‘Where would you want us to live if I marry you, Ari?’ she asked, needing to know what he had in mind.
He hesitated, then bluntly answered, ‘Australia is too far away from my family’s business interests, Christina. We could base ourselves anywhere in Europe. Athens if you would like to be near your relatives. Perhaps Helen would like to return there. She would see more of Cassandra and George in the future if she did, and put her closer to us, as well.’
It meant completely uprooting herself. And Theo. Though Ari had made a good point about her mother. So much change … she would end up leading an international life like Cass. Her sister had acclimatised herself to it. Loved it. Perhaps she would learn to love it, too.
‘It’s also a matter of choosing what might be best for our children’s education,’ Ari added, shooting her a quick smile.
Our children … It was a very seductive phrase. She adored having Theo. She’d love to have a little girl, as well. If she didn’t marry Ari, it was highly unlikely that she would have any more children. But if she had them with Ari, she didn’t want to lose them to him.
‘Are you okay with that, Christina?’ he asked, frowning at her silence.
‘I’m opening my mind to it,’ she tossed at him.
He laughed, delighted that it wasn’t a negative answer.
They had to leave the car on the outskirts of the village and continue on foot through the narrow alleys to the hotel. Both of them had brought light backpacks with essentials for an overnight stay. It only took a minute to load them onto their shoulders and Ari once again took possession of Tina’s hand for the walk into the village. It felt more comfortable now, especially as they navigated past the steady stream of tourists that thronged the alleys lined with fascinating shops.
Again she was acutely aware of women looking Ari over but the handhold meant he belonged to her, and she firmly reminded herself that not even Cass’s beautiful model friends had turned his head last night. If she could just feel more confident that he could be content with only having her, the female attention he invariably drew might not worry her so much. It hadn’t worried her in the past. She had been totally confident that he was hers. Until he wasn’t hers any more.
But marriage was different to a charming episode. A wedding ring on Ari’s finger would make him legally hers.
Very publicly hers.
That should give her some sense of security with him.
In fact, being the wife of Ari Zavros would empower her quite a bit on many levels.
If she could make herself hard-headed enough to set aside any possible hurt from him in the future and simply go through with the marriage, dealing with each day as it came, her life could become far more colourful than she would ever manage on her own. Besides which if it ended in divorce, the financial settlement would give her the means to do whatever she chose. Wanting Ari to love her … well, that was probably wishing for the moon, but who knew? Even that might come to pass if her mother was right about sharing what was precious to both of them.
All the buildings in Oia were crammed up against each other, using every available bit of space. The entrance to the hotel opened straight onto an alley with pot-plants on either side of the door its only adornment. It was certainly boutique size. The man at the reception desk greeted Ari enthusiastically and escorted them to a suite on what proved to be the top level of three built down the hillside facing the sea. The bathroom, bedroom and balcony were all small but perfectly adequate and the view from the balcony was spectacular.
‘Sunset is at eight o’clock,’ their escort informed them before departing.
Almost three hours before then, Tina thought, dumping her backpack on a chair and gravitating straight to the balcony, suddenly too nervous to face Ari in the bedroom. A spiral staircase ran down the side of the hotel, linked by landings to each balcony, giving guests easy access to the small swimming pool which took up half the courtyard that extended from the hotel’s lowest level. A few people were lounging on deck chairs beside it. She stared down at them, wondering where they had come from and what had brought them here. Probably nothing as complicated as her own situation.
Behind her she heard the pop of a champagne cork. A few moments later Ari was at her side carrying two glasses fizzing with the bubbly wine.
‘You used to drink this with me. Will you try it again, Christina? It might relax you,’ he said kindly.
She heaved a sigh to ease the tightness in her chest and took the glass he offered. ‘Thank you. It’s been six years since I was in an intimate situation with a man,’ she said with a rueful smile. ‘This might take the edge off.’
‘I guess having Theo made it difficult for you to form relationships,’ he remarked sympathetically.
Not Theo. You. But telling him so would let him know she was stuck on him and it was better that he didn’t know. She didn’t want him taking anything for granted where she was concerned.
‘Don’t worry that I’ll make you pregnant tonight. I’ll be very careful,’ he assured her.
She shook her head. ‘You won’t anyway. This is a safe week for me.’
‘Ah!’ He grinned, the amber eyes twinkling with pleasure. ‘Then we may be totally carefree which will be much better.’ He clinked her glass with his. ‘To a night of re-discovery, Christina.’
She took a quick sip of the champagne, hoping to settle the flock of butterflies in her stomach. Ari’s arm slid around her waist, his hand resting warmly on the curve of her hip, bringing his body closer to hers, stirring memories of how well they had fitted together in the past and triggering the desire to re-discover every sweet nuance of her sexuality.
‘I don’t want to wait until tonight,’ she said decisively, setting her glass down on the top of the balcony wall and turning to face him, a wave of reckless belligerence seizing her and pouring into urgent words. ‘Let’s just do it, Ari. I don’t want to be romanced or seduced or … or treated to any other lover routine you’ve got. This is a need to know thing, isn’t it?’
He set his glass down next to hers and scooped her hard against him, his freed hand lifting to her chin, tilting it up, his eyes blazing a heart-kicking challenge right at her. ‘A great many needs to be answered on both sides and I don’t want to wait, either.’
His mouth came down on hers so hard she jerked her head back, afraid of what she had just invited. He’d been a tender lover to her, never rough. Panic kicked into her heart. What did she know of him now? If he had no real feeling for her.