‘You should just get married,’ Abbey informed him tartly. ‘What you need is a wife, not me play-acting as a hostess in some outfit you’ve had to pay for.’
‘I’m not the marrying kind.’ His reply was icy.
A few minutes later, a limo pulled up beside her, the driver jumping out to open the passenger door to her. Abbey felt like a rubber ball being steamrollered flat by an immovable weight. She was also certain that, just like a rubber ball, she would not be able to tolerate being flattened for long. Caroline had invited her over for tea and, since it had been a couple of weeks since she had visited her brother’s home, she went straight there.
Caroline’s nanny opened the front door. Abbey sent an uneasy glance back at the limo, since the chauffeur had insisted that he would wait for her. Her nephew and niece, Benjamin and Alice, greeted her cheerfully and burbled on about their day at school. Abbey hugged the children and found her sister-in-law in the kitchen engaged in putting together a meal. ‘You have to tell all,’ Caroline said the instant Abbey walked through the door into the cosy cluttered room.
And, to her surprise, Abbey found herself doing exactly that, although she still kept Nikolai’s use of his charitable donation to put pressure on her a secret. Caroline stopped chopping vegetables for the casserole, her warm brown eyes wide and concerned. ‘You slept with him?’
Abbey nodded wretchedly.
Visibly striving to conceal how surprised she was by that confession, Caroline said, ‘Well, I think it’s marvellous that you’ve finally met someone who really attracts you.’
‘Even if he’s a womanising billionaire?’
‘The guy couldn’t take his eyes off you at the fashion show. It was like he had a homing device planted on you. He’s keen,’ the small blond woman pronounced cheerfully. ‘And why not? You’re beautiful and very intelligent. Drew tells me Nikolai was on the phone first thing this morning to make an appointment to see you, so how did that work out?’
Abbey told her almost the whole story.
‘I still say he’s keen,’ Caroline persisted. ‘You’ve backed him into a corner. He has no other way of seeing you.’
Abbey dropped her head, her violet eyes betraying how unimpressed she was by that opinion. Keen was not a word she would have used to describe Nikolai Arlov. Sex was the lowest common denominator between a man and a woman and, in her estimation, the source of her appeal to Nikolai was purely sexual. He was also a male hell-bent on getting his own way, no matter what the cost or the damage.
‘And there’s an even brighter side to this,’ her sister-in-law continued chirpily. ‘When word gets round that Nikolai Arlov is using our services, it’ll be amazingly good free publicity and excellent for business. My goodness—’ Caroline broke off suddenly, frowning as she looked out through the window at the limousine she had finally noticed parked beyond the hedge. ‘Did you arrive in that monstrous vehicle out there?’
Abbey nodded uncomfortably, restrained from sharing the full content of her meeting with Nikolai by the confidentiality he had demanded. ‘Nikolai insisted I use it while I’m working for him.’
Caroline looked amused. ‘How to travel in style,’ she teased. ‘You’re going up in the world.’
But Abbey felt the exact opposite. Nikolai was interfering with her life and she didn’t care how good he might be for business at that moment; she could only fiercely resent his meddling. ‘How are you and Drew doing?’ she prompted.
Caroline pulled a face. ‘Right now, your brother seems very worried about the business and he’s still burning the midnight oil most nights. It almost feels like he’s avoiding me,’ she confided heavily. ‘He’s just not himself, Abbey, and I don’t know what’s going on with him.’
Resolving to take a closer look at the accounts as soon as she got the opportunity, Abbey went home. Only after agreeing a pickup time with her for the following morning was the driver prepared to leave. She found she couldn’t sleep that night: Nikolai’s derisive wish that she be warm and happy in her cold bed haunted her like a mocking laugh. She remembered the feel of his hard muscled physique against hers and the incredible excitement. She tossed and turned, flipping over the pillow to find a cooler place for her hot face to rest. Her body tingled as though she were on fire and she was so tense that when her mobile phone beeped in receipt of a text message she jumped as if thunder had rolled through the room. Worried that it might be something urgent because it was after midnight, she scrambled up with a groan and went to check her phone.