He knew what his response must be.
‘Yes,’ he said, nodding slowly for emphasis. ‘I will support you and our child. But in return I want you to marry me.’
* * *
The comb holding Alessandra’s hair in place had been digging into her scalp all day, a minor irritation that suddenly felt magnified enough for her to yank it out. She got to her feet, swiping fallen hair off her face.
For a moment she couldn’t speak, her brain struggling to find the English she’d spoken like a native since early childhood. ‘I know this is a shock for you. I know, okay? But marriage?’
She shook her head, trying her hardest not to let panic set in. ‘Please, don’t say anything you’ll regret in the morning when you look at the situation with fresh eyes.’
‘The morning won’t change the situation. You’ll still be pregnant.’
‘And I still won’t be marrying you.’
‘Alessandra...’ He bit back his rising voice. ‘Alessandra, think about it. This is the obvious solution. Marriage will give legitimacy to our child.’
‘This isn’t the nineteenth century. There’s no stigma to children born outside of wedlock.’
His eyes swirled with an emotion she didn’t understand. ‘Children need and deserve two parents. You know that as well as I do.’
One parent would have been nice in her case, she thought bitterly. Yes, her father was still alive, but he’d never been a real father to her. He’d abandoned her almost from her first breath. By the time of her first birthday, he’d gambled and drunk away their home and had foisted Rocco and her into the care of his elderly father.
She felt as if she’d been blindsided. Marriage was the last thing she’d expected Christian to suggest. The most she’d hoped for was public support for her and their child, and even that had felt like a pipe dream considering she was dealing with the commitment-phobic Christian Markos. He made Casanova look like a monk.
She hadn’t allowed herself to hope for anything more substantial, had envisaged her and the baby’s future with Christian flitting in and out when it suited him. She’d even prepared her ‘please don’t introduce our child to a succession of aunties’ speech. In her head she’d prepared for just about every imaginable scenario. Apart from the scenario where he demanded marriage.
‘Christian, please, be realistic. Marriage is...’
‘Something neither of us wants,’ he finished for her, meeting her gaze with steady eyes.
How clearly she remembered discussing marriage on their night out together, the night their baby had been conceived. Fools had been just one of the many words they’d used to describe people who willingly entered matrimony. They’d even toasted this rare meeting of minds.
‘Exactly. Something neither of us wants.’
He finished his drink with a grimace. ‘Seeing as neither of us has any intention of marrying in the conventional sense, marriage each other for the sake of our child isn’t going to destroy either of our dreams. We won’t be making a lifelong commitment to each other, just to our child.’
‘Marriage will legitimise the pregnancy and avert any scandal. The press will still swarm over the story, that’s a given, but their angle will be softer towards you.’
‘Accepting paternity will have the same effect. At this moment, that’s all I need. Your acceptance. Everything else can be arranged between us later. There’s plenty of time.’
‘And what about what I need?’ he challenged. ‘You tell me I’m going to be a father and that you want my support but when I offer you the biggest support I can—marriage—you dismiss it out of hand.’
‘What do you need?’ she asked, now thoroughly confused. ‘What will you get out of us marrying?’
‘The chance to be a father,’ he answered with a shrug. ‘I’ve built up a multi-billion-dollar business and have no one to pass it to.’