‘So you realised who my visitor was—?’
‘Not initially, but my goodness I should’ve done!’ Liz exclaimed feelingly. ‘You’ve talked about Angelos Petronides so often—
‘Have I?’ Maxie breathed with shaken unease, her cheeks burning.
Liz smiled. ‘All the time you were criticising him and complaining about his behaviour, I could sense how attracted you were to him...’
A hoarse laugh erupted from Maxie’s dry throat ‘I wish you’d warned me. It hit me smack in the face when I wasn’t prepared for it. Stupid, wretched chemistry, and I never even realised... I feel such an idiot now!’ Eyes prickling with tears of reaction, she studied the table, struggling to reinstate her usual control. ‘And I’ve got the most banging headache s-starting up...’
‘Of course you have,’ Liz murmured soothingly. ‘I’ve never heard you yelling at the top of your voice before.’
‘But then I have never hated anyone so much in my life as I hate Angelos Petronides,’ Maxie confessed shakily. ‘I wanted to kill him, Liz...I really wanted to kill him! Now I’m in debt to him instead of Leland—’
‘I did hear him say that you didn’t have to worry about that.’
Maxie’s eyes flashed. ‘If it takes me until I’m ninety, I’ll pay him back every penny!’
‘He may have hurt your pride, Maxie...but he was most emphatic about not wanting repayment. He sounded sincere to me, and surely you have to give him some credit for his generosity whether you choose to regard it as a debt or otherwise?’ Liz reasoned with an air of frowning confusion. ‘The man has to be seriously interested in you to make such a big gesture on your behalf—’
‘Liz—’ Maxie broke in with a pained half-smile.
‘Do you think he might turn out to be the marrying kind?’ the older woman continued with a sudden teasing smile.
That outrageous question made Maxie’s jaw drop. ‘Liz, for heaven’s sake...are you nuts?’ she gasped. ‘What put that in your mind?’
‘Your godmother’s will—’
‘Oh, that...forget that, Liz. That’s yesterday’s news. Believe me when I say that Angelos Petronides was not thinking along the lines of anything as...well, anything as lasting as marriage.’ Mindful of her audience, Maxie chose her words carefully and suppressed a sigh over the older woman’s romantic imagination. ‘He is not romantically interested in me. He is not that sort of man. He’s hard, he’s icy cold—’
‘He didn’t sound cold on my doorstep...he sounded downright keen! You’d be surprised how much I can pick up from the nuances in a voice.’
Liz was rather innocent in some ways. Maxie really didn’t want to get down to basics and spell out just how a big, powerful tycoon like Angelos Petronides regarded her. As a social inferior, a beautiful body, a target object to acquire for his sexual enjoyment, a live toy. Maxie shrank with revulsion and hated him all over again. ‘Liz...he would be offended by the very suggestion that he would even consider a normal relationship with a woman who’s been another man’s mistress—’
‘But you haven’t been another man’s mistress!’
Maxie ignored that point After the horrendous publicity she had enjoyed, nobody would ever believe that now. ‘To be blunt, Liz...all Angelos wants is to get me into bed!’
‘Oh...’ Liz breathed, and blushed until all her freckles merged. ‘Oh, dear, no...you don’t want to get mixed up with a man like that.’
Maxie lay in bed that night, listening to the distant sound of the traffic. She couldn’t forgive herself for being attracted to a male like Angelos Petronides. It was impossible that she could like anything about him. ‘A woman of your nature,’ he had said. His one little slip. Wanton, available, already accustomed to trading her body in return for a luxurious lifestyle. That was what he had meant. Her heart ached and she felt as if she was bleeding inside. How had she ever sunk to the level where she had a reputation like that?
When Maxie had first been chosen as the image to launch a new range of haircare products, she had been a complete unknown and only eighteen years old. Although she had never had the slightest desire to be a model, she had let her father persuade her to give it a try and had swiftly found herself earning what had then seemed like enormous amounts of money.
However, once the novelty had worn off, she had loathed the backbiting pressure and superficiality of the modelling circuit. She had saved like mad and had planned to find another way to make a living.