For an instant, disconcertion froze Ellie to the spot. Oh, yeah, just drag me out to the airport on your stupid helicopter and then dump me with no money and a very nasty threat! Only unfreezing as fear for her co-worker Meg's future job security assailed her, Ellie raced after Dio Alexiakis, hating him like poison.
'Get out of my way,' he growled when she got in front of him.
'That call I was trying to make wasn't what you thought it was either!' Ellie argued hotly.
He simply side-stepped her.
'You are so stubborn!’ Ellie flung wrathfully in his wake. 'All I did was try to make a reverse-charge call to my boss at the bookshop...all right?'
Stilling, Dio swung back with stormy reluctance. 'What bookshop?' he ground out.
Ellie stared at him with a frown, sensing something miss¬ing, and then she exclaimed, 'What the heck have you done with the bags? For goodness' sake, you just walked off and left them lying on the floor, didn't you?'
Ellie went into automatic reverse, spinning round to retrace his steps. Her attention settled on the abandoned carrier bags with relief. Hurrying back, she grabbed them up.
'What bookshop?' Dio repeated stonily when she'd made it back to his side, laden like a packhorse.
'I work in one during the day. I also live above the shop...' Ellie paused to get her breath back. 'I have to con¬tact Mr Barry to warn him that I'll be taking time off. He'll call the police if I suddenly vanish—'
'Rubbish! He'll assume that you've taken off with some boyfriend. Staff of your age are often unreliable,' Dio Alexiakis asserted, unimpressed.
Affronted by the response, Ellie breathed in very deep to control her temper, but it didn't work.
'You know, I've had it up to here with you!' she told him bluntly, tipping back her silvery fair head to survey him with angry resentment. 'I do not have a boyfriend and I am not unreliable. Don't underestimate me and don't talk down to me, Mr Alexiakis. I always turn in for work. I've been in the same job for five years, and for the past two I've virtually been running the business—'
'So what are you doing slogging as a cleaner five nights a week?' he incised drily.
'I need the money...OK?' she flared. 'Is that really any of your business?'
'Your insolence outrages me." Shimmering dark, deep-set eyes raked over her, the lean, bronzed features hard as steel.
'So I don't like you...what do you expect? I haven't done anything wrong. I made a silly mistake, but it's being treated like a major crime!' Ellie recounted in an accusing undertone. 'You're blackmailing me into doing what I don't want to do...and I don't appreciate your conviction that because I'm poor I'm more likely to be dishonest!'
'Are you quite finished?'
Feeling as if she had run smash-bang into a brick wall and bruised herself all over, Ellie reddened and compressed her lips.
'Today of all days,' he breathed with harsh emphasis, 'I am not in the mood for this nonsense. Come on. We have wasted enough time.'
'You believe me, then...?' Ellie prompted a minute or two later as she struggled to keep up with his long, powerful stride.
'All I believe is that I caught you before you contrived to disobey my explicit warning not to telephone anyone,' Dio contradicted with succinct bite. 'You're little and sneaky. Why does that not surprise me?'
'I am not sneaky!'
'You could have explained that you had another employer. I'm not an unreasonable man,' Dio stated grimly. 'But you chose to sneak instead of being open and honest.'
If he said 'sneak' again, she swore she would slap him. Her cheeks flamed, but the threat of thirty lashes at dawn wouldn't have dragged an apology from her. Asking him permission to do anything would have choked her. And, whether he liked it or not, that call to Mr Barry still had to be made. Unfortunately the prospect of telling little white lies to Mr Barry in Dio Alexiakis's presence made her squirm.
Ellie didn't make a habit of lying. If anything, she tended to be too honest, too blunt. She knew her own failing well, but some of her failings were also her strengths. She was fiercely independent and had never been a team player. She loved having the freedom to make her own decisions. As a result, both her jobs suited her perfectly. She preferred to work alone and without interference.
Almost an hour later, when Dio's brooding silence was fraying her nerves, her passport and her keys were handed over at a prearranged meeting point by an older man in a dark suit, whom Dio called Demitrios. Both men totally ig¬nored her, and talked for what felt like a very long time in Greek.
'I hope you didn't leave my place in a mess,' Ellie finally remarked, rather loudly.
When she spoke, Demitrios frowned in complete surprise, much as if a suitcase had suddenly opened its mouth and tried to chat.
'And I hope you locked up properly again.' At that point a strangled groan erupted from Ellie. 'For goodness' sake, how the heck did you get past the alarm system in the first place? And did you reset the—?'