His eyes went dark, and Anna wanted to bite off her tongue. How could she have drawn attention to the fact that she’d not only denied Nikos the chance to experience the first four months of their child’s life, but she’d broken her promise about their son’s name?
Then he bared his teeth in the wolflike semblance of a smile. “You are mistaken, zoe mou. I have no intention of taking him away from you.”
She was so overwhelmed that she nearly embraced him. “Thank you—oh, God, thank you. I really thought…”
He took a step closer, towering over her. “Because I’m taking you as well.”
He should have savored this moment.
Instead, Nikos was furious. For four months he’d fantasized about taking vengeance on Anna. No, not vengeance, he corrected himself. Justice.
Some justice. His lip curled into a half-snarl. Bringing Anna back to Las Vegas, where he’d see her face across his table every day? That was the last thing he wanted.
He’d intended to take his son and leave, as she deserved. But from the moment he’d first seen his baby son a surge of love had risen in him that he’d never felt before. At that moment he’d known he could never allow his son to be hurt. He’d kill anyone who tried.
For four months he’d hated Anna. But now…
Hurting her would hurt his son. His child needed his mother. The two were bonded.
The payback was off.
He cursed under his breath, narrowing his eyes.
Anna had lost all her pregnancy weight, and then some. Under her coat’s frayed edges he could see the swell of her breasts beneath her tight sweater, see the curve of her slender hips in the worn, slim-fitting jeans. There were hungry smudges beneath her cheekbones that hadn’t been there before, and tiny worry lines around her blue-green eyes. The tightly controlled secretary was gone. Her long dark hair, which she’d always pulled back in a tight bun, now fell wild around her shoulders. It was…sexy.
Anna slowly exhaled and stared up at him, her eyes pleading for mercy. Even now, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Her aristocratic heritage showed in the perfect bone structure of her heart-shaped face, and in every move she made.
Once he’d been grateful for her skills. He’d admired her dignity, her grace. He’d known Anna’s value. As his executive secretary, she’d run interference with government officials, employees, vendors and investors, making decisions in his name. She’d reflected well both upon him and the brand of luxury hotels he’d created around the world. Even now he still missed her presence in his office—the cool, precise secretary who’d made his business run so smoothly. She’d made it look easy.
It made him regret that he’d ever slept with her.
It made him furious that he was still so attracted to her.
Misha, indeed. A Russian nickname for Michael? Anna had promised to name their son after Nikos’s maternal grandfather, but it didn’t surprise him that she’d gone back on her word. She was a liar, just like her father.
“I had Cooper pack your things,” he bit out. “We’re leaving.”
“But the storm—”
“We have snow chains and local drivers. The storm won’t slow us down.”
Anna glanced from Nikos to the empty crib, and the fight went out of her. Her shoulders sagged.
“You win. I’ll go back with you,” she said quietly.
Of course he’d won. He always won. Although this victory had come harder than he’d ever imagined, at a price he hadn’t wanted. Already sick of the sight of her, he growled, “Let’s go.”
But as he turned away Anna’s throaty voice said, “What about Natalie? I can’t leave her here. She has to come with us.”
“What?” her sister gasped.
Nikos whirled back with a snarl on his lips, incredulous that Anna was actually trying to dictate the terms of her surrender. Another Rostoff woman in his house? “No.”
“No way, Anna!” Her sister echoed, pushing up her glasses. “I’m not going anywhere with him. Not after what he did to our father. Forget it!”
Anna ignored her. “Look around, Nikos. There’s no money. I was planning to get a job as a translator to support us. I can’t just leave her.”
“I’m twenty-two! I can take care of myself!”
Anna whirled around to face her young sister. “You barely speak Russian, and all you know about is art. Mother doesn’t have any more money to send you, and neither do I. What do you expect to eat? Paintbrushes?”
The girl’s eyes filled with tears. “Maybe if we went to Vitya he would…”
“No!” Anna shouted.
Who was Vitya? Nikos wondered. Another impoverished aristocrat like Anna’s father had been? For most of Anna’s young life he’d forced his family to live off the charity of wealthy friends. She’d once dryly commented that that was how she’d learned to speak fluent French, Russian, Spanish and Italian—begging the Marquis de Savoie and Contessa di Ferazza for book money.
Although of course that had been before Alexander Rostoff had realized it would be simpler to just embezzle the money.
Aristocrats, he thought scornfully. Rather than live in the comforts of Nikos’s house near Las Vegas, his brownstone in New York, or his villa in Santorini, Anna had kidnapped his baby son and moved from one cheap apartment to another.
His lip curled as he looked around the room. The back of the palace had been turned into a cheerless Soviet-era apartment. It was a little disorienting to be smack in the real thing, especially since Anna seemed to be using nineteenth-century standards to light and heat the room.
“How could you force my son to live like this?” he abruptly demanded. “What kind of mother are you?”
Anna’s turquoise eyes widened as she gripped the gilded edge of a high-backed chair. “I kept him warm and safe—”
“Warm?” Incredulously, he looked at the single inadequate fireplace, the flickering candles on the wooden table, the frost lining the inside of the window. “Safe?”
Anna flinched. “I did the best I could.”
Nikos shook his head with a derisive snort as Cooper, his right-hand man and director of security, entered the room. He gave Nikos a nod.
Nikos made a show of glancing at his sleek platinum watch. “Your things are packed in the truck. Are you coming, or should we toss your suitcases in the snow?”
“We just need a minute for Natalie to pack her things—”
“Perhaps I have not made myself clear? There is no way in hell that I’m taking your sister with us. You’re lucky I’m bringing you.”
Anna folded her arms, thrusting up her chin. He knew that expression all too well. She was ready to be stubborn, to fight, to prolong this argument until he had to drag her out of this place by her fingernails.
“Stay, then.” He turned to leave, motioning for Cooper and his bodyguards to follow. “Feel free to visit our son next Christmas.”
Precisely as he’d expected, Anna grabbed his arm.
“Wait. I’m coming with you. You know I am. But I can’t just abandon Natalie.”
He tried to shake off her grip, but she wouldn’t let go. He looked into those beautiful blue-green eyes, wet with unshed tears. What was it about women and tears? How were they able to instantly manufacture them to get what they wanted? Well, it wouldn’t work on him. He wouldn’t be manipulated in this way. He wouldn’t let her…
“You might have to go with him, Anna,” Natalie said defiantly. “But I don’t. I’m staying.”
Nikos glanced at Anna’s sister. The girl had fought like a crazed harpy to protect her nephew. Now, she just looked heartbreakingly young.
Something like guilt went through him. Angrily, he pushed it aside. If the Rostoffs were penniless, it wasn’t his fault. As his secretary, Anna had been paid a six-figure salary for the last five years—enough to support her whole family in decent comfort.
So where had that money gone? He’d never seen Anna splurge on clothes or jewelry or cars. She bought things that were simple and well made but, unlike his current secretary, she avoided flashy luxury.
Anna’s sister didn’t look terribly royal either. In her bulky sweatsuit, covered by an artist’s smock, she stood by the frost-lined window with a bowed head. She was staring wistfully at the broken pieces of the blue china teacup he’d smashed against the fireplace.
His jaw tightened.
He gestured to Cooper, who instantly came forward. “Yes?”
“See that the girl has all the money and assistance she requires to live here or return to New York, as she wishes.” In a lower voice, he added, “And find a replacement for that damn cup. At any price.”
Cooper gave a single efficient nod. Nikos turned to Anna. “Satisfied?”