After the premiere they exchanged views on favourite films and enjoyed a lively discussion. ‘You are a very entertaining companion,’ Nikolai murmured levelly.

Abbey realised how much she had been talking and could hardly credit that she had relaxed to such an extent with him. ‘I never go to see horror films.’


‘But admit it—you enjoyed it,’ Nikolai teased, curving her closer to his tall, powerful body.

‘I suppose I did, in an odd way,’ Abbey conceded and suddenly a smile curved her full pink mouth.

‘When you smile like that I want to kiss you, milaya.’

Abbey froze, conscious of the number of eyes on them. ‘Don’t!’ she urged him. ‘I’m not a fan of public displays of affection.’

‘What do you like in a man?’

Abbey almost told him that she had never thought about that, but then Jeffrey’s image came immediately to mind. ‘Someone intelligent and confident—’

‘Honest?’

‘Of course,’ she answered loftily.

‘Faithful?’

Abbey raised a fine dark brow. ‘Naturally. And of course he would have to love me.’

‘You don’t mention passion.’

‘I’m sure, if all the other things were there, that would come, too,’ Abbey countered in a dismissive tone.

‘Speaking as an authority in that field, I would have to say that passion is not that easily found, milaya. But no relationship could be considered complete without it.’

Hot colour warming her cheeks, Abbey refused to look at him as he helped her back into the limousine, cameras flashing all around them. For that brief instant before he joined her, she felt curiously bereft. Away from his powerful presence and the aura of his high-voltage energy, everything felt flat and empty, an acknowledgement that disturbed her. She reminded herself that she could not afford to forget that she was engaging in a high-profile pretence for which he was paying Support Systems a very handsome price.

‘You inspire me with immense passion,’ Nikolai intoned in a roughened undertone, smouldering dark eyes as hot on her face as flames.

‘It’s not enough,’ she told him flatly, keen to head him off before he said anything more on that controversial issue.

Nikolai bent his handsome dark head, his breath warm and moist against her temples, and she trembled. The very scent of his skin was dangerously familiar and in the space of a moment her mind was taken over by treacherous images of Nikolai in bed with her. Over her, in her. And, whoosh, all the passion she would have denied, given half a chance, roared up inside her in an uncontrollable burst of anticipation and craving. Her fingers delved into his thick black hair and she dragged his mouth down to hers because she couldn’t wait one second longer to make that connection. And the instant of impact did not disappoint: the ravishing plunder of his tongue was what she wanted and needed, only it was not enough to satisfy her. The fiery urgency already pulsing through her quivering body shocked her and made her pull back from him.

‘No, I’m sorry,’ she breathed in an awkward rush. ‘I don’t want this with you—’

Lean bronzed features clenched taut, Nikolai stared down at her, his stunning eyes bright with the passion she denied. ‘Yes, you do. Stop lying to yourself and to me.’

Abbey tilted her chin, violet eyes cool as ice water, her pride fired up in self-defence. ‘I’m not lying. But I once had something a lot more worthwhile—’

‘Did you?’ Nikolai was looking at her with raw intensity and gooseflesh prickled at the nape of her neck, for there was something strangely chilling about both his look and his tone. ‘Are you referring to your marriage?’

Her slender fingers coiled into angry fists, for she did not like his tone of derision. ‘Don’t try to make me ashamed that I still value what I had and lost!’ she countered.

His hard-boned profile might have been carved from stone. He could not believe that once again she was making a comparison between him and her worthless, lying husband! It was a colossal insult and wholly eloquent of her closed state of mind. The day her husband died Abbey Carmichael had suspended all critical judgement. Surely it would be a good deed to help her to move on from the past by giving her access to the truth?

‘Perhaps you didn’t lose a fairy tale,’ Nikolai remarked.

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’ Abbey hissed back at him.

‘That we’ll finish this discussion at my apartment.’

‘I would like to know now what you are implying.’

‘I think you have a very good idea, but I’ll give you the proof of my words once we get there. I don’t play mind games, lubimaya.’

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