‘I haven’t a clue, but hopefully he wants to put some lucrative work our way. Why are you so shocked? I understand that you dined with him last night.’

‘Yes.’ But Abbey was outraged by the idea that Nikolai still had the nerve to try to make her do what she didn’t want to do. He had to be well aware that she never wanted to see him again in this lifetime, so why set up an appointment with her? Last night she had dined with him purely because of his donation to Futures. Too late had she recognised the trap she had fallen into in allowing him to effectively buy her indulgence and her time. That had given him entirely the wrong message. Just how had she failed to appreciate what a ruthless bastard she was dealing with?

‘Do we really need more work?’ Abbey pressed.

‘Very much so,’ her brother emphasised.

Abbey went into her own office, where her assistant asked her to call back a catering firm that had been in touch about an unpaid bill. Abbey frowned, for she had assumed that the bill had been settled weeks earlier, and went to check Support Systems’ bank statements. Her skin turned clammy and shock brought up goose bumps on her flesh when she saw the parade of minus signs on the first statement that warned that the company was running on a substantial overdraft. Naturally, she knew that they had an agreed overdraft facility, for occasionally clients were slow to pay, but she had not been aware of quite how tight matters were in the financial field.

Drew was irritable when she questioned him. ‘It’s not my fault you don’t keep up with the latest bank statements,’ he told her with a curtness that made her view him in surprise.

‘I know, but I didn’t appreciate that we were quite so short of funds. What’s brought that about?’

‘All our operating costs have risen and we have some very late payers on our books.’

‘Give me the names,’ Abbey urged, feeling guilty that she had not kept abreast of the firm’s dwindling cash-flow situation. ‘I’ll chase them up for payment.’

As she returned to her office to make good on that proposal she thought that it would be a good idea for her to spend an evening going through the accounts in an attempt to identify exactly when and how things had gone wrong. Just a few months earlier, Support Systems had been riding high with more clients than they could cope with. Unhappily, expansion appeared to have come at a massive cost in overheads. Even so, while that overdraft might suggest a downturn in the firm’s fortunes, Abbey and her colleagues were still so busy they were run off their feet.

Chasing up the firm’s debtors gave her little time to agonise over the approaching interview with Nikolai. But as she crossed the city to the massive office block that housed the UK headquarters of Arlov Industries she was painfully aware that, while she might not want to accept work from Nikolai, Support Systems currently needed all the business it could get. Even so she totally hated and despised him for forcing her to face him again and in a professional capacity. He was the very last man alive she wanted to see again.


WHILE Abbey waited in the elegant reception area on the top floor, she was conscious of being under scrutiny. She was already aware of the identity of two of the women who had wandered out past reception to get a better look at her: she recognised both Olya and Darya from the audience at the fashion show.

Furthermore, she, too, was human and curious and she had checked out Nikolai on the Internet before dining with him. She had marvelled at how much information there was about him that in effect gave very few actual facts. His exact background might be shrouded in mystery, but the trio of stunning Russian beauties who acted as his executive team were a modern-day business legend. Sveta, Olya and Darya were frequently referred to in suggestive terms as Nikolai’s ‘stable’ or ‘harem’. All three women were highly educated and well qualified for the positions they held in his empire, but their sheer physical beauty, and the level of trust and intimacy they enjoyed with their oligarch employer, had encouraged more provocative interpretations of their relationship with him. Several of Nikolai’s past lovers had complained of having to compete with the trio for his attention.

Ten minutes after her arrival, Abbey was escorted into a large airy office in which Nikolai was working with his Russian aides. Nikolai crossed the floor to greet her. ‘I appreciate your punctuality,’ he told her.

She was shattered by the pure impact of his potent dark beauty on her senses. His straight ebony brows highlighted the brooding dark depth of his spectacular eyes that were enhanced by inky black lashes. The strong blade of his arrogant nose bisected high cheekbones, throwing into prominence a strong masculine jaw and a perfectly modelled wide sensual mouth. One glance at his lean, dark, dazzlingly handsome face and her mouth ran dry and her breath shortened in her throat as if an electric shock had gone through her. His natural grace of movement only added to his potent level of virile attraction by welding her attention to him. Recognising that she was being closely watched by his three female executives, Abbey experienced the sudden fear that her responses could be read on her face. In reaction to that daunting thought she felt her skin heat with self-conscious colour and she scolded herself furiously for acting like a blushing schoolgirl at an important business meeting. Her mood was not improved by a flashback of recollection from the night before that scorched colour as far as her hairline and dampened her upper lip with perspiration.

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