She came off the phone again, so shaken by the ideas mushrooming one after another inside her head that she could scarcely think straight. But she did need a home, and she had always loved the countryside. If she had the courage, she could make a complete fresh start. Why not? What did she have left in London? The dying remnants of a career which had done her infinitely more harm than good? She could find a job locally. Shop work, bar work; she wasn’t fussy. As a teenager Maxie had done both, and she had no false pride.
By the time Liz came home, Maxie was bubbling with excitement. In some astonishment, Liz listened to the enthusiastic plans that the younger woman had already formulated.
‘If the cottage is in a bad way, it could cost a fortune to put it right, Maxie,’ she pointed out anxiously. ‘I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but by the sound of things—’
‘Liz...I never did want to be a model and I’m not getting any work right now,’ Maxie reminded her ruefully. ‘This could be my chance to make a new life and, whatever it takes, I want to give it a try. I’ll tell the agency where I am so that if anything does come up they can contact me, but I certainly can’t afford to sit around here doing nothing. At least if I start earning again, I can start paying back Angelos.’
If Maxie could’ve avoided telling Liz about the housesitter and her own illness, she would’ve done so. But Liz had a right to know that a stranger had been looking after her home. However, far from being troubled by that revelation, Liz was much more concerned to learn that Maxie had been ill. She was also mortifyingly keen to glean every detail of the role which Angelos Petronides had played.
‘I swear that man is madly in love with you!’ Liz shook her head in wonderment.
Maxie vented a distinctly unamused laugh, her eyes incredulous. ‘Angelos wouldn’t know love if it leapt up and bit him to the bone! But he will go to any lengths to get what he wants. I suspect he thinks that the more indebted he makes me, the easier he’ll wear down my resistance—’
‘Maxie...if he’d left you lying here alone in this house, you might be dead. Don’t you even feel the slightest bit grateful?’ Liz prompted uncomfortably. ‘He could’ve just called an ambulance—’
‘Thereby missing out on the chance to get me into his power when I was helpless?’ Maxie breathed cynically. ‘No way. I know how he operates. I know how he thinks.’ ‘Then you must have much more in common with him than you’re prepared to admit,’ Liz commented.
Maxie arrived at the cottage two days later. With dire mutters, the cabbie nursed his car up the potholed lane. In the sunshine, the cottage looked shabby, but it had a lovely setting. There was a stream ten feet from the front door and a thick belt of mature trees that provided shelter.
She had some money in her bank account again too. She had liquidated a good half of her wardrobe. Ruthlessly piling up all the expensive designer clothes which Leland had insisted on buying her, Maxie had sold them to a couple of those wonderful shops which recycle used quality garments.
Half an hour later, having explored her new home, Maxie’s enthusiasm was undimmed. So what if the accommodation was basic and the entire place crying out for paint and a seriously good scrub? As for the repairs the agent had mentioned, Maxie was much inclined to think he had been exaggerating.
She was utterly charmed by the inglenook fireplace in the little front room and determined not to take fright at the minuscule scullery and the spooky bathroom with its ancient cracked china. Although the furnishings were worn and basic, there were a couple of quite passable Edwardian pieces. The new bed she had bought would be delivered later in the day.
She was about a mile from the nearest town. As soon as she had the bed made up, she would call in at the hotel she had noticed on the main street to see if there was any work going. In the middle of the tourist season, she would be very much surprised if there wasn’t an opening somewhere...
Five days later, Maxie was three days into an evening job that was proving infinitely more stressful than she had anticipated. The pace of a waitress in a big, busy bar was frantic.
And why, oh, why hadn’t she asked whether the hotel bar served meals before she accepted the job? She could carry drinks orders quite easily in her head, but she had been driven into trying to employ a frantic shorthand of numbers when it came to trying to cope at speed with the demands of a large menu and all the innumerable combinations possible. She just couldn’t write fast enough.
Maxie saw Angelos the minute he walked into the bar. The double doors thrust back noisily. He made an entrance. People twisted their heads to glance and then paused to stare. Command and authority written in every taut line of his tall, powerful frame, Angelos stood out like a giant among pygmies.