Angelos was standing in the centre of the room, lean, hard-boned face whip-taut, black eyes shimmering.
A pain as sharp as a knife cut through Maxie. She could read nothing but angry frustration in those startlingly handsome features. That neither shame nor regret could be seen savaged her. ‘Before I walk out of your life for ever, I have a few things to say to you—’
Angelos moved forward and spread silencing hands. ‘Maxie—’
‘Don’t you dare interrupt me when I’m shouting at you!’ Maxie launched. ‘And don’t say my name like that. The only way you could get around me at this moment is with a rope! When I saw that photo of you with Natalie Cibaud, I couldn’t believe my eyes—’
‘Good,’ Angelos slotted in fiercely. ‘Because you shouldn’t have believed what you were seeing. That photo was issued by Natalie’s agent three months ago! That dinner date took place three months ago!’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Maxie breathed. jerkily, studying him with stunned intensity.
‘Then call my lawyer. I’ve already been in touch with him. I intend to sue that newspaper.’
Maxie’s lashes fluttered. Her legs trembled. She slumped back against the door. Widening blue eyes dazed, she framed raggedly, ‘Are you saying that...you weren’t with Natalie last night?’
‘Maxie, I haven’t laid eyes on Natalie since the night you took ill. We did not part the best of friends.’
The tremble in Maxie’s lower limbs was inexorably spreading right through her entire body. ‘But I thought you saw her after that—’
‘You thought wrong. I have neither seen nor spoken to her since that night, and as far as I’m aware she’s not even in the UK right now. Maxie...you should know I haven’t the smallest desire for any other woman while you are in my life,’ Angelos swore, anxiously searching her shaken face and then lapsing into roughened Greek as he reached for her and held her so tight and close she couldn’t breathe.
‘You s-said if you saw a beautiful woman walk down the street—’
‘No, I said, “a ravishing beauty like you”,’ Angelos contradicted with strong emphasis. ‘And there is no other woman like you. When I realised you must’ve seen that picture, it was like having my own heart ripped out! I can’t bear for you to be hurt—not by me, not by anyone, agape mou.’
Strongly reassured by that unexpectedly emotional speech, Maxie gazed wordlessly up at him. Angelos breathed in deep and drew back from her. Black eyes meeting her bemused scrutiny, he murmured tautly, ‘I have so much I want to say to you...but there is someone waiting to see you and it would be cruel to keep him waiting any longer. Your father is already very nervous of his reception.’
‘My...my father?’ Maxie whispered shakily. ‘He’s here?’
‘I put private detectives on his trail and they contacted me as soon as they found him. I went to see him yesterday. I had planned to bring him back to the apartment to surprise you.’ Angelos guided her over to one of the comfortable armchairs and settled her down carefully, seeming to recognise that she was in need of that assistance. ‘I’ll send him in...’
Stiff with strain, Maxie breathed unevenly, ‘Just tell me one thing before you go...has Dad asked you for money?’
‘No. No, he hasn’t. He’s cleaned up his act, Maxie. He’s holding down a job and trying to make a decent life for himself.’ Angelos shrugged. ‘But he would be the first one to admit that he still has to fight the temptation to go back to his old habits.’
Her troubled eyes misted with tears. As Russ Kendall stepped uncertainly through the door through which Angelos had just departed, Maxie slid upright. Her father looked older, his hair greyer, and he had put on weight. He also looked very uncertain of himself.
‘I wasn’t sure about coming here after what I did,’ her father admitted uncomfortably. ‘It’s very hard for me to face you now. I let you down the whole time I was bringing you -up but I let you down worst of all three years ago, when I left you to pay the price for my stupidity.’
Maxie’s stiffness gave way. Closing the distance between them, she gave the older man a comforting hug. ‘You loved me. I always knew that. It made up for a lot,’ she told him frankly. ‘You did the best you could.’
‘I hit rock-bottom when I saw you having to dance to the tune of that old coot, Leland Coulter.’ Russ Kendall shook his head with bitter regret. ‘There was no way I could avoid facing up to how low I’d sunk and how much I’d dragged you down. I leeched off you, off everyone. All I lived for was the next game, the next bet—’