Angelos hadn’t believed her about Leland, of course he hadn’t—hadn’t even paused to catch his breath and listen. And in pushing the issue she would’ve made an ass of herself, for nothing short of medical proof of her virginity, if there was such a thing, would’ve convinced him otherwise. In any case the level of her experience wouldn’t count with a male like Angelos Petronides. He viewed her the same way people viewed a takeaway snack. As something quick and cheap to devour, not savour. Her stomach lurched sickly. Even had she been tempted, which she hadn’t been, had he thought for one moment that she would’ve believed she was likely to hold his interest as long as six months?

‘A man will tell a girl who looks like you anything to get her into the bedroom,’ her father had once warned her grimly. ‘The one who is prepared to wait, the one who is more interested in how you feel, is the one who cares.’

That blunt advice had embarrassed her at a time when she was already struggling to cope with the downside of the spectacular looks she had been born with. Girlfriends threatened by the male attention she attracted had dumped her. Grown men had leered at her and tried to touch her and date her. Even teenage boys who, alone with her, had been totally intimidated by her, had told crude lies about her sexual availability behind her back. Eight years on, Maxie was still waiting without much hope to meet a man who wasn’t determined to put the cart before the proverbial horse.

An hour after she got back to Liz’s house, the phone rang. It was Catriona Ferguson, who ran the Star modelling agency which had first signed Maxie up at eighteen.

‘I’ve got no good news for you, Maxie,’ she shared in her usual brisk manner. ‘The PR people over at LFT Haircare have decided against using you for another series of ads.’

‘We were expecting that,’ Maxie reminded the older woman with a rueful sigh of acceptance.

‘I’m afraid there’s nothing else in the pipeline for you. Hardly surprising, really,’ Catriona told her. ‘You’re too strongly associated with one brand name. I did warn you about that risk and, to be blunt, your recent coverage in the tabloids has done you no favours.’

It had been a month since Maxie had moved out of Leland’s townhouse. She hadn’t worked since then and now it looked as if she was going to have to find some other means of keeping herself. Her bank account was almost empty. She couldn’t afford to sit waiting for work that might never come, nor could she blame Catriona for her lack of sympathy. Time and time again the older woman had urged Maxie to branch out into fashion modelling, but Leland’s frantic social life and the demands he had made on her time had made that impossible.

Hours later, Maxie hunched over both bars of the electric fire in Liz’s lounge as she tried to keep warm while she brooded. Angelos was gone. That was good, she told herself, that was one major problem solved. She scratched an itchy place on her arm and then gazed down in surprise at the little rash of spots there.

What had she eaten that had disagreed with her? she wondered, but she couldn’t recall eating anything more than half a sandwich since breakfast time. She just couldn’t work up an appetite. She fell asleep on the settee and at some timeless stage of the night wakened to feel her way down to the guest-room and undress on the spot before sinking wearily into bed.

When she woke up late the next morning, she wasn’t feeling too good. As she cleaned her teeth she caught a glimpse of her face in the tiny mirror Liz had on the wall for visitors and she froze. There was another little rash of spots on her forehead. It looked remarkably like... chickenpox. And she itched, didn’t she? But only children got that, didn’t they? And then she remembered one of Liz’s neighbours calling in a couple of weeks back with a child in tow who had borne similiar spots.

‘She’s not infectious any more,’ the woman had said carelessly.

Lower lip wobbling, Maxie surveyed the possible proof of that misapprehension. A dry cough racked her chest, leaving her gasping for breath. Whatever she had, she was feeling foul. Getting herself a glass of water, she went back to bed. The phone went. She had to get out of bed again to answer it.

‘What?’ she demanded hoarsely after another bout of coughing in the cold hall.

‘Angelos here, what’s wrong with you?’

‘I have...I have a cold,’ she lied. ‘What do you want?’

‘I want to see you—’

‘No way!’ Maxie plonked down the phone at speed.

The phone rang again. She disconnected it from its wall-point. A couple of hours later the doorbell went. Maxie ignored it. Getting out of bed yet again felt like too much trouble.

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