Abbey could not bear that reminder. Her face burning with embarrassment and remorse, she stared at Jeffrey’s photo by the bed and her sense of shame almost choked her. ‘I’ll never forgive myself for wanting you and betraying everything I believe in.’

Nikolai had already had more than enough without having that assurance hurled at him. He pulled on his boxers and gathered up the rest of his clothes without ceremony before striding out of the room and across the hall to the bathroom. He had never been so offended. His anger was like a big black stone inside him, weighing him down. It had not occurred to him that she might be a drama queen with no manners. It had certainly not occurred to him that he might have the best sex of a lifetime with such a woman. A virgin as eager for him as he had been for her, who had decided to be ashamed of what they had shared rather than proud of it. It was not a female reaction that had ever come his way before. Worse still, he had only to summon her face into his mind to feel his body surge and harden with fierce hunger for her again.

Remorse attacked Abbey while he was gone. She had responded to his advances and slept with him. Her regrets were not his fault, but, although intellectually she accepted that, she also sensed that Nikolai was intelligent enough to have known how she would feel and yet he had still taken what was on offer. She was in the bedroom doorway when he reappeared.

‘I know you don’t understand how I feel,’ she breathed tautly. ‘But I once loved and was loved by someone very special and, tonight, I feel I betrayed that bond with an intimacy that was meaningless and empty.’

Although Nikolai had never sought meaning in sex, he was more insulted than ever by a declaration that once again demoted him to second-rate status and he sent her a sardonic appraisal. ‘Your husband has been dead for six years. You should have moved on by now.’

‘It’s not that easy.’

‘And your deifying the dead won’t make the process any easier,’ Nikolai told her drily.

‘I don’t think you’ve ever loved anyone.’

Nikolai thought about that. ‘No woman. I loved my grandfather,’ he admitted in a rare burst of confidence, ‘but your grief strikes me as obsessive.’

‘That’s my business,’ Abbey told him defensively.

‘As you say.’ Nikolai opened the door. ‘Dubroynochi, goodnight,’ he drawled softly before he pulled the door closed behind him.

Abbey wrapped her arms round herself in the silent hall and snatched in a charged breath. She was still in shock. Indeed her entire body was quivering uncomfortably in the aftermath of the passion they had shared. A passion such as she had never dreamt existed, and her body ached from it. She wondered why she felt so much more alone than usual and what it was about Nikolai that got to her to such an extent. She found him amazingly attractive and that was incredibly hard to cope with. Jeffrey had never desired her to that extent. It was a disloyal thought and even thinking it bothered her, but Abbey believed in being honest with herself. Jeffrey might have loved her enough to make her his wife, but when it came to the physical side of their relationship he had been more lukewarm than passionate. Perhaps she had been the more highly sexed of the two of them, she reasoned frantically, but her sense of guilt simply deepened. She barely slept a wink that night.

The next morning she received a phone call from a well-known tabloid offering her money to talk about her date with Nikolai. She turned it down with disdain. It was an unpleasant surprise to be greeted by a crowd of paparazzi and cameras when she drove out of the underground car park to head to work. Her face was hot enough to fry eggs on while she wondered if the journalists appreciated that Nikolai had got her into bed on the first date, fully living up to his notorious reputation with women.

When she arrived at Support Systems, two rather grim-looking men were striding out of the building. ‘Who were those men just leaving?’ Abbey asked, walking into her brother’s office.

Drew was pale and he shot her a troubled glance. ‘Potential customers. I didn’t like the look of them, so we won’t be taking them on.’

‘They looked like bouncers.’

‘Oddly enough, that’s pretty much what they are. They wanted us to hire more security staff for a West End club—not our field of expertise, I explained.’

‘No, indeed, but then we do say in our literature that we’ll have a go at any task that the customer needs done,’ Abbey pointed out.

Her brother frowned. ‘We have to draw the line somewhere. By the way, you have an appointment in an hour with Nikolai Arlov—’

‘Nikolai? What does he want?’ Abbey gasped in dismay.