The limousine ferried her back to Nikolai’s penthouse apartment where she had spent a great deal of the last fortnight. Lady, more at home there than she was at Abbey’s apartment and thoroughly spoiled by the attentive domestic staff, danced up to Abbey playfully in the hall to greet her. Abbey smiled and scooped up the Siamese kitten to cuddle her. When she reached the bedroom with the overnight bag she had brought she undressed and went for a shower. It was her last night with Nikolai, at least the last night of the two weeks she had agreed to spend with him, and who could tell what would happen next? Would she even see him tomorrow? She had no idea.

Nikolai never mentioned the future and never referred to anything more than a week in advance. Bearing that nerve-racking truth in mind, Abbey did not understand how it had come about that she could not picture a future without him. She could scarcely accuse him of having encouraged such delusions. Yet, a thousand memories bound her to him now. He filled every corner of her existence and most of her thoughts. He phoned her all the time. He gave her flowers and gifts every day. He listened to her when she talked. He had escorted her to parties, clubs and dinners and in his company time flew. She was getting used to the designer clothes, the diamonds and the endless pursuit of the paparazzi. She was getting dangerously accustomed to having Nikolai in her life.

She lifted a fleecy towel to dry herself before massaging rose-scented oil into her skin. Workwise, the past weeks had been less successful. She had so far failed to fire Nikolai’s interest in any of the country properties she had researched and, even though Drew’s financial problems and the fallout from that revelation had proved a source of continual worry for her, she had found comfort and forgetfulness in being with Nikolai.

He was the tough guy who had never had an indoor pet until Lady came along as a regular house guest. Nikolai talked much more freely about his background now. For the first nine years of his life he had been cared for and indulged. He had attended a private school and had shared the many privileges that his grandfather had enjoyed as a leading diplomat. But the older man’s sudden death from a heart attack had ended that life for ever and had catapulted Nikolai into the custody of a bullying father, who had never wanted him, and a stepmother who despised him. As heir to his grandfather’s substantial estate, Nikolai had been violently resented by his birth father’s family. When Nikolai was finally hospitalised for the injuries inflicted on him by his relatives, his father had decided it would be safer to banish him from the household altogether and he had fostered out his illegitimate youngest son to a poor family in one of the toughest estates in St Petersburg.

‘That experience and those years made me what I am today,’ Nikolai had insisted fiercely. ‘I learned how to rely on myself and how to fight my own corner. After I completed my military service I educated myself for the business world.’

The very bareness of his later childhood had touched Abbey’s compassionate heart to the core. She knew exactly what had made him tough and unyielding. He had never known a woman’s love and tenderness as a boy and the experience of violence followed by hunger and poverty had brutalised him, before a soldier’s training and the horrors of war had made his reserve even more impenetrable. Yet she had watched him play with the tiny Siamese kitten with a gentleness that fascinated her. This was the same guy who held her close in the aftermath of passion and let her smother him in kisses. She adored him and it was precisely because she adored him that she would not ask him to bail her brother out of trouble, for that single act would throw up the barrier of his great wealth between them. She was convinced that it would also erase any suggestion that they might be equals and destroy his respect for her.

Nikolai respected her independence and her refusal to grab at all the material things he could offer her. She wore the clothes and the jewellery because he insisted, but when he ended their affair she would leave those expensive trappings behind her, for the last thing she would want would be the reminders of what had been. She climbed into a filmy bra and knicker set and smoothed pale lace-topped stockings up her very long legs. Mischief sparkled in her eyes. The two weeks might be over, but she wanted him to regret the fact, not celebrate the prospect of his renewed freedom.

On the drive back to his penthouse Nikolai studied the tabloid gossip page Olya had given him. It included one of the official photos he’d had taken of Abbey and himself at the party he had thrown days earlier.

Abbey looked spectacular in a green satin dress that showed off her glorious hourglass shape as well, its décolleté neckline displaying the diamonds he had draped her in. Speculation about their relationship was now rife in the British media. The paparazzi were following their every move. There were already rumours about the house purchase and her involvement in its selection. The word inseparable was being thrown about with great abandon. And, in truth, during the past fortnight, Nikolai had managed to spend a good part of every day and all of every night with Abbey. And with Lady.