‘That’s very generous of you but I don’t like being under an obligation,’ Rosie admitted, almost stumbling on the steps outside the clinic until Alexius grabbed her arm to steady her.
‘Agree to meet your grandfather and I’ll write the debt off,’ Alexius responded, stunning silver eyes framed by lush black lashes and strikingly noticeable in his lean bronzed face.
Rosie was sharply disconcerted by the suggestion and stared up at him in disbelief. ‘But that’s blackmail.’
‘That’s me, moraki mou,’ Alexius returned without apology. ‘I’m programmed to make the most of any advantage and if I can do your grandfather a good turn in the process, I will do it.’
Rosie breathed in deep and slow, shaken that he could be quite so unashamed of his ruthless and immoral approach to life. So, his generosity had a price? Was she really surprised by the fact? Alexius Stavroulakis wasn’t the kind of guy to do something for nothing. But the source of her concern was very real, for she was convinced that the bill for treating Bas would run into thousands of pounds and there was no way that she could pay any of it back. ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ Beryl used to say in warning, and Rosie had always respected that maxim because on a small income if she did not live within her means she risked getting into serious trouble. But how much of a sacrifice would she really be making if she agreed to go to Greece? In the back of her mind she was already coming round to accepting that curiosity alone would have prompted her to meet her grandfather. But in truth, and it was very much a visceral reaction, she did want to meet her father’s father and find out more about the Greek side of her family.
‘I sit my last exam on the fifteenth,’ Rosie conceded tautly. ‘I’ll be free to travel to Greece for a visit after that.’
‘You see, I’m easy to deal with,’ Alexius murmured smoothly, relieved that he had something positive to tell his godfather that would lighten the tiresome restrictions of his convalescence. The news that Rosie was pregnant would be a good deal less welcome to a man of Socrates’s generation and traditional outlook but nothing could be done about that, Alexius reasoned wryly.
‘No, you’re not. You’re devious and cold-blooded and you’re using my affection for Bas as a weapon against me,’ Rosie censured curtly, treating him to a look of condemnation. ‘Don’t expect me to like you for that.’
‘I saved the dog’s life by bringing him here,’ Alexius countered levelly. ‘I have one further request to make …’
‘Go on,’ Rosie encouraged, climbing into the limousine and this time taking account of the opulent leather and fittings with wide, wondering eyes. Was this how he usually travelled? Nothing could have more accurately delineated the gulf between them, she thought uncomfortably.
‘I’d like you to see Dmitri Vakros and have your pregnancy officially confirmed. I also want to be sure that you’re in good health.’
‘I’ve already seen a doctor and been checked over,’ Rosie protested wearily.
‘Do you instinctively argue against everything I suggest?’ Alexius shot back at her in exasperation, marvelling at the amount of feisty distrust and obstinacy etched into her face. She might be tiny but she had the heart of a lion. ‘I’m thinking of your well-being.’
Rosie dragged her eyes from his, her attention straying accidentally to the long powerful thigh so close to her own and up to the fabric cupping the sizeable bulge of his crotch, her colour heightening as she hurriedly lifted her head again. Images of him in bed with her, that lean bronzed body entwined erotically with her own, filled her head in Technicolor and for an instant her mouth ran dry and she could hardly breathe for excitement. Not embarrassment, excitement, she scolded herself furiously, wondering what he had done to her thinking processes. ‘My well-being is really none of your business.’
‘If it’s my baby, it’s my business,’ Alexius contradicted in a roughened undertone.
Rosie bit her soft lower lip to strangle an acid response before it leapt off her tongue. He wasn’t interested in their baby and she knew he wasn’t, so he could only be going through the motions of what he felt was expected from him. But would it be wise to discourage even the most minor display of interest on his part? She might not want a reluctant husband, but if it was possible she did want a father for her baby and including him in the process was an inescapable part of that, no matter how much the necessity warred against her private feelings. He had walked away from her after a one-night stand but she had to learn to live with that, take it on the chin, move on from that humiliation to concentrate on more important things.
‘Rosie …’ Alexius growled. ‘Will you agree to see Dmitri?’
‘If I must,’ Rosie sighed.
‘Surely you can see that I must take responsibility for you now?’
Green eyes glinting, Rosie lifted her chin. ‘It’s been years since I needed anyone to take responsibility for me. I’m not a child. I’m an adult. I can look after myself.’
‘You’ll have to get used to me doing it from now on,’ Alexius imparted with stinging cool.
Her teeth gritted. ‘I’m afraid not. I’m very independent. If I wanted to lean on you I’d have agreed to marry you,’ she pointed out waspishly.
Alexius was gritting his teeth as well, the reminder of her rejection unwelcome. ‘You may still change your mind—’
‘I don’t think so. You’re not the kind of guy I want to marry,’ Rosie told him ruefully.
Eyes glittering with high voltage annoyance, Alexius breathed in deep, wondering why he wasn’t more relieved by her assurance, by the freedom left untouched by her decision. He didn’t want to get married, he had never wanted to get married any more than he had ever wanted a child. Nothing had changed but even as he thought that his attention swerved back to the small figure in the far corner of his limo. Her pale frosted hair shone in the street lights filtering through the windows, accentuating her delicate profile, and renewed desire burned through him like a torch. She was a part of his life now but not a part he had spontaneously chosen and it infuriated him that he should still want her even in such challenging circumstances. He needed a woman in his bed, he needed a woman badly, he told himself grimly. There was no other explanation for his illogical response to her.
‘What sort of a guy do you want to marry?’ Alexius enquired very drily.
Rosie went pink. ‘Someone kind, honest and straightforward.’
Well aware that in her eyes he failed in every one of those categories, his ego dented, Alexius compressed his handsome mouth and made copious excuses for himself. Socrates had put him in the position of not being honest or straightforward when they first met. He had intended to be kind when it came to the dog but, when he had realised he could use the cost of the treatment as a lever to influence events, his more devious ruthless side had surged to the fore. So, he wasn’t perfect, not Mr Sensitive or Mr Caring as she had put it, he recalled grimly. A woman had never criticised him before and she had already done it more than once. Thee mou and he had asked her to marry him? He must have been out of his mind, thinking of long, hot nights in her bed rather than meeting with a constant litany of complaints and critical comments.
Rosie watched Alexius from below her lashes, wondering at the simmering tension revealed by the hard set of his cheekbones and the cast of his strong jaw. He was definitely not in a good mood. But he ought to be grateful that she had turned down his marriage proposal and prevented him from offering himself up as an old-fashioned sacrifice to convention. Some day he would meet a woman whom he really did want to marry. She stiffened at that idea, discovered in astonishment that she was outrageously possessive of the father of her child and didn’t at all relish the concept of him taking up with another woman. That was downright unreasonable, she told herself sternly. The night before she had put his name in a search engine and found a whole cache of images that proved that Alexius Kolovos Stavroulakis was a womaniser of many years’ standing. He had been bedding glamorous models, socialites and stars since he was a teenager and he always moved on quickly again to fresh fields. Seemingly he had never had a single long-lasting relationship with a woman, had not even lived with one, and that told Rosie that she had made the right decision. He was shockingly wealthy and even more shockingly successful in the business world, an unemotional and famously shrewd tycoon, whom few people professed to know well. There was no way she could ever be happy with a guy like that. They were ill suited in every possible way on a level that went beyond wealth, status and education. She could not even begin to imagine the life he had led.
‘I’ll be in touch,’ Alexius murmured flatly as she got out of the limo. ‘Good luck with your exams!’