‘Men like that are just users,’ Abbey opined in disgust.

‘What would you know about men like that?’ her sister-in-law queried drily. ‘When were you last out on a date?’

‘You know when,’ Abbey reminded her.

‘Was it the guy who spent the whole evening talking about his ex-wife and confiding that he still loved her?’ Caroline groaned.

‘He had tears in his eyes when he told me,’ Abbey completed and peered out at the audience. ‘Where is the billionaire seated?’

‘You can’t miss him. He’s right at the end of the runway with a sizeable entourage—three beauties ministering to his every need and two massive minders hovering over him.’ Sally shared that extraneous information with enthusiasm.

‘The paparazzi are waiting outside for him. Just having Nikolai Arlov in the building is a major coup,’ Caroline declared with satisfaction. ‘Thanks to him, Futures will get valuable free publicity.’

‘At least he’s useful for something other than selling tacky tabloids,’ Abbey declared as the avant-garde designer of the fashion collection moved to the podium and the music switched to the intro and the opening speech. She peered down the runway but it was no good: her long-distance eyesight wasn’t good enough. All she could see was a big dark man with two dazzling young women hanging over him like attentive waitresses. The first model sashayed down the runway to a chorus of appreciative applause. Pale at the prospect of her approaching debut, Abbey moved out of the way of the models lining up to await their turn.

Many models had featured in Nikolai’s bed, but that did not mean he had garnered any interest in fashion. Business calls were a welcome release from boredom while he waited for the show to begin. But the very leggy redhead who appeared half an hour into the show was so sensationally beautiful that Nikolai actually forgot what he was talking about on the phone. He didn’t know what it was about her, but he took one look and he wanted her with an immediacy and an urgency he hadn’t experienced in years. Her mesmerising smoky eyes reflected the dense purple-blue of the amethyst pendant someone had cleverly fixed round her throat. Her bone structure was striking, unforgettable. She was all woman from her head of fabulous Titian curls to the swell of her voluptuous breasts and generous hips. A shimmering dark blue evening gown showcased her luscious curves and lent her the theatrical allure of a thirties movie star.

‘I want to meet her after the show,’ he told Sveta without hesitation. ‘Find out who she is.’

Abbey simply thought Nikolai was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. He had stunning eyes, cheekbones sharp enough to cut diamonds and a gorgeous wide, shapely mouth. Whatever, one glance and she felt utterly overwhelmed by that amazing combination of purely superficial attributes, her heart thumping inside her like a road drill and her mouth as dry as a bone. She was shocked rigid by her response, for she had always believed she was more cerebral than physical. She didn’t know what drew her to him beyond the obvious. It was as though his precise arrangement of features executed some sort of spellbinding effect on her and her wits took a hike, for when she looked once at his bold bronzed features she found she had to look again and again and again and at length to satisfy her indecent craving to see him.

Sveta murmured, ‘She’s married. She’s wearing a ring.’

Nikolai never slept with other men’s wives. It was one of the very few embargos he respected: he gave married women a very wide berth. ‘Check it out,’ he urged, unwilling to credit that she might be out of reach, as it was rare for anything to be unconquerable for Nikolai; there were always ways and means of acquiring what he wanted. And his senses were already humming at the prospect of entertaining the redhead in his bed that night, unveiling those magnificent breasts and endless long legs for his private enjoyment. He remembered the way her glittering gaze had lingered on him and had no doubt that his interest was returned. If she was a wife she was an unfaithful one.

One of the dressers began to strip the evening gown from Abbey and assist her at speed into her next outfit. Another removed her jewellery. Her skin felt clammy and she felt dizzy. What had happened to her out there? Men didn’t have that big an effect on Abbey. Her nature was cool rather than passionate. Jeffrey was the only man she had ever wanted and she had fallen for him in her teens, moving from an explosive adolescent infatuation to deep joyous love with continued exposure to his company. There had never been anyone else for her and only loneliness and the fear that she might be acting a little obsessively had persuaded her, with Caroline’s encouragement, to try dating other men over the past year. All those dates had been non-starters, for none of those men had had an ounce of Jeffrey’s intelligence or natural charm.

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