‘Only that with the exception of my father the men in this family are and were fairly useless,’ Sofia told her in a tart undertone. ‘Timon has two sons but while they were working in one of Dad’s hotels they set up a scam to skim off money for themselves.’
Rosie was taken aback at that admission of her cousins’ criminality. ‘My goodness …’ she remarked uncertainly just as her grandfather sprang up out of his chair on the other side of the room with surprising vigour and spat something in guttural Greek at Alexius, which sent her startled eyes flying in that direction instead. ‘What’s happened?’
Alexius’s body was rigid and unyielding, his face hard and expressionless. Rosie had never seen his innate reserve so pronounced. His godfather was ranting at him and Alexius was saying very little in response.
‘Thee mou, you might look ladylike and quiet but you’re clearly a very clever little schemer,’ Sofia commented, shooting Rosie a look of tremendous satisfaction.
Realising that her aunt understood the source of the conflict between the two men and very much afraid that she did as well, Rosie composed her face and said, ‘And why would you think that?’
‘Falling pregnant by a billionaire is a world-class coup and surely no accident on your part? Not with a mother who pulled the same stunt on my younger brother!’ Sofia jibed with a chuckle of unconcealed amusement and derision. ‘And to think I thought you were coming here to charm and impress my father. Instead, he’s shocked and furious …’
Allowing her aunt’s cheap, unfeeling sneer to roll off her, Rosie pressed urgently, ‘What’s your father saying to Alexius?’
‘This is as good as a soap opera,’ the older woman commented with enjoyment. ‘According to my antiquated father, your reputation is now ruined for all time …’
Well, we’ll see about that, Rosie reflected in exasperation, rising from her seat in a quick movement and advancing to within a few feet of the two angry men. Alexius might not be shouting but she knew by his powerful stance and the wild, stormy glitter of his eyes that he was furious and that only his respect for the older man was making him withstand the tirade in silence.
‘Stay out of this,’ Alexius breathed tautly, when he realised Rosie was at his elbow.
‘No, it’s not fair and it’s not the Dark Ages
either!’ Rosie protested, fixing her attention on her red-faced grandfather and addressing him directly. ‘Please calm down. I wouldn’t have come if I’d known I was likely to cause so much trouble between you and Alexius. It can’t be good for your heart to get so worked up … and don’t say anything more to Alexius. He did ask me to marry him.’
‘You … did?’ Socrates turned back to stare at his godson in astonishment, his anger visibly falling away at that information.
‘And I said no,’ Rosie slotted in before her grandfather could get too excited about what was not going to happen.
‘No?’ her grandfather thundered back at her instead. ‘Are you insane? You’re carrying his child and you said no?’
‘I think we should let the dust settle on this and leave for now,’ Rosie suggested tightly, laying a trembling hand on Alexius’s sleeve. ‘I can come back to visit when tempers cool … if I’m still welcome, of course.’
‘Of course, you will be,’ Alexius pronounced with unbelievable cool as if nothing whatsoever had happened. ‘It is I who will not be so.’
‘If you’re not marrying him, you shouldn’t be going anywhere with him,’ Socrates Seferis delivered in a final cutting piece of advice.
Rosie glanced from her grandfather’s angry, dissatisfied face to her aunt’s barely hidden triumph at Rosie’s fast fall from grace and decided that she had had enough of the family reunion for one day. ‘I make my own decisions and I trust Alexius,’ she said quietly.
‘Why on earth didn’t you stand up for yourself?’ Rosie demanded of Alexius once they were back in the car. ‘He’s the one who told you to get to know me.’
‘I have great respect for Socrates, moli mou. He said nothing that was not deserved. I do have the reputation of a womaniser and I should, for once, have practised restraint.’ Yet even in the midst of that, Alexius was hopelessly amused and oddly touched by the manner in which Rosie had waded in like a miniature prize fighter to try and defend him to her grandfather, failing to appreciate that Socrates was probably the only man alive whom Alexius would have allowed to speak to him in such terms.
‘Maybe I should have kept my hands off you,’ Rosie muttered, irritated that he was trying to shoulder all the blame as if she were some helpless little fluttery thing with no brains between her ears.
‘No, I wanted you and I am too used to taking what I want and not counting the cost,’ Alexius breathed with a raw edge. ‘That, at least, was a fair comment.’
‘You should’ve listened to me when I told you not to mention me being pregnant so soon.’ Rosie sighed, wishing he were not so highly resistant to accepting advice.
‘The least I owed my godfather was the truth.’
‘My aunt is poisonous—she really enjoyed that awful scene. Why didn’t you warn me what she was like?’
‘I didn’t want to influence your opinions before you met them. They’re not my family, after all,’ he traded. ‘As a rule, Socrates is a liberal, warm-hearted man but he has your quick temper. He will very much regret the way you parted. I underestimated his reaction. His values are naturally those of the older generation and I should have foreseen that.’
Alexius took her back to the airport and it was a shock when they were suddenly engulfed in a seething mass of people waving cameras and shouting questions. She shrank into Alexius’s side, blinded by the flash bulbs going off all around her, barely aware of the security men struggling to keep the crush at bay.
‘Who’s the girl?’ voices shouted repeatedly. ‘What about Adrianna Lesley?’
Journalists, Rosie labelled belatedly, what she supposed were called paparazzi, she guessed as, his handsome mouth clenched, Alexius herded her silently through the building where everybody was staring, no doubt wondering who they were. Although as the airport security staff joined in with Alexius’s own team to practise crowd control in keeping the most overenthusiastic members of the press from preventing their free passage, she began to appreciate that Alexius appeared to be exceedingly well-known and that ironically it was her presence in his company that was creating the stir. At the back of her mind, she was trying very hard not to wonder who Adrianna was. A girlfriend? What did she know about his private life?