The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride(9)

By: Lynne Graham

Leonidas would have been the first to admit that that was true: he had never had any interest in children and found the doting fondness of parents for their offspring a bore and an irritation. Nobody acquainted with him would have dreamt of wheeling out their progeny for him to admire.

‘Who told you I’d had a child?’ Maribel enquired a shade tightly.

‘The Strattons.’

‘I’m surprised it was mentioned.’ While fighting to keep her voice light, Maribel was wondering frantically what she would say if he asked her what age her child was. Would she lie? Could she lie on such a subject? She was in a situation that she would have done almost anything to avoid. She did not believe that she could lie about such a serious matter and still live with her conscience. ‘Was it the “left-in-the-lurch” version?’ she asked.

A rare smile of amusement slashed the Greek tycoon’s beautifully shaped mouth. ‘Yes.’

‘That’s not how it was,’ Maribel declared, attempting not to stare, because when he smiled the chill factor vanished from his lean, hard-boned features and banished the forbidding dark reserve that put people so much on their guard.

Without warning, distaste that she had slept with another man assailed Leonidas and killed his momentary amusement on the subject. He marvelled at that stab of possessiveness that ran contrary to his nature. His affairs were always casual, hampered by neither emotion nor sentimentality. But then, he had known Maribel for a long time and he had become her first lover. Perhaps that had been inevitable, he reasoned, still in search of the precise trigger that had fired him into making that discovery, more than two years earlier. Once he had discovered how she felt about him, the awareness had lent a strangely enjoyable intimacy to their encounters.

‘How was it?’ he heard himself ask, and it was the sort of question he never asked, but he was determined to satisfy his curiosity.

Maribel was disconcerted by that enquiry and she spread her hands in a jerky motion. Her tension was climbing steadily. ‘It wasn’t complex. I found myself pregnant and I wanted the baby.’

Leonidas wondered at her wording. Why no reference to the father? Another one-night stand? Had he given her a taste for them? Had he ever really known her? He would have sworn that Maribel Greenaway was one of the last women alive likely to embrace either promiscuity or unmarried motherhood. Her outlook on life was conservative. She went to church; she volunteered for charity work. She wore unrevealing clothes. A frown line dividing his sleek ebony brows, his gaze skimmed over the view through the kitchen doorway. There, however, his attention screeched to an abrupt halt and doubled back to re-examine the brightly coloured, magnetised alphabet letters adorning the refrigerator door. Those letters spelled out a familiar name. A powerful sense of disbelief gripped him.

‘What do you call your child?’ Leonidas murmured thickly.

Maribel went rigid. ‘Why are you asking me that?’

‘And why are you avoiding answering me?’ Leonidas shot back at her.

A horrible cold knot twisted tight inside her stomach. It was not something she could hide, not something she could lie about, for her child’s name was a matter of public record. ‘Elias,’ she almost whispered, her voice dying on her at the worst possible moment.

It was the name of his grandfather and also one of his, and she pronounced it correctly in the Greek fashion, Ellee-us, not as someone English might have said it. Leonidas was so much shocked by that awareness that he was struck dumb, as he could not initially accept that what had only been the mildest of craziest suspicions might actually turn out to be true.

‘I always liked the name,’ Maribel told him in a last-ditch attempt at a cover-up.

‘Elias is a Pallis name. My grandfather had it and so also do I.’ Hard dark eyes rested on her with cold intensity. ‘Why did you choose to use it?’

Maribel felt as though an icy hand were closing round her vocal cords and chest and making it impossible for her to breathe properly. ‘Because I liked it,’ she said again, because she could think of nothing else to say.

Leonidas swung away from her, lean brown hands clenching into fists of frustration. He had no time for mysteries or games that were not of his own making. His chequered life had taught him many things, but patience was not one of them. He refused to believe what his brain was striving to tell him. He did not do unprotected sex. A risk-taker in business and sport and equally fearless in many other fields, he was cautious when it came to contraception, always choosing the safe approach. He did not want children. He had never wanted children. Even less had he ever wished to run the risk of giving some woman a literal gun to hold to his head and his wallet. For what else could an unplanned child be to a man of his extreme wealth? A serious liability and a complication he could do without. It was a mistake he had always thought he was too smart to make. But he was well aware that the night after Imogen’s funeral he had been in a very bizarre mood and he had abandoned his usual caution. More than once.

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