter with every second that passed.
Ari’s mind was swiftly sifting through Christina’s possible motivations. She didn’t trust his word. He understood where she was coming from on that score. What concerned him most was if she had a vengeful nature.
The prenuptial agreement he’d offered gave her everything if he didn’t remain a faithful husband. What if she planned to be such a cold, shrewish wife, he would be driven to find some pleasure in other company? If she was secretly determined not to be responsive to him, he’d be condemning himself to a hellish marriage. He needed more than her public compliance to a couple of dances to feel secure about winning her over in bed. Out here alone together, she wouldn’t even give him her hand.
What was in her mind?
What was in her heart?
A totally selfish revenge on him … or hope that they could make a happy future together?
He was risking a lot.
He decided she had to meet him halfway before he tied a knot which could not be undone.
‘I am prepared to sign it, Christina,’ he said, his eyes burning a very direct challenge at her as he added, ‘If you’re prepared to spend one night with me before I do.’
She stared at him, startled by the provision he was laying down. ‘Why? You’ll have all the nights you want with me after we’re married.’
‘I want to be sure that I will want them. I won’t sign away my right to my son to a woman who’ll turn her back on me. I need you to show me that won’t happen, Christina. Right now your attitude towards me is hardly encouraging. You won’t even give me your hand.’
Heat surged up her neck and scorched her cheeks. Her eyes glittered a challenge right back at him. ‘I think it’s a good idea for us to spend a night together before either of us commit ourselves to anything. Maybe you’re not as good a lover as you used to be, Ari.’
Relief swept through him at her ready acceptance of a sex-test. He smiled. ‘And maybe you’ll warm to me once I prove that I am.’
Again her lashes swept down, veiling her feelings. She heaved a sigh, probably relieving tension. ‘We’re scheduled to leave Santorini the day after tomorrow,’ she muttered.
‘That can easily be changed.’
She shook her head. ‘I’ll spend tomorrow night with you.’ Her lashes lifted and there was resolute fire in her eyes. ‘That can be the decider for both of us.’
She would bolt if he didn’t satisfy her. Ari was confident that he could if she was willing to let it happen.
‘Agreed,’ he said. ‘However, our other deal ends tonight, Christina. Tomorrow you tell your mother and Theo that I am his father. Whatever happens between us, this has to be openly acknowledged.’