Maribel nodded slowly. She was so stunned by the idea of marrying him that she was in a daze. ‘This doesn’t feel real yet.’
Leonidas dealt her a caustic appraisal. ‘It’ll feel real soon enough. A word of warning—I’ll make a lousy husband.’
With that attitude, Maribel believed that this was very probable and she wondered if she was mad to have agreed. After all, he was only willing to make that commitment for his son’s sake. The door flipped on his exit, only to be caught before it could close again. Her tutorial group trooped in. She spared a glance down at the enormous ring. It was really exquisite. But essentially meaningless, she reminded herself doggedly, determined not to succumb to any silly flights of fancy.
THE penthouse apartment that Leonidas occupied in central London seemed gigantic to Maribel. A manservant led her across the vast limestone floor of the striking foyer and ushered her into an even bigger reception area.
In the doorway, she set Elias down on his feet. He looked adorable in pale blue cord trousers and a little cotton shirt. Before her eyes could adjust to the bright daylight that flooded in through the long run of windows that comprised the farthest wall, Elias loosed a squeal of excitement and yanked his fingers free of his mother’s grasp.
‘Daddy!’ he yelled, sturdy little legs carrying him across the room in seconds.
A vision of casual elegance in a loose beige linen shirt and chinos, Leonidas scooped the little boy up and closed both arms round him. He was startled by the tide of emotion coursing through him. Elias gave him a big soppy kiss and then struggled to get down again, eager to investigate the mysteries of a strange room.
‘He missed you. He asked for you a couple of times,’ Maribel admitted guiltily.
Leonidas studied her with keen attention. She had that refined quality of quintessential Englishness that he had always admired and never quite managed to define to his own satisfaction. Her lustrous chestnut hair was a shining frame for her delicately modelled features and, while her outfit was plain, her simple blue dress threw her violet eyes into amazing prominence. She had a subtle unusual beauty as authentic as her lush sex appeal and he could not understand why it had taken him so long to acknowledge the fact. After all, she had always had the most disturbing knack of immediately attracting his attention even in a crowd.
‘Why are you staring at me?’ Mirabel muttered uneasily, wondering if she should have used more make-up and put on fancier clothes
‘I like the dress, hara mou. Of course, I’ll like you even better out of it,’ Leonidas confided, his dark, rich drawl taking on a husky edge. ‘By the way, how has the boyfriend dealt with the relentless pursuit of the paparazzi?’
Her cheeks flaming at that unashamed reminder of the night ahead, Maribel veiled her gaze at that question and jerked a slim shoulder in silent dismissal. Sloan hadn’t phoned again and she didn’t blame him for the fact. The amount of press interest she was currently drawing, not to mention the exposure of her association with Leonidas, would have scared off the keenest of blokes. The last time she had seen Sloan, he had been gaping in horror at the spectacle of her trying to outrun the photographers to make a fast getaway in her car.
Leonidas got the message that the competition had been decimated and he returned his attention to Elias with a satisfied gleam in his dark gaze that would have chilled a block of ice. In the best of humour, he introduced Elias to the toy ride-on car he had bought for him. Elias was ecstatic and got straight into making noisy vroom-vroom sounds and punching the horn and an array of tempting buttons with vigour. While Leonidas was trying not to flinch at the racket, he found himself wondering if Maribel had slept with the boyfriend. He wondered in some bewilderment why he was wondering, but it was far from being the end of that disquieting thought-train, because he was soon wondering how many men there had been since she’d walked out on him two years and two months earlier. Although he continued to devote his attention to his son, all Leonidas’ relaxation and satisfaction had drained away.
Lounging back on a gilded sofa with her shoes kicked off for comfort a few hours later, Maribel watched Leonidas roll out a convoy of boats for his son’s bath-time entertainment. For a Greek tycoon, whose fortune was based on a vast shipping empire, she supposed an entire fleet was a natural choice, and, certainly, Elias was impressed. Quite deliberately, Maribel was staying in the background. She had tried to leave father and son alone for a while, but Elias, for all his apparent confidence, still needed to check that his mother was present every so often. On the one occasion that Maribel had dared to rove out of sight, her son had shocked Leonidas by screaming the place down. Yet Leonidas was marvellous with Elias and comfortable playing with him. In fact, Leonidas was demonstrating a level of patience and calm with his son that Maribel had never dreamt he possessed.