‘Don’t you dare say that about my father!’ Maxie censured chokily. ‘He brought me up all on his own!’
‘Taught you how to go to the pawnshop? Flogged anything he could get his hands on? Your childhood must’ve been a real blissfest, I don’t think!’
‘He did his best. That’s all anyone can do,’ Maxie whispered tautly. ‘Not everyone is born with your advantages in life. You’re rich and selfish. Dad’s poor and selfish, but, unfortunately for him, he has too much imagination.’
‘So have I...oh, so have I. I imagined you,’ Angelos confided, his deep dark drawl slurring with intense bitterness. ‘The only quality I imagined right was that you do need me. But all the rest was my fantasy. Tonight... deservedly...it exploded right in my face.’
Maxie slumped as if he had beaten the stuffing out of her. She wanted to tell him that she didn’t need him but her throat was so clogged up with tears she couldn’t trust herself to speak. A fantasy? He had imagined her? That was even worse than being a one-dimensional trophy, she realised in horror. At the end of the day, when fantasy met reality and went bang, there was just nothing left, was there?
‘I don’t want to sober up,’ Angelos admitted morosely. ‘The more I find out about you, the worse I feel. I don’t like regret or guilt. Some people love to immolate themselves in their mistakes. I don’t. How could I have been so bloody stupid?’
‘Sex,’ Maxie supplied, even more morosely.
Angelos shuddered. It was a very informative reaction.
‘Was it that bad?’ she couldn’t help asking.
‘Worse,’ Angelos stressed feelingly. ‘I felt like a rapist.’
‘Silly...just bad luck...life kicking you in the teeth...you get used to it after a while...least, I do,’ Maxie mumbled, on the brink of tears again.
‘You should be furious with me—’
‘No point...you’re drunk. I like you better drunk than I like you sober,’ she confided helplessly. ‘You’re more human.’
‘Christos...when you go for the deathblow, you don’t miss, do you?’ Unhealthily pale beneath his bronzed skin, Angelos let his tousled head fall heavily back on the pillows. His lashes swept down on his shadowed black eyes. ‘So now I know where I stand with you...basement footing—possibly even right down level with the earth’s core,’ he muttered incomprehensibly.
‘Go to sleep,’ Maxie urged.
‘When one is that far down, one can only go up,’ Angelos asserted with dogged resolution.
Well, at least he wasn’t talking about flying again. With a helicopter parked thirty yards away that had been a genuine cause for concern. She ought to hate him. She knew she ought to hate him for breaking her heart with such agonising honesty. But the trouble was, she loved him in spite of that two-page list of flaws. She didn’t know why she loved him. She just did. And she was in really deep too. He had just rejected her in every possible way and all she wanted to do was cover him up and hug him to death. Flaked out, silenced and vulnerable, Angelos had huge appeal for Maxie.
Why had she spent so long telling herself that she hated this guy? She had been cleverer than she knew, she conceded. Loving him hurt like hell. She felt as if she had lost an entire layer of skin and every inch of her was now tender and wounded. There she had been, naively imagining that he might have been upset because his sexual performance had not resulted in her impressed-to-death ecstasy. And all the time he had been ahead of her, whole streets ahead of her...
The minute he had found out that he was her first lover, he had fairly leapt into seeking out what her relationship with Leland had been based on, since it had self-evidently not been based on sex. Naturally he had immediately thought of that loan and probed deeper. And now he knew the whole sorry story and her name had been cleared. But much good it seemed to have done her...
Liz had said Maxie enjoyed pretending to be what she had called a ‘bad girl’. Maxie suppressed a humourless laugh. Poor Liz had never allowed for the painful possibility that Angelos, who had exceedingly poor taste in women, was more excited by bad girls than he was by virgins.
MAXIE wakened the next morning in the warm cocoon of Angelos’s arms. It felt like heaven.
Some time during the night he had taken off his shirt. She opened her lips languorously against a bare brown shoulder and let the tip of her tongue gently run over smooth skin. He tasted wonderful. She breathed in the achingly familiar scent of him with heady pleasure. Hot husky male with a slight flavour of soap. She blushed for herself, but the deep, even rise and fall of his broad chest below her encircling arm soothed her sudden tension. He was still out for the count.