Her smooth brow had furrowed. ‘The…proof?’
In the private lift on the way up to his penthouse, he said, ‘I had your late husband investigated by a private detective agency.’
Unable to credit that shocking announcement, Abbey pinned wide, startled eyes to his lean, dark, devastating face. ‘Why the heck would you have done that?’
‘A whim? You talked so much about Jeffrey that you made me curious about him as well,’ Nikolai admitted.
‘I can’t believe that you invaded my personal life and violated my privacy like that!’ Abbey gasped in outrage. ‘It was a disgusting thing to do!’
‘In this case it was more illuminating.’ The forceful dark gaze that met hers contained not an ounce of remorse or apology. In the opulent hall of his apartment he left her standing and strode through a doorway. She followed him at a slower pace, her mind buzzing with conjecture and uncertainty.
Nikolai withdrew the file from the safe. Had she not challenged him again he might have retained it while he considered both his timing and his options, but he felt that she had a real right and need to know what he had discovered.
‘Jeffrey was a wonderful man!’ Abbey told him stridently. ‘I don’t care what is in that file. It won’t change my mind about my husband! I loved him and he loved me. Nothing can alter those facts.’
Nikolai extended the file. ‘Don’t be so sure.’
Abbey snatched it off him. ‘I hate you—I’ll never forgive you for this! Don’t you have any morals?’
‘More than your husband had when he picked a naïve little schoolgirl to be his bride.’
Abbey sank down in an armchair by the door and began to scan the close lines of print. There was nothing untoward or new to her in the facts of Jeffrey’s childhood and education. Then a female name that Abbey recognised leapt out at her—Jane Morrell, who had read law at Oxford with Jeffrey and who had worked in the same close circle of leading barristers. According to the enquiry agent, Jeffrey and Jane had been lovers at university, something which Abbey had not known for sure but had once suspected from the tenor of the older woman’s rather acidic comments at her wedding.
Jane had married a judge, given birth to a couple of children and become Lady Jane Dalkeith long before Abbey even met Jeffrey. But what appalled Abbey as she read was the bald declaration that Jeffrey had restarted his affair with Jane while he was still in his twenties and that the couple had then continued as secret lovers for almost fifteen years. She flipped the page to be greeted with the staggering statement that Jeffrey had spent the weekend before his wedding to Abbey holed up in a Paris hotel with Jane.
‘This is vile stuff and nothing but filthy lies!’ Abbey spat in disgust, leaping upright. ‘I don’t believe any of this rubbish for one moment. I have total faith in Jeffrey.’
‘Their liaison was widely known among their peers,’ Nikolai informed her. ‘It’s a shame that nobody had the decency to tell you what was going on. Silence was cruel in the circumstances, particularly after his death.’
Abbey was shaking with rage and barely able to vocalise or think. ‘How dare you hand me this filth and try to destroy Jeffrey’s reputation? How low can you sink?’
‘I’ve never sunk as low as he did with a woman. I am always honest about what I offer and I don’t cheat,’ Nikolai countered drily.
‘I’m not staying here discussing this with you,’ Abbey told him furiously, her eyes blazing above her flushed cheeks as though someone had lit a fire inside her. ‘I’m going home.’
Nikolai noticed how pale she was behind the anger. She was very loyal to her husband’s memory. He thought it a great shame that the man who had inspired that deep love and loyalty had been in no way her equal. He wondered how she would feel when she was finally forced to accept the truth. Concern, a most unfamiliar sensation, gripped him on her behalf.
With trembling hands, Abbey unhooked the diamond earrings and set them down on the marble hall table. She couldn’t manage the clasp on the necklace and Nikolai moved forward to help her and undid the fastening for her. ‘Why are you taking them off? They’re yours now.’
‘You must be joking. I’m not going to accept a king’s ransom in diamonds from you. I’m not one of your kiss ’n’ tell girls out for everything I can get. I may hate your guts at this moment but I won’t take anything from you that I’m not entitled to,’ Abbey declared feverishly. ‘Pay your bills to Support Systems on time and you owe me nothing.’
Nikolai surveyed her with glinting appreciation and lifted the phone. ‘My driver will take you home.’