‘Nichivo, never mind,’ he told his assistant in Russian and dismissed her with a jerk of his arrogant dark head.

‘Or do I call her back in and tell her to phone the police?’ Nikolai murmured soft and low, when Sveta had departed, to Abbey, who was staring with fixed guilt and shame at the spot where his bronzed skin was reddening over his cheekbone.

‘The police?’ Abbey exclaimed aghast.

‘You did just assault me,’ Nikolai murmured silkily. ‘It’s been a long time since anyone struck me. My half-brothers used to beat me up all the time when I was small and these days I would prefer to fight to the death before I would allow anyone to strike me without punishment.’

‘I apologise…I was completely out of order,’ Abbey muttered unevenly, in a panic at the reference to the police and the risk of an assault charge, since she knew he would be quite within his rights.

Nikolai lowered his handsome dark head. ‘You can kiss me better and agree to work for me. Isn’t that the wiser solution?’

Abbey could not comprehend the madness that seemed to have infiltrated her brain or her life. In the past twenty-four hours she had acted like a stranger to herself and the sheer violence of her reactions was starting to scare her. Like a robot she did as she was told, pressing her peach-tinted lips delicately to the spot she had bruised while she thought about the brothers who had beaten him when he was a helpless child and found that, inexplicably, even while she hated him, her heart could ache for him as well. The musky, familiar tang of his skin flared her nostrils and she had to plant her palms against his chest to prevent herself from overbalancing.

Nikolai settled lean brown hands down on her slim taut shoulders and set her back safely from him. ‘You will take the job,’ he intoned, dark-as-midnight eyes telegraphing hard resolve and authority. ‘And I promise you that I will give you no cause to regret the deal.’

‘You don’t understand how I feel,’ Abbey declared fiercely.

Nikolai recognised that he had underestimated the extent of her hostility. If he wanted to see her again he had few options, because she would never willingly agree to spend time with him again. Her stubborn pride and idealistic principles exasperated him and yet he knew he could not imagine her without them.

‘Naturally not. I’m not as emotional as you are,’ Nikolai responded, fascinated by the fluctuating feelings that shimmered across her highly expressive face as fast as clouds in a stormy sky.

That he had recognised the depth of emotion that currently controlled her unnerved Abbey. The heights and depths of feeling attacking her usual equilibrium and swinging her first one way and then to the opposite extreme were unfamiliar to her and horribly unwelcome. She collided with smouldering dark golden eyes and her tummy flipped, her heartbeat accelerating. That fast she wanted him with a ferocious longing that she had not known it possible for her to feel. The atmosphere crackled. Her entire skin surface prickled, her nipples tightening into straining prominence, liquid heat flowering between her slender thighs. Evidently her body could not be indifferent to him: he brought out the secret slut inside her, she thought painfully.

‘My aides will discuss the contract with you,’ Nikolai delivered.

‘With clauses regarding wardrobe and hostess duties?’ Abbey queried very drily.

‘No. That angle is between us alone.’

Frustration filled her. ‘I’m sure a dozen women would fight for the chance to fulfil that kind of role for you. Why force it on me?’ Abbey demanded.

‘You have something extra, which will make you much more convincing,’ Nikolai spelt out, ushering her into the room next door to where Sveta, Olya and Darya were waiting and leaving them to it.

An angry flush on her cheeks, Abbey sank down at the table next to his aides. Something extra? Extreme susceptibility to his attractiveness? In the negotiations that followed, however, she was very much at an advantage, for, while Nikolai’s right-hand women might be very tough cookies, Abbey was the only one of them aware that he was not prepared to hire some other concierge firm to do his bidding. He would only settle for her and essentially that meant she could dictate her terms. And dictate them she did, refusing to give an inch in the bargaining that followed. Nikolai would be demanding and would expect instant attention, and she had no intention of allowing Support Systems to lose out; while she was devoting her time to Nikolai, she would not be in a position to take on any other clients.

Furthermore, Abbey was determined to ensure that any agreement that ensued was a businesslike one. Lifting her chin, she gathered her courage and declared, ‘I want there to be a clause guaranteeing that I will not be subjected to sexual harassment during the course of the contract.’

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