‘I’m going home,’ she breathed when he lifted his head again.

Paparazzi were waiting outside the building when they emerged. Cameras went off even as Nikolai’s security team made the waiting photographers back off and give them a clear passage to the glossy black Ferrari now parked in readiness by the kerb. Her colour high as demands for her name were loudly shot at her, Abbey climbed into the car with her head down, reluctant to give anyone the chance to get a decent picture of her.

‘They’ll follow us back to your apartment so that they can identify you,’ Nikolai forecast.

‘Surely not?’ But even as she spoke she saw two men jumping onto motorbikes across the road and her heart sank. ‘Is it always like this for you?’

‘I hate it,’ he breathed. ‘By tomorrow morning at least one paper will have offered you cash to talk about me.’

‘I won’t do it. Your secrets are safe with me. The colour of your dining-room wallpaper will go to the grave with me,’ she promised him.

He burst out laughing at that sally.

They were tailed all the way back to her apartment block and she didn’t object when he insisted on seeing her indoors, because even before she climbed out of his car she saw several men race across the pavement to lie in wait for them again. But when one of them aimed a camera, Nikolai’s minders stepped in and snatched it away. An altercation broke out between the men as Nikolai urged her through the entrance to the building with a protective arm splayed to her narrow spine.

‘You don’t need to come all the way upstairs,’ she said as the lift doors sprang open beside them.

An ebony brow climbed. ‘I won’t overstay my welcome,’ he declared.

He took the key out of her fingers and pressed open the front door to follow her in. ‘A model castle,’ he said in surprise, crossing the hall to peer into it.

‘It’s a doll’s house. I always wanted one when I was a child but I had to wait until I grew up and could afford to buy my own.’

A moment’s appraisal of his surroundings had been sufficient to assure Nikolai of the modern minimalist nature of her home, so the interior of the fairy-tale castle was a revelation. A red-headed miniature doll in a voluminous white lace nightdress was getting ready to climb into a curtained four-poster bed. Two tiny Siamese cats were curled up by the blazing fire. Every inch of doll’s house space was packed with diminutive antique furniture and every surface was cluttered with books, art and bric-a-brac. Although a little row of beds and a cot in the attic occupied by several weeny dolls testified to the existence of a large family of children, there wasn’t a man in the whole building. He wondered if she appreciated how much that cosy domestic fantasy revealed of her true nature.

‘Interesting,’ he remarked truthfully.

Abbey hovered. She wanted him to kiss her again and despised herself for her weakness. She could no more have walked away and denied that temptation than she could have stopped breathing. The tip of her tongue slid out to moisten her full lower lip. She saw his attention drop to her mouth and linger and she tried the tongue trick again. Even as she did it quite deliberately to attract, she was shocked and incredulous at the way she was behaving. He groaned something in his own language and hauled her to him, a long-fingered hand splaying across the swell of her bottom to gather her close. The expert dart of his tongue into the moist cavern between her lips set her on fire as much as the unmistakable hard male heat of his erection. She shivered violently against his lean muscular physique, her knees trembling under her. It had never occurred to her that wanting might hurt so much or that she might be quite so hungry for a man’s passion.

Nikolai scored the pad of his finger along the swollen curve of her lush lower lip in wonderment: he couldn’t believe she was sending him away unsatisfied. Her pupils were dilated, her breathing as fractured as his own. She was as hot for him as he was for her. ‘You burn me up,’ he confided. ‘When can I see you again?’

‘This was a one-off,’ Abbey reminded him uncomfortably.

‘You can’t be serious.’

Abbey stiffened and pulled back from him, imposing the physical separation that her every sense and urge protested. ‘I’m afraid that I am.’

Smouldering dark golden eyes assailed her evasive gaze. ‘Let me stay…’

‘No.’ Her breath snarled up in her dry throat while her imagination took erotic wing. She envisaged her body entwined in intimacy with the lean hard potency of his and her tummy contracted, tiny burning sensations stabbing low in her pelvis. All of a sudden she was a woman she didn’t know and couldn’t comprehend. Self-control had never been a problem for her and, aside of her understandable regrets over her unconsummated marriage, she had never dreamt that sex might be so important to her. But now, while she trembled in a man’s presence with the heat and damp of arousal blossoming between her legs, the extent of her own ignorance terrified her. Nikolai was tearing her inside out with sexual longing and that truth made her cringe.

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