Looking miserable, Cooper handed him a letter. Nikos scanned it quickly.
I’ve realized that sharing custody will never work. I’m in love with Victor Sinistyn and leaving with him for South America. You once said I was no kind of mother, and I guess you were right. Trying to keep our baby safe and warm would be too much effort where we’re going. Please don’t bother trying to find me. Raise our son well.
“Boss?” Cooper repeated unhappily. His voice echoed in the private outside hallway against the steel of the elevator doors. “What do you want me to do?”
Nikos’s heart was pounding. She’d left him. The moment he’d realized he loved her with all his heart, she’d left him. His worst fear had come true.
But something nagged at him, overriding the pain, and he read the letter again. A mere hour after she’d left Nikos she’d decided to leave both him and Misha behind for a life with Victor Sinistyn?
Maybe it was her handwriting, but he didn’t believe a word of it.
“She’s in trouble,” Nikos said slowly. “Someone forced her to write this letter.”
“You think she’s been kidnapped?”
“Sinistyn,” he breathed. The man had made it clear he wanted Anna, and when Nikos had shoved her out of L’Hermitage without bodyguards he’d handed her to him on a silver plate. He cursed himself under his breath. “Get the plane ready.”
“It’s ready now—for your trip to Asia.”
“Screw Singapore. Let Haverstock take the bid,” he said, throwing away the billion-dollar deal to his chief rival without a thought.
“Where are we going to look for her? South America?”
Nikos shook his head. “Sinistyn put that in to throw us off the track. No. He’s going someplace else. Somewhere private. Somewhere my power does not easily reach.” He glanced down at the letter, forcing himself to read it again slowly.
You once said I was no kind of mother…
Trying to keep our baby safe and warm would be too much effort where we’re going…
He sucked in his breath. She was trying to tell him where they were going. Folding the letter, he shoved it at Cooper. “They’re going to Russia.”
“Let me guess, boss,” Cooper said sourly. “You want to handle this alone.”
Nikos gently handed the baby to Mrs. Burbridge. Kissing his son goodbye, he turned to face Cooper with rage surging through his veins. “Hell, no. I want every man we’ve got on the plane within the hour. And get Yuri Andropov on the phone. It’s time to call in a favor.”
ANNA shifted slightly in her chair, trying to shift the cords that bound her wrists without attracting the attention of Victor or his goons. Her hands felt hot and sweaty with the effort, but the rest of her felt like ice as she worked the broken tines of her great-grandmother’s ring against the rope.
On the car ride from St. Petersburg she’d briefly felt the spring sun on her face, but the backroom of the Rostov Palace felt cold as ever. Especially as she’d listened to Victor’s men ransack the Princess’s china in the kitchen. Biting her lip, she watched as Victor and one of his men set up an old black-and-white television near the fire.
“It’s not working. We’ll miss the game,” the bodyguard complained in Russian, trying to position the antenna.
“It’ll be fine,” Victor snapped in the same language. He took the antenna then, realizing that there was no electricity, dropped it in disgust. “Go help with dinner.”
“Why can’t she make us dinner?” the man grumbled, nodding at Anna. “Make the woman useful for once.”
Victor glanced back at her, and she froze.
“Oh, she will be useful. But only to me. Get out, I said. I want some time with my future bride.”
As Victor approached she pressed her wrists against her T-shirt, hoping he wouldn’t notice that one of the cords binding her to the chair was finally starting to fray.
She’d been praying that customs officials would discover her when they arrived in St. Petersburg, but Victor’s connections, along with a well-placed bribe, had allowed his private plane to arrive unmolested.
At least her baby was safe, thousands of miles away with Nikos. She’d bought her child’s safety with that horrible letter Victor had forced her to write. Would Nikos see her clues?
Maybe he won’t even care, she thought hollowly. He’d made it clear that he wanted her permanently out of his life, and this was about as permanent as it could get.
Victor pulled off her gag. “Here,” he said, sounding amused. “Scream all you want. No one will hear you.”
But she didn’t scream. She just pulled away from his touch, glaring at him.
He laughed, folding his arms as he looked around them. “I can see I need to renovate my so-called palace. No heat. No electricity. And all they’ve found in the kitchen so far are potatoes and teabags.”
“I hope you starve,” she replied pleasantly.
“That’s not a very kind thing to say to your future husband, is it? You and I both need to keep up our strength. I’ll send one of the boys to the grocery store. And as for heat…we can supply that on our own, later.” He gave her a sly smile. “Any requests? You’ve been refusing food and drink for hours.” He ran his hand down her arm, making her shudder with revulsion. “You must eat something.”
“So you can drug me? No thanks.”
“Ah, loobemaya,” Victor said softly, brushing back a tendril of her hair. “I wouldn’t go to so much trouble if I didn’t love you so much.”
“You call this love?”
“Until Stavrakis’s spell wears off, and you understand it’s really me you want, I need to keep you close. You will realize how much you want me.” His voice sounded threatening as, massaging her shoulder hard enough to leave a bruise, he added softly, “Very soon.”
Ignoring the loud sounds of crashing china and slamming cabinet doors in the kitchen, Anna pulled her shoulder away from his hand. “I love Nikos, and I always will.”
He yanked back her hair, causing her head to jerk back. Anna dimly heard men shouting from the kitchen, but all she could see was Victor’s sadistic face, inches away from her own. “Forget him. Forget his baby. I will give you others. I will fill you with my child tonight. You belong to me now. You will learn to obey my will. You will learn to crave my touch—”
He forced his lips on hers in a painful ravishment that was meant to teach fear. And it worked. For the first time Anna began to feel truly scared of what he would do to her.
When he pulled away, Victor smiled at the expression on her face. He ran a hand up the inner thigh of her jeans.
“You have no right,” she whispered, shaking.
“This is my country. I have half the police in my pocket. Here, you are my slave.” He reached to fondle a breast, and without thinking she brought up her bound wrists to block him. His smile stretched to a grin. “Yes,” he breathed. “Fight me. That’s what I want. Stavrakis isn’t here to save you. You’ll never see him or your precious son again. You’re mine. You’re totally in my power—”
“Let her go.”
Victor looked up with a gasp. Anna saw Nikos standing in the kitchen doorway and almost sobbed aloud.
Nikos’s face had an expression she’d never seen before—as cold and deadly as the gun he was pointing at Sinistyn.
Victor looked up with an intake of breath which he quickly masked with a sneer. “You’re as good as dead, Stavrakis. My men will—”
“Your men will do nothing. They barely tried. When they saw they were outnumbered, most of them gave up without a fight.” He cocked the gun, assessing his aim at Victor’s head. “Some loyalty you inspire, Sinistyn.”
With a single smooth movement Victor twisted behind Anna, using her body to block his own. “Come closer and I’ll kill her.”
He put his beefy hands around her neck. Anna flinched, then struggled, unable to breathe. As he slowly tightened his grip, the room around her seemed to shimmer and fade.
Nikos uncocked the gun, pointing it at the ceiling. “You really are a coward.”
“It’s easy to throw insults when you have a gun.”
“Let her go, damn you!” Nikos threw the gun on the floor, then straightened with a scornful expression. “Even now I’m unarmed, I know you won’t fight me. I’m stronger, faster, smarter than you—”
“Shut up!” Victor screamed, releasing Anna’s throat. She took a long, shuddering gasp of air and felt the world right itself around her.
Victor stormed toward Nikos, lunging for the gun.
Nikos kicked it into the roaring fireplace and threw himself at the other man’s midsection. The two men fought while Anna watched in terror, desperately struggling with the cords that bound her to the chair. Victor lashed out wildly, hitting Nikos’s jaw with his knee. Nikos’s head snapped back, but he fought grimly, as if he were in the battle he’d trained for all his life. With a crunching uppercut to the chin, Nikos knocked Victor to the floor.