She dozed for the rest of the day, finally waking up shivering with cold and conscious of an odd noise in the dim room. Slowly it dawned on her that the rasping wheeze was the sound of her own lungs straining to function. Her brain felt befogged, but she thought that possibly she might need a doctor. So she lay thinking about that while the doorbell rang and rang and finally fell silent.
Fear got a healthy grip on her when she stumbled dizzily out of bed and her legs just folded beneath her. She hit the polished wooden floor with a crash. Tears welled up in her sore eyes. The room was too dark for her to get her bearings. She started to crawl, trying to recall where the phone was. She heard a distant smash. It sounded like glass breaking, and then voices. Had she left the television on? Trying to summon up more strength, she rested her perspiring brow down on the boards beneath her.
And then the floor lit up...or so it seemed.
A DISTURBINGLY familiar male voice bit out something raw in a foreign language and a pair of male feet appeared in Maxie’s limited view. Strong hands turned her over and began to lift her.
‘You’re all...spotty...’ Angelos glowered down at her with unblinking black eyes, full of disbelief.
‘Go away...’ she mumbled.
‘It just looks a little...strange,’ Angelos commented tautly, and after a lengthy pause, while Maxie squeezed shut her eyes against the painful intrusion of that overhead light and him, he added almost accusingly, ‘I thought only children got chickenpox.’
‘Leave me alone...’ Maxie succumbed weakly to another coughing fit.
Instead, he lifted her back onto the bed and rolled the bulky duvet unceremoniously round her prone body.
‘What are you doing?’ she gasped, struggling to concentrate, finding it impossible.
‘I was on my way down to my country house for the weekend. Now it looks like I’ll be staying in town and you’ll be coming home with me,’ Angelos delivered, with no visible enthusiasm on his strong, hard face as he bent down to sweep her up into his powerful arms.
Maxie couldn’t think straight, but the concept of having nothing whatsoever to do with Angelos Petronides was now so deeply engrained, his appearance had set all her alarm bells shrieking. ‘No...I have to stay here to look after the house—’
‘I wish you could...but you can’t.’
‘I promised Liz...she’s away and she might be burgled again... put me down.’
‘I can’t leave you alone here like this.’ Angelo stared down at her moodily, as if he was wishing she would make his day with a sudden miraculous recovery but secretly knew he didn’t have much hope.
Maxie struggled to conceal her spotty face against his shoulder, mortified and weak, and too ill to fight but not too ill to hate. ‘I don’t want to go anywhere with you.’ Gulping, she sniffed.
‘I don’t see any caring queue outside that door ready to take my place...and what have you got to snivel about?’ Angelos demanded with stark impatience as he strode down the hall. Then he stopped dead, meshing long fingers into her hair to tug her face round and gaze accusingly down into her bemused eyes. ‘I smashed my way in only because I was aware that you were ill. Decency demanded that I check that you were all right.’
‘I do not snivel,’ Maxie told him chokily.
‘But the only reason I came here tonight was to return your “something on account” and to assure you that it would be a cold day in hell before I ever darkened your door again—’
‘So what’s keeping you?’
But Angelos was still talking like a male with an ever-mounting sense of injustice. ‘And there you are, lying on the floor in a pathetic shivering heap with more spots than a Dalmatian! What’s fair about that? But I’m not snivelling, am I?’
Maxie opened one eye and saw one of his security men watching in apparent fascination. ‘I do not snivel...’ she protested afresh.
Angelos strode out into the night air. He ducked down into the waiting limousine and propped Maxie up in the farthest corner of the seat like a giant papoose that had absolutely nothing to do with him.
Only then did Maxie register that the limousine was already occupied by a gorgeous redhead, wearing diamonds and a spectacular green satin evening dress which would’ve been at home on the set of a movie about the Deep South of nineteenth-century America. The other woman gazed back at Maxie, equally nonplussed.
‘Have you had chickenpox, Natalie?’ Angelos enquired almost chattily.
Natalie Cibaud. She was an actress, a well-known French actress, who had recently won rave reviews for her role in a Hollywood movie. It had not taken Angelos long to find other more entertaining company, Maxie reflected dully while a heated conversation in fast and furious French took place. Maxie didn’t speak French, but the other woman sounded choked with temper while Angelos merely got colder and colder. Maxie curled up in an awkward heap, conscious she was the subject under dispute and wishing in despair that she could perform a vanishing act.