More than a Convenient Marriage?
BOOK 2 in the Makricosta Dynasty
It started with a signature
Rich, powerful, and with a beautiful wife to boot, it seems like Greek shipping magnate Gideon Vozaras has it all. But little does the world know his perfect life is all a façade…
After years of disguising her pain behind a flawless smile, untouchable heiress Adara Vozaras has reached breaking point. Her marriage, once held together by an undeniable passion, has become nothing more than a convenience.
But Gideon can’t afford the public scrutiny that a divorce will bring, and if there’s one thing his harsh past has taught him it’s how to fight dirty to keep what’s his…
More than a Convenient Marriage?
BOOK 2 in the
"Actually, Gideon, there's no reason for us to stay married."
— Adara, More Than A Convenient Marriage?
In No Longer Forbidden?, Nic is taken from his family and left at boarding school when he was six years old. The man he thought of as his father rejected him when he learned another man had fathered him.
In revealing this to Rowan, Nic mentions he had a sister and two brothers. Once I wrote that scene, I couldn’t help thinking about what kind of life those children would have had after Nic’s departure, growing up with a mother who has lost her son and a father brimming with bitterness.
Adara had a very difficult childhood and arranged her own marriage to escape it. I love how contained she is. It’s pure defensiveness and it makes for a very tough dynamic in breaking her down.
I adore Gideon. He’s one of my favorite heroes. He’s incredibly self-assured and completely undermined by Adara’s vulnerability. Theirs is a very tender story of recovery from a lifetime of pain and they really do deserve their happy ever after.
Nic and Rowan make an appearance in More Than A Convenient Marriage? as does Theo, the middle brother from Book Three, An Heir To Bind Them. Demitri, the youngest brother, comes along in Seduced Into The Greek’s World.
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More than a Convenient Marriage?
Gideon Vozaras used all his discipline to keep his foot light on the accelerator as he followed the rented car, forcing himself to maintain an unhurried pace along the narrow island road while he gripped the wheel in white-knuckled fists. When the other car parked outside the palatial gate of an estate, he pulled his own rental onto the shoulder a discreet distance back then stayed in his vehicle to see if the other driver noticed. As he cut the engine, the AC stopped. Heat enveloped him.
Welcome to Hell.
He hated Greece at the best of times and today was predicted to be one of the hottest on record. The air shimmered under the relentless sun and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. But the weather was barely worth noticing.
The gates of the estate were open. The other car could have driven straight through and up to the house, but stayed parked outside. He watched the female driver emerge and take a moment to consider the unguarded entrance. Her shoulders gave a lift and drop as though she screwed up her courage before she took action and walked in.
As she disappeared between imposing brick posts, Gideon left his own car and followed at a measured pace, gut knotting with every step. Outraged stung his veins.
He wanted to believe that wasn’t his wife, but there was no mistaking Adara Vozaras. Not for him. Maybe her tourist clothes of flip-flops, jeans chopped above the knees, a sleeveless top, and a pair of pigtails didn’t fit her usual professional élan, but he knew that backside. The tug it caused in his blood was indisputable. No other woman made an immediate sexual fire crackle awake in him like this. His relentless hunger for Adara had always been his cross to bear and today it was particularly unwelcome.
Spending the week with her mother. This ain’t Chatham, sweetheart.
He paused as he came alongside her car, glancing inside to see a map of the island on the passenger seat. A logo in its corner matched the hotel he’d been told she was booked into. And now she was advising her lover where to meet her? Walking bold as you please up his million-dollar drive to his billion-dollar house? The only clue to the estate’s ownership, the shields welded to the gate, were turned back against the brick wall that fenced the estate from the road.
Gideon’s entire body twitched with an urge to slip his reins of control. He was not a poor man. He’d got past envying other men their wealth once he’d acquired a level of his own. Nevertheless, a niggle of his dock-rat inferiority complex wormed to life as he took in what he could see of the shoreline property that rolled into a vineyard and orange grove. The towering stone house, three stories with turrets on each corner, belonged on an English estate, not a Greek island. It was twenty bedrooms minimum. If this was the owner’s weekend retreat, he was an obscenely rich man.
Not that Adara needed a rich man. She had grown up wanting for nothing. She had a fortune in her own right plus half of Gideon’s so what was the attraction here?
The insidious whisper formed a knot of betrayal behind his breastbone. Was this why she hadn’t shared that stacked body of hers with him for weeks? His hands curled into fists as he tried to swallow back his gall.
Dreading what he might see as he looked to the front door, he shifted for a full view. Adara had paused halfway to the house to speak with a gardener. A truck overflowing with landscaping tools was parked midway up the drive and workers were crawling like bees over the blooming gardens.
The sun seared the back of Gideon’s neck, strong enough to burn through his shirt to his shoulders, making sweat pool between his shoulder blades and tickle annoyingly down his spine.
They had arrived early this morning, Adara off the ferry, Gideon following in a power boat he was ‘test-piloting.’ She’d been driving a car she’d rented in Athens. His rental had been negotiated at the marina, but the island was small. It hadn’t surprised him when she’d driven right past the nose of his car as he had turned onto the main road.
No, the surprise had been the call thirty-six hours previously when their travel agent had dialed his mobile by mistake. Ever the survivor, Gideon had thought quickly. He’d mentioned that he’d like to surprise his wife by joining her and within seconds, Gideon had had all the details of Adara’s clandestine trip.
Well, not all. He didn’t know whom she was here to see or how she’d met her mystery man. Why was she doing this when he gave her everything she asked for?
He watched Adara’s slender neck bow in disappointment. Ha. The bastard wasn’t home. Grimly satisfied, Gideon folded his arms and waited for his wife.
Adara averted her gaze from the end of the drive where the sun was glancing off her rented car and piercing straight into her eyes.
The grounds of this estate were an infinitely more beautiful place to look anyway. Groomed lawn gently rolled into vineyards and a white sand beach gleamed below. The dew was off the grass, the air moving hotly up from the water with a tang of salt on it. Everything was brilliant and elevating.
Perhaps that was just her frame of mind, but it was a refreshing change from depression and anxiety and rejection. She paused to savor the first optimistic moment she’d had in weeks. Looking out on the horizon where Mediterranean blue met cloudless sky, she sighed in contentment. She hadn’t felt so relaxed since… Since ever. Early childhood maybe. Very early childhood.
And it wouldn’t last. A sick ache opened in her belly as she remembered Gideon. And his PA.
Not yet, she reminded herself. This week was hers. She was stealing it for herself and her brother. If he returned. The gardener had said a few days, but Adara’s research had put Nico on this island all week so he obviously changed his schedule rapidly. Hopefully he’d return as suddenly as he’d left.
Just call him, she cajoled herself, but after this many years she wasn’t sure he’d know who she was or want to hear from her. He’d never picked up the telephone himself. If he refused to speak to her, well, a throb of hurt pulsed in her throat as she contemplated that. She swallowed it back. She just wanted to see him, look into his eyes and learn why he’d never come home or spoken to her or her younger brothers again.
Another cleansing breath, but this one a little more troubled as she turned toward her car again. She was crestfallen Nico wasn’t here, not that she’d meant to come like this to his house, first thing on arrival, but her room at the hotel hadn’t been ready. On impulse she’d decided to at least find the estate and then the gates had been open and she’d been drawn in. Now she had to wait—
“Loverboy not home?”
The familiar male voice stopped her heart and jerked her gaze up from the chevron pattern in the cobblestones to the magnificence that was her husband. Swift, fierce attraction sliced through her, sharp and disarming as always.
Not a day passed that she didn’t wonder how she’d landed such a smoking hot man. He was shamelessly handsome, his features even and just hard enough to be undeniably masculine. He rarely smiled, but he didn’t have to charm when his sophistication and intelligence commanded such respect. The sheer physical presence of him quieted a room. She always thought of him as a purebred stallion, outwardly still and disciplined, but with an invisible energy and power that warned he could explode any second.
Don’t overlook resourceful, she thought acridly. How else had he turned up half a world from where she’d thought he would be when she’d taken pains to keep her whereabouts strictly confidential?
Fortunately, Adara had a lot of experience hiding visceral reactions like instant animal attraction and guilty alarm. She kept her sunglasses on and willed her pulse to slow, keeping her limbs loose and her body language unreadable.
“What are you doing here?” she asked with a composed lift of her chin. “Lexi said you would be in Chile.” Lexi’s tone still grated, so proprietary over Gideon’s schedule, so pitying as she had looked upon the ignorant wife who not only failed as a woman biologically, but no longer interested her husband sexually. Adara had wanted to erase the woman’s superior smile with a swipe of her manicured nails.
“Let’s turn that question around, shall we?” Gideon strolled with deadly negligence around the front of her car.
Adara had never been afraid of him, not physically, not like she had been of her father, but somewhere along the line Gideon had developed the power to hurt her with a look or a word, without even trying, and that scared her. She steeled herself against him, but her nerves fried with the urge to flee.
She made herself stand her ground and find the reliable armor of civility she’d grown as self-defense long ago. It had always served her well in her dealings with this man, allowing her to engage with him even intimately without losing herself. Still, she wanted higher, thicker invisible walls. Her reasons for coming to Greece were too private to share, carrying as they did such a heavy risk of rejection. That’s why she hadn’t told him or anyone else where she was going. Having him turn up like this put her on edge, internally wind-milling her arms as she tried to hang on to unaffected nonchalance.
“I’m here on personal business,” she said in a dismissive tone that didn’t invite discussion.
He, in turn, should have given her his polite nod of acknowledgment that always drove home how supremely indifferent he was to what happened in her world. It might hurt a little, but far better to have her trials and triumphs disregarded than dissected and diminished.
While she, as was her habit, wouldn’t bother repeating a question he had ignored, even though she really did want to know how and why he’d followed her.
No use changing tactics now, she thought. With a little adherence to form they could end this relationship as dispassionately as they’d started it.
That gave her quite a pang and oddly, even though his body language was as neutral as always, and his expression remained impassive as he squinted against the brightness of the day, she again had the sense of that coiled force drawing tighter inside him. When he spoke, his words were even, yet she sensed an underlying ferocity.
“I can see how personal it is. Who is he?”
Her heart gave a kick. Gideon rarely got angry and even more rarely showed it. He certainly never directed dark energy at her, but his accusation made her unaccountably defensive.
She told herself not to let his jab pierce her shell, but his charge was a shock and she couldn’t believe his gall. The man was banging his secretary in the most clichéd of affairs yet he had the nerve to dog her all the way to Greece to accuse her of cheating?
Fortunately, she knew from experience you didn’t provoke a man in a temper. Hiding her indignation behind cool disdain, she calmly corrected his assumption. “He has a wife and new baby—”
Gideon’s drawled sarcasm cut her off. “Cheating on one spouse wasn’t enough, you have to go for two and ruin the life of a child into the mix?”
Since when do you care about children?
She bit back the question, but a fierce burn flared behind her eyes, completely unwanted right now when she needed to keep her head. The back of her throat stung, making her voice thick. She hoped he’d put it down to ire, not heartbreak.
“As I said, Lexi assured me you had appointments in Chile. ‘We will be flying into Valparaiso,’ she told me. ‘We will be staying in the family suite at the Makricosta Grand.’” Adara impassively pronounced what Lexi hadn’t said, but what had been in the woman’s eyes and supercilious smile. “‘We will be wrecking your bed and calling your staff for breakfast in the morning.’ Who is cheating on who?”
She was proud of her aloof delivery, but her underlying resentment was still more emotion than she’d ever dared reveal around him. She couldn’t help it. His adultery was a blow she hadn’t seen coming and she was always on guard for unearned strikes. Always. Somehow she’d convinced herself she could trust him and if she was angry with anyone, it was herself for being so blindly oblivious. She was having a hard time hiding that she was trembling she was so furious, but she ground her teeth and willed her muscles to let go of the tension and her blood to stop boiling.
He didn’t react. If she fought a daily battle to keep her emotions in reserve, his inner thoughts and feelings were downright non-existent. His voice was crisp and glacial when as he said, “Lexi did not say that because it’s not true. And why would you care if she did? We aren’t wrecking any beds, are we?”
Ask me why, she wanted to charge, but the words and the reason stayed bottled so deep and hard inside her she couldn’t speak.
Grief threatened to overtake her then. Hopelessness crept in and defeat struck like a gong. It sent an arctic chill into her, blessed ice that let her freeze out the pain and ignore the humiliation. She wanted it all to go away.
“I want a divorce,” she stated, heart throbbing in her throat.
For a second, the world stood still. She wasn’t sure if she’d actually said it aloud and he didn’t move, as though he either hadn’t heard, or couldn’t comprehend.
Then he drew in a long, sharp inhale. His shoulders pulled back and he stood taller.
Oh God. Everything in her screamed, Retreat. She ducked her head and circled him, aiming for her car door.
He put out a hand and her blood gave a betraying leap. She quickly tamped down the hunger and yearning, embracing hatred instead.
“Don’t think for a minute I’ll let you touch me,” she warned in a voice that grated.
“Right. Touching is off limits. I keep forgetting.”
A stab of compunction, of incredible sadness and longing to be understood, went through her. Gideon was becoming so good at pressing on the bruises closest to her soul and all he had to do was speak the truth.
“Goodbye, Gideon.” Without looking at him again, she threw herself into her car and pulled away.
The ferry was gone so Adara couldn’t leave the island. She drove through a blur of goat-tracked hills and tree lined boulevards. Expansive olive branches cast rippling shadows across bobbing heads of yellow and purple wildflowers between scrupulously groomed estates and bleached white mansions. When she happened on a lookout, she quickly parked and tried to walk off her trembles.
She’d done it. She’d asked for a divorce.
The word cleaved her in two. She didn’t want her marriage to be over. It wasn’t just the failure it represented. Gideon was her husband. She wasn’t a possessive person. She tried not to get too attached to anything or anyone, but until his affair had come to light, she had believed her claim on him was incontestable. That had meant something to her. She had never been allowed to have anything. Not the job she wanted, not the money in her trust fund, not the family she had briefly had as a child or the one she longed for as an adult.
Gideon was a prize coveted by every woman around her. Being his wife had given her a deep sense of pride, but he’d gone behind her back and even managed to make her writhe with self-blame that it was her fault.
She hadn’t made love with him in weeks. It was true. She’d taken care of his needs, though. When he was home. Did he realize he hadn’t been home for more than one night at a stretch in months?
Pacing between guilt and virtue, she couldn’t escape the position she’d put herself in. Her marriage was over. The marriage she had arranged so her father would stop trying to sell her off to bullies like himself.
Her heart compressed under the weight of remembering how she’d taken such care to ask Gideon for only what seemed reasonable to expect from a marriage: respect and fidelity. That’s all. She hadn’t asked for love. She barely believed in it, not when her mother still loved the man who had abused her and her children, raising his hand often enough Adara flinched just thinking about it.
No, Adara had been as practical and realistic as she could be—strengths she’d honed razor sharp out of necessity. She had found a man whose wealth was on a level with her father’s fortune. She had picked one who exhibited incredible control over his emotions, trying to avoid spending her adult life ducking outbursts and negotiating emotional landmines. She had accommodated Gideon in every way, from the very fair prenup to learning how to please him in bed. She had never asked for romance or signs of affections, not even flowers when she was in hospital recovering from a miscarriage.
Her hand went instinctively to her empty womb. After the first one, she’d tried not to bother him much at all, informing him without involving him, not even telling him about the last one. Her entire being pulsated like an open wound as she recalled the silent weeks of waiting and hoping, then the first stain of blood and the painful, isolated hours that had followed.
While Gideon had been in Barcelona, faithful bitch Lexi at his side.
She had learned nothing from her mother, Adara realized with a spasm in her chest. Being complacent didn’t earn you anything but a cheating husband. Her marriage was over and it left a jagged burn in her like a bolt of lightning was stuck inside her, buzzing and shorting and trying to escape.
A new life awaited though, unfurling like a rolled carpet before her. She made herself look at it, standing tall under the challenge, extending her spine to its fullest. She concentrated on hardening her resolve, staring with determination across the vista of scalloped waves to distant islands formed from granite. That’s what she was now, alone, but strong and rooted.
She’d look for a new home while she was here, she decided. Greece had always been a place where she’d felt hopeful and happy. Her new life started today. Now.
After discovering his room wasn’t ready, Gideon went to the patio restaurant attached to the hotel and ordered a beer. He took care of one piece of pressing business on his mobile before he sat back and brooded on what had happened with Adara.
He had never cheated on her.
But for the last year he had spent more time with his PA than his wife.
Adara had known this would be a brutal year though. They both had. Several large projects were coming on line at once. He ought to be in Valparaiso right now, opening his new terminal there. It was the ticking off of another item on their Five Year Plan, something they had mapped out in the first months of their marriage. That plan was pulling them in different directions, her father’s death last year and her mother’s sinking health not helping. They were rarely in the same room let alone the same bed, so to be fair it wasn’t strictly her fault they weren’t tearing up the sheets.
And there had been Lexi, guarding his time so carefully and keeping him on schedule, mentioning that her latest relationship had fallen apart because she was traveling so much, offering with artless innocence to stay in his suite with him so she could be available at any hour.
She had been offering all right, and perhaps he hadn’t outright encouraged or accepted, but he was guilty of keeping his options open. Abstinence, or more specifically, Adara’s avoidance of wholehearted lovemaking, had made him restless and dissatisfied. He’d begun thinking Adara wouldn’t care if he had an affair. She was getting everything she wanted from this marriage: her position as CEO of her father’s hotel chain, a husband who kept all the dates she put in his calendar. The penthouse in Manhattan and by the end of the year, a newly built mansion in the Hamptons.
While he’d ceased getting the primary thing he wanted out of their marriage: her.
So he had looked at his alternatives. The fact was though, as easy as Lexi would be, as physically attractive as she was, he wasn’t interested in her. She was too much of an opportunist. She’d obviously read into his ‘I’ll think about it’ response enough to imagine she had a claim on him.
That couldn’t be what had precipitated Adara running here to Greece and another man, though. The Valparaiso arrangements had only been finalized recently. Adara wasn’t that impulsive. She would have been thinking about this for a long time before taking action.
His inner core burned. A scrapper in his youth, Gideon had found other ways to channel his aggression when he’d reinvented himself as a cool-headed executive, but the basic street-life survival skill of fighting to keep what was his had never left him. Every territorial instinct he possessed was aroused by her deceit and the threat it represented to all he’d gained.
The sound of a checked footstep and a barely audible gasp lifted his gaze. He took a hit of sexual energy like he’d swallowed two hundred proof whiskey while Adara lost a few shades of color behind her sunglasses. Because she could read the barely contained fury in him? Or because she was still feeling guilty at being caught out?
She gathered herself to flee, but before she could pivot away, he rose with a menacing scrape of his chair leg on the paving stones. Drawing out the chair off the corner of his table, he kept a steady gaze on her to indicate he would come after her if she chose to run. He wanted to know everything about the man who thought he could steal from him.
So he could quietly destroy him.
“The rooms aren’t ready,” he told her.
“So they’ve just informed me again.” Adara’s mouth firmed to a resistant angle, but she moved forward. If there was one thing he could say about her, it was that she wasn’t a coward. She met confrontation with a quiet dignity that disconcerted him every time, somehow making him feel like an executioner of an innocent even though he’d never so much as raised his voice at her.
She’d never given him reason to.
With the collected poise he found both admirable and frustrating, she set her pocketbook to the side and lowered herself gracefully into the chair he held. He had learned early that passionate women were scene-makers and he didn’t care to draw attention to himself. Adara had been a wallflower with a ton of potential, blooming with subtle brilliance as they had made their mark on the social scene in New York, London, and Athens, always keeping things understated.
Which meant she didn’t wear short-shorts or low-cut tops, but the way her denim cut-offs clung all the way down her toned thighs and the way the crisp cotton of her loose shirt angled over the thrust of her firm breasts was erotic in its own way.
Unwanted male hunger paced with purpose inside him. How could he still want her? He was furious with her.
Without removing her sunglasses or even looking at him as he took his seat, she opened the menu he’d been given. She didn’t put it down until the server arrived, then ordered a souvlaki with salad and a glass of the house white.
“The same,” Gideon said dismissively.
“You won’t speak Greek even to a native in his own country?” Adara murmured in an askance tone as the man walked away.
“Did I use English? I didn’t notice,” Gideon lied and sensed her gaze staying on him even though she didn’t challenge his assertion. Another thing he could count on with his wife: she never pushed for answers he wouldn’t give.
Nevertheless, he found himself waiting for her to speak, willing her almost, which wasn’t like him. He liked their quiet meals that didn’t beleaguer him with small talk.
He wasn’t waiting for, How’s the weather, however. He wanted answers.
Her attention lifted to the greenery forming the canopy above them, providing shade against the persistent sun. Blue pots of pink flowers and feathery palms offered a privacy barrier between their table and the empty one next to them. A colorful mosaic on the exterior wall of the restaurant held her attention for a very long time.
He realized she didn’t intend to speak at all.
“Adara,” he said with quiet warning.
“Yes?” Her voice was steady and thick with calm reason, but he could see her pulse racing in her throat.
She wasn’t comfortable and that was a much needed satisfaction for him since he was having a hard time keeping his balance. Maybe the comfortable routine of their marriage had grown a bit stale for both of them, but that didn’t mean you threw it away and ran off to meet another man. None of this gelled with the woman he’d always seen as ethical, cool-headed, and highly averse to risk.
“Tell me why,” he ground out, resenting the instability of this storm she’d thrown him into and the fact he wasn’t weathering it up to his usual standard.
Her mouth pursed in distaste. “From the outset I made it clear that I would rather be divorced than put up with infidelity.”
“And yet you snuck away to have an affair,” he charged, angry because he’d been blindsided.
“That’s not—” A convulsive flinch contracted her features, half hidden by her bug-eyed glasses, but the flash of great pain was unmistakable before she smoothed her expression and tone, appearing unaffected in a familiar way that he suddenly realized was completely fake.
His fury shorted out into confusion. What else did she hide behind that serene expression of hers?
“I’m not having an affair,” she said without inflection.
“No?” Gideon pressed, sitting forward, more disturbed by his stunning insight and her revelation of deep emotion than by her claim. Her anguish lifted a host of unexpected feelings in him. It roused an immediate masculine need in him to shield and protect. Something like concern or threat roiled in him, but not combat ready threat. Something he wasn’t sure how to interpret. Adara was like him, unaffected by life. If something was piercing her shell, it had to be bad and that filled him with apprehensive tension.
“Who did you come to see then?” he prodded, unconsciously bracing.
A slight hesitation, then, with her chin still tucked into her neck, she admitted, “My brother.”
His tension bled away in a drain of caustic disappointment. As he fell back in his chair, he laced his Greek endearment with sarcasm. “Nice try, matia mou. Your brothers don’t earn enough to build a castle like the one we saw today.”
Her head came up and her shoulders went back. With the no nonsense civility he so valued in her, she removed her sunglasses, folded the arms and set them beside her pocket book before looking him in the eye.
The golden brown irises were practically a stranger’s, he realized with a kick of unease. When was the last time she’d looked right at him, he wondered distantly, while at the same time feeling the tightening inside him that drew on the eye contact as a sexual signal. Like the rest of her, her eyes were understated, yet surprisingly attractive when a man took the time to notice. Almond-shaped. Clear. Flecked with sparks of heat.
“I’m referring to my older brother.”
Her words left a discordant ring in his ears, dragging him from the dangerous precipice of falling into her eyes.
The server brought their wine. Gideon kept his attention fully focused on Adara’s composed expression and contentiously set chin.
“You’re the eldest,” he stated.
She only lifted her wine to sip while a hollow shadow drifted behind her gaze, giving him a thump of uncertainty even though he knew she only had two brothers, both younger than her twenty-eight. One was an anti-social accountant who traveled the circuit of their father’s hotel chain auditing ledgers, the other a hellion with a taste for big engines and fast women, chasing skirt the way their father had.
Given her father’s peccadilloes, he shouldn’t be surprised a half-sibling had turned up, but older? It didn’t make sense and he wasn’t ready to let go of his suspicions about an affair.
“How did you find out about him? Was there something in the estate papers after your father passed?”
“I’ve always known about him.” She set aside her wine with a frown of distaste. “I think that’s off.”
“Always?” Gideon repeated. “You’ve never mentioned him.”
“We don’t talk, do we?” Golden orbs came back, charged with electric energy that made him jolt as though she’d touched a cattle prod to his internal organs.
No. They didn’t talk. He preferred it that way.
Their server arrived with their meals. Gideon asked for Adara’s wine to be changed out. With much bowing and apologies, a fresh glass was produced. Adara tried it and stated it was fine.
As the server walked away, Adara set down her glass with another grimace.
“Still no good?” Gideon tried it. It was fine, perhaps not as dry as she usually liked, but he asked, “Try again?”
“No. I feel foolish that you sent back the first one.”
That was so like her to not want to make a fuss, but he considered calling back the waiter all the same. Stating that they didn’t talk was an acknowledgment of an elephant. It was the first knock on a door he didn’t want opened.
At the same time, he wanted to know more about this supposed brother of hers. Sharing was a two-way street though and hypocrite that he was, he’d prefer backstory flow only one way. He glanced at the offending wine, ready to seize it as an excuse to keep things inconsequential between them.
And yet, as Adara picked up her fork and hovered it over her rice, she gave him an impression of being utterly without hope. Forlorn. The hairs rose all over his body as he picked up signals of sadness that he’d never caught an inkling of before.
“Do you want to talk about him?” he asked carefully.
She lifted her shoulder. “I’ve never been allowed to before so I don’t suppose one more day of silence matters.” It was her conciliatory tone, the one that put everything right and allowed them to move past the slightest hiccup in their marriage.
What marriage? She wanted a divorce, he reminded himself.
Instinct warned him this was dangerous ground, but he also sensed he’d never have another chance to understand if he didn’t seize this one. “Who wouldn’t let you talk about him?” he asked gruffly.
A swift glance gave him the answer. Her father, of course. He’d been a hard man of strong opinions and ancient views. His daughter could run a household, but her husband would control the hotels. Her share of the family fortune wasn’t hers to squander as her brothers might, but left in a trust doled out by tightly worded language, the bulk of the money to be held for her children. The male ones.
Gideon frowned, refusing to let himself be sidetracked by the painful subject of heirs.
“I assume this brother was the product of an affair? Something your father didn’t want to be reminded of?”
“He was my mother’s indiscretion.” Adara frowned at her plate, her voice very soft, her expression disturbingly young and bewildered. “He lived with us until he left for school.” She lifted anxious eyes, words pouring out of her in a rush like she’d held onto them for decades. “My aunt explained years later that my father didn’t know at first that Nico wasn’t his. When he found out, he had him sent to boarding school. It was awful. That’s all they’d tell me, that he’d gone to school. I knew I was starting the next year and I was terrified I’d be forgotten the same way.”
A stitch pulled in his chest. His childhood predisposed him to hate the thought of any child frightened by anything. He felt her confusion and fear at losing her brother mixed with the terror of not knowing what would happen to her own self. It made him nauseous.
Her expression eased into something poignant. “But then we saw him at my Aunt’s in Katarini over the summer. He was fine. He told me about his school and I couldn’t wait to go myself, to be away from the angry man my father had turned into, make new friends…” Her gaze faded to somewhere in the distance. “But I was sent to day school in New York and we only saw Nico a few more times after that. One day I asked if we would see him and my father—”
Gideon wouldn’t have known what she failed to say aloud if he hadn’t been watching her so intently, reading her lips because he could barely hear her. Her tongue touched the corner of her mouth where a hairline scar was sometimes visible between her morning shower and her daily application of makeup. She’d told him it had come from a childhood mishap.
A wrecking ball hit him in the middle of his chest. “He hit you?”
Her silence and embarrassed bite of her lip spoke volumes.
His torso felt like it split open and his teeth clenched so hard he thought they’d crack. His scalp prickled and his blood turned to battery acid.
“I didn’t ask again,” she said in her quick, sweep it under the rug way. “I didn’t let the boys say his name. I let it go. I learned to let a lot of things go.”
Like equal rights. Like bad decisions with the hotel chain that were only now being repaired after her father was dead. Like the fact that her brothers were still boys because they’d been raised by a child: her.
Gideon had seen the dysfunction, the alcoholic mother and the overbearing father, the youngest son who earned his father’s criticism, and the older children who hadn’t but received plenty of it anyway. Adara had always managed the volatile dynamics with equanimity so Gideon hadn’t tried to stir up change. If he had suspected physical abuse was the underbelly of it all…
His fist clenched. “You should have told me,” he said.
Another slicing glance repeated the obvious. We don’t talk.
His guts turned to water. No, they didn’t and because of that he’d let her down. If there was one thing his wife had never asked of Gideon, but that he’d regarded as his sacred duty, it was his responsibility to protect her. Adara was average height and kept herself toned and in good shape, but she was undeniably female. Her bones were smaller, her muscles not as thick as a man’s. She was preordained by nature to be vulnerable to a male’s greater strength. Given what had happened to his own mother, he’d lay down his life for any woman, especially one who depended on him.
“At any time since I’ve known you,” he forced himself to ask, “Did he—”
“No,” she answered bluntly, but her tone was tired. “I learned, Gideon.”
It wasn’t any sort of comfort.
How had he not seen this? He’d always assumed she was reserved because she was raised by strict parents. She was ambitious and focused on material gain because most immigrant families to America were. He was.
And compliant? Well, it was just her nature.
But no, it was because she had been abused.
He couldn’t help staring at her, reeling in disbelief. Not disbelieving she had been mistreated, but that he hadn’t known. What else did he not know about her, he wondered uneasily.
Adara forced herself to eat as though nothing was wrong, even though Gideon’s x-ray stare made her so nervous she felt like her bones were developing radiation blisters. Why had she told him? And why did it upset her that he knew what she’d taken such pains to hide from the entire world? She had nothing to be ashamed of. Her father’s abuse wasn’t her fault.
Sharing her past made her squirm all the same. It was such a dark secret. So close to the heart. Shameful because she had never taken action against her father, trying instead to do everything in her power to keep what remained of her family in tact. And she’d been so young.
Her eyebrows were trying to pull into a worried frown. She habitually noted the tension and concentrated on relaxing her facial muscles, hiding her turmoil. Taking a subtle breath, she begged the constriction in her throat to ease.
“He went by his father’s name,” she told Gideon, taking up the subject of her brother as the less volatile one and using it to distract his intense focus from her. “I found his blogs at one point, but since he had never tried to contact us I didn’t know if he’d want to hear from me. I couldn’t reach out anyway,” she dismissed with a shrug. “Not while my father was alive.” She had feared, quite genuinely, that he would kill her. “But as soon as Papa died, I started thinking about coming here.”
“But never told me.”
She flinched, always sensitive to censure.
Her reaction earned a short sigh.
She wasn’t going to state the obvious again though, and it wasn’t like she was laying blame. The fact they didn’t talk was as much her fault as his, she knew that. Talking about personal things was difficult for her. She’d grown up in silence, never acknowledging the unpleasant, always avoiding points of conflict so they didn’t escalate into physical altercations. Out of self-defense she had turned into a thinker who never revealed what she wanted until she had pondered the best approach and was sure she could get it without raising waves.
“I didn’t tell anyone I was coming here, not even my brothers. I didn’t want anyone talking me out of it.” It was a thin line in the sand. She wouldn’t be persuaded to leave until she’d seen her brother. She needed Gideon to recognize that.
He didn’t argue and they finished their meals with a thick cloud of tension between them. The bouzouki music from the speakers sounded overly loud as sultry heat layered the hot air into claustrophobic blankets around them.
The minute the server removed their plates, Adara stood and gathered her things, grasping at a chance to draw a full breath. “Thank you for lunch. Goodbye, Gideon.”
His hand snaked out to fasten around her wrist.
Her heart gave a thump, his touch always making her pulse leap. She glared at the strong, sun-browned fingers. It wasn’t a hard grip. It was warm and familiar and she hated herself for liking it. That gave her the strength to say what she had to.
“Will you contact Halbert or shall I?” She ignored the spear of anguish that pierced her as she mentioned their lawyer’s name.
“I fired Lexi.”
“Really.” She gave her best attempt at blithe lack of interest, but her arteries constricted so each beat of her heart was like a hammer blow inside her.
He shifted his grip ever so slightly, lining up his fingertips on her wrist, no doubt able to feel the way her pulse became ferocious and strong. Not that he gave anything away. His fiercely handsome features were as watchful as a predator’s, his eyes hidden behind his mirrored aviators.
“She had no right to speak to you as she did.” His assertive tone came across as almost protective. “Implying things that weren’t true. I haven’t cheated on you, Adara. There’s no reason for us to divorce.”
As a spasm of agitated panic ran through her, Adara realized she’d grasped Lexi as a timely excuse. Thoughts of divorce had been floating through her mind for weeks, maybe even from the day she had realized she was pregnant again. If I lose this one, I’ll leave him and never have to go through this again.
“Actually, Gideon,” she said with a jagged edge to her hushed voice. “There’s no reason for us to stay married. Let me go, please.”