‘Lie down!’ she finally launched at him in full-throttle frustration.
And Angelos did lie down. Maxie couldn’t believe it but he sprawled down on the bed as if she had a gun trained on him. And he looked so utterly miserable. It was true, she decided in fascination, women were definitely the stronger sex. Here was the evidence. Disaster had befallen Angelos when he had least expected it in a field he prided himself on excelling in and he couldn’t handle it.
Crawling onto the bed beside him, Maxie gazed down at him until her eyes misted over. She was shattered to discover that all she wanted to do was cocoon him in lashings of TLC.
‘You were really great until the last moment,’ she told him in tender consolation. ‘I didn’t mean what I said. You mustn’t blame yourself—’
‘I blame Leland,’ Angelos gritted.
In complete confusion, Maxie frowned. ‘You blame... you blame Leland?’ she stressed, all at seas as to his meaning.
Angelos growled something in Greek that broke from him with the aggressive force of a hurricane warning.
‘He’s a slime-bag!’
Focusing on her properly for the first time, Angelos dug a hand into the pocket of his jeans and withdrew a great wodge of crumpled fax paper.
Maxie took it from him and spread the paper out. It was so long it kept on spreading, across his chest and finally right off the edge of the bed. She squinted down and recognised her own signature right at the very foot. In such dim light, it left her little the wiser as to its content, and in his presence she didn’t want to be seen peering to comprehend all that tiny type.
‘Leland took advantage of your stupidity—’
‘Excuse me?’ Maxie cut in, wide-eyed.
‘Only a financially very naive person would’ve signed that loan contract,’ Angelos extended, after a long pause during which he had visibly struggled to come up with that more diplomatic term. ‘And a moneylender from a backstreet would’ve offered more generous terms than that evil old bastard!’
Clarity shone at last for Maxie. Angelos had somehow obtained a copy of the loan agreement she had signed three years earlier. That was what was on the fax paper. ‘Where did you get this from?’
‘I got it,’ Angelos responded flatly.
‘Why did you say I was stupid...? Because I’m not!’
‘You’d still have been paying that loan off ten years from now.’ He got technical then, muttering grimly about criminal rates of interest and penalty clauses. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him that she had become trapped in such an agreement because she had been too proud to ask someone else to read the small print out and explain the conditions.
‘You were only nineteen,’ Angelos grated finally. ‘You signed that the day before you moved in with Leland. He blackmailed you—’
‘No...I agreed. There was never any question of us sharing a bedroom or anything like that. All he ever asked for was the right to show me off. I was just an ego-trip for him but I didn’t know what I was getting into until it was too late to back out,’ Maxie muttered tightly, squashing the fax paper into a big crunched-up ball again and throwing it away.
‘And Leland was getting his own back on an unfaithful wife,’ Angelos completed grimly.
Unsurprised that he should have known about Jennifer Coulter’s affair, Maxie breathed in deep and decided to match his frankness. ‘My father is a compulsive gambler, Angelos. He got into trouble with some very tough men and he couldn’t pay up what he owed them. It was nothing to do with Leland. but I went to him for advice, and that’s when he told me he’d loan me the money if I moved in with him.’
‘Lamb to the slaughter,’ Angelos groaned, as if he was in agony. ‘Compulsive gambler?’ he queried in sudden bemusement.
‘Dad would sell this bed out from under you if he got the chance.’
‘Where have you kept this charming character concealed?’
‘I don’t know where he is right now. We haven’t been close...well, not since I took on that loan to settle his debts. Naturally Dad feels bad about that.’
‘The debt was his?’ Angelos bit out wrathfully as that fact finally sunk in. ‘Your precious father stood back and watched you move in with Leland just so that he could have his gambling debts paid?’
‘It was life or death, Angelos...it really was,’ Maxie protested. ‘He’d already been badly beaten up and he was terrified they would kill him the next time around. Leland gave me that money when nobody else would have. It saved Dad’s life.’
‘Dad doesn’t sound like he was worth saving—’