Ari swiftly rattled out information. ‘She’s a close friend of Felicity Fullbright. Felicity was the woman you saw me with in Dubai. Since Stephanie is here, I don’t know if she’s been told I’ve ended the relationship with her friend. Anything she says … it’s irrelevant to us, Christina. Don’t let it worry you.’
It worried him.
Here’s where I learn if I’m a fool to even consider marrying him, Tina thought, putting a steel guard around her vulnerability to this man.
Her heart started a painful pounding. ‘How long were you with Felicity, Ari?’ she asked, needing to know more.
‘Six weeks. It was enough to decide she didn’t suit me,’ he answered tersely.
‘You haven’t been with me for a week yet,’ she pointed out just as tersely.
The clip-clop of sandals was getting closer.
Ari frowned, shaking his head at her assertion. ‘It’s different with you, Christina.’
Because of Theo. But if they married, he would have to live with her, too, and how long would that suit him? They had had a harmonious relationship for three months but still he’d left her. It hadn’t been enough to keep him at her side.
Stephanie’s arrival on the staircase landing adjacent to their balcony put a halt to any further private conversation. She was a very curvy blonde with a mass of long, crinkly hair, and wearing a minute blue bikini that left little to the imagination. Her very light, almost aquamarine eyes instantly targeted Tina.
‘Well, well, off with the old and on with the new,’ she drawled. Her gaze shifted to Ari. ‘That must be a quick-change record even for you. I ran into Felicity at Heathrow just a few days ago. She was flying in from Athens and Hans and I were on our way here. She said you’d split but she sure didn’t know you had a replacement lined up.’
No waiting for an introduction.
No courtesy at all.
Tina sat tight, watching Ari handle the situation.
‘You’re assuming too much, Stephanie,’ he said blandly, gesturing towards Tina. ‘This is Christina Savalas whom I met in Australia quite a few years ago. She happens to be Cassandra’s sister who married my cousin, George, yesterday. The wedding gave us the opportunity to catch up again, which has been amazingly good.’ He smiled at Tina. ‘Wouldn’t you say?’
‘Amazing,’ she echoed, following his lead and smiling back at him.
Stephanie arched her eyebrows. ‘Australia? Are you heading back there now that the wedding is over?’
Tina shrugged. ‘I shall have to go sometime.’
‘Not in any hurry since you’ve snagged Ari again,’ came the mocking comment.
The woman’s sheer rudeness goaded Tina into a very cold retort. ‘I’m not into snagging men. In fact …’
‘I’m the one doing all the running,’ Ari cut in. ‘And having found out what you wanted to know, why don’t you run along back to Hans, Stephanie? You’re not exactly endearing yourself to a woman I care about.’
‘Really care?’ She gave Ari a derisive sneer. ‘It’s not just a dose of the charm you used to bowl over Felicity? You didn’t care about her one bit, did you?’
‘Not after she displayed a dislike for children, no,’ he answered bitingly.
‘Oh!’ With her spite somewhat deflated, she turned to Tina for a last jeer. ‘Well, I’ve just done you a favour. You’d better show a liking for children or he’ll throw you over as fast as he caught up with you. Good luck!’
With a toss of her hair she flounced off their balcony.
Tina stared out to sea as Stephanie’s sandals clattered down the spiral staircase. She wondered if it was good luck or bad that had brought her back into Ari’s life. Whatever … luck had little to do with making a marriage work. At least, a liking for children was one thing they definitely shared. Ari wouldn’t be throwing her over on that issue. But Stephanie had implied he had a quick turnover of women in his life, which meant he wasn’t in the habit of holding onto a relationship. What if she didn’t suit him after a while?
‘You hardly know me, Ari,’ she said, suddenly frightened that her suitability might be very limited.
‘I know enough to want you as my wife,’ he whipped out, an emphatic intensity in his voice. ‘And not only because you’ve given me a son. There’s nothing I don’t like about you, Christina.’
She sliced him a wary look. ‘What do you actively like?’
He sat down at the table, pushing one of the glasses of wine over to her, obviously playing for time to think. ‘Take a sip. It doesn’t have a sour taste like Stephanie,’ he assured her.
She picked up the glass and sipped, eyeing him over its rim.
The expression on his face softened, the amber eyes telegraphing appreciation. ‘I like how much you care for your family. I like the way you consider others. I like your good manners. I think you have courage and grit and intelligence—all qualities that I like. They make up the kind of character that I want in a partner.’
He wasn’t talking love. He was ticking off boxes. She could tick off the same boxes about him. A matchmaking agency would probably place them as a likely couple, especially since there was no lack of sexual chemistry between them. But there was one big factor missing.
Tina heaved a sigh as she remembered how Cass and George had acted towards each other yesterday. It hurt that she would never have that wonderful emotional security with Ari. What if she married him and he was bowled over by some other woman further down the track? It could happen. She had to be prepared for it, safeguard herself against it, be practical about what she could expect from him and what she couldn’t.
‘Tell me about your life, Ari,’ she said, needing to feel more informed about what a future with him would entail. ‘What are the business interests that take you travelling? I only know of your connection to the wine industry.’
He visibly relaxed, happy to have the Stephanie can of worms closed.
Tina listened carefully to the list of property investments the Zavros family had made in many countries as far apart as Spain and Dubai where Ari had so recently been checking up on an estate development. Mostly they were connected to the tourist industry—resorts and theme parks and specialty shops. They had also tapped into the food industry with olives, cheeses and wine.
‘You’re in charge of all this?’ she enquired.
He shook his head. ‘My father runs the ship. I report and advise. The decisions are ultimately his. Most of the family is involved in one capacity or another.’