Unprepared for a blunt assertion of that ego-battering truth, Ellie twisted her head away. Her strained eyes stung with tears as she fumbled blindly to get the key into the lock and get the shop door safely shut behind her again.
Dio plucked the key from her nerveless grip, opened the door and stood back.
Ellie stepped inside and adjusted the alarm so that it wouldn't go off. 'I just don't want to speak to you...OK?' she said stiltedly.
'No. It's not OK. I want to talk to you.' Ellie swallowed hard. All he probably wanted to do was explain and go away again. With as much dignity as she could muster, she simply shrugged as if she didn't really care either way. Dio followed her up the steep narrow staircase behind the counter. She unlocked the door of her bedsit and switched on the lamp by her bed.
It was a spacious room and she was proud of it. She had painted the walls a sunny yellow, put up posters, and covered the armchair with a colourful throw. Tossing her keys on the gate-leg table by the window, she turned back to him with pronounced reluctance.
Dio studied her with an intensity she could feel right through to her bones. She flushed and folded her arms, sud¬denly horribly conscious of her serviceable rain jacket, faded jeans and sweater. In the act of tilting her chin, she connected with glittering black eyes. She quivered, treacherous heat pooling between her thighs, a strength of craving that ap¬palled her instantly awakened.
'Come home with me' Dio demanded thickly.
'No!' Ellie gasped, reeling in bemusement from that invi¬tation.
Dark colour scored his hard cheekbones. His dense lashes swept down low over his stunning gaze and he breathed in deep, his tension as strong as her own. 'You're right. We have to talk this out first,' he conceded with gritty reluctance.
First ? Ellie spun away on legs that trembled, shattered that he could reduce her to such a level with just one smouldering glance.
'I went off on a tangent with you on the island,' Dio ad¬mitted without hesitation. 'When my chief accountant called me with the bad news, I cut him short. I didn't want to dis¬cuss it any further. I'm afraid I just assumed that you had made that phone call from the airport. I was outraged.'
'Yes,' Ellie conceded stiffly.
'But this morning I learnt that you had been telling the truth all along. There was someone else there that night. His arrival and his departure were recorded by the security cam¬era in the corridor,' Dio revealed ruefully. 'If I had been in a more focused frame of mind at the time, I would've recalled the presence of that camera and I would have been able to check out your story immediately.'
Ellie nodded in silence without looking back at him, her delicate profile taut.
'I have a hot temper. But I don't usually rush into making instant judgements on the basis of circumstantial evidence,' Dio continued.
'Well, it didn't look good for me, did it?' Ellie responded with determined lightness, keen to bring his visit to a speedy conclusion. 'You didn't know me, so how could you know that I wouldn't do something like that?'
‘You're being very generous, but that's not an excuse I need to hide behind. We had spent enough time together. I should have known,' Dio contradicted levelly. 'I very much regret the way I treated you on Chindos. I was...brutal.'
Ellie didn't argue that point. She stared at her own feet, eager to focus on anything that helped her to resist the temp¬tation to look at him again. He was making resistance diffi¬cult. He hadn't leapt on the excuse she had offered him, as most men would have done. He wasn't trying to lessen his own offence. He wasn't trying to deny that he had cruelly humiliated her.
The silence stretched and stretched. She knew he was wait¬ing for her to say something, but she had nothing to say.
Dio exhaled in a soft hiss. "The employee who tipped off one of my competitors was an accounts manager called—'
'Ricky Bolton?' Ellie interrupted before she could think better of it.
His dark eyes narrowed. 'How did you know who it was? I thought you didn't see the man.'
'I didn't, but during my break this evening Meg told me that he'd asked where I was that night, and he is an accounts manager—'
'Why would Bolton have been asking where you were?'
Ellie grimaced. 'He was the guy who was always trying to chat me up on level eight.'
At that admission, Dio's jawline took on an aggressive slant. 'I was even denied the pleasure of sacking him. He resigned from his job the next day. He exchanged the infor¬mation he had picked up for a more senior position in the other company—not that he'll be there for long.'
A grim smile curved Dio's wide, sensual mouth. 'He has no company loyalty. How can he be trusted? The first excuse they get, he'll be fired.'