‘The clothes have arrived,’ she texted him. ‘Were you denied a dress-up doll as a child?’

‘I only want to undress you,’ he replied, which sent a wave of heat travelling through her and settling between her thighs in a most disturbing way.

‘There’s no question of that,’ she texted back, shaken by his frankness and unsure of how best to deal with it. But she did not want him to harbour expectations in that line of the evening ahead of them.

She left the office earlier than was her wont and made her way home to the ultra-modern apartment where she lived. It had originally belonged to Jeffrey and the minimalist design and elegant brown and beige décor owed more to his taste than hers. Nothing she bought ever seemed to fit the sparse interior and trinkets always seemed to take on the aspect of messy clutter. Her doll’s house, which was in the style of a mock stone castle, was perched on the mirrored hall table, where its fairy-tale lines looked least obtrusive. The world of miniatures was her only hobby and the house and its miniature family of inhabitants provided a wonderful outlet for her lively imagination.

Stowing the boxes she planned to return to Nikolai, Abbey leafed through her wardrobe, instinctively searching for something as different from the blue gown as she could find. She was no man’s dress-up doll! If he had an erotic fantasy she wasn’t fulfilling it! She pulled out a scarlet halter-necked knee-length dress that she had bought when she was shopping with Caroline and worn only once at the staff Christmas party. After a quick shower she put on a little light make-up, teased her mane of curls into subjection and got ready. She frowned at the way the thin fabric seemed to cling all too revealingly to the full globes of her breasts and would have changed had not the doorbell buzzed.

Grabbing the boxes and her bag, she headed to the front door. A uniformed chauffeur greeted her and she handed him the boxes, accompanying him down in the lift while studying her reflection in the mirrored half-walls with dissatisfaction. The colour in her cheeks and the sparkle in her eyes implied an excitement that affronted her pride. She was, after all, only dining with Nikolai because Futures would benefit richly from her doing so. The chauffeur put the boxes in the boot of the long gleaming silver limousine and opened the passenger door for her.

Abbey was startled to see that Nikolai was in the car waiting for her.

‘You’re not wearing the dress,’ he commented straight off. ‘But you look almost as beautiful in red.’

Almost? Abbey was infuriated when she experienced a womanly stab of regret at not having worn the blue gown after all. ‘I don’t let anyone buy me clothes. I’m giving them back to you—’

‘I refuse to argue with you.’ Brilliant dark eyes intent, Nikolai surveyed her with raw masculine appreciation. He would not have been surprised had she shown up in jeans. She had a quirky, stroppy edge that he recognised as a challenge. This was not a woman willing to be told what to do. Mentally they were a match made in hell, he acknowledged, for she was as stubborn, individual and confrontational as he was. But at that moment he was less interested in her mind than in her body and his attention dropped to the tantalisingly ripe curve of her wine red tinted lips and the even more inviting lushness of her glorious breasts. ‘I haven’t stopped thinking about you for five minutes since I first saw you, lubimaya,’ he confessed in a husky undertone.

Flattered by that assurance, Abbey was shaken once again by how strong her reaction was to him. He looked absolutely gorgeous in a silver-grey pinstripe shirt and casual jacket that was superbly tailored to his broad shoulders and powerful chest. The atmosphere between them crackled with tension. Her mouth was dry and her pulses were drumming crazily. Wildly exhilarating feelings that had nothing to do with reason were pounding through her. She focused on his lean, hard-boned face with a fascination she had never felt in her life before and she was shattered by that truth, her lashes dipping to conceal her bemused eyes and break that moment.

‘What’s wrong?’ Quick as a flash Nikolai spoke up when she deliberately broke that visual connection with him.

Guilt was engulfing Abbey because her powerful response to Nikolai made her feel cheap and tarty, surpassing as it did anything she had ever felt for Jeffrey, whom she had fallen for at a much more innocent age. Then, she recognised that what she was feeling now was lust, pure, unvarnished lust, prompted by the sensual side of her nature, which she had had little opportunity to explore.

‘Nothing’s wrong,’ she said flatly, fighting not to notice that his eyelashes were spiky black fringed enhancements to his beautiful eyes, that his luxuriant black hair made her fingers tingle with a sense of deprivation, that his hard male mouth filled her with curiosity and shameless longing.

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