Dio studied her for a full ten seconds with widening black eyes full of sheer, lancing disbelief. 'If you must lie, strive to come up with something more credible and less melodra¬matic,' he derided harshly. 'Helena would never sink to such a level.'
Silenced by the level of assurance with which he made that claim, Ellie stared back at him with bitter anger. 'You really do deserve her,' she breathed in a stark undertone, two high spots of red banishing her previous pallor. 'And if she's so blasted special, why were you with me?'
Dio froze. 'I will not discuss Helena with you, Ellie.'
'What a pity you couldn't award me the same respect!' Ellie bit out, so mad with rage and pain she could hardly get the words out.
A slight rise of colour burnished the slant of Dio's stun¬ning but rigid cheekbones. "The very least I owed Helena was a frank explanation.'
'But you couldn't even bring yourself to refer to her ex¬istence around me. You must have known that I hadn't a clue who she was the day of the funeral!' Ellie condemned in an emotive appeal. 'I thought she was just a relative—'
'We are distantly related,' Dio conceded, tight-mouthed.
'How very cosy. No wonder you didn't introduce me to her! That's some kinky, twisted relationship you two have...and if she was a nicer person, I might have pitied her for being that desperate to hold onto you!'
Dio rested glittering dark golden eyes on her that burned like lasers. 'I will not listen to you abusing Helena. You don't understand what you're talking about.'
A torn laugh escaped Ellie. 'And if it's anything to do with you, I never will, will I? But it really doesn't matter any more. I trusted you. I thought you were a free man. I would never have got involved with you had I known about her.'
'Helena and I are not lovers,' Dio delivered grimly. 'Be¬fore last night I had never actually discussed marriage with her. But there was a strong understanding between our fam¬ilies that at some time in the future we would marry.'
'Why the heck didn't you just marry her when your father wanted you to?' Ellie demanded bitterly.
'I resented the pressure being put on me. I should em¬phasise that Helena played no part in creating that pressure,' Dio imparted flatly.
Saint Helena, safe on her pedestal of perfection, Ellie re¬flected sickly. And what had she herself been but a last little fling that night on the island of Chindos? A physical release, a momentary distraction from his grief? 'That night we spent together...you already knew you were going to go ahead and marry her.'
'Ultimately I always expected to marry Helena. No matter how much you resent that reality, I can't alter it,' Dio as¬serted with bleak emphasis.
'But you weren't honest with me. You never gave me a choice. I can't ever forgive that. And now mat I do know about her, I find it absolutely disgusting that you were plan¬ning to set me up as your mistress before you even married her,' she admitted, with a quiver of repulsion at such naked calculation. 'What's the point of marrying someone you can't even be faithful to?'
Dio threw up both hands in a sudden sweeping gesture of violent frustration. "The last twenty-four hours have been un¬adulterated hell for me. I am in no mood to stand much more from you,' he vented rawly. 'Whether you like it or not, Helena is the wounded party in this situation. I have hurt her pride and let her down, but she voiced not a single word of reproach.'
'Yes, she's a very clever woman, much cleverer than I am.'
'Cristos...' Dio blazed back at her. 'How can you be so bloody spiteful? It is you whom I am going to many now!'
Ellie stooped to lift her bag with a trembling hand and then straightened to survey him with eyes empty of all emo¬tion, for she was drained. 'I wouldn't have you as a gift, Dio.'
Dio shot her a look of volatile black fury. 'I swear that I will strangle you before I get you to the altar!'
'I mean it,' Ellie told him quietly, watching a sort of stunned light begin to make inroads into his anger as he ab¬sorbed her determination. 'Yesterday I was panicking, and foolish enough to grab at your offer of marriage. But your loyalty is with Helena, not where it should be, and I'm not becoming part of some nasty triangle—'
'You are being totally unreasonable!' Dio condemned harshly.
'No, I'm being very sensible.'
'You are carrying my child—'
'And that's the only reason you asked me to marry you...it's not enough.' And, sidestepping him in a sudden move of desperation, Ellie walked swiftly out into the hall.
'There is more than that between us, pethi mou,' Dio growled in her wake.
'I can get by without the sex too,' Ellie told him witheringly, although even the sound of that dark, deep drawl pulled at her senses.
'Come back here!' Dio grated. 'This is ridiculous!'
Ellie glanced back at him, her lovely face pale as marble and just about as unyielding. 'No...what was ridiculous was that we ever got together in the first place.'