Sveta looked even more shocked than she had been when she saw her slap Nikolai. ‘I’m not sure I understand, Mrs Carmichael.’

‘Nikolai will,’ Abbey forecast. ‘Any sexual harassment will count as breach of contract and will release me from my contractual duties.’

Sveta left the room, presumably to consult Nikolai on this unexpected demand. Abbey sat with hot cheeks beneath the combined stares of Olya and Darya, both of whom appeared affronted by her speech.

The strong lines of his lean dark face accentuated by eyes bright with satirical amusement, Nikolai appeared in the doorway. ‘Let’s talk, Abbey.’

Abbey rose from her chair and walked back into his office.

‘I underestimated you,’ Nikolai confessed with an honesty she found shockingly appealing.

‘I won’t work for you without that clause,’ Abbey told him defensively. ‘There have to be boundaries. I don’t get involved with my clients.’

‘But a certain amount of intimacy will be required to mislead the press,’ Nikolai argued.

‘I won’t object to you putting an arm round me in public if it’s strictly necessary, or even taking a casual kiss,’ Abbey specified between clenched teeth of reluctance.

‘I don’t want to take anything from you, I want you to give.’ Nikolai focused shimmering eyes on her, his frustration patent.

‘I won’t give anything more than I’ve just offered. Please understand and accept that what happened last night will never happen between us again,’ Abbey told him tightly.

‘You can’t legislate against my natural male attraction to you,’ he breathed in a raw undertone.

‘Do you expect your female employees to tolerate sexual harassment?’

‘Of course not, but you’re not being fair. You were not an unwilling partner last night,’ he reminded her starkly.

Her violet eyes dropped from his in shamed acknowledgement of that obvious truth.

‘I still want you, lubimaya.’

‘But if you also want me to agree to work for you you have to agree not to touch me again,’ Abbey insisted tautly.

‘Will verbal approaches still be allowed?’ Nikolai asked silkily. ‘Do you think you could withstand the temptation of a verbal approach?’

Abbey registered what she had unwittingly revealed: her fear that she might lack the strength of mind to reject him if he touched her again. ‘Yes,’ she countered doggedly.

‘Then you may have your petty little clause,’ Nikolai breathed with derision. ‘May it keep you warm and happy in your cold bed at night.’

Abbey lost colour but stood her ground. A few minutes later, she was back with his aides and being assured that the contract would be ready for her signature within twenty-four hours. She wondered if it was her imagination that she was now being treated with a marked note of respect.

When Sveta offered her coffee, Abbey decided to make use of the expertise available to her round the table and unfurled her notebook. ‘Perhaps you could tell me what Nikolai likes in terms of housing.’

The requirements came thick and fast from all three women. Indeed the enthusiasm with which they discussed Nikolai’s likes and dislikes was very revealing of their attachment to him and their admiration. ‘Nikolai likes large rooms. He gets claustrophobic in small spaces,’ Olya confided.

‘There has to be a helipad and easy access to London. Nikolai prefers to fly himself and he enjoys the nightlife in the city,’ Sveta added.

‘What does he like about the countryside?’ Abbey prompted.

Blank expressions met the enquiry. Apparently Nikolai had yet to demonstrate a single preference for rural pastimes—he didn’t hunt, shoot or fish, nor did he cherish an interest in architecture. Darya, however, gave her useful information about his St Petersburg base. Leaving the Arlov building, Abbey embarked on a tour of the most upmarket estate agencies, gained information on several city properties and promise of further details that would be sent to her and began planning an appropriate presentation. Her mobile phone buzzed and she answered it.

It was Nikolai. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘My driver was waiting to take you wherever you wanted to go.’

‘That won’t be necessary—’

‘Allow me to decide what is necessary.’

Abbey grimaced. ‘I think I’ll find it very difficult to allow you to decide anything that concerns me.’

‘Where are you?’

Grudgingly she told him and he urged her to wait to be picked up.

‘I’m taking you to a film premiere the day after tomorrow,’ Nikolai continued. ‘Sveta will be in touch with regard to your acquisition of a new wardrobe commensurate with the position you’re taking on.’