He sank down opposite her, which was an instant relief because even when she was standing he towered over her. That was an unusual sensation for a woman as tall as Maxie, and one that with him in the starring role she found irrationally belittling.
For such a big, powerfully built man, however, he moved with the lightness and ease of an athlete. He was as dark as she was fair...quite staggeringly good-looking. Spectacular cheekbones, a strong, thin-bladed nose, the wide mouth of a sensualist. But it was those extraordinary eyes which held and compelled and lent such blazing definition to his fantastic bone structure. And there was not a soupçon of softness or real emotion in that hard, assessing gaze.
‘Leland’s wife was planning to take you to court over that loan,’ Angelos Petronides delivered smoothly into the thumping silence.
Maxie’s spine jerked rigid, eyes flying wide in shock as she gasped, ‘How did you find out about the loan?’
Angelos angled a broad, muscular shoulder in a light, dismissive shrug, as if they were enjoying a light and casual conversation. ‘It’s not important. Jennifer will not take you to court. I have settled the loan on your behalf.’
Slowly, her muscles strangely unwilling to do her bidding, Maxie leant forward. ‘Say that again,’ she invited shakily, because she couldn’t believe he had said what he had just said.
Angelos Petronides regarded her with glittering black unfathomable eyes. ‘I will not hold that debt over you, Maxie. My intervention was a gesture of good faith alone.’
‘G-good faith...?’ Maxie stammered helplessly, her voice rising to shrillness in spite of her every effort to control it.
‘What else could it be?’ Angelos shifted a graceful hand in eloquent emphasis, his brilliant gaze absorbing the raw incredulity and shock which had blown a giant smoking crater in the Ice Queen’s famed façade of cool. ‘What man worthy of the name would seek to blackmail a woman into his bed?’
MAXIE leapt upright, her beautiful face a flushed mask of fury. ‘Do you think I am a complete fool?’ she shouted at him so loudly her voice cracked.
Unhurriedly, Angelos Petronides shifted his incredibly long legs and fluidly unfolded to his full height again, his complete control mocking her loss of temper. ‘With regard to some of your past decisions in life...how frank am I allowed to be?’
Maxie sucked in oxygen as if she was drowning, clamped a hand to her already opening mouth and spun at speed away from him. She was shattered that he had smashed her self-discipline. As noise filtered through the open window she became dimly aware of the shouts of children playing football somewhere outside, but their voices were like sounds impinging from another world.
‘You don’t need to apologise,’ Angelos drawled in a mocking undertone. ‘I’ve seen your temper many times before. You go pale and you stiffen. Every time Leland put so much as a finger on you in public, I witnessed your struggle not to shrug him off. It must have been fun in the bedroom...’
Maxie’s slender backbone quivered. Her fingernails flexed like claws longing to make contact with human flesh. She wanted to kill him. But she couldn’t even trust herself to speak, and was all the more agitated by the simple fact that she had never felt such rage before and honestly didn’t know how to cope with it.
‘But then, it was always evident to me that Leland’s biggest thrill was trotting you out in public at every possible opportunity. “Look at me, I have a blonde twice as tall as me and a third of my age,”’ Angelos mused with earthy amusement. ‘I suspect he might not have demanded intimate entertainment that often. He wasn’t a young man...’
‘And you are...without doubt...the most offensive, objectionable man I have ever met!’ Maxie launched with her back still rigidly turned to him.
‘I am a taste you will acquire. After all, you need someone like me.’ A pair of strong hands settled without warning on her slim shoulders and exerted sufficient pressure to swivel her back round to face him.
‘I need someone like you like I need a hole in the head!’ Maxie railed back at him rawly as she tore herself free of that controlling hold. ‘And keep your hands off me...I don’t like being pawed!’
‘Why are you so angry? I had to tell you about the loan,’ Angelos pointed out calmly. ‘I was aware that the Coulters’ lawyer had already been in touch. Naturally, I wanted to set your mind at rest.’
The reminder of the debt that had simply been transferred acted like a drenching flood of cold water on Maxie’s overheated emotions. Her angry flush was replaced by waxen pallor. Her body turned cold and weak and shaky and she studied the worn carpet at his feet. ‘You’ve bought yourself a pup. I can’t settle that loan...and right now I haven’t even got enough to make a payment on it,’ she framed sickly.