Her phone started ringing as she was getting into the taxi, but when she realised the caller was Nikolai she switched it off. She had had a lousy, humiliating evening and she was in no mood to pretend otherwise. The first half of the party Nikolai had virtually ignored her, the second half he had performed a disappearing act with another woman. Clearly, Abbey was no longer flavour of the month on Nikolai’s terms and she was feeling horribly hurt and betrayed at a time when she believed she should only be thinking about her brother’s plight.
DREW was a mass of cuts and bruises. Tears sprang to Abbey’s eyes when she saw her brother’s puffy face and black eyes. He had a couple of broken ribs and he had lost a front tooth. ‘Oh, Drew…’ she framed unevenly, reaching for his limp hand where it rested on the bedclothes.
Stationed at the other side of the bed in her wheelchair, Caroline gave her husband’s sister a stony look. ‘Maybe you could have prevented this from happening,’ she condemned.
Abbey was pale as death and her strained eyes were haunted, but she lifted her chin in receipt of that comment. ‘No. Drew’s the only person who could have prevented this. Please don’t start redistributing the blame.’
In his hospital bed Drew nodded affirmation of that speech and then groaned at the pain induced by the movement. ‘My fault…all my fault,’ he stressed, looking anxiously at his wife.
‘Did you tell Nikolai?’ his wife asked Abbey, scrutinising the luminous pearls and the dress that had turned heads from the instant Abbey had arrived at the hospital. ‘Didn’t he offer to come here with you?’
‘No. He was busy elsewhere when you called so I came in a taxi.’ Abbey sat down by the bed, her tummy turning queasy as she finally allowed herself to wonder what Nikolai had been doing with his hostess. But just then didn’t seem the right moment to deal with the bewilderment and pain steadily building inside her and she thrust such thoughts aside to look levelly at her sister-in-law. ‘Nobody’s going to sort this out for us, Caroline. This is our mess.’
‘If you cared about your brother, you would at least have asked Nikolai to help,’ Caroline declared tautly.
‘No, Caro,’ Abbey’s brother interrupted, his discomfiture patent. ‘That’s not fair.’
‘We don’t have any other options unless we try to sell the business,’ Caroline muttered brokenly. ‘And where’s that going to leave us all?’
Conscious of her brother’s disquiet at the discussion that had broken out, not to mention the hostile edge between his wife and his sister, Abbey decided that by staying at the hospital she was acting as more of a hindrance than a help. She stood up and asked Caroline if she needed her assistance in any other way. In receipt of a frosty negative, she departed, wondering if her friendship with the other woman would ever recover from the recent blows that had been inflicted on it.
When she got back to her apartment she set the miniature warrior on his war horse outside the castle on her hall table and touched his black hair fondly with the pad of her index finger. She didn’t think her little medieval hero was ready as yet for the culture shock of bathrooms and floral wallpaper that awaited him in the doll’s house. Suddenly tears were spilling freely down Abbey’s weary face and she went into her bedroom and removed the pearl collar.
Studying herself in a wardrobe mirror, she covered the bruise on her neck with splayed fingers and wondered frantically how she and Nikolai could have so swiftly lost the warmth and passion they had shared during the early part of the evening. Somehow she had missed out on the signs of him losing interest. She hadn’t realised it would happen so fast or so brutally. But then, nothing she had ever read about Nikolai had suggested that he went in for long-term relationships, so really the ultimate end result had been staring her in the face all along. She had just been too weak to face that, too trusting to toughen up and prepare herself for the hurt on the horizon. It felt like the worst possible moment to admit to herself that she had fallen madly in love with her Russian billionaire. What was the point of knowing that now when he was gone? And how was she supposed to cope with an ongoing working relationship with him in the future?
Would he still expect her to continue the pretence that they were involved in an affair as per their secret agreement? When had everything become so complicated? Why was she still thinking about herself rather than her brother? The attack on Drew had just been a warning to him and his family. There might well be worse to come when no further cash was forthcoming. Her skin turned clammy. She felt as if her whole life were falling apart. She undressed and removed her make-up and pulled on the T-shirt and shorts she usually slept in. All week she had got accustomed to sleeping in nothing more than her skin and cuddling up to Nikolai when she got cold. Already those memories felt like memories from another time and place and, as such, inappropriate.