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Married to a Mistress(10)

By:Lynne Graham

How could two people who scarcely knew each other spend so long tearing each other apart? How could she have been that bitchy? How could she have actually enjoyed striking back at him and watching him react with impotent black fury? And yet now she felt sick at the memory, and astonishingly empty, like someone who had learned to thrive on electric tension and pain...and who now could not see a future worth living without them.

Angelos Petronides had devastated her but he wouldn’t bother her again now, she told herself in an effort at consolation. Even the toughest male wouldn’t put himself in line for more of the same. And Angelos least of all. He had expected her to fall into his bed with the eagerness of an avaricious bimbo, scarcely able to believe her good fortune. Instead she had hit that boundless ego of his, watched him shudder in sheer shock from the experience...and yet inside herself she felt the most awful bewildering sense of loss.

Reluctant to dwell on reactions that struck her as peculiar, Maxie chose instead to look back on their brief acquaintance with self-loathing. She squirmed over her own foolishness. Like an adolescent fighting a first powerful crush, she had overreacted every step of the way.

She had fancied him like mad but, blind and naive as a headstrong teenager, she hadn’t even admitted that to herself until it was too late to save face. ‘I have not been unaware of your interest in me.’ She shuddered with shame. Had she surrendered to that physical attraction, it would’ve been a one-way ticket to disaster. She knew she couldn’t afford to make any more wrong choices. She hadn’t needed him to tell her that. Dear heaven, as if becoming his mistress would’ve been any kind of improvement on the humiliating charade Leland had forced her to live for so long!

Angelos hadn’t believed her about Leland, of course he hadn’t—hadn’t even paused to catch his breath and listen. And in pushing the issue she would’ve made an ass of herself, for nothing short of medical proof of her virginity, if there was such a thing, would’ve convinced him otherwise. In any case the level of her experience wouldn’t count with a male like Angelos Petronides. He viewed her the same way people viewed a takeaway snack. As something quick and cheap to devour, not savour. Her stomach lurched sickly. Even had she been tempted, which she hadn’t been, had he thought for one moment that she would’ve believed she was likely to hold his interest as long as six months?

‘A man will tell a girl who looks like you anything to get her into the bedroom,’ her father had once warned her grimly. ‘The one who is prepared to wait, the one who is more interested in how you feel, is the one who cares.’

That blunt advice had embarrassed her at a time when she was already struggling to cope with the downside of the spectacular looks she had been born with. Girlfriends threatened by the male attention she attracted had dumped her. Grown men had leered at her and tried to touch her and date her. Even teenage boys who, alone with her, had been totally intimidated by her, had told crude lies about her sexual availability behind her back. Eight years on, Maxie was still waiting without much hope to meet a man who wasn’t determined to put the cart before the proverbial horse.

An hour after she got back to Liz’s house, the phone rang. It was Catriona Ferguson, who ran the Star modelling agency which had first signed Maxie up at eighteen.

‘I’ve got no good news for you, Maxie,’ she shared in her usual brisk manner. ‘The PR people over at LFT Haircare have decided against using you for another series of ads.’

‘We were expecting that,’ Maxie reminded the older woman with a rueful sigh of acceptance.

‘I’m afraid there’s nothing else in the pipeline for you. Hardly surprising, really,’ Catriona told her. ‘You’re too strongly associated with one brand name. I did warn you about that risk and, to be blunt, your recent coverage in the tabloids has done you no favours.’

It had been a month since Maxie had moved out of Leland’s townhouse. She hadn’t worked since then and now it looked as if she was going to have to find some other means of keeping herself. Her bank account was almost empty. She couldn’t afford to sit waiting for work that might never come, nor could she blame Catriona for her lack of sympathy. Time and time again the older woman had urged Maxie to branch out into fashion modelling, but Leland’s frantic social life and the demands he had made on her time had made that impossible.

Hours later, Maxie hunched over both bars of the electric fire in Liz’s lounge as she tried to keep warm while she brooded. Angelos was gone. That was good, she told herself, that was one major problem solved. She scratched an itchy place on her arm and then gazed down in surprise at the little rash of spots there.

What had she eaten that had disagreed with her? she wondered, but she couldn’t recall eating anything more than half a sandwich since breakfast time. She just couldn’t work up an appetite. She fell asleep on the settee and at some timeless stage of the night wakened to feel her way down to the guest-room and undress on the spot before sinking wearily into bed.

When she woke up late the next morning, she wasn’t feeling too good. As she cleaned her teeth she caught a glimpse of her face in the tiny mirror Liz had on the wall for visitors and she froze. There was another little rash of spots on her forehead. It looked remarkably like... chickenpox. And she itched, didn’t she? But only children got that, didn’t they? And then she remembered one of Liz’s neighbours calling in a couple of weeks back with a child in tow who had borne similiar spots.

‘She’s not infectious any more,’ the woman had said carelessly.

Lower lip wobbling, Maxie surveyed the possible proof of that misapprehension. A dry cough racked her chest, leaving her gasping for breath. Whatever she had, she was feeling foul. Getting herself a glass of water, she went back to bed. The phone went. She had to get out of bed again to answer it.

‘What?’ she demanded hoarsely after another bout of coughing in the cold hall.

‘Angelos here, what’s wrong with you?’

‘I have...I have a cold,’ she lied. ‘What do you want?’

‘I want to see you—’

‘No way!’ Maxie plonked down the phone at speed.

The phone rang again. She disconnected it from its wall-point. A couple of hours later the doorbell went. Maxie ignored it. Getting out of bed yet again felt like too much trouble.

She dozed for the rest of the day, finally waking up shivering with cold and conscious of an odd noise in the dim room. Slowly it dawned on her that the rasping wheeze was the sound of her own lungs straining to function. Her brain felt befogged, but she thought that possibly she might need a doctor. So she lay thinking about that while the doorbell rang and rang and finally fell silent.

Fear got a healthy grip on her when she stumbled dizzily out of bed and her legs just folded beneath her. She hit the polished wooden floor with a crash. Tears welled up in her sore eyes. The room was too dark for her to get her bearings. She started to crawl, trying to recall where the phone was. She heard a distant smash. It sounded like glass breaking, and then voices. Had she left the television on? Trying to summon up more strength, she rested her perspiring brow down on the boards beneath her.

And then the floor lit up...or so it seemed.


A DISTURBINGLY familiar male voice bit out something raw in a foreign language and a pair of male feet appeared in Maxie’s limited view. Strong hands turned her over and began to lift her.

‘You’re all...spotty...’ Angelos glowered down at her with unblinking black eyes, full of disbelief.

‘Go away...’ she mumbled.

‘It just looks a little...strange,’ Angelos commented tautly, and after a lengthy pause, while Maxie squeezed shut her eyes against the painful intrusion of that overhead light and him, he added almost accusingly, ‘I thought only children got chickenpox.’

‘Leave me alone...’ Maxie succumbed weakly to another coughing fit.

Instead, he lifted her back onto the bed and rolled the bulky duvet unceremoniously round her prone body.

‘What are you doing?’ she gasped, struggling to concentrate, finding it impossible.

‘I was on my way down to my country house for the weekend. Now it looks like I’ll be staying in town and you’ll be coming home with me,’ Angelos delivered, with no visible enthusiasm on his strong, hard face as he bent down to sweep her up into his powerful arms.

Maxie couldn’t think straight, but the concept of having nothing whatsoever to do with Angelos Petronides was now so deeply engrained, his appearance had set all her alarm bells shrieking. ‘No...I have to stay here to look after the house—’

‘I wish you could...but you can’t.’

‘I promised Liz...she’s away and she might be burgled again... put me down.’

‘I can’t leave you alone here like this.’ Angelo stared down at her moodily, as if he was wishing she would make his day with a sudden miraculous recovery but secretly knew he didn’t have much hope.

Maxie struggled to conceal her spotty face against his shoulder, mortified and weak, and too ill to fight but not too ill to hate. ‘I don’t want to go anywhere with you.’ Gulping, she sniffed.