‘And then the whole cycle would start again?’ Angelos questioned tautly.
‘Yes...’ Maxie pursued her lips, her throat aching as she evaded his shrewd appraisal. ‘I was ten before a teacher decided that there might be an explanation other than stupidity for my difficulties and I was assessed. I was supposed to get extra classes, but before it could be arranged Dad and I moved on again.’ She tilted her chin, denying her own agonising self-consciousness on the subject. ‘In the next school, after I’d been tested, they just stuck me in the lowest form alongside the rest of the no-hopers.’
Angelos actually winced. ‘When did you leave school?’
‘As fast as my legs could carry me at sixteen!’ Maxie admitted with sudden explosive bitterness. ‘As my godmother once said to me, “Maxie, you can’t expect to be pretty and clever.” ’
‘I don’t think I like the sound of her very much.’
‘She was trying to be kind but she thought I was as thick as a brick because I was such a slow reader, and my writing was awful and my spelling absolutely stinks!’ Feeling the tears coming on, Maxie shot across the room like a scalded cat and fled back to the bedroom.
Angelos came down on the bed beside her.
‘And don’t you dare try to pretend that you don’t see me differently now!’ Maxie sobbed furiously.
‘You’re right You are incredibly brave to cope with something like that all on your own and still be such a firecracker,’ Angelos breathed grittily. ‘And if I’d known this when I had Leland in my sights, I’d have torn him limb from limb...because you couldn’t read that bloody loan contract, could you?’
‘Bits of it...I can get by...but it takes me longer to read things. I didn’t want to show myself up, so I just signed.’
‘Demetrios was fortunate. His problems were recognised when he was still a child. He got all the help he needed but you were left to suffer in frustration...you shouldn’t be—you mustn’t be ashamed of the condition.’
Tugging her back against him, Angelos smoothed her hair off her damp brow as if he was comforting a distressed and sensitive child, and she jerked away from him. He persisted. Out of pride, she tried to shrug him off again, but it was a very half-hearted gesture and recognised as such. Somehow, when Angelos closed his powerful arms round her, she discovered, nothing could possibly feel that bad.
‘What did that piece in the gossip column say anyway?’ Maxie wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
‘That the rumours about you and I were complete nonsense. But that it looked like you had attracted another wealthy “friend”—the implication being that he was another married man.’
‘The columnist got that bit right.’ An involuntary laugh escaped Maxie.
Angelos’s grip tightened. ‘It didn’t amuse me.’
Maxie then dug up the courage to ask something that had been puzzling her all night. ‘Why aren’t you still furious about me deciding to marry you because of my godmother’s will?’
‘In your position, I might have reacted the same way. I fight fire with fire too,’ Angelos admitted reflectively. ‘I don’t surrender, I get even. But, you see, there comes a time when that can become a dangerously destructive habit...’
‘I’ll stop trying to top everything you do,’ Maxie promised tautly.
‘I’ll stop trying to set you up for a fall,’ Angelos swore, and then he surveyed her with sudden decision. ‘And we’ll fly back the island to enjoy some privacy.’
‘You really are a fabulous cook,’ Angelos commented appreciatively as Maxie closed the empty picnic hamper.
Maxie tried to look modest and failed. In the most unexpected ways, Angelos was a complete pushover. With all those servants around, and the ability to eat every meal at five-star locations if he chose, no woman had ever, it seemed, made the effort to cook for him, and he was wildly and unduly impressed by the domestic touch. If she cracked an egg, he made her feel like Mother Earth.
‘You could make some lucky guy a really wonderful wife,’ Angelos drawled indolently.
Maxie leant over him and mock-punched him in the ribs. Bronzed even deeper by the sun, narrow hips and long powerful thighs sheathed in a pair of low-slung cut-off jeans, Angelos was all lean, dark, rampantly virile male. She stared down at him, entrapped, heart thumping, breathing constricted. He threaded a lean hand into her tumbling hair to imprison her in that vulnerable position.
Disturbingly serious black eyes focused on her. ‘Tell me, have you ever trusted a member of my sex?’
‘No,’ Maxie admitted uneasily.