“For my son.” As he took the bag, he brushed her shoulder carelessly with his hand. An electric shock reverberated across her body. For a single second it stopped her heart.
Then she realized that Nikos was taking Misha away from her.
And handing both bag and baby to her replacement.
“No!” Anna cried out, shaking herself out of her stupor. “Not to her!”
Nikos stared straight back at her, as if he were marking her over the barrel of a gun. “Good. Fight me. Give me a reason to throw you out of my house. I’m begging you.”
Anna opened her mouth. And closed it.
“I thought so.” He turned back to Lindsey. “Take my son to the nursery. I’ll follow in a moment.”
She tossed Anna a look of venomous triumph. “With pleasure.”
As they passed him, Nikos kissed the baby on the forehead. “Welcome home, my son,” he said tenderly.
Anna watched as Lindsey disappeared down the hall toward the nursery. She could see her baby’s sweet little head bobble dangerously with every swaying step and clackety-clack of the girl’s four-inch heels against the marble floor. She wondered if Nikos had destroyed all of Natalie’s hand-painted murals and her own carefully chosen antique baby furniture. He probably ordered Lindsey to redecorate the nursery from a catalog, she thought, and her heart broke a little more.
As much as she’d hated being on the run, this was worse. Here, every hallway, every corner, held a memory of the past. Even looking at Nikos was a cruel reminder of the man she’d once thought him to be, the man she’d respected, the man she’d loved. That was the cruelest trick of all.
“You don’t like Lindsey, do you?” Nikos said, watching her.
Did he want her to spell it out? To admit that she still had feelings for him in spite of everything he’d done? Not in this lifetime.
“I told you. After you fired me, I got calls at the house from vendors and managers at the worksite, complaining about her cutting off half your calls and screwing up your messages. Her mistakes probably cost the company thousands of dollars. It nearly caused a delay in the liquor license.”
Nikos pressed his lips together, looking tense. “But you said those complaints stopped.”
“Yes,” she retorted. “When you had the house staff block all my calls. Even from my mother and sister!”
“That was for your own good. The calls were causing you stress. It was bad for the baby.”
“My mother and sister needed me. My father had just died!”
“Your mother and sister need to stand on their own feet and learn to solve their own problems, rather than always running to you first. You had a new family to care for.”
She squared her shoulders. She wasn’t going to get into that old argument with him again. “And now you have a new secretary to care for you. How’s she doing at solving all your problems? Has she even learned how to type?”
His jaw clenched, but he said only, “You seem very worried about her capabilities.”
Oh, yeah, she could just imagine what Lindsey’s capabilities were. Still shivering from Nikos’s brief touch, bereft of her baby, Anna could feel her self-control slipping away. She was tired, so tired. She hadn’t slept on the plane. She hadn’t slept in months.
The truth was, she hadn’t really slept since the day Nikos had rejected her in the last trimester of her pregnancy, leaving her to sleep alone every night since.
She rubbed her eyes.
“All right. I think she’s vicious and shallow. She’s the last person I’d entrust with Misha. Just because she’s in your bed it doesn’t make her a good caretaker for our son.”
He raised a dark eyebrow. “Doesn’t it? And yet that’s the whole reason that you are the caretaker of my son now…because you were once in my bed.”
Their eyes met, held. And that was all it took. Memories suddenly pounded through her blood and caused her body to heat five degrees. A hot flush spread across her skin as a single drop of sweat trickled between her breasts. It was as if he’d leaned across the four feet between them and touched her. As if he’d taken possession of her mouth, stroked her bare skin, and pressed his body hot and tight on hers against the wall.
One look from him and she could barely breathe.
He looked away, and she found herself able to breathe again. “And, as usual, you are jumping to the wrong conclusions,” he said. “Lindsey is my secretary, nothing more.”
Anna had been his secretary once, too. “Yeah, right.”
“And whatever her failings,” he said, looking at her with hard eyes, “at least she’s loyal. Unlike you.”
“Never what? Never tricked a bodyguard into taking you to the doctor’s office so you could sneak out the back? Never promised to name my son Andreas, then called him something else out of spite? I did everything I could to keep you safe, Anna. You never had to work or worry ever again. All I asked was your loyalty. To me. To our coming child. Was that too much to ask?”
His dark eyes burned through her like acid. She could feel the power of him, see it in the tension of hard muscles beneath his finely cut white shirt.
A flush burned her cheeks. The day of her delivery, surrounded by strangers in a gray Minneapolis hospital, she’d thought of her own great-grandfather, Mikhail Ivanovich Rostov, who’d been born a prince but had fled Russia as a child, starting a difficult new life in a new land. It had seemed appropriate.
But, whatever her motives, Nikos was right. She’d broken her promise. She pressed her lips together. “I’m…sorry.”
She could feel his restraint, the way he held himself in check. “You’re sorry?”
“A-about the name.”
He was moving toward her now, like a lion stalking a doomed gazelle. “Just the name?”
She backed away, stammering, “But some might say y-you lost all rights to name him when you—” Her heels hit a wall. Nowhere to run. “When you—”
“When I what?” he demanded, his body an inch from hers.
When he’d ruined her father.
When he’d taken a mistress.
When he’d broken her heart…
“Did you ever love me?” she whispered. “Did you love me at all?”
He grabbed her wrists, causing her to gasp. But it was the intensity in his obsidian gaze that pinned her to the wall.
“You ask me that now?” he ground out. But there was a noise down the hall, and he turned his head.
Three maids stood with their arms full of linens, gawking at the sight of their employer pressing Anna against the wall. It probably looked as if they were having hot sex. Heaven knew, they’d done it before, though they’d never been caught.
He lifted a dark eyebrow, and the maids scattered.
With a growl, he grasped Anna’s wrist and pulled her into the privacy of the nearby library. He shut the heavy oak door behind him. The sound echoed against the high walls of leatherbound books, bouncing up to the frescoed ceiling, reverberating her doom.
His dark eyes were alight with a strange fire. “You really want to know if I loved you?”
She shook her head, frightened at what she’d unleashed, wishing with all her heart that she could take back the question. “It doesn’t matter.”
“But it does. To you.”
“Forget I asked.” She tried desperately to think of a change of subject—anything that would distract him, anything to show that she didn’t care. But he was relentless.
“No, I never loved you, Anna. Never. How could I? I told you from the start I’m not a one-woman kind of man. Even if you’d been worthy of that commitment—which obviously you’re not.”
Pain went through her, but she raised her chin and fired back, “I was loyal to you when no other woman would have been. You kept me prisoner. You fired me from the job I loved. When you took Lindsey in my place I should have left you. But it wasn’t until I saw what you did to my father…”
“Ah, yes, your sainted father.” He gave a harsh laugh. “Those papers you found, Anna, what did they prove? That I withdrew all financial support from your father’s company?”
“Yes. Just when he needed you most. He’d been doing so well, finally getting the company back on its feet, but just when he needed extra cash to open a new factory in China, to compete in the global market—”
“I withdrew my support because I found out that your father embezzled my investment—millions of dollars. There was no new factory, Anna. He’d laid off most of his workers in New York, leaving Rostoff Textiles nothing more than a shell. He used my investment to buy cars and houses and to pay off his gambling debts to Victor Sinistyn.”
“No.” A knife-stab went through her heart. “It can’t be true.” But even as she spoke the words she remembered her father’s frenetic spending in those days. He’d stopped pressuring her to marry Victor, and instead had suddenly been prosperous, buying a Ferrari for himself, diamonds for Mother, and that crumbling old palace in Russia. He wanted to remind the world of their royalty, he’d said, that the Rostoffs were still better than anyone.