Page 26 of Expectant Bride

'Surely you don't believe I'd tell the whole truth? A con¬vincingly sneaky little liar like me?' Ellie hissed in a sizzling undertone. 'Naturally, I'd lie!'

The silence full of static returned.

'If you want to return to work next week, I won't stand in your way.' Dio ground out that concession with audible ex¬asperation.

‘I’m going in tonight. Just forget we ever collided, Dio. I certainly have,' Ellie told him, and slammed down the phone.

Did he think she was prepared to see him just to hear some explanation about who had really blabbed about his confi¬dential plans? Did he really think she was interested? Did he fondly imagine an apology was likely to change anything? Were all rich men that arrogant? Fizzing with turbulent emotion, Ellie locked up the shop and mounted the stairs to her bedsit behind the storeroom on the first floor.

The very last thing she needed was to see Dio Alexiakis again. Who would wish to be faced with the reminder of their lowest moment? Throwing together a sandwich with trem¬bling hands, Ellie took two bites of it and then dumped it. Twenty minutes later, she set out for work at the Alexiakis International building. Why couldn't he just leave her alone? Couldn't he appreciate that he was just embarrassing and annoying her?

When Ellie walked into the building, the big portrait of Dio in the ground-floor foyer really offended her. On canvas, Dio just emanated cool, sophisticated charm. Fresh flowers always adorned the side table below the painting. It looked remarkably like a shrine to her embittered and unimpressed gaze.

The supervisor, a thin, sour woman, frowned when Ellie signed in. 'You took off on Monday night without a word to anyone,' she censured. 'You didn't even phone in sick. I had to put in a report to Personnel.'

'Yes. I expect you did. I'm sorry.' Ellie added another pound of flesh to Dio's mounting tally of sins and fumed all the way up to level eight.

Midway through her shift, she went down to the basement restroom for her usual cup of coffee. Meg dropped into the vacant seat beside her. 'Where on earth did you go on Mon¬day evening?' she demanded. 'I was so worried when you didn't come down for your break. I was scared there'd been a row, because that bloke you told me about—'

'What bloke?'

'You know, the one that was annoying you.' Meg frowned at her. 'Big blond bloke called Bolton. He walked right up to me the minute I began work on your floor and demanded to know where you were.'

Ellie paled. 'Sorry.'

'I had to tell him, love. Did he come upstairs looking for you?'

Ellie stilled. 'I don't know...I didn't see him,' she mut¬tered, suddenly wondering if it was Ricky Bolton who had overheard Dio's wretched profiteering plans.

The conversation of two other women nearby attracted her attention.

'I bet she's just a secretary or something...'

'Not the way she was done up, with the hat and all,' the other argued vehemently. 'Anyway, why would he take a secretary to his dad's funeral?'

Ellie cleared her dry throat. 'Who are they talking about?'

The mystery blonde Mr Alexiakis arrived in Athens with. A secretary!' Meg chuckled. 'Not in those clothes!'

'Some secretaries are very highly qualified and earn top salaries,' Ellie hastened to point out.

One of the other women leant across the gap separating them and said, "That blonde piece was a dead ringer for you, Ellie.' She gave an outrageous wink. 'And you did go AWOL that night. Anything you'd like to confess?'

'' Ellie repeated, sharply disconcerted and striv¬ing for more convincing vigour.

'Ellie would be too busy lecturing our Dio about sexism in the workplace to get off with him!' someone else mocked.

'I'm rather behind tonight. I'd better get back to work,' Ellie told Meg breathlessly as the dialogue roamed away from her again, leaving her limp.

She caught the bus home at the end of her shift, feeling both tired and stressed out. As she walked down the street where she lived, she could not help but notice the long silver limousine parked outside the shop. Fierce tension tautened her slim figure and her heart raced so fast it was a challenge to breathe. As she approached, Dio Alexiakis got out of the car, the movement fluid and controlled, without any sugges¬tion of haste.

As usual, he looked spectacular. Charcoal-grey suit, crisp shadow stripe shirt, elegant silk tie in muted shades. Ellie's heart went from racing to sinking. Dio looked every inch what he was, she acknowledged dully. A very rich and pow¬erful businessman, highly sophisticated and exquisitely well groomed. How she had ever for one second imagined that she could have a relationship with someone like him?

Ellie removed her keys from her bag with an unsteady hand. 'You're not playing fair, Dio. I told you I didn't want this,' she reminded him.

'I hurt you and I'm sorry,' Dio murmured steadily.