‘Who the hell took these pictures?’
Vasos stepped forward. ‘Camera phone…one of the dancers Sergio Torrente brought on board for the party. Crude, but effective.’
‘Thank you, Sergio,’ Leonidas breathed rawly.
Forty-eight hours earlier, his friend, Sergio Torrente, had mustered a crowd of male friends and staged a surprise stag party on his yacht for Leonidas’ benefit. Sergio, who loathed weddings, was now safe deep in the jungles of Borneo on one of the Action-Man trips he enjoyed, well away from the furore he had unleashed on the bridegroom.
‘I’ve taken the liberty of removing the daily newspapers from the house,’ Vasos admitted.
Dismissing Vasos, Leonidas snapped shut the laptop. He knew Vasos could only be trying to protect Maribel, since nothing shocked the Pallis family. In five hours time, he was getting married. Or was he? Strategic planning and self-preservation came naturally to Leonidas. A businessman to the backbone, he had the Machiavellian genes of a family that had been merchant bankers in the Middle Ages. While over-indulgence in the sins of the flesh had proved the downfall of previous generations of the Pallis family, Leonidas was a great deal more grounded than most people appreciated.
But although plotting and planning were the spice of life to him, he was uneasily aware that Maribel had an intolerant view of such tactics. But would she still go ahead and marry him if she got the chance to read that tabloid trash? How much faith did she have in him? None, came the answer. Maribel didn’t even pretend to have faith in him. Overhearing a single ambiguous phone call had been sufficient to make her judge and condemn him out of hand.
Leonidas brooded over the problem and, in the interests of fairness, felt duty-bound to ask himself why Maribel should trust him. The past three weeks replayed at supersonic speed in his mind. His strong, blue-shadowed jawline squared. Last night he had noticed that she had lost weight. He knew that stress was the most likely cause. She had loved her job and her home and she’d had to surrender both at short notice. Maybe she had been fond of the boyfriend, as well, Leonidas allowed grudgingly. He hadn’t wanted to know the details, so he hadn’t asked. She had once accused him of only ever doing what he wanted to do and, in this case, he recognised the accuracy of the charge. He had held onto his anger and punished her for daring to stand up to him. He had abandoned her to sink or swim in a world that was very new to her and she was naturally showing signs of strain.
Another woman might have asked him for support, but not Maribel. No, not Maribel, who was as stubborn as he was. Obstinacy was not a good trait for them to share, Leonidas acknowledged, his wide, sensual mouth compressed. A single request for advice or assistance, one little hint that she regretted challenging him, and all would have been well. Generosity in victory was not a problem for him. Unfortunately, Maribel refused to admit defeat. He was beginning to grasp how Maribel could once have said that she didn’t like him. That statement had stayed with him in a nagging memory of unpleasantness that he could not forget. But now he had to ask himself: what was to like? He had been callous and cold towards her. He had been absent when he should have been present. And, in refusing to give her a shred of reassurance, he had simply increased her distrust.
Maribel might be as tranquil as a woodland pool on the surface, but she could be amazingly passionate and hasty, he reminded himself grimly. She was a firecracker, who tended to shoot first and ask questions second. That was not a confidence-boosting attribute on the day that he needed her to go to the altar and say yes with a smile. He had already grasped the reality that, in her eyes, he would always be guilty until proven innocent. A refreshing change after a lifetime of women who were too careful to ask loaded questions or make rash demands.
As the hazy morning mist slowly lifted back to reveal the lush green of the immaculately kept grounds and the promise of the glorious summer day yet to come Leonidas reached a decision. He would tell her about the stag-doe fiasco after the wedding. A wedding was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and nothing should be allowed to cast a cloud over Maribel’s day. Or give her good reason to decide that marrying him might not be in her best interests.
‘REALITY-CHECK here!’ Ginny made a comic show of pinching herself while gaping at the dazzling contents of the sumptuous leather case that Maribel had opened. ‘A diamond tiara fit for a queen to wear! That will look amazing with your veil.’
‘It would look amazing with anything,’ Maribel pointed out dry-mouthed, touching the glittering sapphire and diamond jewels with a reverent fingertip. ‘But don’t you think it might be a touch over-the-top?’