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Married to a Mistress(4)

By:Lynne Graham

She would not lose her temper; she would tie herself in knots before she exposed her outrage and he recognised her humiliation. How dared he...how dared he land on Liz’s doorstep and announce his lustful intentions and behave as if he was awaiting a round of applause? If she spread herself across the carpet at his feet in gratitude, he would no doubt happily take it in his stride.

‘Your interest in my wellbeing is unwelcome and unnecessary, Mr Petronides,’ Maxie countered not quite levelly, and she sat down because she was honestly afraid that if she didn’t she might give way to temptation and slap him across that insolent mouth so hard she would bruise her fingers.

He sank down opposite her, which was an instant relief because even when she was standing he towered over her. That was an unusual sensation for a woman as tall as Maxie, and one that with him in the starring role she found irrationally belittling.

For such a big, powerfully built man, however, he moved with the lightness and ease of an athlete. He was as dark as she was fair...quite staggeringly good-looking. Spectacular cheekbones, a strong, thin-bladed nose, the wide mouth of a sensualist. But it was those extraordinary eyes which held and compelled and lent such blazing definition to his fantastic bone structure. And there was not a soupçon of softness or real emotion in that hard, assessing gaze.

‘Leland’s wife was planning to take you to court over that loan,’ Angelos Petronides delivered smoothly into the thumping silence.

Maxie’s spine jerked rigid, eyes flying wide in shock as she gasped, ‘How did you find out about the loan?’

Angelos angled a broad, muscular shoulder in a light, dismissive shrug, as if they were enjoying a light and casual conversation. ‘It’s not important. Jennifer will not take you to court. I have settled the loan on your behalf.’

Slowly, her muscles strangely unwilling to do her bidding, Maxie leant forward. ‘Say that again,’ she invited shakily, because she couldn’t believe he had said what he had just said.

Angelos Petronides regarded her with glittering black unfathomable eyes. ‘I will not hold that debt over you, Maxie. My intervention was a gesture of good faith alone.’

‘G-good faith...?’ Maxie stammered helplessly, her voice rising to shrillness in spite of her every effort to control it.

‘What else could it be?’ Angelos shifted a graceful hand in eloquent emphasis, his brilliant gaze absorbing the raw incredulity and shock which had blown a giant smoking crater in the Ice Queen’s famed façade of cool. ‘What man worthy of the name would seek to blackmail a woman into his bed?’


MAXIE leapt upright, her beautiful face a flushed mask of fury. ‘Do you think I am a complete fool?’ she shouted at him so loudly her voice cracked.

Unhurriedly, Angelos Petronides shifted his incredibly long legs and fluidly unfolded to his full height again, his complete control mocking her loss of temper. ‘With regard to some of your past decisions in life...how frank am I allowed to be?’

Maxie sucked in oxygen as if she was drowning, clamped a hand to her already opening mouth and spun at speed away from him. She was shattered that he had smashed her self-discipline. As noise filtered through the open window she became dimly aware of the shouts of children playing football somewhere outside, but their voices were like sounds impinging from another world.

‘You don’t need to apologise,’ Angelos drawled in a mocking undertone. ‘I’ve seen your temper many times before. You go pale and you stiffen. Every time Leland put so much as a finger on you in public, I witnessed your struggle not to shrug him off. It must have been fun in the bedroom...’

Maxie’s slender backbone quivered. Her fingernails flexed like claws longing to make contact with human flesh. She wanted to kill him. But she couldn’t even trust herself to speak, and was all the more agitated by the simple fact that she had never felt such rage before and honestly didn’t know how to cope with it.

‘But then, it was always evident to me that Leland’s biggest thrill was trotting you out in public at every possible opportunity. “Look at me, I have a blonde twice as tall as me and a third of my age,”’ Angelos mused with earthy amusement. ‘I suspect he might not have demanded intimate entertainment that often. He wasn’t a young man...’

‘And you are...without doubt...the most offensive, objectionable man I have ever met!’ Maxie launched with her back still rigidly turned to him.

‘I am a taste you will acquire. After all, you need someone like me.’ A pair of strong hands settled without warning on her slim shoulders and exerted sufficient pressure to swivel her back round to face him.

‘I need someone like you like I need a hole in the head!’ Maxie railed back at him rawly as she tore herself free of that controlling hold. ‘And keep your hands off me...I don’t like being pawed!’

‘Why are you so angry? I had to tell you about the loan,’ Angelos pointed out calmly. ‘I was aware that the Coulters’ lawyer had already been in touch. Naturally, I wanted to set your mind at rest.’

The reminder of the debt that had simply been transferred acted like a drenching flood of cold water on Maxie’s overheated emotions. Her angry flush was replaced by waxen pallor. Her body turned cold and weak and shaky and she studied the worn carpet at his feet. ‘You’ve bought yourself a pup. I can’t settle that loan...and right now I haven’t even got enough to make a payment on it,’ she framed sickly.

‘Why do you get yourself so worked up about nothing?’ Angelos released an extravagant sigh. ‘Sit down before you fall down. Haven’t I already given you my assurance that I have no intention of holding that former debt over your head in any way? But, in passing, may I ask what you needed that loan for?’

‘I got into a real financial mess, that’s all,’ she muttered evasively, protecting her father as she always did, conscious of the derisive distaste such weakness roused in other, stronger men. And, drained by her outbursts and ashamed of them, she found herself settling back down into the chair again.

For the very first time she was genuinely scared of Angelos Petronides. He owned a piece of her, just as Leland once had, but he would be expecting infinitely more than a charade in return. She wasn’t taken in by his reassurances, or by that roughly gentle intonation she had never dreamt he might possess. In the space of ten minutes he had reduced her to a babbling, screeching wreck and, for now, he was merely content to have made his domineering presence felt.

‘Money is not a subject I discuss with women,’ Angelos told her quietly. ‘It is most definitely not a subject I ever wish to discuss with you again.’

Angelos Petronides, billionaire and benevolence personified? Maxie shuddered with disbelief. Did he ever read his own publicity? She had sat in on business meetings chaired by him, truly unforgettable experiences. The King and his terrified minions, who behaved as if at any moment he might snap and shout, ‘Off with their heads!’ Grown men perspired and stammered with nerves in his presence, cowered when he shot down their suggestions, went into cold panic if he frowned. He did not suffer fools gladly.

He had a brilliant mind, but that superior intellect had made him inherently devious and manipulative. He controlled the people around him. In comparison, Leland Coulter had been harmless. Maxie had coped with Leland. And Leland give him his due, had never tried to pose as her only friend in a hostile world. But over her now loomed a six-foot-four-inch giant threat without a conscience.

‘I know where you’re coming from,’ Maxie heard herself admit out loud as she lifted her beautiful head again.

Angelos gazed down at her with steady black eyes. ‘Then why all the histrionics?’

Maxie gulped, disconcerted to feel that awful surge of temper rise again. With that admission she had expected to make him wary, force him to ease back. About the last reaction she had expected was his cool acknowledgement that she was intelligent enough to recognise his tactics for what they were. The iron hand in the velvet glove.

‘Have dinner with me tonight,’ Angelos suggested smoothly. ‘We can talk then. You need some time to think things over.’

‘I need no time whatsoever.’ Maxie stared back up into those astonishingly dark and impenetrable eyes and suffered the oddest light-headed sensation, as if the floor had shifted beneath her. Her lashes fluttered, a slight bemused frown line drawing her fine brows together as she shook her head slightly, long golden hair thick as skein on skein of silk rippling round her shoulders. ‘I will not be your mistress.’

‘I haven’t asked yet.’

A cynical laugh was torn from Maxie as she rose restively to her feet again. ‘You don’t need to be that specific. I certainly didn’t imagine you were planning to offer me anything more respectable. And, no, I do not intend to discuss this any further,’ she asserted tightly, carefully focusing on a point to the left of him, the tip of her tongue stealing out to moisten her dry lower lip in a swift defensive motion. ‘So either you are a good loser or a bad loser, Mr Petronides...I imagined I’ll find out which soon enough—’