An hour after dining on his private jet, Nikolai left Sveta and her colleagues at work and went for a shower. Fifteen minutes later, he answered the knock on the bedroom door with only a towel wrapped round his lean bronzed hips. His black brows drew together in astonishment when Sveta walked in. Her suit had vanished and her remarkable body was now embellished only by an apricot silk corset-and-knicker set. ‘What the hell—?’
‘Please don’t say anything until I’ve finished, sir. Olya, Darya and I thought that you might be in the mood to be distracted,’ Sveta murmured softly.
Olya, a voluptuous brunette, strolled in, wearing a similar outfit in emerald green. ‘You’ve had a tricky week. A little down time in the right female company could help you to relax.’
Darya, the third of his aides, her platinum-blond hair cut razor-short above her strikingly attractive face, entered sporting turquoise lace lingerie and struck a provocative pose. ‘We know what you need. We also believe that we can deliver. Choose one of us and there will be no repercussions, emotional or otherwise.’
His hard, handsome face unrevealing, Nikolai studied the three women and wondered why on earth he had assumed that there was safety in numbers. No repercussions? Who did they think they were kidding? As sharp as blades in the intelligence stakes and as effective in business as sharks in a wildlife pond, each of them was ferociously loyal to him. No man could have equalled their single-minded devotion to his interests. And like him they never forgot what they came from.
‘But if you feel that one-to-one might be too personal or divisive to team spirit…’Sveta leant back against the door to close it with her shapely derriere and gave him an understanding smile ‘…we have no objection to sharing you and every expectation that you will rise to the challenge.’
‘YOU look amazing,’ Sally, the beautician, chattered as she fanned out Abbey’s unruly mane of flame-coloured curls over her slim shoulders. ‘You’re going to be the star tonight.’
Abbey seriously doubted that forecast and reckoned that only a woman confident of her face and body would actually want to take part in a fashion show. She was only there by default, stepping in last minute for the amateur model who had twisted her knee in a fall during the dress rehearsal. Abbey had never liked either her face or her body. When she was a child the mirror had been her enemy, destroying her every dream of being a fairy princess in disguise.
One of her earliest memories had been of hearing her father complain that she was an ugly duckling. Sadly for her, however, the swan phase had failed to transpire, Abbey reflected wryly. Her hair had stayed defiantly red, her freckles had increased and her elongated gawky legs had continued to ensure that she towered over most people at a comfortable five feet nine inches in her bare feet. In her opinion, her unfashionably large breasts and hips only increased her oddness. Only once in her life had Abbey considered herself blessed by any claim to attraction. That had been the miraculous day when Jeffrey Carmichael had asked her out. During the months that had run up to their wedding day the world had truly seemed to be a joyous place sprinkled with stardust and happiness. But even Jeffrey had once suggested that she might look better as a blonde.
‘Caroline is incredible,’ Sally commented as a fair-haired woman in a wheelchair sped busily past. ‘I really do admire her. To have lost so much and still be so keen to help others.’
‘That’s Caroline all over,’ Abbey agreed as she admired her brother’s wife equally. Caroline might have lost the power of her legs six years earlier, but she still cared for her husband and two children, met the demands of a full-time job and made room for fund-raising activities to support Futures, the spinal injuries charity that had helped her in her hour of need. The fashion show that Abbey had helped to organise was being held in aid of Futures.
‘Someone told me that she got hurt in a car crash on her brother’s wedding day…’
‘Yes,’ Abbey confirmed, her freckles standing out against her sudden pallor. ‘A drunk driver.’
‘I’m sure I read about it in the newspaper at the time.’
‘There was a lot of press coverage.’ Abbey did not want to think back to what had happened to the wedding party that dark, wet October day. One moment she’d had everything to live for, the next nothing, but she knew how lucky she was to have emerged virtually unscathed from the wreckage. Her brother’s life had been torn apart and, although the pessimistic had forecast otherwise, his marriage had survived the cruel blow that Caroline had suffered.