The exact moment when he pushed her skirt higher was known to her, not because panic or denial assailed her, but because her impatience was greater than his and she was already desperate for him to touch her with greater intimacy. An exploring masculine fingertip skated over the fabric of her boxer-cut knickers and discovered the moist heat at the heart of her. Her breath caught in her throat and she gasped as he skated that caress up over her prominent mound where every nerve-ending leapt in an agony of sweet sensation. He kept his attention there and her legs shook with the stress of having to stay upright. She clung to his broad shoulders and pushed against him. With a groan he hauled her bodily up into his arms.

‘Where’s your bed?’ he growled against her satin-smooth cheek and paused for an instant to investigate the delicate expanse below her small ear, the intrinsic scent of her skin acting like an aphrodisiac on him.

Abbey was weightless with desire and longing. She couldn’t find her voice: she indicated the door at the other end of the hall and he took her there to what had once been Jeffrey’s bed, which she had never shared with her late husband or any other man. And she remembered that and inwardly cringed and hated herself; yet she could no more have pushed Nikolai away and denied herself than she could have wilfully stopped breathing. Nikolai shed his shoes, his socks and his jacket and came down on the bed with her. Abbey yanked him free of his tie and began to unbutton his shirt. In some corner of her mind she could not credit that it was she who was doing such things. But as she tugged his shirt free of the waistband of his trousers and the edges parted to display a hair-roughened bronzed slice of powerful chest her pleasure in the sight wiped out her self-doubt. His brilliant eyes were bright in his lean dark face and she was utterly entrapped by the impact of them, her heart banging as if she were running a marathon race.

Nikolai undid the ties on the halter-neck dress and bra and released a masculine groan of satisfaction when the lush abundance of her creamy curves spilled free of the constraining fabric once again. He lowered his head to the rigid pink peaks that crowned them and whisked her nipples with his tongue while his hands shaped the soft, silken swell of the pouting mounds.

Besieged by tormenting sensation, Abbey moaned out loud, her fingers sinking into his tousled black hair to pull him back to her. They shared a passionate kiss before the allure of her breasts tempted him back there, while at the same time he extracted her from the dress caught round her hips.

‘I’ve never felt like this before,’ Nikolai breathed in an unguarded admission that took even him by surprise.

Abbey parted her lips to match his confession, but then fell silent at the recollection of Jeffrey, which threatened a comparison too tasteless and painful to be endured. Nikolai searched her smoky violet eyes and sensed her reticence and its cause and it annoyed the hell out of him at that moment. He was offended by the conviction that he was continually having to measure up to another man in her estimation.

Nikolai crushed her swollen lips beneath his again, darting and delving his tongue until she responded with matching fervour. He peeled off her last garment with alacrity, surveying the voluptuous violin curves of her lush body with intense pleasure. ‘You have the most glorious shape, milaya moya.’

The madness that had seized Abbey thinned like a cloud of fog and she marvelled that she could be lying naked for this man’s admiration. But, in truth, she found his unconcealed reverence and appreciation for her body absolutely thrilling. For the first time in her life she felt sexy and feminine and proud of her curvaceous figure. But shyness and insecurity still threatened to break through the ache of arousal that held her taut and imprisoned by his spell.

Nikolai trailed a skilful hand along a slender thigh to the tenderest place of all and the last fetters of control fell from her. He probed the tight, wet depths of her secret centre and she was lost beyond reclaim in sensation and response. He caressed the tiny bud beneath the auburn curls with the pad of his thumb and instant sensation exploded inside her, sending an earthquake of desire cascading through her in a liquid surge.

‘Please…’ she mumbled, barely knowing what she was saying or even asking for.

Nikolai dug contraception out of his wallet one-handed. He gazed down at her, stunned by the response she was giving him. She was so lovely with her coppery hair spread across the pillow, her delicate face flushed with soft colour, her blue eyes half closed with passion. For a split second he hesitated, for he suspected that afterwards she might have regrets, for it was a challenge for him to believe that she had changed her mind about him so totally. But rampant arousal and need powered Nikolai. He wanted her with a hunger stronger than anything he had ever felt before and self-denial of any kind was not in his genes.