Anna raised her chin. Even now, when he’d given her far more than she deserved, she was defiant. “But how do I know you’ll keep your word?”
That one small question made fury rise tight against his throat. He always kept his word. Always. And yet she dared insinuate that he was the one who was untrustworthy. After her father had stolen his money. After she herself had stolen his child.
He hated her so much at that moment he almost did leave her behind. He wanted to do it. But not at the cost of hurting his son. Damn her.
Gritting his teeth, he said, “Call your sister when we reach Las Vegas. You’ll see I’ve kept my word.”
“Very well.” Anna’s face was pale as she knelt beside her sister. “You’ll accept his help, won’t you, Natalie? Please.”
The girl hesitated, and for a moment Nikos thought she would refuse. Then her expression hardened. “All right. Since he’s only paying back what he took from Father.”
What the hell had Anna told her? Surrounded by bodyguards, he didn’t have the time or inclination to find out. He’d tried to spare Anna the truth about her father, but he was done coddling her. It was time she knew the kind of man he really was. He would enjoy telling her.
And more than that, Nikos promised himself as they left the palace. Once they’d returned to his own private fiefdom in Las Vegas he would make her pay for her crimes. In private. In ways she couldn’t even imagine.
Oh, yes, he promised himself grimly. She’d pay.
RIDING in the limo from the Las Vegas airport to Nikos’s desert estate twenty miles outside the city gave Anna an odd sense of unreality.
In one long night she’d left darkness and winter behind. But it wasn’t just the bright morning light that threw her. It wasn’t just the harsh blue sky, or the dried sagebrush tumbling across the long private road, or the feel of the hot Nevada sun on her face.
It was the fact that nothing had changed. And yet everything had changed.
“Hello, miss,” the housekeeper said as they entered the grand foyer.
“Welcome back, miss,” a maid said, smiling shyly at the baby in Anna’s arms.
The moment their limo had arrived inside the guarded gate the house steward and a small army of assistants had descended upon Nikos. He walked ahead with them now, signing papers and giving orders as he led them through the luxurious fortress he called a home. Members of his house staff had already spirited away her luggage.
Where had they taken it? Anna wondered. A guestroom? A dungeon?
She shivered at the thought. No, surely not his bedroom. But for most of her pregnancy his room had been her home. She’d slept naked in his arms on hot summer nights. She’d caressed his body and kissed him with her heart on her lips. She’d dreamed of wearing his engagement ring and prayed to God that it would last. She’d been so sure that if he left her she would die.
But in the end she’d been the one who left.
Because the moment he’d found out she was pregnant he’d fired her. She’d gone from being his powerful, trusted assistant to a prisoner in this gilded cage. He’d ordered her to take her leisure, practically forcing her into bedrest, although she’d had a normal, healthy pregnancy.
Nikos had taken the job she loved and given it to a young, gorgeous blonde with no secretarial skills. He’d ordered the household staff to block the calls of her mother and sister. Then, during her final trimester, he’d suddenly refused to touch her. He’d abandoned her to go and stay, with his secretary Lindsey on hand, at the newly finished penthouse at L’Hermitage Casino Resort.
That should have been enough to make Anna leave him. That should have been more than enough. But it hadn’t been until she’d found those papers showing that Nikos had deliberately destroyed her father’s textiles company that she’d finally been fed up. Anna’s hands tightened. Running away had been an act of self-defense for her and her child.
But now they were back. As Anna entered a wide gallery lined with old portraits, she could smell the flowers of the high desert. Spring was swift in southern Nevada, sometimes lasting only weeks. Wind and light cascaded through high open windows, oscillating the curtains. Her footsteps echoed in the wide hall as she followed Nikos and his men.
But a woman was with them, too: the perfect blonde who’d replaced Anna in Nikos’s office, and in his bed. Anna watched Lindsey lean forward eagerly, touching his arm. She blinked, surprised at how much it hurt to see them together.
Nikos was impeccably gorgeous, as always. He’d showered and changed on the plane, and now wore dark designer slacks and a crisp white shirt that showed off his tanned olive skin. It wasn’t just his height that made him stand out from the rest of his men, but his aura of power, worn as casually as his shirt.
Nikos had always stood out for her. Even now, looking at him, Anna felt her heart ache. It was too easy to remember the years they’d spent working together. In spite of his arrogance, she’d admired him. He’d seemed so straightforward and honest, so different from her former employer, Victor. Plus, Nikos had never tried to make a pass at her. For five years he’d taken time not just to teach her about the business, but also to rely upon her advice. At least until that night thirteen months ago when he’d shown up wild-eyed on her doorstep, and everything had changed between them forever.
But her job had meant everything to her. For the first time in her life she’d felt strong. Capable. Valued. Was it any wonder that, even knowing her boss was a playboy, she’d fallen so totally under his spell?
As if he felt her gaze, Nikos glanced back to where she trailed behind with the baby. His eyes were dark, and a shiver went through her.
“He hates you, you know.”
Anna glanced up at Lindsey, who was standing next to her. She had a scowl on her pouting pink lips, though she looked chic in a dark pinstriped suit with a tucked-in waist and miniskirt. Her tanned legs stretched forever into impossibly high heels.
Anna felt dowdy in comparison, wearing the same T-shirt and jeans from last night, with a sweater tied around her waist. Her hair, which hadn’t been washed or combed since yesterday, was pulled back in a ponytail. She’d been afraid to leave her baby alone on the plane, even for the few minutes it would have taken to shower.
Next to Lindsey, Anna felt a million years old, worn out from running away, working odd jobs, trying to get by, raising her child. Lindsey was fresh and young, glossy and free. No wonder Nikos preferred her. The thought stung, even though she told herself that it didn’t hurt.
“I don’t care if he hates me.” Anna nervously twisted her great-grandmother’s wedding ring around her finger, fiddling with its bent-back tines and empty setting. She couldn’t let Lindsey know how vulnerable she felt on the inside, how scared she was that the younger woman would soon take everything Anna cared about. She already had Nikos and her job. Would Misha be next?
Lindsey lifted a perfectly groomed eyebrow in disbelief. “You really think you’ve gotten away with it, don’t you? You actually think Nikos will take you back.”
Anna smoothed back a tuft of Misha’s dark hair. “I don’t want to be taken back. I’m here for my son. Nikos can rot in hell for all I care.”
The girl gave Misha a crocodile smile that made Anna’s skin crawl. “Yeah, right. As if anyone would believe that.” Her perfectly made-up eyes narrowed. “But Nikos doesn’t want you. He’s got me now, and I keep him very satisfied, trust me. We’ll be getting married soon.”
Anna couldn’t keep herself from glancing at Lindsey’s left hand. It was bare. Remembering Nikos’s wandering eye when she’d been just his secretary, Anna almost felt sorry for the girl. “Has he proposed?”
“No, but he—”
“Then you’re kidding yourself,” she said. “He’ll never propose to you or anyone else. He’s not the marrying kind.”
Grinding her white teeth, Lindsey stopped in the hallway, and grabbed Anna’s wrist. Her long acrylic nails bit into Anna’s skin.
“Listen to me, you little bitch,” Lindsey said softly. “Nikos is mine. Don’t think for a second you can come back with your little brat and—”
Nikos spoke from behind her. “This is cozy. Catching up on office gossip?”
Lindsey whirled around, spots of hot color on her cheeks. “We…uh, that is…”
Anna hid a smile. But her pleasure at the blonde’s discomfiture was short-lived as Nikos turned to her, reaching for the diaper bag on her shoulder.
“I need this.”
“What? Why?” Anna stammered. The diaper bag held her whole life. Bought at a secondhand shop, it was overflowing with documents, diapers, wipes and snacks. It was the one item that Anna had taken with her everywhere since Misha’s birth.