She nodded. ‘I’ll do it in the morning.’
‘Make sure your mother understands the circumstances, that I was not told you had my child until we met in Dubai. I would have come back to you had I known, Christina.’
She made a wry grimace. ‘Since I’ve decided I might marry you, naturally I’ll put you in as good a light as possible to my mother.’
‘It’s the truth,’ he rammed home as hard as he could, wanting her to believe at least that much of him.
‘And my truth is you left me and I didn’t want you back,’ she shot out, her eyes glittering with angry pride. ‘Don’t you start harassing me, Ari. I’ll do what I have to do to smooth the path to a workable future.’
His father’s words about Christina were instantly replayed in his mind … beautiful, intelligent, and with a fighting spirit I admire. If she shared his own strong desire for everything to turn out well, there was no need to concern himself about her presentation of the past to her mother.
‘I’d like to be there when you tell Theo I’m his father,’ he said softly, needing to remove the anger he’d unwittingly triggered. ‘I’ve missed so much—not being there when he was born, his first words, his first step, learning to swim, his first day at kindergarten. I want to see the expression in his eyes when he realises I am the Papa he wished for. Will you give me that, Christina?’
Her eyes went blank, probably focussing inward on the memories she hadn’t shared with him. He willed her to be more generous now. Yet when she did speak, her whole expression was one of deep anxiety.
‘I hope you really mean to be a good father to him, Ari. Please don’t lead him on and then drop him, pursuing other interests.’
He knew she felt he had done that to her.
It had been wrong of him, letting temptation overrule good sense. She had been too young, too impressionable. Theo was much more so and she was frightened for him. Her fear evoked a powerful surge of emotion in him. He wanted to say he’d look after them both for the rest of his life. He hated seeing the fretful doubts in her eyes. But laying them to rest would take time.
‘Give me your hand, Christina,’ he gently commanded, his eyes pleading for her acquiescence.
Very slowly she lifted it from her lap and held it out to him.
He enclosed it with his. ‘I promise you I’ll do everything I can to win Theo’s love and keep it,’ he said fervently. ‘He’s my son.’
Tears welled into her eyes. She nodded, unable to speak. He stroked her palm with his thumb, wanting to give comfort and reassurance, wishing he could sweep her into his embrace but cautious about rushing her where she might not be ready to go.
‘If it’s okay with you, I’ll come to the El Greco resort tomorrow afternoon. We can spend some time with Theo before having our night together,’ he quietly suggested.
She nodded again, sucked in a deep breath and blurted out, ‘I’m sorry. It was mean of me … leaving you out of Theo’s life.’
‘You had your reasons,’ he murmured sympathetically. ‘It’s how we take it from here that will count most to Theo.’
‘Yes,’ she agreed huskily, taking another deep breath before adding, ‘He usually takes a nap after lunch. If you come at four o’clock, we’ll tell him then.’
She gave him a wobbly smile. ‘If that’s everything settled, we should go back to the wedding reception. We’ll be missed. It is Cass’s night and I want to be there for her.’
‘And I for George.’
Their first deal was still in place. He had to wait until tomorrow before taking what he wanted with Christina, yet her hand was still in his and as he rose from the table, the temptation to draw her up from her seat and straight into his embrace was irresistible. She didn’t try to break free but her free hand fluttered in agitation against his chest and there was a heart-piercing vulnerability in the eyes that met his.
He hated her fear. It made him feel even more wrong about what he’d taken from her in the past. He pressed a soft kiss on her forehead and murmured, ‘I’ll make it right, Christina. For you and for Theo.’
He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile as he released her, only retaining her hand, keeping that physical link for the walk back to the wedding reception, wanting her to feel secure with him.
Tonight belonged to Cassandra and George.
Tomorrow was his.
He could wait.
TINA waited until after their Greek relatives departed for the mainland so she could have a private chat to her mother about her connection to Ari. Everyone had still been revelling in Cass’s wedding—such a wonderful family celebration. Amongst the happy comments were a few arch remarks about Ari’s interest in her.
‘He didn’t have eyes for anyone else.’
‘Never left your side all evening.’
‘Such a charming man!’
‘And so handsome!’
Tina had shrugged off the curiosity, discouraging it by refocussing the conversation on her sister’s life. However, she saw the same curiosity in her mother’s eyes, and when they were finally alone together, relaxing on the lounges by the swimming pool, watching Theo practice diving into it, she didn’t have to think about how to lead into revealing the truth. Her mother did it for her.
‘Are you seeing Ari again today, Tina?’
‘Yes. And there’s something I have to tell you, Mama.’ She took a deep breath to calm her jumpy nerves and started at the beginning. ‘Ari Zavros and I were not meeting for the first time in Athens. Six years ago he was in Australia on a three-month tour of the wineries in our country. I met him on a modelling assignment and fell in love with him.’
Her mother instantly leapt to the truth, understanding of Ari’s behaviour towards them flashing straight into her eyes. ‘He’s Theo’s father.’
‘Yes. I didn’t expect to ever see him again. It was a shock when he was presented to us as George’s best man. I asked him to wait until after the wedding before revealing that my son was also his because it would have been a major distraction from Cass and that wasn’t fair, but today we have to deal with it, Mama.’
‘Oh, my dear!’ Her mother swung her legs off the lounge to face her directly with a look of anxious concern. ‘These past few days must have been very difficult for you.’
Tina had to fight back tears. She hadn’t expected such a rush of sympathy from her mother. Shock and perhaps criticism for her silence, worry over the situation, fretting over the choices to be made … she’d geared herself to cope with all this but not the caring for her feelings and the quick understanding of the distress she had been hiding.