She wanted to scream and cry and break things and she knew she couldn’t, so she hugged herself tight instead and paced the floor. As there was a great deal of floor available, in spite of the fact it was only a cloakroom, that was not a problem.

He’s prepared to give you a whole blasted building to yourself. But then he does like his own space. He’s prepared to do virtually anything to get you into bed except own up to you in public. Love and hate. Two sides of the same coin. A cliché but the brief, terrifying spasm of that anguished love feeling had now been wholly obliterated by loathing and a desire to hit back and hurt that was ferocious.

A marriage proposal? A bitter laugh erupted from Maxie. Angelos was still planning to use her, still viewing her as a live toy to be acquired at any cost for his bedroom. And evidently her reluctance had sent what he was prepared to pay for that pleasure right through the roof! Grimacing, she could not help thinking about the two men before Angelos who had most influenced her life. Her father and Leland. For once she thought about her father without sentimentality...

Russ had gambled away her earnings and finally abandoned her, leaving her to work off his debts. Leland had stolen three years of her life and destroyed her reputation. How often had she sworn since never to allow any man to use her for his own ends again?

Like a bolt from the blue an infinitely more ego-boosting scenario flashed into Maxie’s mind. She froze as the heady concept of turning the tables occurred to her. What if she were to do the using this time around?

Didn’t she require a husband to inherit a share of her godmother’s estate? When she had heard that news, she had taken disappointment on the chin. She had not foreseen the remotest possibility of a husband on the horizon, and the concept of looking for one with the sole object of collecting that inheritance had made her cringe.

Only no longer did Maxie feel so nice in her notions. Angelos had done that to her. He was a corrupting influence and no mistake. He had distressed her, humiliated her, harassed her, not to mention committed the ultimate sin of taking the holy bond of matrimony and twisting it into a sad, dirty joke.

Angelos saw her as an ambitious, money-grabbing bimbo without morals. No doubt he despised what he saw. He probably even despised his own obsessive hunger to possess her. The marriage, if it could be called such, wouldn’t last five minutes beyond the onset of his boredom.

But what if she were to take the opportunity to turn apparent humiliation into triumph? She could break free of everything that had ruined her life in recent years. That debt to Angelos, a career and a life she hated, Angelos himself. If she had the courage of her convictions, she could have it all. Yes, she really could. She could marry him and walk out on him six months later. She pictured herself breezily throwing Angelos a cheque and telling him no, she didn’t need his money, she now had her own. She looked back in the mirror and saw a killer bimbo with a brain and not a hint of tears in her eyes any more.

Maxie was surprised to find Angelos waiting in the hall when she emerged.

‘Are you OK?’ he enquired, as if he really cared.

Her lip wanted to curl but she controlled it. The rat An extraordinarily handsome rat, but a rat all the same.

‘I was working out my conditions of acceptance.’ Maxie flashed him a bright smile of challenge.

Angelos tensed.

‘I’ll need to be sure I will feel like a Lottery winner at the end of this private arrangement,’ she told him for good measure.

Angelos frowned darkly. ‘My lawyer will deal with such things. Do you have to be so crude?’

Crude? My goodness, hadn’t he got sensitive all of a sudden? He didn’t want to be forced to dwell on the actual cost of acquiring her. And even if she didn’t go for the whole package, and indeed considered herself insulted beyond belief, it was quite a hefty cost on his terms, Maxie conceded grudgingly. A marriage licence as the ultimate assurance of financial security—the lifestyle of a very wealthy woman and no doubt a very generous final settlement at the end of the day.

Mulling over those points, Maxie decided that he certainly couldn’t accuse her of coming cheap, but she was entranced to realise that Angelos had no desire to be reminded of that unlovely fact. Just like everybody else, it seemed, Angelos Petronides preferred to believe that he was wanted for himself. She stored up that unexpected Achilles’ heel for future reference.

Maxie widened her beautiful eyes at his words. ‘I thought you admired the upfront approach?’

‘I brought you here to celebrate a sane and sensible agreement, not to stage another argument.’

With that declaration, heated black eyes watched her flick her spectacular mane of golden hair over her slim shoulders and stayed to linger on her exquisite face. As his intent appraisal slowly arrowed down over the deep shadowy vee of her neckline, Maxie stiffened. At an almost pained pace of ever-deepening lust, his appreciative gaze wandered on down to take in the full effect of her slim hips and incredibly long legs. ‘No, definitely not to have another argument,’ Angelos repeated rather hoarsely.

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