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Married to a Mistress(9)

By:Lynne Graham

Maxie could feel her teeth starting to chatter, her legs shaking. Like a whore, that was how she would’ve looked in that photo, and that was exactly how he was treating her.

‘Maxie...’ Angelos purred, reading her retreat and switching channel to high-powered sensual persuasion as he strolled with animal grace towards her, strong, hard-boned face amused. ‘You think I’m likely to respect you more if you suggest that we should wait another week, another month? I have no time for outdated attitudes like that—’

‘Obviously not.’ Agreement fell like dropped stones from Maxie’s tremulously compressed lips.

‘And I cannot credit that you should feel any differently. We will still be together six months from now,’ Angelos forecast reflectively. ‘Possibly even longer. I burn for you in a way I haven’t burned for a woman in a very long time.’

‘Try a cold shower.’ Ice-cool as her own shrinking flesh, Maxie stood there, chin tilting as high as she could hold it even though she felt as if she was falling apart behind her façade. She shrugged back her shoulders so that his jacket slid off and fell in a rejected heap on the floor. ‘I’m not some bimbo you can bed before you even date me—’

‘The original idea was only to offer you lunch...’ A dark rise of blood accentuated the tautening slant of his bold, hard cheekbones as he made that admission.

‘But why waste time feeding me?’ Maxie completed for him, her distaste unconcealed. ‘In my time I have met some fast movers, but you have to qualify as supersonic. A kiss in the limo and that was consent to the whole menu?’

Angelos flung his arrogant dark head back, black eyes thudding like steel arrows into a target. ‘The desire between us was honest and mutual and very strong. Do you expect me to apologise for a hunger you answered with a passion as powerful as my own?’

Maxie flinched. ‘No...I don’t think you make a habit of apologising.’

‘I’m very straight...what you see is what you get. You put out conflicting signals and then back off. You have the problem,’ Angelos informed her in cool condemnation. ‘Don’t put it on me. When I became an adult, I put childish games behind me.’

Although every strained muscle in her taut length ached, Maxie remained as outwardly poised as a queen surveying a less than satisfactory subject. But violent loathing powered her now. It took its strength from her shame that she had allowed him to touch her at all.

‘I won’t say it’s been nice getting to know you over the past twenty-four hours, Angelos...it’s been lousy,’ Maxie stated, and turned in the direction of the lift.

‘Goddamn you...don’t you dare walk away from me!’ Angelos slashed across the distance that separated them. ‘Who are you, Maxie Kendall, to speak to me like that?’

‘No more...I don’t want to hear it,’ Maxie muttered shakily.

‘This time you will listen to me,’ Angelos raked at her in wrathful forewarning. In one powerful stride he imposed his intimidating size between her and the lift. His lean, strong face hard as steel, bold black eyes hurled a ferocious challenge. ‘Do you think I don’t know you moved in with Leland between one day and the next? You hardly knew him. You came out of nowhere into his life. Do you think I didn’t notice that you weren’t remotely attracted to him?’

Quite unprepared for that angle of attack, Maxie stammered, ‘I...I—’

‘In fact, Leland bored you to death and you couldn’t hide it. You could hardly bear him to touch you but you stuck it for three years all the same. Does that strike you as the behaviour of a sensitive woman with principles? You sold yourself for a wardrobe of designer clothes—’

‘No, I didn’t!’ Maxie gasped strickenly.

‘At no stage did you wake up and say to yourself, “I could do better than this. I’m worth more than this. This isn’t the way I should be living!” ’ Angelos roared at her in a rage of shockingly raw derision. ‘So don’t tell me I got the wrong impression. I trust the evidence of my own eyes and senses. You felt nothing for him. But you put yourself on the market and he was still able to buy!’

Nausea stirring in her stomach, Maxie was retreating deeper into the penthouse apartment, her hands coming up in a fluttering movement in front of her as if she could somehow ward him off. ‘No...no,’ she mumbled sickly.

‘And I was the bloody fool who, even knowing all that, still wanted you!’ Angelos slung, spreading his arms in an extravagant gesture of outrage at her, at himself. ‘I didn’t want to buy you...or maybe I wanted the cosy pretence that it didn’t have to be like that between us...that because you lusted after me too I could gloss over the knowledge that my immense wealth might have anything to do with your presence in my life!’

Maxie was like a statue, terrified to risk a step in case she cracked and broke into shattered pieces. He had forced her into cruel confrontation with the image he had of her. Like an explosion of glass, countless shards pierced her cringing flesh as every painful word drew blood.

‘I’ll never forgive you for this,’ she whispered, more to herself than to him. ‘But Leland was never my lover. We had an agreement. It was a charade we played—’

Angelos spat something guttural in Greek. ‘Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid!’

Maxie looked through him then, and despised herself for even attempting self-defence. It suggested a weakness inside her, a need for this arrogant Greek’s good opinion that her savaged pride could not allow. ‘You stay away from me from now on—’

‘You made your choices in life long before you met me. What is it that you want now?’ Angelos demanded contemptuously.

A semi-hysterical laugh erupted from Maxie and she choked it off, twisting her head away defensively before he could see the burning tears in her eyes. ‘Just the usual things.’ Then she whipped her golden head back, shimmering eyes as unwittingly bright as stars. ‘And some day, when all this is behind me, I’ll have them. I wouldn’t have you as a gift, Angelos. I wouldn’t make love with you unless you tied me to the bed and held me down and forced me...is that clear enough? What you want you will never have!’

Angelos stared at her as if he couldn’t take his eyes off her and hated her for it.

Maxie stared back with a stab of malicious satisfaction new to her experience. ‘Bad news, eh? I’ll be the one who got away,’ she breathed tautly, frighteningly aware of the thunderous charge of violence in the atmosphere but unable to silence her own tongue and her helpless need to taunt him. ‘But then why should that bother you? It’s not like you have a shred of real emotion in you—’

‘What do you want from me?’ Angelos ripped back at her with suppressed savagery. ‘I will not and could not love a woman like you!’

‘Oh, that honesty...hits me right where it hurts,’ Maxie trilled, a knife-like pain scything through her. She was shaking like a leaf without even being aware of it. ‘But for all that you still want me, don’t you? Do you know something, Angelos? I like knowing that.’

A muscle jerked at the corner of his wide, sensual mouth, his strong jawline clenching. Those stunning black eyes burned with rage and seething pride.

‘Thanks, you’ve just done wonders for my low self-esteem, ’ Maxie informed him with a jagged catch in her voice.

‘What a bitch you can be...I never saw that in you before.’ His accent was so thick she could have sliced it up, but that contemptuous intonation would still have flamed over her like acid, hurting wherever it touched. ‘So, quote me a price for one night in your bed. What do you think you would be worth?’

The derisive suggestion coiled like a whip around her and scarred her worse than a beating. Her backbone went rigid. Hatred fired her embittered gaze. ‘You couldn’t even make the bidding,’ Maxie asserted, looking him up and down as if he had crawled out from under a stone. ‘I’d want a whole lot more than a wardrobe of designer clothes. You see, I learn from my mistakes, Angelos. The next man I live with will be my husband...’

Shock turned Angelos satisfying pale. ‘If you think for one insane second that I—’

‘Of course you wouldn’t,’ Maxie slotted in, each word clipped and tight with self-control. ‘But you must see now why I’m not available for lunch, in bed or out of it. A woman can’t be too careful. Being associated with a randy Greek billionaire could be very harmful to my new image.’

‘I will work this entire dialogue out of your wretched hide every day you are with me!’ Angelos snarled at her with primal force, all cool abandoned.

‘You are just so slow on the uptake. I am not ever going to be with you, Angelos,’ Maxie pointed out, and with that last word she strolled past him, holding herself taut and proud to the last, and walked into the lift.

Outside in the street again, she discovered that she was trembling so violently it was an effort to put one leg in front of the other. For once disregarding her straitened circumstances, she chose to hail a cab. Her mind was working like a runaway express train, disconnected images bombarding her...