The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride(5)

By: Lynne Graham

Maribel gave her a rueful look. ‘I expect my aunt gave her advice in good faith. And to be fair—when Hermione was a girl it was a disgrace for a child to be born out of wedlock.’

‘Why are you so magnanimous? That woman has always treated you like a Victorian poor relation!’

‘It wasn’t as bad as that. My aunt and uncle found it hard to understand my academic aspirations.’ Maribel moved her hands in a dismissive gesture. ‘I was the oddball of the family and just too different from my cousins.’

‘They put a lot of pressure on you to conform.’

‘But even more on Imogen,’ Maribel declared, thinking of her fragile cousin, who had craved approval and admiration to such a degree that she had been able to handle neither rejection nor failure.

Elias squirmed to get down from his mother’s lap so that he could investigate the arrival of the postman’s van. He was a lively child with a mind that teemed with curiosity about the world that surrounded him. While Ginny went to the door to collect a parcel, Maribel gathered up all the paraphernalia that went with transporting a toddler between different houses.

‘Can’t you stay for coffee?’ Ginny asked on her return.

‘I’m sorry. I’d love to, but I’ve got loads of work to do.’ But Maribel turned a slight guilty pink for she could have spared a half-hour. Unfortunately seeing Leonidas again had shaken her up and she craved the security of her own home. She scooped up Elias to take him out to her car, which was parked at the back door.

Her son was big for his age and lifting him was becoming more of an effort. She hefted him into his car seat. He put his own arms into the straps, displaying the marked streak of independence that sometimes put him at odds with his mother. ‘Elias do,’ he stated with purpose.

His bottom lip came out and he protested when she insisted on doing up the clasp on the safety belt. He wanted to do it himself, but she was determined not to give him the opportunity to master the technique of locking and releasing it. Having learnt to walk at an early age, Elias was already a skilled escape artist from chairs, buggies and play-pens.

Maribel drove back out onto the road and slowed down to overtake a silver car parked by the side of it. It was a bad place to stop and she was surprised to see a vehicle there. A hundred yards further on, she turned into the sun-dappled rambling lane overhung by trees that led to what had once been her home with her parents. She had inherited the picturesque old farmhouse after her father died and it had been rented out for many years. When the property had finally fallen vacant, everybody had expected her to sell up and plunge the proceeds into a trendy urban apartment. The discovery around the same time that she was pregnant, however, had turned Maribel’s life upside down. After she had revisited the house where she had all too briefly enjoyed a wealth of parental love and attention, she had begun to appreciate that bringing up a child alone was going to demand a major change of focus and pace from her. She would have to give up her workaholic ways and make space in her busy schedule for a baby’s needs.

Ignoring the comments about how old-fashioned and isolated the property was, she had quietly got on with organising the refurbishment of the interior. Situated in a secluded valley and convenient to both London and Oxford, the farmhouse, she felt, offered her the best of both worlds. The convenience of having a good friend like Ginny living nearby had been the icing on the cake, even before Ginny had suggested that she take care of Elias while Maribel was at work.

‘Mouse…Mouse…Mouse!’ Elias chanted, wriggling like an eel and pushing at the door as Maribel unlocked it.

An extremely timid Irish wolfhound, Mouse was hiding under the table as usual. He would not emerge until he was reassured that it was only Maribel and Elias coming home. Struggling out from below the table because he was a very large dog, Mouse then welcomed his family with boisterous enthusiasm. Boy and dog rolled on the floor in a tumbling heap. Elias scrambled up. ‘Mouse…up!’ he instructed, to the manner born.

For a split-second, a flash of memory froze Maribel to the spot: Leonidas seven years earlier, asking when she planned on picking up the shirts lying on the floor. There had been that same note of imperious command and expectation, but not the same successful result because, intimidating though Leonidas was, Maribel had never been as eager to please as Mouse. Another image swiftly followed: Leonidas so domestically challenged and so outraged by the suggestion that he was helpless without servants that he had put an electric kettle on the hob.

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