‘Even if I can’t stay for breakfast?’ Abbey was already yanking a comb with painful strokes through her hair in the bathroom.
‘If you don’t I’ll be angry.’
Within half an hour a brand-new outfit was delivered to the bedroom and she was able to don the black trouser suit and blue silk shirt quickly. Nikolai, magnificent in a navy pinstripe business suit worn with a fashionable dark shirt and light tie, accompanied her down to the main hall. ‘I’ll see you at eleven in my office,’ he told her drily. ‘If you don’t show, I’m sacking you.’
‘For goodness’ sake, Nikolai,’ Abbey began in frustration. ‘Don’t be so unreasonable—’
‘Polite requests are wasted on you,’ Nikolai countered, dark eyes hard as granite.
His manservant was in the act of letting Sveta in through the front door. The beautiful elegant blonde strolled in with a business case and greeted them both. Abbey was hugely embarrassed to be found in Nikolai’s apartment at that hour of the day, a sensation that was not dimmed by the obvious tension in the air that she could see the other woman picking up on.
‘I’ll see you later,’ she told Nikolai in a rush, reluctant to say anything more personal with an audience present and even more reluctant to confide that when she said later, she meant very much later.
Sveta said something in Russian and Nikolai translated. ‘The paparazzi are waiting outside in droves.’
Abbey’s face turned a dulled red. The very idea of advertising the reality that she had spent the night with Nikolai for the benefit of the international press made her cringe. In his world, she thought unhappily, privacy seemed a virtual impossibility.
His security team saw her safely into the waiting car. She tortured herself with self-loathing all the way to her appointment with the banker. She was a woman who always liked to control her own destiny and she had embarked without thought on an affair with a male who was demonstrating a disturbing desire to control every hour of her day. She was furious with Nikolai on that score and had every intention of telling him so. Mr bin Hashim had decided to sell the house, which improved Abbey’s mood, until she called in at Support Systems where her brother chucked a tabloid newspaper down on her desk and demanded to know what was going on.
Abbey compressed her mouth when she saw the photo of herself with Nikolai, the distress on her face obvious. It had been taken outside her apartment building the night before. ‘It wasn’t Nikolai who upset me—’
‘I’m aware that Jeffrey’s been exposed as a love rat—yes, Caro finally spilled the beans last night. But aren’t you asking for trouble getting mixed up with Nikolai Arlov on the rebound?’
‘I thought you were delighted and convinced that he’d be good for business.’
‘I don’t want to see you getting hurt again.’
On the rebound, Abbey repeated inwardly as she left the office to meet with Nikolai. Even though it was six years since Jeffrey’s demise, she supposed that phrase most accurately described what was happening to her. Knocked off balance and hurt and humiliated by the unlovely truth about Jeffrey, she had gone overboard when Nikolai had made her the target of his attentions.
On the balance side, however, she was quick to console herself with the reflection that she had no naïve expectations of Nikolai Arlov. She did not have any kind of a future with him. She was well aware that Nikolai was only interested in a short-term affair and then in all likelihood she would be history by the end of the month. It was surely no coincidence that he had specified she spend two weeks of nights with him? Was that as long as he imagined his interest would last? She had grown up a lot since Jeffrey, she told herself bracingly. There was no way that she was about to fall madly in love with Nikolai!
ABBEY was ushered into Nikolai’s presence the very moment she arrived on the top floor of the Arlov Industries building. It was fifteen minutes past eleven o’clock.
‘You’re late,’ Nikolai breathed with sardonic bite.
‘I’m here. Don’t be petty,’ Abbey told him, lifting her chin in a direct challenge. ‘And I think you’ll be pleased that I kept that other pressing appointment this morning. It was for your benefit.’
Nikolai watched in silence as she brought up pictures of the property on her laptop. His ebony brows pleated in immediate recognition. ‘How did you find out?’
‘That you admired the house? All thanks go to Sveta. She told me about it, suggested a price and discussed tactics. She was very helpful,’ Abbey told him frankly.