‘Everything that we discuss within this room will be highly confidential,’ Nikolai warned her.

‘Of course,’ she acceded as he introduced his aides and then dismissed them.

Abbey discovered that she was relieved to no longer be the centre of attention for three sharp pairs of female eyes.

Nikolai studied Abbey with the appraising attention of a connoisseur. Her black trouser suit and yellow shirt were standard business-issue apparel, but she wore them with cool elegance. He appreciated her height and her proud carriage almost as much as the sleek line of her shapely curves and long, endless legs. She wore her fabulous mane of colourful hair in a high ponytail. Tiny coppery curls had escaped to soften her hairline and a hint of make-up accentuated her remarkable violet eyes and her soft full pink mouth. She looked incredibly young and untouched for a married woman, he reflected grimly. And, now, as the male who had discovered and taken her innocence for himself, he knew the literal truth of that observation.

The familiar tightening at his groin infuriated him, for he had spent half of the previous night in a cold shower, his hunger for her refusing to abate. It incensed him that he should still lust after her to that extent. It didn’t make sense after the way she had treated him either. He wanted to walk away and turn his back on her without a thought, something he had contrived to do with every other woman he had ever known. He didn’t want her to be different or exceptional in any way. And he remained very curious about the kind of man who had chosen to leave such a beauty virginally intact. In fact he had already instructed Sveta to check out the late Jeffrey Carmichael and bring him a detailed report.

Abbey gritted her teeth in the heavy silence. ‘After the way we parted, I’m sure you can understand my surprise when I got to the office this morning and discovered that you had made an appointment to see me.’

‘I want you to work for me—’

‘Work for you? After last night? Are you out of your mind?’ Abbey demanded thinly, dragging her straying attention from his fabulous bone structure and scolding herself for looking at him in the first place.

‘Not at all.’

‘I refuse to work for you in any capacity!’ Her violet eyes flashed a warning to him, her slender figure rigid with animosity.

‘At least hear me out first,’ Nikolai drawled, his gaze lingering on the ripple of her shirt as she breathed in and the way the fine silky fabric clung and outlined her wonderfully lush curves. ‘But I should also make it clear that I won’t accept you delegating the responsibility of working for me either to your employees or to other professionals whom you may choose to engage on my behalf.’

In receipt of that comprehensive embargo, which would make personal contact with him unavoidable, Abbey focused on him with angry incredulous intensity. Noticing where his unrepentant gaze was resting, she began buttoning her jacket with scarlet cheeks and hands that were trembling with sheer rage. ‘As I can’t imagine working for you under any circumstances, I think that’s superfluous information.’

‘That would be a great shame. Your references impressed me with the belief that you are exactly what I’m looking for.’

‘References?’ Abbey questioned, her temper rising in direct proportion to his incredible cool. Last night had evidently not embarrassed him by so much as an atom, while she felt like a dupe being cruelly taunted with a massive blunder. She could not shake free of humiliating recollections of their lovemaking. She had given herself so completely: she had held nothing back and had virtually begged for his sexual possession. Those images smarted in her memory like an open wound and an unwelcome reminder of weakness and stupidity.

‘I’ve had enquiries made and past clients speak very highly of your efficiency and devotion to detail. You have a lot of satisfied former clients out there.’

‘That’s good to know.’ Abbey was slightly relieved by the news that he had had enquiries made, for it suggested that he was shining a professional rather than personal light onto the task of engaging her services. ‘But it doesn’t change my attitude. In what way did you envisage Support Systems working for you?’

‘I’m planning to move my business base permanently to the UK. That is extremely confidential information, which I don’t want discussed outside this room,’ Nikolai spelt out, his lean, dark, devastatingly handsome face sober and serious. ‘My staff are already handling the business ramifications, but I would like you to deal with the more social aspects of my move.’

‘Social?’ Abbey queried the term.

‘As you know, my penthouse apartment here in London is convenient to this office, but if I’m to live here all the year round I will require a much larger London base, as well as a country house suitable for entertaining.’

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