The silence that fell was sharp.
‘If it’s already over, keep it to yourself.’ Catriona’s disappointment was blatant. ‘The sudden clamour for your services relates very much to him. The story that you’ve captured his interest is enough to raise you to celebrity status right now. So keep the people guessing for as long as you can...’
When Maxie recalled how appalled she had been at the threat of being captured in newsprint with Angelos and being subjected to more lurid publicity, she very nearly choked at that cynical advice. And when she considered how outraged Angelos must be at the existence of such rumours, when he had demanded her discretion, she sucked in a sustaining breath.
Catriona checked her watch. ‘Look, why don’t I give you a lift back to town? I suggest you stay with that friend in the suburbs again. The paparazzi are scouring the pavements for you. You don’t want to be found yet. You need to make the biggest possible impact when you appear on that catwalk.’
It took guts, but Maxie nodded agreement. The old story, she thought bitterly. She needed the money. Not just for the roof but also to pay off Angelos as well. Yet the prospect of all those flashing cameras and the vitriolic pens of the gossip columnists made her sensitive stomach churn. Money might not buy happiness, but the lack of it could destroy all freedom of choice. And Maxie acknowledged then that the precious freedom to choose her own way of life was what she now craved most.
Scanning Maxie’s strained face, Catriona sighed. ‘Whatever has happened to the Ice Queen image?’
As she packed upstairs, Maxie knew the answer to that. Angelos had happened. He had chipped her out from behind the safety of her cool, unemotional façade by making her feel things she had never felt before...painful things, hurtful things. She wanted the ice back far more desperately than Catriona did.
Maxie came off the catwalk to a rousing bout of thunderous applause. Immediately she abandoned the strutting insolent carriage which was playing merry hell with her backbone. Finished, at last. The relief was so huge, she trembled. Never in her life had she felt so exposed.
Before she could reach the changing room, Manny Di Venci, a big bruiser of a man with a shaven head and sharp eyes, came backstage to intercept her. ‘You were brilliant! Standing room only out there, but now it’s time to beat a fast retreat. No, you don’t need to get changed,’ the designer laughed, urging her at a fast pace down a dimly lit corridor that disorientated her even more after the glaring spotlights of the show. ‘You’re the best PR my collection has ever had, and a special lunch-date demands a touch of Di Venci class.’
Presumably Catriona had set up lunch with some VIP she had to impress.
Thrust through a rear entrance onto a pavement drenched in sunlight, Maxie was dazzled again. Squinting at the open door of the waiting vehicle, she climbed in. The car had pulled back into the traffic before she registered that she was in a huge, opulent limo with shaded windows, but she relaxed when she saw the huge squashy bag of her possessions sitting on the floor. She checked the bag; her clothes were in it too. Somebody had been very efficient.
Off the catwalk, she was uncomfortable in the daring peacock-blue cocktail suit. She wore only skin below the fitted jacket with its plunging neckline, and the skirt was horrendously tight and short. She would have preferred not to meet a potential client in so revealing an outfit, but she might as well make the best of being sought after while it lasted because it wouldn’t last long. The minute Angelos appeared in public with another woman, she would be as ‘hot’ as a cold potato. But oh, how infuriating it must be for Angelos to have played an accidental part in pushing her back into the limelight!
When the door of the limo swung open, Maxie stepped out into a cold, empty basement car park. She froze in astonishment, attacked by sudden mute terror, and then across the vast echoing space she recognised one of Angelos’s security men, and was insensibly relieved for all of ten seconds. But the nightmare image of kidnapping which had briefly gripped her was immediately replaced by a sensation of almost suffocating panic.
‘Where am I?’ she demanded of the older man standing by a lift with the doors wide in readiness.
‘Mr Petronides is waiting for you on the top floor, Miss Kendall.’
‘I didn’t realise that limo was his. I thought I was meeting up with my agent and a client for lunch...this is o-outrageous!’ Hearing the positively pathetic shake of rampant nerves in her own voice, Maxie bit her lip and stalked into the lift. She was furious with herself. She had been the one to make assumptions. She should have spoken to the chauffeur before she got into the car.