‘Bihla dika…that was wild,’ he breathed appreciatively, and he buried his face in the damp valley between her heaving breasts before kissing his way up to the delicate skin at the side of her neck.

Abbey’s head was swimming, her body tingling from the aftermath of sweet, drowning pleasure. All around her, the world seemed to have slowed down and she felt detached from it and ridiculously happy with Nikolai’s arms round her. In fact just then she never wanted to move again. Nikolai nuzzled at her neck and she felt the slight nip of his sharp teeth and made no complaint. She knew she had probably left scratch marks halfway down his back: she had got carried away, too.

‘You can’t go to sleep. We’re going out,’ Nikolai reminded her cruelly, literally lifting her off the bed and carrying her into the shower with him.

‘It’ll take me for ever to do my hair!’ Abbey complained, not wanting to go anywhere when she felt such a mess, particularly not to a party presided over by a woman with the face of a Botticelli angel.

‘I could have a hairdresser called in—’

‘It’s not that simple—’

‘If you would let me take care of you, it’s always that simple!’ Nikolai declared with supreme confidence.

Ten minutes later, Abbey was unwinding the towel from her damp hair when she saw the bruise marring her pale throat. A smothered shriek of horror erupted from her as she peered at her reflection in the vanity mirror above the sink. ‘Oh, my word, what have you done to me?’ she gasped, touching the blue-black bruising that now marked where he had employed his teeth. ‘I thought only teenagers did stuff like this!’

A towel anchored round his lean bronzed hips, Nikolai studied her neck with a disbelief akin to her own. He could not believe that that one tiny nip could have inflicted such highly visible damage. Dark blood flared over his cheekbones. He was equally stunned by his own lack of control and forethought.

‘Do you have vampires in Russia? Are you in training?’ Abbey demanded. ‘I can’t go out with a love bite on my neck! People will laugh at me.’

‘Won’t make-up conceal it?’ Nikolai prompted a tinge desperately.

‘Nothing I have will cover that up.’

‘Get ready. I know what will cover it—’

‘I’m not going to the party, Nikolai.’

‘I am. With or without you,’ he responded without hesitation. Lysander Metaxis had most effectively roused his curiosity. ‘But I would much prefer to have you by my side.’

Engaged in combing her wet hair, Abbey blinked back the hot moisture suddenly stinging the backs of her eyes since his declaration that he would go to the party alone if necessary had startled her, as well as rousing the fear that the end of their affair was already within view as far as he was concerned.

She switched on the hairdryer despite thinking that getting ready to go out was a waste of time because she could see no way that she could be made presentable enough to appear in public. He went to get dressed. When she joined him an hour later she had done her make-up and straightened her hair into smoothly acceptable curls and pulled on a pair of jeans.

‘Our evening meal awaits us and the solution to my…’ Nikolai struggled to find a suitable word ‘…thoughtlessness,’ he selected, bending down to scoop up Lady, who was playing with his shoelaces.

Purring like a car engine revving up, the Siamese was deposited back down again before she could shed hair on his suit. The kitten tried to persuade him to lift her again and wound her sleek body round his ankles like a crying fur muff. Abbey lifted the noisy little animal to comfort her.

Abbey was stunned when she realised what Nikolai’s solution to the love bite entailed. A decidedly superior jeweller and his assistant awaited them in the main reception room with a choice of jewelled collars. A magnificent pearl collar with a sapphire clasp was selected to encircle her neck and cover the bruise. She was still fingering it uncertainly when she took a seat at the dining table to eat.

‘You’re not seriously buying this just to cover the mark up, are you?’ Abbey pressed in dismay.

‘The subject is closed,’ Nikolai told her loftily.

‘As long as other people can’t see it, I don’t mind. In fact you’re forgiven. A love bite is a sort of rite of passage, isn’t it?’ Her eyes danced with belated amusement. ‘And I did miss out on the experience when I was younger.’

‘You always strike me as very young,’ Nikolai admitted. ‘You have a quality of freshness and naïvety that you’ll probably never lose.’

Abbey was still thinking about the statement when they walked into her apartment. Did he find her immature? Unsophisticated? Gullible? How big a strike against her was that quality? Already having decided what she would wear, she rifled through the built-in wardrobe in the guest room until she found the short gold metallic dress she sought. The dress was bang on trend in colour and style and very elegant worn with oyster shoes that reflected the shade of the breathtakingly conspicuous pearl collar.

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