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'It's like a great big sail, Mama,' Theo said in awe, staring up at the most famous building in DubaiBurj Al Arab, the only seven-star hotel in the world.
Tina Savalas smiled at her beautiful five-year-old son. 'Yes, it's meant to look like that.'
Built on a man-made island surrounded by the sea, the huge white glittering structure had all the glorious elegance of a sail billowed by the wind. Tina was looking forward to seeing as much of its interior as she could. Her sister, Cassandra, had declared it absolutely fabulous, a must-see on their two-day stopover before flying on to Athens.
Actually staying in the hotel was way too expensivethousands of dollars a nightwhich was fine for the super-rich to whom the cost was totally irrelevant. People like Theo's father. No doubt he had occupied one of the luxury suites with butler on his way back to Greece from Australia, having put his charming episode with her behind him.
Tina shut down on the bitter thought. Being left pregnant by Ari Zavros was her own stupid fault. She'd been a completely blind naive fool to have believed he was as much in love with her as she was with him. Sheer fantasy land. Besides, how could she regret having Theo? He was the most adorable little boy, and from time to time, knowing Ari was missing out on his son gave her considerable secret satisfaction.
Their taxi stopped at the checkpoint gates which prevented anyone but paying guests from proceeding to the hotel. Her mother produced the necessary paperwork, showing confirmation that they had booked for the early afternoon tea session. Even that was costing them one hundred and seventy dollars each, but they had decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience they should indulge in.
The security man waved them on and the taxi drove slowly over the bridge which led to the hotel entrance, allowing them time to take in the whole amazing setting.
'Look, Mama, a camel!' Theo cried, delighted at recognising the animal standing on a side lawn. 'Yes, but not a real one, Theo. It's a statue.' 'Can I sit on it?'
'We'll ask if you can, but later, when we're leaving.'
'And take a photo of me on it so I can show my friends,' he pressed eagerly.
'I'm sure we'll have plenty of great photos to show from this trip,' Tina assured him.
They alighted from the taxi and were welcomed into the grand lobby of the hotel which was so incredibly opulent, photographs couldn't possibly capture all of its utter magnificence. They simply stood and stared upwards at the huge gold columns supporting the first few tiers of inner balconies of too many floors to count, the rows of their scalloped ceilings graduating from midnight-blue to aqua and green and gold at the top with lots of little spotlights embedded in them, twinkling like stars.
When they finally lowered their heads, right in front of them and dividing two sets of escalators, was a wonderful cascade of dancing fountains, each level repeating the same range of colours in the tower of ceilings. The escalators were flanked by side-walls which were gigantic aquariums where hosts of gorgeous tropical fish darted and glided around the underwater rocks and foliage.
'Oh, look at the fish, Mama!' Theo cried, instantly entranced by them.
'This truly is amazing,' Tina's mother murmured in awe. 'Your father always liked the architecture of the old world. He thought nothing could beat the palaces and the cathedrals that were built in the past, but this is absolutely splendid in its own way. I wish he was here to see it.'
He had died a year ago and her mother still wore black in mourning. Tina missed him, too. Despite his disappointment in hergetting pregnant to a man who was not interested in partnering her for lifehe had given her the support she'd needed and been a marvellous grandfather to Theo, proud that she'd named her son after him.
It was a terrible shame that he hadn't lived long enough to see Cassandra married. Her older sister had done everything right; made a success of her modelling career without the slightest taint of scandal in her private life, fell in love with a Greek photographerthe right nationalitywho wanted their wedding to take place on Santorini, the most romantic Greek island of all. He would have been bursting with pride, walking Cassandra down the aisle next week, his good girl.
But at least the bad girl had given him the pleasure of having a little boy in the family. Having only two daughters and no son had been another disappointment to her father. Tina told herself she had made up for her mistake with Theo. And she'd been on hand to take over the management of his restaurant, doing everything his way when he'd become too ill to do it all himself. He'd called her a good girl then.
Yet while Tina thought she had redeemed herself in her father's eyes, she didn't feel good inside. Not since Ari Zavros had taken all that she was and walked away from her as though she was nothing. The sense of being totally crushed had never gone away. Theo held her together. He made life worth living. And there were things to enjoy, like this hotel with all its splendours.
There was another glorious fountain at the top of the escalator. They were escorted down a corridor to the elevator which would whiz them up to the SkyView Bar on the twenty-seventh floor. They walked over a large circle of mosaic tiles, a blazing sun at its centre, over a carpet shaped like a fish in red and gold. Her mother pointed out vases of tightly clustered red roses, dozens of them in each perfect pompom-like arrangement. The doors of the elevator were patterned in blue and goldeverything unbelievably rich.
On arriving in the shimmering gold lobby of the bar, they were welcomed again and escorted into the dining area where the decor was a stunning blue and green, the ceiling designed like waves with white crests. They were seated in comfortable armchairs at a table by a window which gave a fantastic view of the city of Dubai and the man-made island of Palm Jumeirah where the very wealthy owned mansions with sand and sea frontage.
A whole world away from her life in every sense, Tina thought, but she was having a little taste of it today, smiling at the waiter who handed them a menu listing dozens of varieties of tea from which they could choose, as many different ones as they liked to try throughout the afternoon. He poured them glasses of champagne to go with their first course which was a mix of fresh berries with cream. Tina didn't know how she was going to get through all the marvellous food listedprobably notbut she was determined on enjoying all she could.
Her mother was smiling.
Theo was wide-eyed at the view.
This was a good day.
Ari Zavros was bored. It had been a mistake to invite Felicity Fullbright on this trip to Dubai with him, though it had certainly proved he couldn't bear to have her as a full-time partner. She had a habit of notching up experiences as though she had a bucket list that had to be filled. Like having to do afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab hotel.
'I've done afternoon tea at The Ritz and The Dorchester in London, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and at The Empress on Vancouver Island. I can't miss out on this one, Ari,' she had insisted. 'The sheikhs are mostly educated in England, aren't they? They probably do it better than the English.'
No relaxing in between his business talks on the Palm Jumeirah development. They had to visit the indoor ski slope, Atlantis underwater, and of course the gold souks where she had clearly expected him to buy her whatever she fancied. She was not content with just his company and he was sick to death of hers.
The only bright side of Felicity Fullbright was she did shut up in bed where she used her mouth in many pleasurable ways. Which had swayed him into asking her to accompany him on this trip. However, the hope that she might be compatible with him on other grounds was now comprehensively smashed. The good did not balance out the bad and he'd be glad to be rid of her tomorrow.
Once they flew into Athens he would pack her off back to London. No way was he going to invite her to his cousin's wedding on Santorini. His father could rant and rave as much as he liked about its being time for Ari to shed his bachelor life. Marriage to the Fullbright heiress was not going to happen.
There had to be someone somewhere he could tolerate as his wife. He just had to keep looking and assessing whether a marriage would work well enough. His father was right. It was time to start his own family. He did want children, always enjoying the time he spent with his nephews. However, finding the right woman to partner him in parenthood was not proving easy.
Being head over heels in love like his cousin, George, was not a requirement. In fact, having been scorched by totally mindless passion in his youth, Ari had never wanted to feel so possessed by a woman again. He had a cast-iron shield up against being sucked into any blindly driven emotional involvement. A relationship either satisfied him on enough levels to be happily viable or it didn'ta matter of completely rational judgement.
His dissatisfaction with Felicity was growing by the minute. Right now she was testing his patience, taking millions of photographs of the inside of the hotel. It wasn't enough to simply look and enjoy, share the visual pleasure of it with him. Using the camera to the nth degree was more important, taking pictures that she would sift through endlessly and discard most of them. Another habit he hated. He liked to live in the moment.
Finally, finally, they got in the elevator and within minutes were being led to their window table in the SkyView Bar. But did Felicity sit down and enjoy the view? No, the situation wasn't perfect for her.
'Ari, I don't like this table,' she whispered, grasping his arm to stop him from sitting down.
'What's wrong with it?' he asked tersely, barely containing his exasperation with her constant self-centred demands.
She nodded and rolled her eyes, indicating the next table along. 'I don't want to be next to a child. He'll probably play up and spoil our time here.'
Ari looked at the small family group that Felicity didn't like. A young boyfive or six years oldstood at the window, staring down at the wave-shaped Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Seated beside the child on one side was a very handsome womanmarvellous facial bones like Sophia Loren'sdark wavy hair unashamedly going grey, probably the boy's grandmother. On the other side with her back turned to him was another woman, black hair cropped short in a modern style, undoubtedly younger, a slimmer figure, and almost certainly the boy's mother.
'He won't spoil the food or the tea, Felicity, and if you haven't noticed, all the other tables are taken.'
They'd been late arriving, even later because of feeding her camera in the lobby. Having to wait for Felicity to be satisfied with whatever she wanted was testing his temper to an almost intolerable level.
She placed a pleading hand on his arm, her big blue eyes promising a reward if he indulged her. 'But I'm sure if you ask, something better could be arranged.'