'I can imagine,' Dio slotted in silkily.
'And, you know, dragging me along on a trip like this...well, it's not exactly a dream treat, is it? No offence or disrespect intended, but I'm not heavily into funerals,' Ellie confided.
A disconcerting flare of amusement lit Dio's steady scru¬tiny. 'My father would have adored your irreverence!'
Her full mouth softened. 'Was he one of the good guys?'
All his tension returned, his amusement fading as quickly as it had come. In silence, he slowly nodded, bronzed features setting hard. He swung away and she wished she had kept her stupid, clumsy mouth closed. Just for a little while he had emerged from his brooding reserve and contrived to for¬get what lay ahead of him.
A knock sounded on the door. It was time to move on again. Under the growing heat of the sun they walked out across the tarmac to board a small plane. A dream treat? Ellie cringed at the recollection. How could she have been that tactless? Now he was wishing she would vanish again! So why should it bother her that he felt like that? After all, how did she expect him to feel?
The plane flew out over the gleaming waters of the Ae¬gean. In a silence filled only with monotonous engine noise, Ellie's eyes grew heavier and heavier. She sank down lower in her seat and slid into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Feeling incredibly languid, Ellie took her time about waking-up again. But she frowned in sleepy disorientation when she finally focused on her surroundings. She was lying on the capacious back seat of an enormous limousine with tinted windows.
With a thick, expensive metal clunk, the passenger door opened. A black-haired young man backed by bright golden sunlight gaze down at her with patronising amusement. 'So you're Dio's latest woman... I've got to hand it to my cousin. He's got taste. No wonder he kept you out of the church. Some of his late mother's relatives are pretty narrow-minded. I'm Lukas Varios.'
Tensing with annoyance under the earthy glide of the eyes trailing over the slender length of her exposed legs, Ellie pulled herself hurriedly upright and tugged down the skirt which had ridden up while she slept. 'I am not Dio's woman!' she snapped.
'Nice to have a piece of good news today.' With a cocky grin on his handsome face, Lukas Varies slid in beside her and closed the door. 'So, if you don't belong to Dio, what are you doing waiting outside the cemetery for him?'
Ellie compressed her ripe pink mouth into a rigid line. 'I just work for him...OK?'
'Oh, it's very much OK with me...' Impervious to her frozen expression, Lukas stretched out a confident hand to finger the silvery fall of hair lying against her flushed cheek¬bone and murmured, 'You are a real babe—'
The passenger door opened again, this time framing Dio. He took one look at the apparently intimate scene he had interrupted and smouldering fury blazed in his spectacular eyes. He reached in a powerful hand, closed it over the younger man's shoulder and hauled him out of the limo to shoot a raw flood of guttural Greek down at him.
Lukas Varios backed off, struggling to reassert his cool by smoothing down his jacket, but his shaken face was red as fire. As Ellie sat there, immobilised by sheer shock at Dio's extraordinary behaviour, Lukas sent her a fiercely accusing glance. 'She said she wasn't yours...do you think I'd have come on to her if she'd told me the truth?'
Lean, strong face cold and hard as bronze, Dio swung into the limo and slammed the door without another word. Black contemptuous eyes flamed over Ellie. 'I didn't bring you here to behave like a tramp!' he told her with splintering derision.
ELLIE'S quick temper, already taxed to its limits by Lukas's offensive familiarity, simply erupted.
Reacting on instinct alone, her hand flew up and she slapped Dio Alexiakis so hard across one cheekbone her fin¬gers stung like mad. 'No man calls me a tramp!' she bit out in furious condemnation.
As the livid marks of that slap sprang up across one slash¬ing cheekbone, Dio stared back at her with truly stunned black eyes.
Even though Ellie instantly knew that she had gone too far, she was far too angry to acknowledge her mistake. 'And your conceited mega-ego of a cousin deserves the same!' she launched in defiant addition. 'Who does that little squirt think he is? Calling me a babe, and smirking and pawing my hair like I'm some kind of toy to be played with! And how dare you behave in such a way as to give him the impression that I would stoop to be something as utterly disgusting as your woman?'
'Disgusting...?' Dio gritted, not quite levelly, eyes now as scorching a gold as the heart of a bonfire.
'Yes, disgusting!' Ellie repeated with a feeling shudder. 'Women do not belong like objects to men—'
'I could persuade you to belong to me,' Dio declared in a wrathful growl.