Unaware of the younger woman’s hot-cheeked distraction, Liz was made anxious by the lingering silence. ‘You’re the closest thing to a daughter I’ll ever have,’ she sighed. ‘I just want you to be happy...and I’m afraid that if you keep up this front with Angelos, you’ll only end up getting very badly hurt.’

Her eyes prickling, Maxie gave her friend a hug. She blamed herself for being too frank and worrying Liz. From here on in, she decided shamefacedly, she would keep her thoughts and her plans to herself.

Angelos phoned her at six that evening. He talked with the cool detachment of someone handing out instructions to an employee. She knew herself unforgiven. His London lawyer would visit her with the prenuptial contract. The ceremony would take place the following week in the north of England.

‘Next week?’ Maxie exclaimed helplessly.

‘I’m organising a special licence.’

‘Why do we have to go north?’

‘We couldn’t marry in London without attracting attention.’

Maxie bit her lower lip painfully. So, Liz innocently assumed that such secrecy couldn’t be achieved? She didn’t know Angelos. Employing his wealth in tandem with his naturally devious mind, Angelos clearly intended to take every possible precaution.

‘Do we travel up together in heavy disguise?’

‘We’ll travel separately. I’ll meet you up there.’

‘Oh...’ Even facetious comments were squashed by such attention to detail.

‘I’m afraid that I won’t be seeing you beforehand—’

‘Why not?’ Maxie heard herself demand in disbelief, and then was furious with herself for making such an uncool response.

‘Naturally I intend to take some time off. But in order to free that space in a very tight schedule, I’ll be flying to Japan later this evening and moving on to Indonesia for the rest of the week.’

‘You’ll be seriously jet lagged by the time you get back.’

‘I’ll survive. I suggest you disengage yourself from your contract with the modelling agency—’

‘I was on the brink of signing a new one,’ Maxie admitted.

‘Excellent. Then you can simply tell them that you have changed your mind.’

Maxie was still recovering from Catriona Ferguson’s angry incredulity at their brief and unpleasant interview when she was subjected to the visit from Angelos’s lawyer.

At her request the older man read out the document she was expected to sign. If Maxie had been as avaricious as Angelos apparently believed, she would’ve been ecstatic. In return for her discretion she was offered a vast monthly allowance on top of an all-expenses-paid lifestyle, and when the marriage ended she was to receive a quite breathtaking settlement.

By the time he had finished speaking, Maxie’s nails were digging into her palms like pincers and she was extremely pale. She signed, but the only thing that gave her the strength to do so was the bitter certainty that in six months’ time she would tear up her copy of that agreement and throw the pieces scornfully back at Angelos’s feet. Only then would he appreciate that she could neither be bought nor paid off.

The church sat on the edge of a sleepy Yorkshire hamlet. Mid-morning on a weekday, the village had little traffic and even fewer people. Maxie checked her watch for the tenth time. Angelos was now eleven minutes late.

Having run out of casual conversation, the elderly rector and his wife were now uneasily anchored in the far corner of the church porch while Maxie hovered by the door like a pantomime bride, on the watch in terror that the groom had changed his mind. And it was possible, wasn’t it? The arrangements had been so detached they now seemed almost surreal.

A car had picked her up at a very early hour to ferry her north. And Angelos had phoned only twice over the past week. He would have been better not phoning at all. Her spontaneity vanished the instant she recognised her own instinctive physical response to that rich, dark drawl. It had not made for easy dialogue.

Today, I am getting married. This is my wedding day, she told herself afresh in a daze of disbelief, and of course he would turn up, but he would get a tongue-lashing when he did. Angelos... Hatred was so incredibly enervating, Maxie conceded grimly. He kept her awake at night and he haunted her dreams. That infuriated and threatened her.

In defiance of the suspicion that she was taking part in some illegal covert operation, she was wearing her scarlet dress. A scarlet dress for a scarlet woman. No doubt that would strike Angelos as an extremely appropriate choice.

Hearing the sound of an approaching car, Maxie tensed. A gleaming Mercedes closely followed by a second car pulled up. Angelos emerged from the Mercedes. Sheathed in a wonderfully well-cut navy suit, pale blue tie and white silk shirt, he looked stupendous. As his London lawyer appeared from the second car, Angelos paused to wait for him. As if he had all the time in the world, Maxie noted incredulously. Her ready temper sizzled. How dared Angelos keep her waiting and then refuse to hurry himself?

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