‘These properties lack the wow factor that you have in spades.’ Nikolai delivered that judgement while studying her with smouldering eyes that sent a veil of pink travelling up over her cheeks.

‘There will be a wow factor with the next batch,’ she promised.

‘It’s early days,’ he murmured soothingly as the limousine drew up outside an internationally renowned jeweller. ‘Take your time.’

They were ushered inside and the door was locked behind them. They were the only customers in the place and champagne was served in tall fluted glasses while a display of breathtaking diamond necklaces was laid out for Nikolai’s inspection. Cost never once entered the dialogue. Nikolai liked the best and only stones of the highest quality.

‘Take off your jacket,’ he urged her.

She removed it and undid a button on her shirt so that the neckline opened deeper to display the breathtaking sapphire-and-diamond pendant that was fastened round her neck.

‘The blue complements your eyes,’ Nikolai drawled softly.

Abbey stared at her reflection in the mirror arranged for her benefit. She was mesmerised by the white glittering brilliance of the diamonds against the velvet blue of the central stone. Matching earrings were brought out.

‘Do you like this set?’ Nikolai enquired lazily.

Abbey touched an uncertain hand to the magnificent necklace. In truth, she was so impressed that she couldn’t credit that she was actually wearing such magnificent jewels. ‘What woman wouldn’t?’ she whispered.

‘You’re not the average woman, lubimaya.’ Nikolai studied the sapphire lying in the valley between her creamy freckled breasts, drawing his attention to her gloriously feminine curves. He expelled his breath in a slow measured hiss, annoyed by the sexual craving that refused to give him a moment’s peace. Every time he looked at Abbey Carmichael he wanted to haul her into his arms and bury himself deep in her body. His desire was no less intense than it had been before he took her to bed and for him that was a notable first. Usually conquest and familiarity took the edge off his desire, but on this occasion it had signally failed to do so.

Abbey was relieved when the jewels were removed, packaged into cases and out of her sight. Her helpless fascination with the jewellery embarrassed and shamed her; she felt as though she had been tainted by temptation. It had never occurred to her that she might be susceptible to the corrupting power of his vast wealth, but a superficial part of her that she wasn’t very proud of was already looking forward to showing off such fantastic jewels in public.

‘Don’t be such a puritan,’ Nikolai castigated, watching her shy away from the cases. ‘Don’t you like beautiful things?’

Abbey couldn’t help glancing at him, for she had been denying herself that pleasure since he had picked her up and the desire to wallow in visual appreciation of his stunning dark good looks and mesmeric attraction was nagging at her like a sore tooth. When he looked down at her, his black lashes rimmed his stunning eyes like silk fans and she couldn’t dredge her attention from him. ‘Of course I do.’

‘By the way, don’t wear your wedding ring tomorrow evening when you’re out with me,’ Nikolai told her flatly in an abrupt change of subject as they crossed the pavement to the limousine.

‘It’s my business whether I wear it or not,’ Abbey argued, furious at that demand, which had been delivered exactly like a non-negotiable command.

‘You’re single. A black jet mourning ring would be more appropriate than an item of jewellery that suggests you’re still married,’ Nikolai responded very drily, swinging into the passenger seat beside her.

‘I’ll do as I like.’

Long brown fingers curled to her chin and turned her back to look at him. ‘Not around me, you won’t. You will do as I ask,’ Nikolai asserted soft and low, dark eyes black as ice and uniquely chilling. ‘I won’t accept anything less than one-hundred-per-cent commitment from you.’

Abbey was outraged, but daunted by the sombre aspect to his lean, dark, handsome face. He was fighting her every step of the way, refusing to back off politely from a topic that made other people uncomfortable. Since she had already slept with Nikolai, she reasoned unhappily, her habit of wearing her wedding ring could no longer be seen as the pledge of loyalty to Jeffrey that it had once felt like.

‘I’ll do what I feel like doing,’ Abbey countered doggedly, tossing back her head in emphasis of her power of independent thought.

‘Even if it’s stupid to defy me?’ Nikolai demanded in a low-timbred growl of disbelief.

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