Maxie was paralysed to the spot; her face was bone-white. Her tummy lurched with nausea and her legs began to shake. ‘I got confused, I’m sorry. I—’

Angelos angled a smooth smile at the irate diners and ignored her. ‘Don’t worry, it will be sorted out as quickly as possible. Your meals are on the house. Move, Maxie,’ he added in a whiplike warning aside.

Dennis, she noticed sickly, was over at the bar using the internal phone. He looked like a man living a nightmare. And when she came out of the kitchen again, an older man, whom she recognised as the manager of the entire hotel, was with Angelos, and he had the desperate air of a man walking a tightrope above a terrifying drop. Suddenly Maxie felt like the albatross that had brought tragedy to an entire ship’s crew. Angelos, it seemed, was taking out his black temper on his staff. Her own temper rose accordingly.

How the heck could she have guessed that he owned this hotel? She recalled the innumerable marble plaques in the huge foyer of the Petronides building in London. Those plaques had listed the components of Angelos’s vast and diverse business empire. Petronides Steel, Petronides Property, and ditto Shipping, Haulage, Communications, Construction, Media Services, Investments, Insurance. No doubt she had forgotten a good half-dozen. PAI—Petronides Amalgamated Industries—had been somewhat easier to recall.

‘Maxie...I mean, Miss Kendall,’ Dennis said awkwardly, stealing an uneasy glance at her and making her wonder what Angelos had said or done to make him behave like that. But not for very long. ‘Mr Petronides says you can take the rest of the night off.’

Maxie stiffened. ‘Sorry, I’m working.’

Dennis looked aghast. ‘But—’

‘I was engaged to work tonight and I need the money.’ Maxie tilted her chin in challenge.

She banged a brandy down in front of Angelos. ‘You’re nothing but a big, egocentric bully!’ she slung at him with stinging scorn.

A lean hand closed round her elbow before she could stalk away again. Colour burnished her cheeks as Angelos forced her back to his side with the kind of male strength that could not be fought without making a scene. Black eyes as dark as the legendary underworld of Hades slashed threat into hers. ‘If I gave you a spade, you would happily dig your own grave. Go and get your coat—’

‘No...this is my job and I’m not walking out on it.’

‘Let me assist you to make that decision. You’re sacked...’ Angelos slotted in with ruthless bite.

With her free hand, Maxie swept up the brandy and upended it over his lap. In an instant she was free. With an unbelieving growl of anger, Angelos vaulted upright.

‘If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen!’ Maxie flung fiercely, and stalked off, shoulders back, classic nose in the air.

CHAPTER FIVE

DENNIS was waiting for Maxie outside the staff-room when she emerged in her jeans and T-shirt. Pale and still bug-eyed with shock, he gaped at her. ‘You must be out of your mind to treat Angelos Petronides like that!’

‘Envy me...I don’t work for him any more.’ Maxie flung her golden head high. ‘May I have my pay now, please?’

‘Y-your pay?’ the young bar manager stammered.

‘Is my reaction to being forcibly held to the spot by the owner of this hotel chain sufficient excuse to withhold it?’ Maxie enquired very drily.

The silence thundered.

‘I’ll get your money...I don’t really think I want to raise that angle with Mr Petronides right now,’ Dennis confided weakly.

Ten minutes later Maxie walked out of the hotel, grimacing when she realised that it was still pouring with rain. It had been lashing down all day and she had got soaked walking into town in spite of her umbrella. Every passing car had splashed her. A long, low-slung sports car pulled into the kerb beside her and the window buzzed down.

‘Get in,’ Angelos told her in a positive snarl.

‘Go take a hike! You can push around your staff but you can’t push me around!’

‘Push around? Surely you noticed how sloppily that bar was being run?’ Angelos growled in disbelief. Thrusting open the car door, he climbed out to glower down at her in angry reproof. ‘Insufficient and surly staff, customers kept waiting, the kitchens in chaos, the tables dirty and even the carpet in need of replacement! If the management don’t get their act together fast, I’ll replace them. They’re not doing their jobs.’

Taken aback by his genuine vehemence, Maxie nonetheless suppressed the just awareness that she herself had been less than impressed by what she had seen. He had changed too, she noticed furiously. He must have had a change of clothes with him, because now he was wearing a spectacular suit of palest grey that had the exquisite fit of a kid glove on his lean powerful frame.

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