It was stunning, the beautifully cut stone appealing to the woman in her.
It would have been so easy to say yes. A huge part of her wanted to say yes. Yes to marriage, yes to sex, yes to a life with this man.
But how could she say yes when not only had he kept secrets from her but he didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong in that?
To gain herself thinking time, she made two cups of coffee and took hers out on the tiny deck at the prow of the boat, instantly calmed by the early morning peace of the canal. The sun played on the surface of the water, casting shadows and light. Nettles and reeds stood guard along the river bank and rhododendrons crowded over the water, as if admiring their own reflections. A swan glided past, watchful of her three cygnets, and Ella felt a pang of kinship for this mother, protecting her young.
Suddenly feeling a huge burden of responsibility, Ella put her hand on the curve of her abdomen, still intrigued by her new shape.
‘You need to move off this boat.’ Ducking his glossy dark head to avoid the low door, Nikos joined her on the polished wooden deck. He’d pulled on his trousers but nothing else. Curling dark hairs shadowed the muscular contours of his bare chest and his bronzed shoulders gleamed in the morning sunlight. ‘It isn’t safe.’
Feeling the immediate stirring of her body, Ella sat down as far away from him as possible. ‘I like it. It’s beautiful here.’
‘It’s a totally unsuitable place for a woman to live alone.’ His tone smooth, he cast her a glance that sent her insides spinning in a whirlpool of highly charged sexual awareness. ‘Especially a pregnant woman.’
He’d zipped up his trousers with a casual hand and they rode slightly low on his hips, exposing an unfair amount of bronzed, muscular abdomen.
Why was it, she wondered, that just a glimpse of those taut abdominals was enough for her to be able to picture him naked?
Her mouth as dry as a ditch in summer, Ella instinctively pulled her T-shirt lower over her thighs, wishing she’d stopped long enough to find her jeans. ‘Who is going to bother me here? There’s no one around.’
‘Precisely.’ Those dark eyes with those long, long lashes shifted to the silent, overgrown towpath. ‘It’s deserted.’
‘I wanted space.’
‘Well, you’ve certainly got that.’ His tone ironic, he looked around him with a faint smile. ‘It is beautiful,’ he conceded grimly, ‘but there must be safer ways of achieving country living.’
‘Not on my budget.’ She instantly regretted the words. ‘And I don’t want your money, Nikos,’ she blurted out quickly, ‘just in case you think I was dropping a hint.’
He studied her for a long moment. ‘Where we live is my responsibility. There is no need to be defensive.’
‘I’m not living with you, Nikos.’
He sat down on the seat opposite. The bows of the boat were as narrow as the rest of the craft. With his superior height, their knees were almost touching. ‘All right—let’s deal with this. You are trying to push me away,’ he said harshly, ‘but it isn’t going to work. That is my baby you are carrying and my ring you’re wearing on your finger.’
Heart pounding, Ella twisted the ring round and round her finger. ‘I would have thrown it back at you,’ she muttered, ‘but I thought it would knock you unconscious. You don’t do subtle, do you? The ring tells the whole world that you’re filthy rich.’
‘No, agape mou. The ring tells everyone that you are mine.’ His eyes stayed on hers. ‘I want there to be no misunderstandings.’
She wondered what lay behind that comment but knew that there was no point in asking. He didn’t confide in her, did he? There was so much he hadn’t told her about himself. ‘I am not yours, Nikos.’
‘Why do you insist on fighting with me?’
‘I don’t know.’ Her tone was flippant. ‘Perhaps because you’re unbelievably insensitive?’
‘Then we must be experiencing a severe cultural clash. No matter how hard I try I cannot see how proposing marriage to the woman carrying my child could be classed as insensitive.’
‘Because marriage isn’t about reproduction.’
‘It is in Greece,’ Nikos said dryly, stretching his long legs out as far as he could in the confined space and placing his coffee on the seat. ‘In Greece you marry, you have babies.’