Angelos stared at her as if he couldn’t take his eyes off her and hated her for it.
Maxie stared back with a stab of malicious satisfaction new to her experience. ‘Bad news, eh? I’ll be the one who got away,’ she breathed tautly, frighteningly aware of the thunderous charge of violence in the atmosphere but unable to silence her own tongue and her helpless need to taunt him. ‘But then why should that bother you? It’s not like you have a shred of real emotion in you—’
‘What do you want from me?’ Angelos ripped back at her with suppressed savagery. ‘I will not and could not love a woman like you!’
‘Oh, that honesty...hits me right where it hurts,’ Maxie trilled, a knife-like pain scything through her. She was shaking like a leaf without even being aware of it. ‘But for all that you still want me, don’t you? Do you know something, Angelos? I like knowing that.’
A muscle jerked at the corner of his wide, sensual mouth, his strong jawline clenching. Those stunning black eyes burned with rage and seething pride.
‘Thanks, you’ve just done wonders for my low self-esteem, ’ Maxie informed him with a jagged catch in her voice.
‘What a bitch you can be...I never saw that in you before.’ His accent was so thick she could have sliced it up, but that contemptuous intonation would still have flamed over her like acid, hurting wherever it touched. ‘So, quote me a price for one night in your bed. What do you think you would be worth?’
The derisive suggestion coiled like a whip around her and scarred her worse than a beating. Her backbone went rigid. Hatred fired her embittered gaze. ‘You couldn’t even make the bidding,’ Maxie asserted, looking him up and down as if he had crawled out from under a stone. ‘I’d want a whole lot more than a wardrobe of designer clothes. You see, I learn from my mistakes, Angelos. The next man I live with will be my husband...’
Shock turned Angelos satisfying pale. ‘If you think for one insane second that I—’
‘Of course you wouldn’t,’ Maxie slotted in, each word clipped and tight with self-control. ‘But you must see now why I’m not available for lunch, in bed or out of it. A woman can’t be too careful. Being associated with a randy Greek billionaire could be very harmful to my new image.’
‘I will work this entire dialogue out of your wretched hide every day you are with me!’ Angelos snarled at her with primal force, all cool abandoned.
‘You are just so slow on the uptake. I am not ever going to be with you, Angelos,’ Maxie pointed out, and with that last word she strolled past him, holding herself taut and proud to the last, and walked into the lift.
Outside in the street again, she discovered that she was trembling so violently it was an effort to put one leg in front of the other. For once disregarding her straitened circumstances, she chose to hail a cab. Her mind was working like a runaway express train, disconnected images bombarding her...
How could two people who scarcely knew each other spend so long tearing each other apart? How could she have been that bitchy? How could she have actually enjoyed striking back at him and watching him react with impotent black fury? And yet now she felt sick at the memory, and astonishingly empty, like someone who had learned to thrive on electric tension and pain...and who now could not see a future worth living without them.
Angelos Petronides had devastated her but he wouldn’t bother her again now, she told herself in an effort at consolation. Even the toughest male wouldn’t put himself in line for more of the same. And Angelos least of all. He had expected her to fall into his bed with the eagerness of an avaricious bimbo, scarcely able to believe her good fortune. Instead she had hit that boundless ego of his, watched him shudder in sheer shock from the experience...and yet inside herself she felt the most awful bewildering sense of loss.
Reluctant to dwell on reactions that struck her as peculiar, Maxie chose instead to look back on their brief acquaintance with self-loathing. She squirmed over her own foolishness. Like an adolescent fighting a first powerful crush, she had overreacted every step of the way.
She had fancied him like mad but, blind and naive as a headstrong teenager, she hadn’t even admitted that to herself until it was too late to save face. ‘I have not been unaware of your interest in me.’ She shuddered with shame. Had she surrendered to that physical attraction, it would’ve been a one-way ticket to disaster. She knew she couldn’t afford to make any more wrong choices. She hadn’t needed him to tell her that. Dear heaven, as if becoming his mistress would’ve been any kind of improvement on the humiliating charade Leland had forced her to live for so long!