Tina didn’t have to say anything. She sat in brooding silence, hating Ari Zavros for his facile charm, hating herself for being such a stupid blabbermouth, gearing herself up to tolerate what had to be tolerated and savagely vowing that Ari would not get everything his own way.
Eventually Cass and George excused themselves from the party, saying they needed to catch up on some sleep. To Tina’s huge relief, Ari stood up to take his leave, as well. She rose from her chair as he offered his hand which she had to be civil enough to take in front of company.
He actually had the gall to enclose her hand with both of his with a show of enthusiastic pleasure. ‘Thank you for trusting me with Theo’s birthday, Christina.’
‘Oh, I’m sure I can trust you to give the best of yourself, Ari,’ she answered sweetly, before softly adding with a touch of acid mockery, ‘For a limited time.’
Which told him straight out how very little she trusted him.
He might have won Theo over—for a day—but he’d won nothing from her.
‘We shall see,’ he repeated with that same arrogant confidence.
General goodnights were exchanged and finally he was gone.
But he’d left his presence behind with her mother raving on about him and Theo equally delighted with the nice man.
No relief from the trap.
Tina had the wretched feeling there never would be.
MAXIMUS Zavros sat under the vine-covered pergola at one end of the vast patio which overlooked the Aegean Sea. It was where he habitually had breakfast and where he expected his son to join him whenever Ari was home. Today was no exception. However he was taking no pleasure in his surroundings and none in his son, which was obvious from the dark glower of disapproval he directed at Ari the moment he emerged from the house.
‘So, you come home without a woman to marry again!’ He folded the newspaper he’d been reading and smacked it down on the table in exasperation. ‘Your cousin, George, is two years younger than you. He does not have your engaging looks. He does not have your wealth. Yet he can win himself a wife who will grace the rest of his life.’ He threw out a gesture of frustration. ‘What is the problem with you?’
‘Maybe I missed a boat I should have taken,’ Ari tossed at his father as he pulled out a chair and sat down, facing him across the table.
‘What is that supposed to mean?’
Ari poured himself a glass of orange juice. This was going to be a long conversation and his throat was already dry. He took a long sip, then answered, ‘It means I’ve met the woman I must marry but I let her go six years ago and somehow I have to win her again. Which is going to prove difficult because she’s very hostile to me.’
‘Hostile? Why hostile? You were taught to have more finesse than to leave any woman hostile. And why must you marry her? To saddle yourself with a sourpuss will not generate a happy life. I credited you with more good sense than that, Ari.’
‘I left her pregnant. Unknowingly, I assure you. She gave birth to a son who is now five years old.’
‘A son! A grandson!’ The tirade was instantly diverted. His father ruminated over this totally unanticipated piece of news for several minutes before speaking again. ‘You’re sure he is yours?’
‘No doubt. The boy not only has a strong resemblance to me but the birth date places the conception during the time I was with Christina.’
‘Who is this Christina? Is it possible she could have been with another man?’
Ari shook his head. ‘I can’t even entertain that as a possibility. We were too intimately involved at the time. And she was a virgin, Papa. I met her when I was in Australia. She was at the start of a promising modelling career … young, beautiful, utterly captivating. When I concluded my business there I said goodbye to her. I had no plans for marriage at that point in my life and I thought her too young to be considering it, either. I thought her life was just starting to open up for her.’
‘Australia …’ His father frowned. ‘How did you meet again? You haven’t been back there.’
‘George’s wife-to-be, Cassandra … when they stayed overnight in the apartment at Athens, I discovered that she was Christina’s sister. Christina is to be bridesmaid at the wedding and her son, Theo—my son—is to be page boy. They were already in Athens en route to Santorini and I went to a family party to meet them.’
‘Is it known to the family that you are the father?’
‘No. They were obviously in ignorance of my involvement. But I cannot ignore it, Papa. Christina wants me to. She is appalled to find herself caught up in a situation with me again.’
‘She wants to keep the boy to herself.’
‘So … her mind-set against you has to be changed.’
It was a relief that his father had made a straight leap to this conclusion, although it had been fairly predictable he would arrive at it, given the pull of a grandson.
‘I intend to make a start on that tomorrow. It’s Theo’s fifth birthday and I managed to manipulate an agreement for the two of them to spend it with me.’
‘She was not a willing party?’
‘I made it unreasonable for her to refuse. The fact that she doesn’t want to reveal to her family that I’m Theo’s father gives me a lever into her life. At least until after the wedding. I suspect she doesn’t want to take any focus off her sister at this time.’
‘Caring for her family … I like that. Will she make you a good wife, Ari?’
He made an ironic grimace. ‘At least she likes children which cannot be said for Felicity Fullbright. I still find Christina very attractive. What can I say, Papa? I’ve made my bed and I shall lie in it. When you meet the boy you’ll know why.’
‘When do they arrive on Santorini?’
‘Staying where?’ ‘The El Greco resort.’
‘I shall call the management personally. All expenses for their stay will be paid by me. Fresh fruit and flowers in their rooms. A selection of our best Santorini wines. Everything compliments of the Zavros family. They need to be acquainted with our wealth and power. It tends to bend people’s minds in a positive manner.’
Ari kept his own counsel on this point. His father could be right. Generosity might have a benign influence. However, he was well enough acquainted with the Australian character to know they had a habit of cutting down tall poppies. However high people rose on their various totem poles, it did not make them better than anyone else. Apart from which, Christina had already demonstrated a strong independence. He doubted she could be bought.