‘I thought … he was gone from my life, Mama,’ she choked out. ‘But he’s not and he never will be again. He’s made that very clear.’
‘Yes … very clear,’ her mother repeated, nodding as she recollected how Ari had inserted himself and his family into their time on Santorini. ‘I don’t think that’s going to change, Tina. He’s definitely intent on making a claim on his son.’
‘And he has the wealth and power to back it up. There’s no point in trying to resist his claim, Mama. I have to give way.’
‘Has he said how he wants to deal with the situation?’
Tina’s mouth instantly twisted into an ironic grimace. ‘He wants me to marry him.’
There was no real shock in that Ah!—more a realisation of the bigger claim being made—one that would completely change her daughter’s life, as well as her grandson’s.
After a few moments’ thought, her mother asked, ‘His family knows all this?’
‘He told them after our meeting in Athens. He had no doubt that Theo was his child. His age … his eyes …’
‘Yes … now I see.’ Her mother nodded a few times. ‘They have been extending a welcome to join their family because of Theo.’
‘He is the main attraction,’ Tina said dryly.
‘But they have been very gracious to us, as well, Tina. Which shows they are prepared to accept you as Ari’s wife. How do you feel about it?’
She shook her head. ‘I don’t know. He said he would have come back to me had I told him he’d left me pregnant. I didn’t tell him because he didn’t love me. I was only a … a charming episode … that he could walk away from.’
‘But you loved him.’
‘I doubt there will ever be anyone else for me, Mama, but it’s Theo he wants. I can’t fool myself that I’m suddenly the woman he loves above all others.’
‘Perhaps you are more special to him now because you are the mother of his child. It’s a very Greek way of thinking, Tina. And sometimes love grows from sharing the most precious things to both of you.’
Tina choked up, remembering Ari listing how much he had missed of Theo because she had denied him knowledge of his son.
Her mother heaved a sigh. ‘It’s not for me to say what you should do, my darling. What do you think is best for you?’
‘Oh, probably to marry him,’ Tina said in a rush, relieved in a way to finally have it out in the open. ‘I think he will be a good father. He’s asked me to wait until he comes here this afternoon for us to tell Theo together that he does have a Papa. And after that—well, Ari and I need some time alone to … to see how we feel about each other, Mama. He wants to take me somewhere. Will you look after Theo, have him in your room tonight?’
‘Oh, dear!’ Her mother shook her head in dismay at realising what the all-night arrangement most probably meant. ‘There’s so much to take in. I wish your father was here.’
‘Don’t worry, Mama. I have to make a decision and I think this is the best way to do it.’
‘Well, of course I will look after Theo, but … do be careful, Tina,’ she said anxiously. ‘If you decide not to marry Ari … I remember how you were when you were pregnant with Theo.’
‘That won’t happen again, Mama,’ Tina assured her. It didn’t matter this time if Ari used a contraceptive or not. She knew she was in a safe period of her cycle. She reached across and took her mother’s hand. ‘Thank you taking all this so well. I hate being a problem to you.’
‘Not a problem, dear. Just … I do so want you to have a happy life and I wish with all my heart that everything turns out well with Ari.’
The fairy-tale happy ending.
Maybe if she could believe in it enough, it might happen. She’d have a better idea of how the future would run after tonight. Right now she couldn’t trust Ari’s word that he would remain a faithful husband. Even if they did find sexual pleasure with each other, that was no guarantee he would always be satisfied with her. She might begin to believe they really could forge a good marriage together after he signed the prenuptial agreement.
If he did.
Ari spent an extremely vexatious morning with his lawyer who was dead against signing away paternal rights under any circumstances. A financial settlement was fine in the case of divorce but giving up one’s children was utter madness, especially since Ari was marrying to have his son.
‘I’m not here for your advice,’ Ari had finally said. ‘Just draw up the agreement I’ve spelled out to you. It’s an issue of showing good faith and I will show it.’
‘Show it by all means,’ his lawyer shot back at it him, ‘but don’t sign it.’
He hadn’t … yet.
He’d done many deals in his life but none as risky as the one he’d proposed to Christina. The money didn’t worry him. He would never begrudge financial support for her and their children. But if the response he needed from her was not forthcoming tonight, marrying her might be too much of a gamble.
His head told him this.
Yet his heart was already set on having Christina Savalas as his wife.
She touched him in ways no other woman had. He had been her first lover, almost certainly her only one, which made her his in a very primal sense. Plus the fact she had carried his child made her uniquely special. Besides, his wealth was not a big attraction to her or she would have gone after a slice of it to support their son rather than taking complete responsibility for him. She was only concerned about the kind of person he was. Looks, money … none of that counted. If he didn’t measure up as a man she wanted in her life, he’d be out of it.
He’d never been challenged like this. Who he was on the surface of it had always been enough. Christina was hitting him at deeper levels and he felt totally driven to prove he did measure up—driven to remove all fear from her eyes. Winning her over had somehow become more important than anything else in his life.
The compelling tug of having Theo was a big part of it, but she was part of Theo, too. Ari couldn’t separate them in his mind. Didn’t want to separate them. The three of them made a family. His family. He had to make it so by any means possible because he couldn’t tolerate the idea of Christina taking their son back to Australia and shutting him out of their lives as much as she legally could.