She’d become increasingly quiet since their wedding. It was only tonight, when she’d been her old, sociable self, that he’d realised quite how withdrawn she’d become.

 Was he the cause? Had his mother’s prediction already started coming true?

 He wanted to reach out to her and find out what troubled her but didn’t know how.

 She raised a shoulder—the bare shoulder he’d spent the evening trying not to stare at. It had been an effort of epic proportions that had failed. That one naked limb had acted like a beacon to his eyes. The rest of her had acted as a beacon to his senses.

 Holding her hand, feeling her warm, slender body brushing against him...

 All the good work he’d done in recent weeks building a distance from her had crumbled.

 Theos, he ached for her. Ached to possess her all over again with a burn so deep it was like fighting through treacle fog to remember why he had to keep his distance.

 ‘Are you going to take Kerstin on?’ she surprised him by asking.

 ‘I haven’t decided.’ On paper Kerstin was an ideal candidate for his ever-growing empire, having the perfect qualifications and aptitude. Her father was a long-standing, respected member of the finance community. Yes, on paper she was ideal.

 But he hadn’t imagined the tension emanating from Alessandra when he’d been talking to her. He didn’t want to do anything that would make his wife uncomfortable.

 ‘I think you should.’

 ‘What? Take her on?’

 Alessandra turned her head to look at him. Her features were still, sombre, even. ‘She’s perfect.’

 It was too dark to read her eyes.

 ‘If I were to take her on in the capacity she and her father have requested, she will do a lot of travelling with us,’ he stated carefully.

 ‘She will do a lot of travelling with you,’ Alessandra clarified. ‘In another month or so, we can stop zigzagging the world together. Our schedules will thank us for it,’ she added drily.

 ‘Let us consider that in another month,’ he said, his mouth filling with an acrid taste at the thought of travelling without Alessandra by his side. The acridness turned sweet as he thought of how travelling made her sleep. How many hours had he spent these past few weeks on his jet, taking advantage of her oblivion to study her sleeping form, reminding himself over and over why he could only look at her? Theos, he wanted to touch her so badly.

 She raised her shoulders in a sign of nonchalance, a smile playing on her lips. It was too dark to tell if her eyes smiled too. ‘I do think you should consider taking Kerstin on. Every billionaire should have a decent protégée.’

 ‘I thought our child would be a good candidate as my protégé.’

 ‘It will be a long time before our child is old enough for that. Consider Kerstin as practice.’

 ‘That’s not a bad idea,’ he mused. Taking Kerstin under his wing would certainly strengthen the ties between himself and her father, Gregor, a very powerful man in the European banking world. To take Kerstin under his wing would put Gregor in his debt. Debts of a personal nature were their own form of currency.

 Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t hesitate. As Alessandra had pointed out, Kerstin was perfect. She was highly intelligent, multilingual and already had an excellent grasp of his business. His job would involve fine-tuning that grasp.

 Moonlight seeped in the windows, the light bouncing off Alessandra’s bare arm, giving it a silver glow.

 That naked arm. How could any man concentrate on anything for longer than a few seconds with that in his eyeline?

 All it made him think of was the rest of her naked too.

 Do not think of her naked.

 It was hard enough sitting in an enclosed cabin in the back of a car with her without bringing memories of her beautiful naked form to his mind’s eye.

 Self-enforced celibacy clearly did not agree with him.

 How could any man cope with celibacy whilst living with such temptation?

 He gave a silent prayer of thanks as his driver turned the car into the long driveway.