Abbey froze. ‘You’re already paying me handsomely for concierge services. Nothing else is required.’
‘I always reward excellence, lubimaya.’
Abbey flipped up the lid of the case to discover an exquisite gold watch studded with diamonds and marked with a famous designer name. She wondered if he was rewarding her excellence in bed or her excellence as a concierge. The reflection ate into her self-respect like acid and shamed her. ‘It’s beautiful. Thank you,’ she said stiffly, because she knew he wouldn’t take it back and was reluctant to offend him yet again.
To please him, she fastened the watch to her wrist, where it sparkled prettily in the sunlight coming through the window.
‘The limo will return to pick you up at seven. We’ll dine out,’ Nikolai announced when the car drew up outside her apartment building.
Hopefully, her new wardrobe would have been delivered while she was out. Sveta had dispatched one of Nikolai’s domestic staff to wait at her apartment and unpack the garments when they arrived. When Abbey walked into the hall, the first thing she noticed was the distinctive meow of a cat. She studied the pet carrier sitting by the wall. A gift card was attached to the carrier and it bore Nikolai’s bold signature.
Filled with curiosity, Abbey knelt down and un-latched the door. A seal point Siamese kitten strolled out and turned almond-shaped vivid blue eyes on her and Abbey’s heart just melted on the spot. An envelope full of information and a pedigree from the breeder was also attached to the carrier. Abbey petted the playful kitten, wondering how on earth Nikolai had guessed that she had always dreamt of owning a Siamese. It was a wonderful surprise at the end of a truly hideous and distressing day.
Later, when she had managed to set the kitten down for a few minutes, she phoned Nikolai direct to thank him. ‘She’s adorable…totally adorable,’ she chattered with warm enthusiasm. ‘I can’t thank you enough.’
Nikolai was interrupted in the middle of a board meeting, and his lean dark face was slashed by a slow smile of satisfaction. He liked to excel in every field and his competitive spirit had been challenged by her lukewarm response to his other gifts. ‘You like her? Her blue eyes are as bright as yours.’ Across the boardroom table Sveta was staring at him in surprise and he turned his handsome dark head away. ‘What will you call her?’
‘Lady…she’s incredibly elegant. You won’t object if I bring her over to your apartment tonight, will you? I couldn’t leave her home alone on her first night! Did you pick her personally?’
‘Yes, I did. When she hissed and tried to scratch me, I knew I’d found the right one!’ Nikolai smiled and hoped Abbey never found out just how much that little ball of fluff, purchased from a leading breeder, had cost him. He was well aware that she was choosing to approve this particular present because a kitten came without sinful gold-digging associations attached.
Abbey selected a green cocktail dress with a full skirt from the vast new wardrobe that had overflowed into her guest room and slid her feet into strappy sandals with high heels. She was wondering whether or not she ought to offer Drew the ten thousand pounds she had in her savings account. A greater emergency might yet lie ahead, not least the current cash-flow problem with the business, and she wanted to be sensible. She decided to hang on to her savings in the short term and tried not to think about the vast amount of money that her brother had wasted while he pursued his gambling addiction. That cash was gone now and not all the wishing in the world was going to bring it back.
‘WHAT are we going to do about Drew’s debts?’ Caroline whispered in a despairing tone, her voice still hoarse from the constant crying she had done in recent days.
‘I don’t know,’ Abbey replied honestly, drained by the stress of trying to calm and support her friend through the family crisis. ‘But I’ve done the sums. Right now—assuming there’s no new disaster waiting in the wings to jump out on us—the business is at least bringing in enough cash to pay your regular outgoings and your home is safe.’
‘We can’t even sell it to settle the debts. We owe more than the house is worth,’ Caroline lamented. ‘I can’t live like this.’
‘I know that you’re scared and that you feel that Drew has let you down—’
‘Drew’s had a lot to bear in other ways.’ Caroline cast a speaking glance down at her wheelchair. ‘But even though I’m not the woman he loved and married any more, he’s never once complained. Maybe the gambling was an escape from the pressure of living with me.’