“Please let me know when Victor Sinistyn arrives.” Closing the door behind him, he went to the outside windows and stared down at Las Vegas Boulevard, watching the hectic traffic below. He went to the crystal decanter and started to pour himself a small bourbon, then stopped.
Was it possible that he was doing the same thing as Sinistyn? Trying to possess Anna when he had no right?
No, he told himself fiercely. It wasn’t the same at all. Sinistyn was trying to force Anna to marry him to satisfy his own selfish lust. Nikos just wanted to protect his family. To protect his son.
But still, the voice of conscience, rusty from disuse, whispered in his mind, you’re going to make her fall in love with you on false pretenses, to bind her to you forever. Isn’t that just as bad?
He tried to shake the thought out of his mind, but it wouldn’t go away. He paced back and forth through his office, trying to concentrate on Sinistyn, the Singapore deal—anything but his plans for Anna. In the end he gave up, and pummeled the boxing bag in the corner of his office with his bare hands to clear his mind. The pain helped him forget. Helped him focus.
There was blood on two knuckles when he went over to the wall of one-sided windows that overlooked the main casino floor. He glanced down, impatiently looking at his watch. Sinistyn was two minutes late.
Then his eyes sharpened.
Sinistyn wasn’t late. He was already in the casino downstairs, beneath the high crystal chandeliers, in between the gilded nineteenth-century columns and wealthy, attractive gamblers at the roulette tables and slot machines.
He wasn’t alone, either. He’d brought two hulking bodyguards from his club. But he wasn’t talking to them.
He was talking to Anna.
Anna. Still wearing the slim white shirt and black skirt, but sexier than ever, with her long, long legs and glossy black pumps. Her dark hair, which he’d mussed so thoroughly nearly making love to her on his desk, cascaded down her shoulders. Her lips were full, pink and bruised, as if she’d just come from bed.
She was too enticing—innocence and sin wrapped up into one luscious package.
Nikos cursed under his breath. She’d defied his direct orders and come down here to intercept Sinistyn. He clenched his jaw. From this distance he couldn’t read the expressions on their faces. What was she saying to him? What was he saying to her? His hands clenched into fists as he strode out of his office to the elevator.
When he reached the casino floor he signaled Cooper, his head of security, to follow with two bodyguards. Trailing bodyguards in his wake, he stalked through the noise of slot machines and gamblers toward Anna and Sinistyn, barely able to keep his fury in check.
Why couldn’t she trust him to handle things? Not even once? Why did she always have to make everything so damned hard?
“Sinistyn,” he said coldly, grabbing the man’s shoulder. “Let’s go upstairs to talk.” He gave Anna a look. “Leave.”
“I’m staying,” she said, raising her chin.
He heard Sinistyn snicker under his breath. Nikos ground his teeth. “Let me handle this.”
“This isn’t your fight. It’s mine.” To Nikos’s shock, she turned to Victor Sinistyn and put her hand on his hairy arm, looking deep and soulfully into his eyes. “Victor, I’m sorry this has gone so far. It’s my fault.”
“About time you came to your senses, loobemaya. I’ve waited long enough for you to be my wife.” Looking up from her cleavage with a triumphant half-smile, he locked eyes with Nikos. “About time you chose the better man.”
Nikos felt a strange lurch in his chest. A sick feeling spread through his body. She’d chosen Sinistyn over him? She trusted that man over him?
“No.” Anna was shaking her head at Sinistyn. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I’m sorry, but I don’t love you, Victor. I never have. I should have made it clear from the first time you flirted with me, ten years ago. I will never be with you. No matter how much money you loan my parents. Never.”
The smug expression disappeared from Sinistyn’s face. He looked dangerous and hard. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“You bought the palace for nothing. I’ll pay you back the money we owe. But I don’t want you.”
His eyes became hooded, his face flushed with anger. “At the club last week you made me think differently.”
She took a deep breath and looked him straight in the eye. “I was going to ask for your help to get custody of my son. It was wrong of me. But then you were wrong to loan my parents millions of dollars at a thirty-five percent interest rate while claiming to be our friend.”
“Your father promised that you would be mine. When we were in business together he said he’d convince you—”
“He tried, but I refused. We’ve known each other for a long time, Victor. It is time for us to be honest. I will never be your wife, but I will pay back every dime we owe you. Can we at least part as friends?”
She held out her hand.
But Victor’s expression was hard as he looked from her outstretched hand to her face. He grabbed her arm roughly, causing her to cry out.
“I waited for you,” he said softly. “I’ve tried to be nice. But it seems there’s only one language you’ll understand. You’re mine, Anna. Mine.”
He drew back a fist. Sucking in her breath, she winced in anticipation.
Quick as a flash, Nikos stepped between them, grabbing the other man’s hand. He knocked him off balance with a hard right hook and shoved him to the ground.
“Don’t touch her,” Nikos shouted. “Not now. Not ever.”
His body was crying out for the man’s blood. He wanted to bash Victor Sinistyn into a pulp for threatening her. He wanted to kill the man for trying to hurt her.
Then he heard Anna’s soft moan.
Nikos realized that his own bodyguards were barely keeping Sinistyn’s men in check, and that at any moment a full brawl would break out in his own casino. They were already being watched by gamblers, gawkers and slack-jawed tourists, a couple of whom were holding cameras in anticipation of the coming action.
Breathing hard, Nikos jerked away from Sinistyn. “Get him out of here,” he ordered Cooper. Cooper nodded, and with a single gesture a phalanx of security guards appeared.
“Follow me, gentlemen,” Cooper said, holding out his arm in an ironic gesture.
One of Sinistyn’s bodyguards tried to help his boss to his feet, but the Russian jerked his arm away and rose slowly on his own.
“You’ll regret this, Stavrakis,” Sinistyn said, and then his eyes shifted to Anna. “You’ll both regret this.”
He stormed out, followed closely by his shamefaced bodyguards.
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t get back in,” Cooper said quietly. “And post extra guards on the night watch.” He said loudly to the crowd, “Show’s over, folks. The waitresses will be out to make sure everyone’s getting their drinks.”
Nikos felt Anna in his arms as she threw herself against his chest. “Oh, Nikos, I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault.”
At her touch, he slowly came back to himself. He looked down at her, stroking her hair.
“Everything you said was right,” she said tearfully. “Everything. I should have trusted you. I’ve been a fool. A selfish, cowardly fool.” She pressed her face against his shirt with a sob, then looked up at him, tears streaming down her pale cheeks. “I ran away when you were only trying to protect us. Can you ever forgive me?”
Nikos had been right about Victor.
Anna’s stomach hurt. She’d known Victor was bad, but she’d never thought he’d actually want to hurt her. Natalie had also tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen.
Nikos had been right about everything. Maybe he’d been bossy and controlling, but at least his motives had been good. Strong and loyal and true, he’d put their new little family first in his life. Why hadn’t she done the same? Why hadn’t she been brave enough to stay and fight, rather than believe the worst of him?
“Forgive me,” she said again.
His dark eyes were unreadable as he softly touched her lips with his finger. “There is nothing to forgive.”
She was suddenly aware of the curious stares of onlookers and the noise of the slot machines. “Before you leave for Asia, I need to talk to you.”
“Let’s go upstairs.” He hugged her close to his body, guiding her gently toward the private elevator. His body felt warm against hers. She wrapped her hand around his muscular waist, enveloped in the scent of him—clean, but with a hint of something dangerous, as searing as the desert sun.
She knew the risk of reaching for the sun. Its heat and fire could consume her.
But she was suddenly so tired of feeling frozen inside.
Nikos had made it clear that he was done fighting with her. She’d been praying that she would have changed his mind by now, that she’d have proved she could both be a good mother and a good employee. But it was too late. He didn’t want her as his secretary. He wanted her to fulfill their deal.