‘Even if it’s stupid,’ Abbey confirmed, refusing to surrender, even though her knees were knocking together with nervous stress.

‘Just for the sheer hell of it?’ Nikolai queried.

Abbey nodded vigorously, pleased that he understood. She was still struggling to dampen down her anger.

‘But that’s illogical,’ Nikolai pointed out.

Abbey knew it was and she wasn’t proud of the fact. She went home with the conviction that he was teaching her things she would sooner not have known about herself. Not only was she catching herself deliberately fighting with him for the thrill of it, but she also had to face that she was not the morally upstanding and sensible person she had always believed she was. She was no more indifferent to the appeal of wonderful diamonds than any other woman. She had also managed to make a total fool of herself over a man and the knowledge stung her painfully, even though now all her energy was aimed at ensuring that she didn’t repeat her mistake.

The next morning she met with Sveta at the Arlov building and showed the Russian woman the same preview of properties she’d revealed to Nikolai. Sveta mentioned a house in central London that Nikolai had often admired and advised contacting the owner with a generous offer. Abbey was taken aback by that bold suggestion, until it occurred to her that an aggressive pursuit of a spectacular property that wasn’t even on the market was probably exactly the kind of approach that Nikolai would most admire. She was beginning to learn that the phrase ‘thinking out of the box’ might have been coined specifically to describe the Russian billionaire’s high expectations.

The owner of that particular property was a Middle Eastern banker and Abbey arranged a meeting with him. Armed with a breathtakingly good offer which had been suggested by Sveta, Abbey went into action and won the startled owner’s assurance that he would consider the proposition. She left him to keep an appointment at the beauty salon where she was getting her hair done because it was the night of the premiere.

Thirty minutes after she got home in a breathless rush, the diamonds and the blue gown were delivered by one of Nikolai’s security men, who announced that he would wait and travel with her as a bodyguard. She was amused by the second offering of the blue gown: Nikolai really did like to get his own way. This time she put it on and donned the magnificent sapphire-and-diamond jewellery and knew she had never looked better.

At his apartment, Nikolai had received his private report on Jeffrey Carmichael and had discovered that it was very well worth the reading. The dead husband whom Abbey still idolised had had very sturdy feet of clay. He wondered when he would tell her. He marvelled that nobody else had broken the bad news before him. He attempted to envisage how she would react to what he had learned and he frowned, suddenly reluctant to take on the responsibility. The truth would hurt. Did he really want to be the guy who inflicted that hurt and destroyed her romantic illusions?

He was stunned by his own indecision, for she had made her late husband his rival and in any kind of competition Nikolai’s usual goal was winning whatever the cost. To be made uneasy by doubts was out of character for him. Nikolai wondered what the matter with him was. He had never been the sensitive type of male. Fate had handed him an advantage and naturally he would make the best possible use of it.


THE cameras went wild when Abbey climbed out of the car and rested her hand on Nikolai’s arm. For an instant she froze, almost blinded by the flashes and startled by the questions flying at her from all directions.

While Nikolai’s PR consultant discreetly ensured that everyone knew exactly who Abbey was, he escorted her up the red carpet into the cinema. He was proud to be with her. He thought she looked extraordinarily like a queen in the peacock-blue dress with the sapphire-and-diamond necklace and earrings flashing against the rippling mane of red-gold tresses spilling across her pale shoulders. But the very first thing he had noticed when he picked her up was that she had removed her wedding ring from her finger.

Abbey found that she was grateful for the arm that Nikolai kept at her back and the ease with which he chatted to the milling crowd of celebrities in the foyer. His assurance increased hers and, although she was madly conscious of being the centre of much curious attention and her jewellery was very much admired, she was soon laughing and smiling by his side. The film was the sort that she never went to see: a horror movie that had her sitting taut on the edge of her seat. To her embarrassment she let out a stifled shriek of fright at one point and Nikolai closed a supportive hand over hers. She glanced at him and caught the look of unholy amusement in his brilliant eyes as well as the charismatic smile that made her heartbeat perform a ridiculous somersault.

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