‘You may say our godmother knew her own mind...but I think...well, I’d better not say what I think,’ Darcy gritted, respect for a much loved godmother evidently haltering her abrasive tongue.

Simultaneously, a shaken little laugh of reluctant appreciation was dredged from Maxie. She was not in the dark. The reasoning behind Nancy Leeward’s will was as clear as daylight to her. Within recent months their godmother had visited each one of them...and what a severe disappointment they must all have been.

She had found Maxie apparently living in sin with an older married man. She had discovered that Polly was well on the road to becoming an unmarried mother. And Darcy? Maxie’s stomach twisted with guilt. Some months after that day of cruel humiliation in the church, Darcy had given birth to a baby. Was it any wonder that the redhead had been a vehement man-hater ever since?

‘It’s such a shame that your godmother tied her estate up like that,’ Maxie’s friend, Liz, lamented the following afternoon as the two women discussed the solicitor’s letter which had bluntly demanded the immediate settlement of Leland Coulter’s loan. ‘If she hadn’t, all your problems would’ve been solved.’

‘Maybe I should have told Nancy the real reason why I was living in Leland’s house...but I couldn’t have stood her thinking that I was expecting her to buy me out of trouble. It wouldn’t have been fair to put her in that position either. She really did detest my father.’ Maxie gave a fatalistic shrug. She had suffered too many disappointments in life to waste time crying over spilt milk.

‘Well, what you need now is some good legal advice. You were only nineteen when you signed that loan agreement and you were under tremendous pressure. You were genuinely afraid for your father’s life.’ Liz’s freckled face below her mop of greying sandy hair looked hopeful. ‘Surely that has to make a difference?’

From the other side of the kitchen table, casually clad in faded jeans and a loose shirt, Maxie studied the friend who had without question taken her in off the street and freely offered her a bed for as long as she needed it. Liz Blake was the only person she trusted with her secrets. Liz, bless her heart, had never been influenced by the looks that so often made other women hostile or uneasy in Maxie’s company. Blind from birth and fiercely independent, Liz made a comfortable living as a potter and enjoyed a wide and varied social circle.

‘I signed what I signed and it did get Dad off the hook,’ Maxie reminded her.

‘Some thanks you got for your sacrifice.’

‘Dad’s never asked me for money since—’

‘Maxie...you haven’t seen him for three years,’ Liz pointed out grimly.

Maxie tensed. ‘Because he’s ashamed, Liz. He feels guilty around me now.’

Liz frowned as her guide dog, Bounce, a glossy black Labrador, sprang up and nudged his head against her knee. ‘I wonder who that is coming to the door. I’m not expecting anyone...and nobody outside the mail redirection service and that modelling agency of yours is supposed to know you’re here!’

By the time the doorbell actually went, Liz was already in the hall moving to answer it. A couple of minutes later she reappeared in the doorway. ‘You have a visitor... foreign, male, very tall, very attractive voice. He also says he’s a very good friend of yours—’

‘Of mine?’ Maxie queried with a perplexed frown.

Liz shook her head. ‘He has to be a good friend to have worked out where you’re hiding out. And Bounce gave him the all-over suspicious sniff routine and passed him with honours so I put him in the lounge. Look, I’ll be in the studio, Maxie. I need to finish off that order before I leave tomorrow.’

Maxie wondered who on earth had managed to find her. The press? Oh, dear heaven, had Liz trustingly invited some sneaky journalist in? Taut with tension, she hurried down the hall into the lounge.

One step into that small cosy room, she stopped dead as if she had run into a brick wall without warning. Smash, crash, her mind screamed as she took a sudden instinctive backward step, shock engulfing her in rolling waves of disorientation.

‘Maxie...how are you?’ Angelos Petronides purred as he calmly extended a lean brown hand in conventional greeting.

Maxie gaped as if a boa constrictor had risen in front of her, her heart thumping at manic speed and banging in her eardrums. A very good friend. Had Liz misheard him?

‘Mr Petronides—?’

‘Angelos, please,’ he countered with a very slight smile.

Maxie blinked. She had never seen him smile before. She had been in this arrogant male’s company half a dozen times over the past three years and this was the very first time he had deigned to verbally acknowledge that she lived and breathed. In her presence he had talked around her as if she wasn’t there, switching to Greek if she made any attempt to enter the conversation, and on three separate occasions, evidently responding to his request, Leland had sent her home early in a taxi.

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