About thirty seconds later, Angelos replaced the receiver. Maxie was suffering from dropped-jaw syndrome. Only Nikos, evidently inured to the liveliness of life with Angelos, was functioning normally. Having mopped up the split coffee, he had brought a fresh cup, and he now removed himself from the room again with admirable cool.
Angelos slapped the offending newspaper down in front of Maxie. ‘This is what happens when you stroll round Paris without protection,’ he informed her grimly. ‘You didn’t even realise you’d been caught on camera, did you?’
‘No,’ she confided, and swallowed hard, still in shock from that startling knee-jerk demonstration of male protectiveness. She cast a brief glance at the photo. ‘But do you really think that newspaper is likely to pay the slightest heed to your objections?’
‘I own that newspaper,’ Angelos breathed flatly, his lean face sardonic. ‘And just look at what that stupid columnist has written!’
Maxie obediently bent her head. She put a finger on the lines of italic type to the right of the photo. The tiny words blurred and shifted hopelessly because she couldn’t even begin to concentrate with Angelos standing over her as he was.
The silence thundered.
Then a lean brown forefinger came down to shift hers to the section of type below the photograph. ‘It’s that bit, actually,’ Angelos informed her, half under his breath.
Maxie turned white, her stomach reacting with a violent lurch. ‘I never read this kind of stuff...and you’ve caught me out. I’m horribly long-sighted...
The silence went on and on and on. She couldn’t bring herself to look up to see whether or not he had been fooled by that desperate lie.
In an abrupt movement, Angelos removed the newspaper. ‘You shouldn’t be looking at that sort of sleazy trash anyway. It’s beneath your notice!’
The sick tension, the shattering fear of discovery drained out of Maxie, but it left her limp, perspiration beading her short upper lip. How could she tell him? How could she admit a handicap like dyslexia to someone like Angelos? Like many, he might not even believe that the condition really existed; he might think that it was just a fancy name coined to make the not very bright feel better about their academic deficiencies. Over the years Maxie had met a lot of attitudes like that, and had learnt that any attempt to explain the problems she had often resulted in contempt or even greater discomfiture.
‘Maxie...’ Angelos cleared his throat with rare hesitancy. ‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your eyesight, and I don’t think it’s a good idea at this stage in our relationship to pretend that there is.’
As that strikingly candid admission sank in, appalled humiliation engulfed Maxie. This was her worst nightmare. Angelos had uncovered her secret. She could have borne anybody but him seeing through the lying excuses that came so readily to her lips when her reading or writing skills were challenged. She sat there just Staring into space, blocking him out.
‘Maxie...I don’t like upsetting you but I’m not about to drop the subject.’ Angelos bent and hauled the chair around by the arms, with her still sitting in it. ‘You are very intelligent so there has to be a good reason why you can’t read ten lines in a newspaper with the same ease that I can. And, you see, I remember your notebook when you were waitressing...like a type of shorthand instead of words.’
Maxie parted compressed lips like an automaton. ‘I’m dyslexic...OK?’
‘OK...do you want some more coffee?’ Angelos enquired without skipping a beat as he straightened.
‘No, I’ve had enough...I thought you’d want to drag it all out of me,’ she said then accusingly.
‘Not right now, if it’s upsetting you to this degree,’ Angelos returned evenly.
‘I’m not upset!’ Maxie flew upright and stalked across the room in direct contradiction of the statement. ‘I just don’t like people prying and poking about in what is my business and nobody else’s!’
Angelos regarded her in level enquiry. ‘Dyslexia is more widespread than perhaps you realise. Demetrios, whose twenty-first I attended last night, is also dyslexic, but he’s now in his second year at Oxford. His two younger brothers also have problems. Didn’t you get extra tuition at school to help you to cope?’
Relaxing infinitesimally, Maxie folded her arms and shook her head dully. ‘I went to about a dozen different schools in all—’
‘A dozen?’ Angelos interrupted in astonishment.
‘Dad and I never stayed in one place for long. He always ended up owing someone money. If it wasn’t the landlord it was the local bookie, or some bloke he had laid a bet with and lost...so we would do a flit to pastures new.’