It was big business—far more complex than managing a restaurant. Tina continued to question him about it over dinner which was as tasty as it had promised to be. The sunset was gorgeous, spreading a rosy hue over all the white buildings on the hillside that faced it. For real lovers this had to be a very romantic place, Tina thought, but she couldn’t feel it with Ari. As charming as he was, as good a lover as he was, no way could she bring herself to believe she was the light of his life.
Her own experience prompted her to ask, ‘Have you ever been in love, Ari? So in love that person mattered more than anything else? Wildly, passionately, out of your mind … in love?’
As she’d been with him.
He frowned, obviously not liking the question. His jaw tightened as he swung his gaze away from hers, staring out to sea. She saw the corner of his mouth turn down into a grimace. He had experienced it, she thought, but not with her. A lead weight settled on her heart. He might very well experience it again with someone else.
IN LOVE …
Ari hated that memory. It was the one and only time he’d completely lost his head over a woman. He’d been her fool, slavishly besotted with her while she had only been amusing herself with him.
He wished Christina hadn’t asked the question. Yet if he wasn’t honest with her she would probably sense it and that would be a black mark against him in her mind. Besides, he was a different person to the boy he was then. He just didn’t like dragging up that long-buried piece of the past and laying it out but he had to now. He’d left Christina too long without a reply.
He turned to her, the cynicism he’d learnt from that experience burning in his eyes and drawling through his voice. ‘Wildly, passionately in love … yes, that happened to me when I was eighteen. She was very beautiful, exotically glamorous, and incredibly erotic. I would have done anything for her and did do everything she asked.’
‘How long did it last?’
Christina raised her eyebrows. ‘What made you fall out of love?’
‘Being faced with reality.’
‘Something you didn’t like?’
‘I hadn’t understood what I was to her. I knew she was years older than me. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but being with her. I thought she felt the same about me. It was so intense. But she was simply enjoying the intensity, revelling in her power to make me do whatever she wanted.’
‘How did you come to realise that?’
‘Because I was her Greek toy-boy, a last fling before she married her much more mature American millionaire. It’s been fun, she said as she kissed me goodbye. Fun …’
He snarled the word and immediately cursed himself for letting it get to him after all these years.
‘You were badly hurt,’ Christina murmured sympathetically.
He shrugged. ‘I’m not likely to fall in love again, if that’s what you’re worried about, Christina. Being someone’s fool does not appeal to me.’
‘You think your head will always rule your heart?’
‘It has since I was eighteen.’
Except with her and Theo. His heart was very much engaged with his son and according to his lawyer, he’d completely lost his head in proposing the prenuptial agreement to induce Christina to marry him, ensuring that Theo would be a constant in his life. But he did feel the fidelity clause was not so much of a risk now. And he did like and admire Christina. He would make the marriage work. They would have more children … a family …
‘I was eighteen when I fell in love with you.’
The quietly spoken words jolted Ari out of his confident mood and sent an instant chill down his spine. Her dark eyes were flat, expressionless, steadily watching whether he understood the parallel of what had been done to him—not only the hurt, the rejection of any lasting value in the love offered, but also the shadow it cast over any deep trust in a relationship. Giving oneself completely to another was not on. He’d never done it again.
Was this how Christina felt about him? Had he just ruined every bit of progress he’d made with her, bringing the past back instead of focussing her mind on the future they could have? Was this why he couldn’t reach what he wanted to reach in her? He had to fix this. It was intolerable that she cast him in the same mould as the woman who’d taken him for a ride.
Before he could find the words to defend himself she spoke again, cocking her head to one side, her eyes alert to weighing up his reply. ‘Did you think it was fun at the time?’
‘Not like that!’ he denied vehemently. He leaned towards her, gesturing an appeal for fairness. ‘There was no one else in my life, Christina. I wasn’t having a fling with you, cheating on a woman I intended to marry. The thought of having a little fun with you never crossed my mind. That was not part of it, I swear. I was enchanted by you.’
‘For a while.’ Her mouth twisted with irony. ‘I can imagine an older woman being enchanted by you when you were eighteen, Ari. You would have been absolutely beautiful. But her head ruled her heart, just as yours did with me. Too young … wasn’t that how you explained leaving me behind?’
‘You’re not too young now.’ The urgent need to stop this treacherous trawling through the past pushed Ari to his feet. He took Christina’s hands, pulling her out of her chair and into his embrace, speaking with a violence of feeling that exploded off his tongue. ‘I wanted you beyond any common sense then. And God knows I’ve lost any common sense since I’ve met you again. I want you so much it’s been burning me up from the moment I saw you in Dubai. So forget everything else, Christina. Forget everything but this.’
He forgot about being gentle with her. The fierce emotion welling up in him demanded that he obliterate any bad thoughts from her mind and fill it with the same all-consuming desire he felt. He kissed her hard, storming her mouth with intense passion. A wild exultation ran through him as she responded with her own fierce drive to take what he was doing and give it right back.
No holding back.
Mutual desire riding high, her body pressed yearningly to his, making him even more on fire for her. Primitive instincts kicked in. He needed, wanted, had to have total possession of this woman. He swept her off her feet, crushed her to his chest as he strode to the bed. Even as he laid her down she was pushing her kimono apart, opening her legs wide for him, not wanting to wait, eagerly inviting instant intimacy.