Maxie drew him up short there. ‘Angelos says you’ve got a job. Tell me about that,’ she encouraged.
For the past year he had been working as a salesman for a northern confectionery firm. It was now eighteen months since he had last laid a bet. He still attended weekly meetings with other former gamblers.
Maxie told him that the cottage no longer had a sitting tenant. Her father frowned in surprise, and then slowly he smiled. Rather apprehensively, he then admitted that he had met someone he was hoping to marry. He would sell the cottage and put the proceeds towards buying a house. Myrtle, he explained, had some savings of her own, and it was a matter of pride that he should not bring less to the relationship.
Now he was middle-aged, she registered, her father finally wanted the ordinary things that other people wanted. Security, self-respect, to be loved, appreciated. And wasn’t that exactly what she had always wanted for herself? Her father had needed her forgiveness and she had needed to shed her bitter memories. As they talked, her gratitude to Angelos for engineering such a reconciliation steadily increased. Russ had built a new life and she wished him well with her whole heart.
‘You’ve got yourself a good bloke in Angelos,’ her father commented with a nod as he took his leave. ‘I shouldn’t like to cross him, though.’
Maxie was mopping her eyes when Angelos reappeared. She didn’t look at him. ‘This has been a heck of morning... but I’m really grateful that you found Dad for me. It’s like a whole big load of worry has dropped off my shoulders. Tell me, would you have brought us together again if he’d still been down on the skids?’
From the corner of her eye, she saw Angelos still. ‘Not immediately,’ he confessed honestly. ‘I would have tried to get him some help first. But be wouldn’t have come if he hadn’t sorted himself out. He wouldn’t have had the courage to face you.’
Angelos curved a supportive hand round her spine and walked her towards the door. ‘We have a helicopter to catch.’
‘Where on earth are we going?’
‘I thought Dad was my surprise.’
‘Only part of it.’ He urged her up a flight of stairs and they emerged onto the roof, where a helicopter waited. Maxie grimaced and gave him a look of reproach which he pretended not to notice.
He held her hand throughout the flight. Maxie was forced to admit that it wasn’t so bad. She was even persuaded to look out of the windows once or twice. But she still closed her eyes and prayed when they started coming in to land. Angelos restored her to solid ground again with careful hands. ‘You’re doing really great,’ he told her admiringly.
Only then did Maxie open her eyes. She gaped. A hundred yards away stood a very large and imposing nineteenth-century country house surrounded by a gleaming sea of luxury cars. Three other helicopters were parked nearby. ‘Where are we? What’s going on?’
‘I did once mention having a house in the country but you were ill at the time,’ Angelos conceded with a wolfish smile. ‘Welcome to the wedding reception you never had, Mrs Petronides...’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Maxie prompted unevenly.
‘All my relatives and all my friends are waiting to meet you,’ Angelos revealed. ‘And the advantage of inviting them for lunch is that they all have to go home before dinner. Two weeks ago, the only reason I agreed to hold fire on announcing our marriage was that I hadn’t the slightest desire to share you with other people. I wanted you all to myself for a while—’
‘All your relatives...all your friends?’
‘Maxie...this little celebration has been in the pipeline for two weeks. The invitations went out while we were in Greece.’ He hesitated and cast her a rueful glance. ‘I did ask your father to join us but he preferred not to.’
Maxie nodded without surprise and wondered absently why they were dawdling so much on their passage towards the house. ‘Was Dad the something that came up yesterday?’
‘I went up to Manchester to see him. That took up quite a few hours and then I came back here for the night. I wanted to check everything was ready for us.’ Angelos stilled her steps altogether, casting an odd, frustrated glance of expectancy up at the sky.
The whine of an aircraft approaching brought a smile back to Angelos’s impatient dark features. As a low-flying plane approached over the trees, he banded both arms round Maxie and turned her round. ‘Look up,’ he urged.
Maxie’s eyes widened. In the wake of the strange trail of pink smoke left by the plane, words appeared to be forming.