'So you decided you'd marry her and have a mistress to supply the warmth she so conspicuously lacks.'
Recognising her scorn, Dio dealt her a wry look of re¬proach. 'Such marriages are not uncommon in my world. Until I met you, I didn't realise what I might be missing.' Ellie sighed. 'I can't believe that.' 'OK...so there have been a few women in my past,' Dio conceded, in distinctly charged understatement. 'But not one of them got to me the way you did. We had that one magical night and then I blew it. But I couldn't stay away from you—'
'So you married me and blew it again,' Ellie slotted in painfully.
Dio crossed the carpet and hunkered down to look up into her wan face. He tried to reach for her hands. She put them behind her back.
Dio's mouth quirked. 'The night you told me that you might be pregnant, I realised that I was in love with you— head over heels in love.'
'You would tell me anything to keep a hold on our baby, wouldn't you?' Ellie mumbled with a sob in her voice.
Dio's beautiful dark eyes shimmered. He unpeeled her hands from behind her back and held them fast in his. 'My biggest mistake was not telling you how I felt that night in my apartment,' he told her rawly. 'I knew then that I would never marry Helena, and that's when the guilt kicked in. Then she phoned after we had made love and I felt even worse!"
A little shard of hope pierced Ellie's emotional turmoil. Now she was locked onto his every facial expression, his every word. She remembered the way he had reacted after that phone call that had interrupted them. 'You should have explained about her then!'
Dio released his breath in a rueful hiss. 'I didn't want to upset you. I also didn't feel right talking to you about her at that stage,' he admitted. 'First I needed to see her and tell her that I had fallen in love.'
'Is that what you told her?'
Dio gave her a questioning look. 'What else would I have told her? I knew she wouldn't be too impressed by the an¬nouncement, but it was the truth. When you came out of Nathan's surgery, I really was pleased about the baby, but I'm afraid my guilt over Helena ruined what should've been a very special occasion.'
'I can understand how you must've felt.'
Dio grimaced. 'No, you can't. I was very angry with my¬self for letting that understanding with Helena drift on for so long. I believed that I was letting her down very badly,' he confessed. 'But if I felt bad then, it was nothing to how I felt when I actually faced Helena in Paris.'
Ellie frowned, her hands tightening their hold on his. 'What did she do to you?'
'She played me like a violin,' Dio grated with a perceptible rise of blood to his bronzed complexion as he recalled that meeting. 'She said that she would be a laughing stock, and that no man would ever marry her if I didn't. But she kept on reiterating that of course she understood and forgave me...I was there for hours!' He gave a feeling shudder of recollection. 'I felt like a complete bastard. I honestly thought that I had ruined her life.'
'She's a terrific actress...or maybe...maybe she really does love you, Dio,' Ellie suggested unhappily. Dio gave her an aghast look. 'You've got to be joking!' 'I love you...why shouldn't she? She's known you a lot longer—'
'Ellie...' Dio vaulted upright and carried her with him, his dark eyes ablaze with intense pleasure and relief at that sim¬ple confession. 'Ellie, darling, darling, gorgeous Ellie...' he breathed raggedly. 'If I was a poor man, Helena wouldn't give me the time of day. She's obsessed with marrying a wealthy man worthy of her illustrious family tree. She simply could not credit that I could be wet enough to start talking about love...she said I could have you if I wanted you—'
'As a mistress—'
'And I said I loved you too much for that' Dio brushed her hair from her brow with gentle fingers, so much tender¬ness in his warm dark eyes that Ellie finally believed that he loved her. 'But when I confronted her two weeks ago, she was much more honest. She assured me that if a better mat¬rimonial prospect had come along, she'd have been married years ago!'
‘I’m glad she was angry rather than hurt,' Ellie admitted. 'Even after all she's done to you?' Dio demanded with naked incredulity.
Ellie stretched up to loosen his tie in a very proprietorial way. 'I can be very generous when I've won,' she shared rather smugly.
Dio caught her up in his arms and crushed her mouth with hungry intensity beneath his. As he buried his face in her hair, she quivered, feeling as weak as a kitten.
'I never dreamt that hearing a woman telling me that she loved me could mean so much,' he confided with roughened sincerity.
'And to think that if you had told me rather than Helena,' Ellie could not resist remarking, 'that you loved me, I'd never have left you.'
'Don't you ever leave me again,' Dio warned fiercely.