That hard, strikingly handsome face wore an expression that now chilled Jennifer. But she was triumphant. Clearly family ties, even distant ones, meant more to Angelos than she had ever dreamt. That little trollop would suffer; that was all Jennifer wanted.
When he was alone again, Angelos did something he had never been known to do before. He shattered his secretary by telling her to hold all his calls. He lounged indolently back in his leather chair in apparent contemplation of the panoramic view of the City of London. But his eyes were distant. No more cold showers. A sensual smile slowly formed on his well-shaped mouth. No more lonely nights. His smile flashed to unholy brilliance. The Ice Queen was his. After a three-year-long waiting game, she was finally to become his.
Mercenary and outwardly cold as she was...exquisite, though, indeed so breathtakingly beautiful that even Angelos, jaded and often bored connoisseur that he considered himself to be, had been stunned the first time he saw Maxie Kendall in the flesh. She looked like the Sleeping Beauty of popular fable. Untouchable, untouched... A grim laugh escaped Angelos. What nonsensical imagery the mind could serve up! She had been the mistress of a man old enough to be her grandfather for the past three years. There was nothing remotely innocent about the lady.
But for all that he would not use the loan like a battering ram. He would be a gentleman. He would be subtle. He would rescue her from her monetary embarrassments, earn her gratitude and ultimately inspire her loyalty as Leland had never contrived to do. She would not be cold with him. And, in reward, he would cocoon her in luxury, set the jewel of her perfection to a fitting frame and fulfil her every want and need. She would never have to work again. What more could any rational woman want?
Blissfully unaware of the detailed plans being formed on her behalf, Maxie climbed out of the cab she had caught from the train station. Every movement fluid with long-limbed natural grace, her spectacular trademark mane of golden hair blowing in the breeze, she straightened to her full five feet eleven inches and stared at her late godmother’s home. Gilbourne was an elegant Georgian house set in wonderful grounds.
As she approached the front door her heart ached and she blinked back tears. The day she had made her first public appearance in Leland’s company, her godmother, Nancy Leeward, had written to tell her that she would no longer be a welcome visitor here. But four months ago her godmother had come to see her in London. There had been a reconciliation of sorts, only Nancy hadn’t said she was ill, hadn’t given so much as a hint—nor had Maxie received word of her death until after the funeral.
So somehow it seemed all wrong to be showing up now for a reading of Nancy’s last will and testament...and, worst of all, to be nourishing desperate prayers that at the last her godmother had somehow found it within her heart to forgive her for a lifestyle she had deemed scandalous.
In her slim envelope bag Maxie already carried a letter which had blown her every hope of future freedom to smithereens. It had arrived only that morning. And it had reminded her of a debt she had naively assumed would be written off when Leland severed their relationship and let her go. He had already taken three irreplaceable years of her life, and she had poured every penny she earned as a model into repaying what she could of that loan.
Hadn’t that been enough to satisfy him? Right now she was homeless and broke and lurid publicity had severely curtailed her employment prospects. Leland had been vain and monumentally self-centred but he had never been cruel and he was certainly not poor. Why was he doing this to her? Couldn’t he even have given her time to get back on her feet again before pressing her for payment?
The housekeeper answered the door before Maxie could reach for the bellpush. Her plump face was stiff with disapproval. ‘Miss Kendall.’ It was the coldest of welcomes. ‘Miss Johnson and Miss Fielding are waiting in the drawing-room. Mrs Leeward’s solicitor, Mr Hartley, should be here soon.’
‘Thank you...no, there’s no need to show me the way; I remember it well.’
Within several feet of the drawing-room, however, not yet ready to face the other two women and frankly nervous of the reception she might receive from one of them, Maxie paused at the window which overlooked the rose garden that had been Nancy Leeward’s pride and joy. Her memory slid back to hazily recalled summer afternoon tea parties for three little girls. Maxine, Darcy and Polly, each of them on their very best behaviour for Nancy, who had never had a child of her own, had had pre-war values and expectations of her goddaughters.
Of the three, Maxie had always been the odd one out. Both Darcy and Polly came from comfortable backgrounds. They had always been smartly dressed when they came to stay at Gilbourne but Maxie had never had anything decent to wear, and every year, without fail, Nancy had taken Maxie shopping for clothes. How shocked her godmother would’ve been had she ever learned that Maxie’s father had usually sold those expensive garments the minute his daughter got home again...