‘Thank goodness you didn't stand me up!' she gasped as she flew off the bench.
Ellie dug her hands into the pockets of her jacket. 'I really didn't want to meet up with you like this, Sally. I only phoned you because I need you to pass on a message to Dio. I appreciate now that that was wrong of me—'
'No! No way was it wrong!'
'It was,' Elite sighed. 'I didn't want to write to Dio be¬cause I didn't know what to say...and I didn't want to speak to him personally. But I never should've involved you—'
Sally groaned. 'Ellie...Dio is frantic!'
Ellie frowned. 'Didn't you pass on my message?'
Sally gave her a wide-eyed look of wonder. 'Like telling Dio you were safe and happy and planning on a divorce was going to make him less frantic?'
Ellie flushed. 'It's for the best. Did you remember to tell him that I'll let him see the baby as much as he likes?'
'It wasn't quite the consolation you seemed to think it would be,' Sally responded. 'I mean the baby's not due for another six months.'
'Well, I can't help that,' Ellie muttered flatly. 'Is he still in Paris?'
'No, according to Nathan he spent that week looking for you. Then he went off on the most dreadful drinking binge. Nathan dragged him home to sleep it off in our spare room—'
Ellie stopped dead. 'The most dreadful...what! Say that again?'
'OK. Sequence of events: Dio wakes up and finds your note...right?'
'I don't know. I'd gone by then. I thought he would have gone on to Paris.'
That very same night Ellie had thrown a few things in a bag and had crept out of the apartment, determined to avoid another harrowing confrontation with Dio. She had lost enough face in that earlier scene. All she'd had left was her pride. And she would only keep her pride by staying at a safe distance from Dio until she'd got her emotions under better control.
'Well, if you'll excuse me for saying so, most husbands wouldn't get dumped and just go on like it was an ordinary day,' Sally said rather drily. 'Even stubborn, macho ones like Dio have some feelings.'
'Look, you're on his side because you don't understand and you know him better than you know me—'
'No, to be honest, I've just been totally gobsmacked by the way Dio's been carrying on,' Sally shared helplessly. 'I never, ever thought Dio would be sleeping off a hangover in our spare room.'
'So he spent the first week looking for me...' Ellie was hopelessly hungry for every tiny detail she could glean.
'How do you think we found out you'd gone? He phoned Nathan. He was in a real rage at that point. You were lucky to stay lost,' Sally confided.
'I don't understand him drinking...'
'He just went to pieces the second week. He sat in that apartment just drinking himself into a stupor, and Nathan was worried sick about him. Dio doesn't do things like that. You've really gutted him, Ellie...and I think that if you'd decided you wanted out, you could have been a lot more considerate about the way you did it.' Sally gave her a challenging glance.
Ellie tilted her chin, although her colour had risen. 'I told I was leaving.'
'He didn't think you meant it!'
'It just wasn't working for me.'
Sally slowly shook her head with a bemused frown. "The day of your wedding, I honestly thought you were crazy about him, and when we had lunch the week after you got back from Chindos it seemed even more pronounced. It was “Dio this...Dio that...'"
'I am crazy about him,' Ellie mumbled ruefully.
Sally fell still. 'Then why the heck are you doing this to him?' she demanded.
'I suppose you've told her absolutely everything, Sally,' Dio's dark growl intervened with sardonic grittiness. ‘The big search, the unmanly despair, the buckets of booze and self-pity…’
Both women whipped around. Sally hot-cheeked, Ellie pale as death.
But Dio had eyes only for his estranged wife. As Sally backed away with a guilty grimace, his dark, deep-set gaze welded to Ellie's pinched and shaken face and stayed there, ‘I've really messed up, haven't I?'
'Dio...can I give you just a little hint that that is not the right attitude to take?' Sally prompted with a wince.
'No...you don't know what's going on here and you're not going to,' Dio informed the redhead with bleak satisfaction' 'Isn't it fortunate that when I'm drunk I talk in Greek? No, Sally. What this is all about will be one mystery you never manage to solve.'
'Helena...' The redhead murmured with measured female superiority before she drifted off. Dio flinched, and his bronzed skin lost colour. 'Considering that Sally set me up for you, you weren't very polite,' Ellie said unevenly. ‘I’d never have come to meet her if I'd known you were planning to show up.'
'Sally tortured me with questions when I was at my lowest ebb. And even the worst sinners get their moment to speak on judgement day,' Dio breathed with an attempted lightness that was laced with strain.