And she would probably never lie like this with Angelos again. He was only here now because he had fallen asleep. She had plummeted from the heights of obsessive desirability like a stone. She had lost him but then she had never really had him. He had craved the fantasy, the Ice Queen, not the ordinary woman, and when in so many ways she had played up to that fantasy of his, how could she really blame him for not wanting her any more?
Easing back her arm, she let her palm rest down on that hair-roughened expanse of chest which drew her attention like a magnet. Her fingertips trailed gently through black springy curls, delicately traced a flat male nipple, slid downward over the rippling muscular smoothness of his abdomen, discovering a fascinating little furrow of silky hair that ran...and then she tensed in panic as she recognised the alteration in his breathing pattern. She was waking him up!
And just at that moment Maxie didn’t feel strong enough to face Angelos waking up, sober and restored to intimidating normality. Angelos would bounce back from last night’s shock and humility like a rubber ball aiming for the moon. Lying absolutely still, she waited until his breathing had evened out again and then, sidling out from under his arm, she slid off the bed.
Gathering up her discarded garments, she crept out into the corridor. Through the open doorway of the bedroom opposite she could see her single suitcase sitting at the foot of the bed. And that sight just underlined Maxie’s opinion of her exact marital status. She had no status whatsoever. Her possessions belonged in a guest-room because she was supposed to be a casual visitor, not a wife.
Pulling out a white shift dress, fresh lingerie and strappy sandals, Maxie got dressed at speed. It was only seven but the heat was already building. The house was silent. Finding her way into a vast, gleaming kitchen, she helped herself to a glass of pure orange juice and swiped a couple of apples from a lush display of fruit. Determined not to face Angelos until she had sorted herself out, she left the house. Traversing the beautiful gardens, she wandered along the rough path above the beach.
Then she let her thoughts loose, and she winced and she squirmed and she hurt. Their wedding night had been a disaster. And how much of that final confessional dialogue would Angelos recall when he woke up? Would he remember the stupid, soppy way she had hung over him? Would he recognise the pain she had not been able to conceal for what it was? The mere idea that Angelos might guess that she was in love with him was like the threat of death by a thousand cuts for Maxie.
Last night, for the very first time, Angelos hadn’t treated her as an equal. Maxie shrank from that lowering awareness. Funny how she hadn’t really noticed or even appreciated that Angelos had always met her on a level playing field until he suddenly changed tack. Now everything was different. She had been stripped of her tough cookie glossy image and exposed as a pathetic fraud. A virgin rather than a sultry, seductive object of must-have desire. A blackmail victim rather than a calculating gold-digger and the former mistress of an older man.
And who would ever have guessed that Angelos Petronides had a conscience? But, amazingly, he did. Angelos had been appalled by what he’d discovered. Even worse, he had pitied her for her less than perfect childhood and her gullible acceptance of that hateful loan agreement. Pitied. That acknowledgement was coals of fire on Maxie’s head.
Angelos now regretted their strange marriage but he felt guilty. Maxie didn’t want his guilt or his pity, and suddenly she saw how she could eradicate both. It would be so simple. All she had to do was tell Angelos about the conditions of Nancy Leeward’s last will and testament. When Angelos realised that she had had an ulterior motive in marrying him, he would soon stop feeling sorry for her...at least she would retain her pride that way.
As Maxie rounded a big outcrop of rock, she saw two little boys trying to help a fisherman spread a net on the beach below. As she watched, unseen, their earnest but clumsy efforts brought a warm, generous smile to her lovely face.
‘You have never once shown me that ravishing smile.’ Maxie was startled into a gasp by the intervention of that soft, rich, dark drawl, and her golden head spun.
Angelos stood several feet away. Clad in elegant chinos and a white polo shirt, he stole the very breath from Maxie’s lungs. Her heart crashed violently against her breastbone. He looked drop-dead gorgeous. But her wide eyes instantly veiled. She knew how clever he was. She was terrified he would somehow divine her feelings for him.
‘But then possibly I have done nothing to inspire such a reward,’ Angelos completed tautly.
He stared at her, black eyes glittering and fiercely intent. In the brilliant sunlight, with her hair shimmering like a veil of gold and the simple white dress a perfect foil for her lithe figure, she was dazzling. Moving forward slowly, as if he was attuned to her pronounced tension, he closed a lean hand over one of hers and began to walk her back along the foreshore.