Nikolai tensed; he hadn’t expected affection from her, but she was snuggling into him like an extension of his own body. In another moment he would go for a shower to cool off, but, in the meantime, he would let her hug him to her heart’s content. He was quietly confident that while she was fully engaged in kissing and hugging him she wasn’t thinking about Jeffrey the cheat.

Abbey was still revelling in the sensual touch and taste of Nikolai. The minute a thought about her late husband tried to intrude she shut it out. She told herself that she was moving on, finally moving on. She supposed embarking on an immediate affair with a notorious womaniser was a very bad move to make in the circumstances, but the damage was done, and when Nikolai looked at her or touched her free choice truly didn’t seem like one of her options. Something that had nagged at her earlier returned to her mind and curiosity prompted her to try to clarify the issue.

‘When you were talking about your father and grandfather you never once mentioned your mother,’ Abbey remarked abruptly.

Nikolai tensed and then pulled free of her hold entirely. ‘No, I didn’t, did I?’

Abbey stiffened and turned to look at him. His devastatingly handsome face was set as cold as ice and she reacted angrily to the feeling that she was being snubbed. ‘I gather that’s a conversational no-go area as far as you’re concerned. It’s a bit of a joke, that, when you’re fresh from paying someone to investigate and report on my late husband’s every move from birth!’

‘My background is not something I talk about,’ Nikolai growled, tossing back the sheet he had pulled over them while they lay there.

‘I didn’t particularly want to talk about my late husband’s undying love for another woman tonight either,’ Abbey snapped back at him without hesitation, ‘but nobody respected my privacy!’

Nikolai shot her a murderous look of censure. She had the tact of an elephant. Others respected his reserve. He wasn’t accustomed to having to answer awkward questions. ‘I’m going for a shower.’

‘Get Sveta to draw up a list of subjects I must avoid…otherwise it’s likely to be an endurance test of a fortnight!’ Abbey muttered feelingly, cut off by his attitude. ‘You react like offended royalty.’

Nikolai showered, angrily recalling the fact that he had planned to take her into the shower with him, but now she had spoilt the mood with her nosy questions. Offended royalty? His nostrils flared. He was not that spoilt or that far removed from ordinary people. How could he be when he had once known what it was to go hungry and cold? But then, how could Abbey have known what not to say when she had no idea of what his background was? His own curiosity had made him plunder her private life for answers without hesitation, he conceded grimly.

Tears flooded Abbey’s eyes all too easily. She knew she was being over-sensitive, but it had been a long and emotionally exhausting day. The last thing she needed just then was the discovery that she had become intimate with a guy ready to freeze her out for the most minor infraction of his rules.

Without warning, the bathroom door shot open again to frame Nikolai’s big powerful frame in the doorway. With wet black hair plastered to his well-shaped skull, he was dripping water everywhere. ‘Join me in the shower and I’ll tell you what you want to know, lubimaya moya.’

An involuntary smile drove the tension from her compressed mouth. She wondered if he thought that more sex was the answer to every problem and reckoned that he was basic enough to think that. But she was determined not to blow hot and cold, as he had put it, and, having committed herself to a course, she was not one to turn back. She got out of bed and although it was a challenge for her to walk naked across the depth of that room in front of him, she did it with her head held high.

‘I love your body,’ Nikolai husked in reward as he snatched her up off her feet and carried her into the shower with him.

His powerful uncompromising masculinity stirred Abbey beyond bearing. She linked her hands round his neck and stretched up and he accepted her invitation with passionate force, crushing her ripe pink mouth beneath the hungry demand of his. That fast, that easily, Nikolai lit a fire of longing inside her again. His rigid erection butted against her belly and he lifted her with easy strength, his hands cupping her hips as he held her over him. ‘So much for the shower I was promised,’ Abbey muttered.

‘I can’t stop wanting you,’ Nikolai growled and something of his surprise and resentment of that apparent fact was etched in his lean hard-boned features. ‘I have you once and it’s not enough.’