Ella put her hand on her stomach, hideously embarrassed and self-conscious. ‘He told you about the baby?’
‘Of course.’ The older woman looked delighted. ‘And now we must plan the wedding. You must tell me what you have always dreamed of having and I will arrange it.’
Ella’s eyes widened and she opened her mouth to say that they were still a long way from choosing wedding cakes when she saw the tears of joy in the other woman’s eyes.
‘Wedding? I haven’t really thought that far,’ she said lamely, but Nikos’s mother pulled her into another tight embrace.
‘You don’t need to worry. I will do all the planning. It will be my gift to you.’
Nikos strolled across to them, a frown in his eyes. ‘Don’t put pressure on her.’
‘Pressure?’ Still holding Ella’s hand, his mother gave him a disapproving look. ‘You are the one who should have been putting the pressure, Nikos. This woman carries your child and she isn’t even wearing an engagement ring! I can’t believe a son of mine would behave like this. You should be ashamed of yourself!’
Nikos drew back his broad shoulders as if taking a blow, but he said nothing in his own defence.
Then he drew breath and his mouth tightened.
Sensing that he was about to divulge the true nature of their relationship, Ella reached out and took his hand. ‘Nikos bought me a ring,’ she said quickly, ‘a beautiful ring, but it was too big for my finger so it is being adjusted as we speak. I think it’s due to be delivered to the villa tonight. And as for the rest of it—we’ve been working so hard, this is the first break we’ve had. We haven’t had time to think about a wedding. If you would help, that would be fabulous.’
Nikos stared down at her, his eyes blazing dark, his powerful body unusually still and tense.
Ella stood on tiptoe and kissed him and Nikos’s mother gave a sigh of pleasure and delight.
‘This is the best news I have had for a long time.’ She clapped her hands. ‘Celebrations. Time to eat.’
As everyone moved towards the loaded tables, Ella was enveloped by his family and for the rest of the evening she barely saw Nikos.
They were the warmest, most welcoming group of people she’d ever met, all of them insisting on speaking English so that she wouldn’t feel left out.
By the time Nikos finally extracted her from two of his cousins and dragged her off to bed, Ella’s head was buzzing.
‘I love your family,’ she said breathlessly as the door closed behind them. ‘In fact, I love everything about this place. But I especially love your mother.’
The bedroom suite overlooked the pool and Nikos strode across the cool tiles to close the glass doors.
Only when he’d secured their privacy did he speak. ‘Is that why you went along with her marriage plans?’ His tone was harsh. ‘Because you didn’t know how to say no to her?’
Ella sank down onto the end of the huge bed, shocked by the chill in his voice. ‘No.’ Her heart was thudding. ‘It wasn’t. I—It just felt like the right thing. I want to marry you, Nikos. If it’s what you want, too.’
‘Suddenly it feels like the right thing?’ His handsome face was devoid of expression. ‘I’ve been asking you constantly. Why now?’
‘Because now I know it’s what I want.’
‘You mean that having had a taste of the lifestyle that serious wealth can buy, you think you’ll enjoy being my wife?’
Ella felt the colour drain from her face.
‘You know that isn’t how it is.’ Her hands shaking, she curled her fingers into the white bedspread. ‘How can you say that to me? Why does it always come back to the money for you?’
His entire frame shimmering with tension, Nikos dragged his hands through his hair and muttered something in Greek. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said harshly, spreading his hands in a gesture of apology. ‘I suppose I was surprised by your sudden change of heart. Given that nothing else has changed between us, it seemed like the most likely explanation.’
Ella stood up, trying to think beyond her bruised feelings. ‘Or perhaps I just saw you with your family and realised what sort of person you are underneath that icy exterior.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘You love them, Nikos. It shows in the way you talk to your parents, the way you indulge your nieces and nephews. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you show warmth and affection.’