The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride(4)

By: Lynne Graham

‘Maribel?’ The older woman opened her eyes very wide and repeated the name as if she had never heard of her niece.

‘Probably racing home to that baby of hers,’ the tallest, blondest daughter opined with more than a touch of derision.

Although not an ounce of his surprise showed on his lean bronzed features, Leonidas was stunned by that careless statement. Maribel had a baby? A baby? Since when? And by whom?

Hermione Stratton pursed her mouth into a little moue of well-bred distaste. ‘I’m afraid that she’s a single parent.’

‘And not in the fashionable category. She was left in the lurch,’ her daughter chipped in, smiling brightly at Leonidas.

‘Typical,’ her sister giggled, rolling inviting big blue eyes up at him. ‘Even with all those brains, Maribel still made the biggest mistake in the book!’

Five minutes after leaving the church, Maribel pulled off the road again to shed her black knitted jacket because she was overheating like mad. An attack of nerves always made her hot. Inside her head was an uninvited image of how Leonidas had looked in church. Breathtakingly beautiful. What else had she expected? He was still only thirty-one years old. Her hands clenched round the steering wheel. For a tiny moment, while she allowed her emotions to gain the upper hand, her knuckles showed white. Then slowly, deliberately, she relaxed her grip. She refused to concede that she had experienced any kind of emotional reaction and concentrated instead on being thoroughly irritated by her foolish and trite reflection regarding Leonidas’ good looks. After all, shouldn’t she have moved far beyond such juvenile ruminations by now?

Her rebellious mind served up painful memories and she gritted her teeth and literally kicked those thoughts back out of her head again. She slammed shut the equivalent of a mental steel door on recollections that would only stir up the feelings she was determined to keep buried. Clasping her seat belt again, she drove off to pick up her son.

Ginny Bell, her friend and childminder, lived in a cottage only a field away from Maribel’s home. The older woman was a widow and a former teacher currently studying part-time for a master’s degree. Slim and in her forties, with her black hair in a bob, she glanced up in surprise when Maribel appeared at her back door. ‘My goodness, I wasn’t expecting you back so soon!’

Elias abandoned his puzzle and hurtled across the kitchen to greet his mother. He was sixteen months old, an enchanting toddler with curly black hair and tobacco brown eyes. All the natural warmth and energy of his temperament shone in his smile and the exuberance with which he returned his mother’s hug. Maribel drank in the familiar baby scent of his skin and was engulfed by a giant wave of love. Only after Elias’s birth had she truly understood the intensity of a mother’s attachment to her child. She had revelled in the year of maternity leave she’d taken to be with her baby. Returning to work even on a part-time basis had been a real challenge for her, and now she was never away from Elias for longer than a couple of hours without eagerly looking forward to the moment when she would get back to him again. Without even trying, Elias had become the very centre of her world.

Still puzzled by Maribel’s swift return, Ginny was frowning. ‘I thought your aunt and uncle were hosting a fancy buffet lunch after the service.’

Maribel briefly shared the content of her aunt’s phone call the night before.

‘My goodness, how can Hermione Stratton exclude you like that?’ Ginny exclaimed, angrily defensive on the younger woman’s behalf because, as a long-standing friend, she knew how much the Strattons owed to Maribel, who had loyally watched over Imogen while the model’s family had given their daughter and her increasingly erratic and embarrassing behaviour a wide berth.

‘Well, I blotted my copybook by having Elias and I can’t say that I wasn’t warned about how it would be,’ Maribel countered with wry acceptance.

‘When your aunt urged you to have a termination because she saw your pregnancy as a social embarrassment, she was going way beyond her remit. You had already told her that you wanted your baby and you’re scarcely a feckless teenager,’ Ginny reminded the younger woman with feeling. ‘As for her suggestion that you wouldn’t be able to cope, you’re one of the most capable mothers I know!’

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