Dio released a soft, ruefully amused laugh. His strong fea¬tures were no longer hard with tension as he scanned Ellie standing there, green eyes huge, gripping the colourful throw tightly around herself. 'Half-child, half-woman. What a con¬fusing combination you are!'
'Stop talking like that,' Ellie urged him uncomfortably, evading his scrutiny. 'You don't know what you're saying. I'll just pretend I didn't hear what you said. I know you can't help being like that, so I'm not taking offence—'
'Perhaps this is not the moment to tell you that you have supplied the only glimmer of light in an exceedingly dark day,' Dio breathed grittily, switching mood at volatile speed as he swung with restive fluidity away from her.
'Because I'm a stranger...don't you realise that?' Ellie prompted in a voice that shook with sudden strain. She was touched against her own volition by that roughened sincerity, but eager to tell him why she believed he was acting like somebody temporarily bereft of all sanity. 'I have no expec¬tations of you, no knowledge of your life. I don't ask any¬thing of you. I make no judgements.'
'On the contrary, you never stop making arbitrary judge¬ments,' Dio contradicted grimly.
'’I’m going for a walk on the beach.' Shaken by the warring emotional storm beginning to make its presence felt inside her, Ellie wrenched open the door and hurriedly walked outside.
Moonlight shimmered on the sea as the surf whispered f onto the shore. It was a clear night, and the air was warm and still. She trudged barefoot through the soft silky sand, fighting the turmoil he had unleashed—because she under¬stood all too well what Dio Alexiakis was going through.
And the way Dio looked at her might scare the hell out of her on one level, but on another it electrified her. Even with¬out him in front of her she still felt drunk. It was as if some giant, crazy infatuation had mushroomed inside her and sto¬len all common sense. In the space of twenty-four hours Dio had turned her inside out, dissolving her defensive shell, lur¬ing out the soft, vulnerable feelings she usually kept under lock and key.
Now that she was being honest with herself, she knew that she couldn't trust herself around him. She wanted Dio Al¬exiakis. She wanted him as she had never wanted any other man, and that alone was terrifying. But, far more danger¬ously, she ached to talk to him, listen to him, be with him...
Every alarm bell she possessed was clanging as loud as Big Ben. Dio couldn't deal with his own emotions right now so he had focused on her instead. That was the cruel reality of his supposed desire, she told herself urgently. Standard male avoidance technique. Target the nearest reasonably at¬tractive woman and try to blot out every painful feeling with the comforting familiarity of the physical. And right now Dio Alexiakis would dance on broken glass sooner than admit his desperate need to talk about his late father.
Reaching an impulsive decision, Ellie suddenly turned in her tracks and set off back in the direction she had come. Dio was staring out to sea, both hands dug in the pockets of his well-cut trousers, his pale shirt glimmering in the shadows of the overhanging roof that shaded the entrance to the beach house.
'I bet nothing really bad has ever happened to you before,' Ellie breathed.
He swung round. 'What the hell are you talking about?'
'Did you have a happy childhood?'
'Yes!' he gritted.
'A close relationship with your father before you became estranged?'
'Of course,' Dio confirmed in a shuttered tone that would not have encouraged the wise or wary to continue.
'So why can't you just concentrate on the good times you had?' Ellie asked bluntly.
'How could you understand how I feel now?' he demanded with splintering aggression.
'I understand. I just don't think you appreciate how very lucky you are to have enjoyed so many years of love and support,' Ellie admitted ruefully.
Dio turned to stare at her, speechless with disbelief, his whole stance shouting his blistering anger at such a conten¬tion.
'I mean...I had a father who wouldn't even let my mother put his name on my birth certificate, a father who once walked past me hi the street and pretended not to know me,' Ellie confided tightly. 'And a mother who still worshipped the ground he walked on.'
Dragged with a vengeance from his own brooding self-absorption, Dio frowned at her with frank incredulity.
'I had a major fight with my mother the day before she died,' Ellie volunteered, her throat convulsing with the sick¬ness of tears. 'I was sixteen. I loved her so much and I was worried sick about her. I was trying to snap her out of her depression, persuade her that there was a life worth living without my worthless creep of a father...'
Dio had moved without her noticing. He closed two arms round her and pulled her slight, shaking body close. Dimly it occurred to her that nothing was working quite the way she had imagined it working. Then the warm, intimate scent of him drenched her senses and she breathed in deep, loving the heat and stability of his big, powerful frame.