'Dio.. .it was a small town. Mum was an unmarried mother when it wasn't at all acceptable.' Ellie cleared her throat of the thickness of tears. 'Her father died owing money to a lot of local tradesmen. Neither of those facts was going to win her any popularity contest. And when my father was seen visiting by the neighbours...well, everyone knew he was a married man.'
'Why didn't you tell me that he ditched your mother to marry his secretary a few months after his first wife died?' Dio enquired drily.
He was concentrating on the revelations about her back¬ground rather than the infinitely more damaging and cruel comments about her in the present. She had been branded a cunning little gold-digger, who had seen her chance with a rich man and grabbed it with both hands. She felt sicker than ever.
‘Ellie...' Dio prompted curtly.
‘Well, to be blunt...Th-that's not one of my favourite memories,' she stammered painfully. 'My father didn't even bother to tell Mum that he had another woman in his life. The first she knew about it was the notice of their marriage in the local paper! She was devastated.'
'Yes, and I would have preferred to have learned from you that she took her own life.'
Ellie rounded on him in shaken rebuttal. 'She didn't! She was taking medication for depression. She was living in her own little world. She stepped off the pavement at a junction without looking and just got knocked down!'
Dio surveyed her with bleak eyes and his hands coiled into fists which he dug into his pockets. 'You were only sixteen. How the hell did you cope alone at that age?'
'My caring father sent his solicitor to arrange the funeral. He didn't attend himself, of course.' Then what?' Dio prompted, looking grimmer than ever. "Why did you leave school?'
Ellie frowned in surprise. 'What choice did I have?'
'At the very least your father should have ensured that you completed your education—'
'Why would he have done that when he had spent sixteen years trying to pretend that I was nothing to do with him? He was scared his wife would find out about me and throw him out. All the money was hers,' Ellie explained wearily.
'So what did you do after your mother died?'
'Our flat was rented. I sold the household stuff to a dealer and went to London. I stayed in a hostel until I got the job with Mr Barry. The year after that, he offered me the room above the shop. Dio, why are we talking about my background?' Ellie studied him with bewildered eyes. 'I didn't tell you any lies. I may have skipped the messier details, but that's no hanging offence.'
His black eyes flared to smouldering gold. 'At this moment, I want to strangle you,' Dio confessed in a wrathful undertone. 'But if we talk about what doesn't really matter for long enough, I have more hope of getting my temper under control!'
Ellie frowned hi confusion. Was he blaming her for that scurrilous article? How could he? She asked him, certain she had to be wrong.
'Of course I'm blasted well blaming you!' Dio launched back at her, his pent-up outrage unleashed by what he evidently considered to be a very stupid question.
Ellie turned very pale. 'But why?'
"The trail leads back to you, Ellie. If I'm not very sympathetic, it's because your own lack of discretion has brought this on us both!' he condemned with raw impatience.
'Lack of discretion?' Ellie echoed blankly.
'Nathan didn't even tell Sally that you were pregnant! He knows she's a hopeless gossip. And now I know I've got a wife who makes his look as secretive as the CIA!' Dio bit out sardonically. 'How many people have you told that you're pregnant?'
'None!' Ellie's temper rose as she finally grasped why he didn't feel she was entitled to sympathy. He fondly imagined, that all that information had leaked from her own foolish lips!
'You must have told someone. I would trust Nathan with my life. The press couldn't have managed to put all this together so quickly without assistance from someone close to you!' Dio spelt out with emphasis.
Ellie then recalled telling Ricky Bolton that she was expecting a baby, and she coloured hotly.
Dio was watching her like a hawk eager to swoop on a tender prey. 'Who was it?'
Ellie was thinking at a frantic pace. Ricky might have known she was pregnant, but he hadn't known a single thing about her parentage. Then she stilled, an expression of appalled comprehension slowly freezing her eloquent face. She could not believe what a fool she had been not to grasp who was behind such a vindictive attack on her.
'Ellie...I want a full confession. Then possibly I will calm down,' Dio contended, in not the most convincing of promises.
Ellie scrutinised him in agonised silence. She knew that he was likely to spontaneously combust if she spoke the name that already lay between them like a mine-filled stretch of enemy territory. But at the same time she had to defend herself.