It shouldn’t have been erotic, but it was. Every movement she made, every breath she took, seemed electric in Nikos’s overcharged state.
He pressed his lips together, remembering how her whole body had trembled when he’d kissed her in the library. The way she’d melted into his arms when he’d brushed his lips against hers.
And before. After they’d found out she was pregnant he’d barely left her side for six months. Every inch of his skin, every cell of his body tingled with the memory. Remembering lovemaking so hot that it had nearly set his bed on fire. Not just his bed. When they hadn’t been fighting about the way he’d forced her to relax and take care of herself, they’d made love everywhere—in the kitchen, the conference room, the home theater. Against the wall in the courtyard one rainy day. And in the back of his helicopter the time he’d wanted to fly her over the Grand Canyon. They’d never made it off the ground.
She glanced up at him now, her turquoise eyes so cool and distant. I’m too good for you, her eyes seemed to say. She had a royal bloodline of a thousand years. The great-granddaughter of a Russian princess, she was a fantasy of ice and fire. He’d never experienced any woman like her.
Watching her now, nursing his son, he came to a sudden decision.
She deserved to suffer.
But there was no reason to make himself suffer as well.
Tonight. He would have her in his bed tonight.
A SLOW burn spread across Anna’s cheeks as Nikos watched her nurse their child. She pulled the blanket a little higher, making sure her breast was covered, but she could still feel his eyes on her. It made her feel naked.
Funny to think she’d once dreamed of this moment, of nursing their baby in the gorgeous, spare-no-expense baby suite she’d decorated, with Nikos sitting beside her. A happy family. She’d dreamed that Nikos would love her, be faithful to her, and someday propose to her.
Now the dream tasted like ashes in her mouth.
Perhaps he hadn’t purposefully set out to ruin her father, but he’d kept his involvement in his business a secret. If Anna had known, she could have found a way to save her father from himself, to prevent the depression after his bankruptcy that had caused him to drink himself to death. Nikos should have told her. Instead, he’d tried to shield her from everything, as if she were a helpless doll. It was as if the moment she’d become pregnant he’d suddenly lost all trust in her and in the world around them.
Thank God she’d given up on waiting for him to love her. Too bad it had taken her so long to wise up. After five years as his secretary, watching his revolving door policy with women, she’d been stupid to ever think he would ever change.
But for her to run away had been trading one stupidity for another. She’d dragged her newborn baby from Las Vegas to Spain to Paris, always on the run, living in cheap, tiny apartments with paper-thin walls and mattresses that sagged in the middle. Even in her great-grandmother’s old palace there’d been no heat or electricity.
That was no life for a baby. In trying to do better for her child, she’d done worse. Nikos had been right to criticize her. Misha deserved a life of comfort and security.
And he deserved to spend time with the father who loved him.
But how could Anna remain here with him and survive? Nikos had made his intentions clear. He would shred her apart without remorse. Glancing at him now, she shivered at the darkness in his eyes. No, she couldn’t stay here. That path led to endless days of seduction…a lifetime of heartbreak.
She silently cursed herself. Last year, when Nikos had unexpectedly shown up on her doorstep, she’d opened her arms…her bed…her soul. She should have slammed the door in his face, thrown all her bags into her car and headed east on Interstate 15. If she had, she might have still been in New York. Working. Single. Free.
But then Misha would never have been born.
That focused her. The past didn’t matter. Her mistakes were old news. Her son was all that mattered now. And she wasn’t going to let him grow up in this cold house with that cold brute.
But how could someone as small and powerless as Anna fight a billionaire ensconced in his own private fortress? He had money, power, and the added immunity of having no heart. What weapons did she have against him? Her family had no money. Her heart was an easy target.
What power did an impoverished single mother have in the world?
Then she had an idea.
An awful, terrible, dangerous idea.
Nikos touched her knee. She jumped in her seat, causing the baby to give a whimper of protest.
“We need to talk. Alone. We’ll have Mrs. Burbridge watch Michael tonight.” He gave her a lazy smile that belied the predatory look in his eyes. His strong, wide fingers lightly traced the edge of her knee through her jeans. “We’ll have dinner. Discuss our future.”
Anna could imagine the type of reacquaintance he had in mind. She felt relatively sure that it wouldn’t involve a night of bowling or picquet. She trembled with anticipation and fear. He meant nothing less than full-scale seduction—which she wouldn’t be able to resist. Even knowing that he caressed her with a cold heart and punishment on his lips.
She cleared her throat. “I would love to have dinner with you tonight, but, um, I’m afraid I have other plans.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Plans?”
“Yes, plans. Big plans.” She swayed furiously back and forth in the plush rocking chair.
“Fascinating. With whom?”
She glanced down at the baby. “With a man.”
He followed her gaze with amusement. “Anyone I know?”
She scowled, knowing it was hopeless to continue when they both knew that she was a terrible liar. “All right, I’m going to spend the evening with my son.”
“Michael won’t mind if his parents spend time alone together tonight. Mrs. Burbridge is trustworthy, Anna. She comes highly recommended and I had her thoroughly vetted, believe me. Michael will be happy with her.”
“You called him Michael,” she said suddenly.
“So? It’s his name.”
“You accept that?”
She saw a flash of anger in his face which was quickly veiled. “It is done and over with.”
“You know I’m sorry about—”
“Forget about it. I have. Let’s talk about tonight. Shall we have Cavaleri serve us dinner under the stars? By the pool?”
Yeah, the pool. Which was conveniently adjacent to the poolhouse, the Moroccan stone fountain, and the manmade waterfall—all places where they’d made love during their brief months of happiness.
Not happiness, she reminded herself fiercely. Illusion.
“No thanks,” she said. “I heard it might rain tonight.”
“Would you prefer we have dinner at L’Hermitage?”
Her breath caught at his suggestion. L’Hermitage Casino Resort. All the years she’d spent organizing the details of its creation, and she hadn’t even seen the inside since it opened. She ached to see it. In so many ways L’Hermitage was a part of her. She and Nikos had worked on it together. She’d never formally studied architecture, or interior design, but he’d still taken her suggestions to heart. She missed that.
“We’ll have dinner at Matryoshka,” Nikos continued.
Yes, her heart yearned. But she forced herself to take the safe course. She turned away.
“You can do whatever you want,” she said crisply. “But after Misha’s asleep I will stay in my room alone. I plan to get a sandwich and take a long, hot bath.”
He gave her another lazy half-smile, toying with her. “That sounds pleasant. I’ll join you.”
“You’ll find a locked door.”
“This is my house, Anna. Do you really think you can keep me out?”
She took a deep breath. He was right, of course. He had the key to every lock. And even if he didn’t, he could break down the door with one slam of his powerful arms. He’d find a way into her room, and that would be that.
Of course he wouldn’t need violence. One kiss and she’d fall at his feet like a harem girl, without a mind or will of her own.
Victor. The name of the Very Bad Idea pounded in her brain. He was her only hope to escape. Her only hope to survive.
It’s too dangerous, she tried to argue with herself. But her former employer had ties both in Las Vegas and in Russia, and the wealth to employ lawyers who could face the best Nikos had to offer. The two men already hated each other—ever since the day Nikos had stolen Anna away to be his executive secretary. If Victor was still in love with her, he’d be willing to help…For a price. Whose price was worse?
Talk about a rock and a hard place. Would there be any way for her to pit the two men against each other and emerge unscathed, without giving body and soul to either one?
She glanced at Nikos from beneath her lashes. His power seemed like a tangible thing. It scared her. No, she couldn’t risk getting Victor involved. It was too dangerous. Someone would end up getting hurt.