More Than a Convenient Marriage?(3)By: Dani Collins
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 coolheaded 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 purse 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 cutoffs 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, coolheaded and highly averse to risk.
“Tell me why.” He ground out the words, 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 sneaked 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 purse 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 years. One was an antisocial 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?”