Two members of Nikolai’s security team were waiting in the foyer downstairs to clear her passage through the crush of camera men waiting outside. The limo driver handed her a phone before she could even get into the car. It was Nikolai once more. ‘Don’t you cut me off again,’ he warned her with scorching emphasis.
In the mood that Abbey was in, that order was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. She depressed the disconnect button with a punitive finger and passed the phone back. There were no further calls during the drive to his apartment. Abbey was in a rage that she continued to stoke higher and higher. Anger was a welcome block for the pain that she didn’t want to acknowledge or experience. Had Nikolai left her last night to meet up with Ophelia somewhere?
Why hadn’t he just told her it was over? The affair, the pretence, everything! That was the problem, Abbey conceded fiercely, the pretence that they were engaged in a serious relationship had expanded until it had taken over her entire life and convinced even her that it was real. But Nikolai dealt more in fact than fantasy and she had to face the truth—the messy public ending to their affair was very much Nikolai, who had not hesitated to ditch his last lover at his late father’s memorial service. She supposed the truth was that he didn’t care; he only cared about what he wanted. And yet, last night, Nikolai had seemed to care about her and her family very much, a little voice reasoned at the back of her head. He had seemed sincere.
But then Jeffrey had always seemed sincere, too, Abbey conceded wretchedly, bitterly. Her late husband had lied to her and cheated on her and she hadn’t suspected a thing! Obviously she was not very good at sussing out liars. Possibly she was not very good at understanding men either. But she was determined not to allow another man to make a fool of her. She was going to tell Nikolai what she thought of him. How shabby could a guy be? Disappearing with the hostess at a very well-attended party? If he had wanted out, he should have said before it hit the newspapers and humiliated her.
Nikolai was in the hall when she arrived. Her gaze lit on him like the dart of a flame and then cloaked as she mentally shut a door against his stunning dark good looks. ‘You have a very hot temper, lubimaya,’ Nikolai drawled. ‘Think before you lose it because Lysander and Ophelia are here and I do not think I will easily forgive you for making us both look stupid.’
Abbey was thrown badly off balance by that opening speech, for she could think of no circumstance that could reasonably explain the presence of both Lysander and Ophelia Metaxis at his apartment at nine o’clock in the morning. ‘What on earth is going on?’ she demanded shakily.
Nikolai closed a hand over hers. ‘Ophelia and I have just had DNA tests taken. We suspect that her mother may also have been mine,’ he shared tautly. ‘If it’s true, it’s a discovery that would mean a great deal to me.’
Abbey’s fingers were almost crushed in the tense grip of his. That astonishing statement plunged her into a state of bewilderment. ‘DNA tests for siblingship?’ she prompted. ‘You think that you and Ophelia Metaxis might be related by blood?’
‘We hope so. Lysander and Ophelia tracked me down. Lysander came to see me yesterday and shared the evidence he had found. Together we were able to piece together the most likely explanation for the events that culminated in my birth over thirty years ago.’
‘You think that Ophelia may be your sister?’ Abbey’s brain was functioning extremely slowly. It was a challenge to take on board any facts which, on first hearing, struck her as beyond the bounds of credibility. ‘But surely that’s very unlikely?’
‘Before my grandfather put my father out of his life, he apparently used his influence to get his son a junior diplomatic position in the embassy in London. I was not aware of the fact that for several years my father and his family lived here. During that period he sent my half-sister, Feodora, to an exclusive English girls’ school,’ Nikolai advanced as he walked her into the elegant drawing room with its spectacular views. ‘That’s where Feodora met Ophelia’s mother, Cathy.’
Ophelia Metaxis sprang up from a sofa with the bubbling energy that characterised her and extended a photograph to Abbey. ‘I found this photo in my mother’s personal effects.’
Abbey stared down at the black-and-white snap of a strikingly handsome man who bore a strong resemblance to Nikolai. ‘Is this your father?’ she prompted, turning it over and striving without success to read the name scrawled on the back of it.
‘Yes. Kostya Arlov,’ Nikolai supplied. ‘Feodora was willing to confirm certain facts. She and Cathy became friends, and Feodora twice had Cathy to stay with her in London. My father had few moral scruples. He wouldn’t have thought twice about seducing a schoolgirl. She was only seventeen…’