With as much grace as she could muster, she gently lifted Misha out from beneath the blanket, pulling down her shirt.
“He’s asleep,” she said softly. She carefully laid him down on the soft mattress of the crib. Nikos came to stand beside her, and for a moment they watched their child sleep. The baby’s arms were tossed carelessly above his head, and his long dark eyelashes fluttered against his plump, rosy cheeks as his breath rose and fell. She whispered, “Isn’t he beautiful?”
She bit her lip at his abrupt tone, feeling guilty again about what she’d done. No matter how she hated him, how could she have separated a child from his father?
She took a deep breath. “I…I owe you an apology, Nikos. I should never have taken Misha away from you.”
“No.” His voice was low.
She licked her lips. Might as well get it all over with. “And I’m sorry for blaming you for my father’s death,” she said in a rush. “You invested in his company and he took advantage of you. He’s the one who chose to drink himself to death. I just wish you’d told me, so I could have tried to do something to save him before it was too late.” She paused, then sighed. “I guess we’ve both made a mess of things in our own way, haven’t we?”
He drew back, his eyes cold. “My only mistake was trying to take care of you.”
She was trying to be penitent, but his words caused resentment to surge through her anew. She backed away from the crib, keeping her voice soft so as not to wake their sleeping child. “Oh, I see,” she said furiously. “So was it for my welfare that you cheated on me during my pregnancy?”
He followed her across the room, clenching his jaw in exasperation. He shook his head. “What are you talking about? I never cheated on you. Although at this point I wish I had. Are you trying to make up lies to use against me in court? That’s a new low, even for you.”
She could hardly believe he’d try to deny it. “What about Lindsey?”
“What about her?”
“You might as well admit she was your mistress. She told me everything.” Anna stared blindly at the five-foot-high stuffed giraffe sitting on the powder-blue sofa in the corner. “Lindsey often came here during the last months of my pregnancy, supposedly to ask questions about her job. But I think the real reason was to torment me with details of your affair.”
For a moment there was silence in the shaded cool of the nursery.
“Lindsey told you that we were lovers?” His voice was matter-of-fact, emotionless.
“She told me everything.” Her throat started to hurt as the pain went through her heart again, ripping the wound anew. “How often you made love. How she believed you’d ask her to marry you.”
“It’s a lie.”
“Of course that part was a lie. She was obviously delusional. You’ll never propose to anyone.” She gave a bitter laugh. “I almost feel sorry for her. You use women when it suits you. But you’ll abandon her like you abandoned me.”
He became dangerously still. “You think I—abandoned you?”
“I wasn’t so sexy anymore, was I? The last three months of my pregnancy you wouldn’t touch me, you pushed me away, and finally you just left altogether. You replaced me with a younger, slimmer model.”
He looked down at her with narrowed eyes as his nostrils flared. “And that’s really what you really think of me? After all our years working together you think I would reject and abandon the woman carrying my child.”
She pushed away all the wonderful memories of them working, laughing, dancing together. Of nights under the stars. Days spent together in bed.
Wordlessly, she nodded.
“Damn you, it’s well known that having sex during the final trimester can induce early labor—”
“I had a healthy pregnancy!” Anna cried. “But you kept me prisoner for nine months. I let you do it because I thought you were just worried about our child. But you kept me away from my family and my work, keeping me helpless and alone. Then you left to live with your gorgeous young mistress. Make up some cockamamie story about early labor if you want, but the truth is you just didn’t want me anymore!”
“Anna, you know that’s not—”
“I gave you everything, and you broke my heart.” She turned away, barely holding back tears as she looked down at her sleeping son. “Go, Nikos. Just leave. That’s what you do best, isn’t it?”
He grabbed her shoulders, whirling her around. “I can’t believe this. That’s why you kidnapped my son and caused me four months of hell? Because of some damned lies Lindsey told you?”
His hands tightened painfully, and she was suddenly aware of his body close to hers. His breath brushed her cheek, sending waves of heat up and down her body. Her gaze fell to his mouth.
She licked her own lips unconsciously. “Lindsey is your lover. Why won’t you just admit it? You didn’t hesitate to tell me the brutal truth this morning about my father. I thought you said you were done protecting me!”
He pulled her close, wrapping his muscled arms tightly around her as he whispered in her ear, “Damn you, Anna.”
He abruptly released her, striding for the door.
“I’ll be back for dinner,” he tossed at her without a backward glance. “I expect you to be waiting for me when I return.”
She stared after him, still shivering. She had no doubt as to what he expected of her. To be waiting for him in lingerie, holding two flutes of champagne, hot and ready for his seduction. He thought she was weak. He thought that, even though she hated him, she would be powerless to resist.
No, she thought. No way.
Resting one hand protectively on her son’s crib, Anna narrowed her eyes.
Whether he was more dangerous or not, Anna had to get Victor’s help so she could get out of this house. She had no choice. Because when Nikos had told her that Lindsey’s words were lies, she’d found herself wanting to believe him. Aching to believe him.
Being this close to Nikos was killing her.
She’d go to Victor’s club tonight. She’d beg for his help. In exchange, she would promise to work for him again—something she’d sworn she’d never do. She’d do anything short of becoming his lover. And once she had Victor’s help Nikos would see who was powerless and weak.
She clenched her hands into fists, remembering the arrogant way he’d demanded that she wait for him tonight. She’d be waiting, all right.
Waiting to give him the shock of his life.
Nikos poured himself a small bourbon from the crystal decanter in his office on the fourth floor of L’Hermitage.
He swished the glass and leaned back against the desk, staring out through the wide windows overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. The brilliant blue sky and desert sun were beating down on the palm trees and garish architecture. The blacktop of Las Vegas Boulevard reflected waves of heat on the camera-wielding tourists, the gamblers and the drunken, ecstatic newlyweds.
He took a sip of bourbon. The normally smooth flavor was tasteless. Staring at the amber-colored liquid, he set down the glass and rested his head against his hands.
At last he understood.
He’d thought Anna had left because he’d tried to protect her during her pregnancy. He’d fired her because he’d sworn he’d be damned if his child’s mother would ever have to work—not after he’d watched his own mother work herself to death. He’d blocked Anna’s phone calls because he’d too often found her pacing while she solved problems at the casino building site, or tried to solve the endless foolish problems of her mother and sister. In both cases she’d been taking on problems that other people should have handled for themselves. Her first priority should have been her child, to the exclusion of all else. Why had she not seen that? Why had she been unable to let the weight of responsibility rest on him? Why had she fought his efforts to keep his fragile new family safe and protected?
Perhaps he should have told her about her father’s initial request for an investment, but Alexander Rostoff had asked Nikos to keep it quiet. Later, when Nikos had discovered the embezzlement, Anna was already pregnant, and upsetting her had been the last thing he’d wanted to do. Anna already took too much on where her family was concerned.
But he couldn’t believe that his real mistake, what had truly driven Anna away, had been leaving her bed.
She’d been so beautiful in her final trimester, lush with curves and ripe with his child, that Nikos had known there was no way he could keep his hands off her. He’d read in a pregnancy book that late-term sex could be a factor in early labor, so he’d forced himself to leave her, moving to his newly finished penthouse at L’Hermitage. To an empty bed and a lonely apartment. For her sake. For their child’s sake.
And she’d taken that as rejection?