Ellie winced. 'Not delicate...please!’
'Worse,' she censured without hesitation. 'Men refuse to take me seriously. It's a big drawback being small and blonde—'
'But you're not blonde. Your hair is the colour of plati¬num. It's extremely eye-catching,' Dio informed her with de¬finitive derision and the distinct air of a male unimpressed by her protest. 'If you genuinely don't want to invite that type of male attitude, you shouldn't dye it that shade.'
Ellie dealt him the weary glance of a woman who had heard it all before. 'My hair's natural. My grandmother was Dutch, and very fair.'
'Natural? I don't believe you. Take your hat off,' he urged, startling her.
After a moment's hesitation, Ellie did so, and flung back her head as if she was challenging him. Her bright hair shone like heavy silver silk against the darkness of her jacket 'You see, not fake.'
His black eyes flared gold and lingered on that shimmering fall. The silence set hi then, thick as a sheet of solid steel. She watched him covertly from beneath her lashes. So very tall, so exotically dark, so still and silent. Sheathed in a sen¬sationally well-cut black double-breasted suit, he looked truly amazing. Stop it, stop it. What's the matter with you? a shaken voice screamed inside her bemused head.
Perspiration beading her short upper lip, Ellie quivered, agonised by the awful reality that her own brain seemed to be romping out of control. In directions it had never gone in before. Even in the depths of infatuation at nineteen, with the latest and last of the users and abusers she'd seemed to attract, she hadn't felt overwhelmed and taken over, her very thoughts no longer her own. And there hadn't been this ghastly, utterly desperate sexual craving which flooded her every tune she looked at Dio Alexiakis. She just could not cope with feeling like that around a man. It was so weak, so irrational, so humiliating...
'What's it like being a cleaner?' Dio enquired with quite staggering abruptness.
'Look, you don't have to make conversation with me.'
'It was a sincere question.'
'OK...it's very boring, repetitive and poorly paid,' Ellie told him with a touch of defiance. 'So if you're expecting me to say I'm some weirdo who gets a real high out of dusting and polishing—well, sorry to disappoint you!'
'So why are you doing it?'
"The hours suit me and I've got nobody on my back. I don't like being ordered around.'
'I noticed. You should deal with that problem and then consider the possibility of more challenging employment. But perhaps you have no training for any other sphere.'
'I've got plans of my own. I'm an ambitious woman hi my own small way. I won't be polishing your floors for much longer,' Ellie told him with open mockery.
Dio studied her with hard black eyes. 'In the situation you're in, it's not a good idea to drop hints of that variety. I never joke about business, Ellie.'
'Neither do I. Business comes first and last in my life—'
'And you're running up quite a bill already,' Ellie in¬formed him gently. 'You do realise that I expect you to pay me for every hour of the last twelve?'
'Double time too,' Ellie specified, tilting up her chin and ready to fight her corner. 'I take a dun view of being starved, deprived of breaks and kept up until three in the morning.'
Grudging amusement stirred in his brilliant eyes. 'You're your own worst enemy,' he murmured silkily. ‘I’d have paid one hell of a lot more if you had just kept quiet.'
'I'm not greedy, and by the way, when I said I wouldn't be working in the maintenance department for much longer, I wasn't thinking about that stupid conversation I overheard,' Ellie told him impatiently. 'I'd forgotten about that.'
'How could you have forgotten about it?' Dio growled in disbelief.
'Even if I did understand the importance of what you said in that office—which I don't—I'm an honest person and I wouldn't take advantage.'
"Those who stress how honest they are, are almost always lying in their teeth,' Dio countered crushingly.
Feeling oddly hurt that his barriers had gone up again, Ellie felt her beautiful face stiffen and flush. 'Obviously you're going to believe what you want to believe. Suit yourself!'
'You can't blame me for taking every possible precaution.'
That confident assertion filled Ellie with furious resent¬ment. Who did he think he was kidding? Without hesitation, he had used his infinitely superior power like the weapon it was! The fact that she was endeavouring to make the best of a bad situation didn't alter that brutal reality. 'Don't you dare try to justify yourself!' she warned him. 'Tell it like it is. If you weren't who you are and I wasn't who I am, I wouldn't be here! If Meg and I didn't need our jobs, I would have told you exactly where to go—'