Ari smiled at him. ‘Your Aunty Cassandra told me it’s your birthday this week.’
He’d been checking, Tina thought grimly.
Theo held up his hand with fingers and thumb spread. ‘Five,’ he announced proudly.
‘It’s my birthday this month, too,’ Ari said. ‘That makes us both Leos.’
‘No. I’m Theo, not Leo.’
Everyone laughed at the correction.
‘He didn’t mean to get your name wrong, darling,’ Cass explained. ‘We’re all born under star signs and the star sign for your birthday is Leo. Which means a lion. And you have amber eyes, just like a lion.’
Theo pointed to Ari. ‘He’s got the same colour eyes as me.’
Tina held her breath. Her heart was drumming in her ears. Her mind was screaming please, please, please don’t claim parentage now. It was the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong everything!
‘There you are, then,’ Ari said with an air of indulgence, taking Theo’s outstretched hand and giving it a light shake. ‘Both of us are lions and I’m very glad to meet you.’ He turned to Tina. ‘And your mother.’
Relief reduced her to jelly inside. He wasn’t pushing his fatherhood yet. Maybe he never would. She should be saying hello, but she was so choked up with nervous tension it was impossible to get her voice to work.
‘Tina?’ He gave her a slightly quizzical smile as he offered his hand to her. ‘Short for Christina?’
‘Yes.’ It was a husky whisper, all she could manage.
Then she was forced by the occasion to let his strong fingers close around hers. The jolting sensation of electric warmth was a searing reminder of the sexual chemistry that had seduced her in the past. It instantly stirred a fierce rebellion in her mind. No way was she going to let it get to her again, making her weak and foolish. If there was to be a fight over custody of Theo, she couldn’t let Ari Zavros have any personal power over her. She wriggled her hand out of his as fast as she could.
Seating was quickly re-arranged so that Cass and George could sit beside her mother. Uncle Dimitri produced an extra chair for Ari at the end of the table, right next to her and Theo. It was impossible for Tina to protest this proximity, given they would be partners at the wedding and apparently Ari had already stated his intention to make her acquaintance.
The situation demanded polite conversation. Any failure to follow that course would raise questions about her behaviour. As much as Tina hated having to do it, she adopted the pretence of being strangers, forcing herself to speak to George’s best man with an air of natural enquiry.
‘When did you meet my sister?’
It was a good question. She needed information and needed it fast to help her deal with Ari in the most sensible way. If it was possible to avoid a showdown with him over Theo, grasping that possibility was paramount.
‘Only this evening,’ he answered with a wry little smile. ‘I knew of her, of course, because of her engagement to George, but within the family she was always referred to as simply Cassandra since she is famously known by that name in the supermodel world. I’d never actually heard her surname. I chanced to see it written on her luggage when she set it down in the apartment. Very opportune, given the circumstances.’
The fact that he’d immediately seized the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with her gave no support to the wishful thought of avoiding an ultimate showdown.
‘So you proceeded to draw her out about her family,’ Tina said flatly, feeling as though a trap was closing around her.
‘Very enlightening,’ he drawled, his eyes mocking the secrecy which was no longer a secret to him.
Fear squeezed her heart. Sheer self-defence demanded she ignore his enlightenment. ‘You live in Athens?’
‘Not really. The apartment is for convenience. Anyone in the family can use it, which is why George felt free to bring Cassandra there for tonight. More private for her than a hotel.’
‘Very considerate of him,’ she dryly remarked. ‘Where do you normally live then?’
All she’d previously known about him was he belonged to a wealthy Greek family with an involvement in the wine industry. During the time they’d spent together, Ari had been more interested in everything Australian than talking about himself.
He shrugged. ‘Various business interests require quite a bit of travelling but my family home is on Santorini.’
‘We’re going to Santorini,’ Theo piped up, looked at Ari as though he was fascinated by the man.
Ari smiled at him. ‘Yes, I know. Perhaps we could do something special together on your birthday.’
Tina’s stomach contracted. He was intent on moving in on her, getting closer to their son.
‘Like what?’ Theo asked eagerly.
‘Let’s wait and see what we might like to do, Theo,’ Tina cut in firmly, inwardly panicking at spending any more time than she absolutely had to with Ari Zavros. She didn’t know if it was curiosity driving him or he was dabbling with the idea of claiming Theo as his flesh and blood. She turned hard, quelling eyes to him. ‘You said family home. Does that mean you’re married with children?’
He shook his head and made an ironic grimace. ‘Much to my father’s vexation, I am still single. It’s his home I was referring to.’
‘Not exactly single, Ari,’ she tersely reminded him.
He knew she’d seen him with a woman in Dubai. She didn’t have to spell that out. If he thought he could start playing fast and loose with her again, cheating on the beautiful blonde, he was on an ego trip she would take great satisfaction in smashing.
‘I assure you I am, Christina,’ he replied without the blink of an eyelid.
Her teeth gnashed over the lilted use of her full name—a reminder of intimate moments that were long gone. She raked his steady gaze with blistering scepticism. The amber eyes burned straight back at her, denying the slightest shift in what he had just declared.
‘Another charming episode over?’ she sliced at him.
He frowned, probably having forgotten how he had described his relationship with her. Whether he recollected it or not, he shot her a look that was loaded with determined purpose. ‘Not so charming. In fact, it convinced me I should free myself up to look for something else.’
His gaze moved to Theo, softening as he said, ‘Perhaps I should become a father.’
Tina’s spine crawled with apprehension. This was the last thing she wanted. The very last! Somehow she had to fight him, convince him that fatherhood would not suit him at all.