‘And very impulsive,’ Ophelia piped up wryly.

‘But this long after the event we can only guess at what happened between them. Feodora remembered feeling envious of the attention her father gave to Cathy and she was able to confirm that Cathy disappeared from school several months later, supposedly suffering from glandular fever. Of course she had fallen pregnant. I was born in a private clinic and handed straight over to my father,’ Nikolai continued. ‘But his father—my grandfather—was not prepared to allow me to be adopted out of the family.’

‘My maternal grandmother, Gladys, would never have allowed my mother to keep an illegitimate child. The whole matter was hushed up and buried, and I’m afraid my mother died a long time ago,’ Ophelia explained. ‘I only found out that I might have an older brother recently and it’s taken a great deal of detective work to get us this far.’

‘We have already discovered that, like Ophelia, I, too, share our mother’s rare blood group,’ Nikolai murmured, closing a hand to Abbey’s spine and drawing her beneath the shelter of his arm.

‘What must you have thought when you saw that photo of us on the balcony last night?’ Ophelia commented with a grimace.

‘You were rather inconsiderate last night,’ Lysander Metaxis scolded his wife with a frown.

Ophelia gave Abbey an apologetic look. ‘I’m sorry, Abbey. I was gasping to meet Nikolai and too impatient to be polite about it. Then once I got him all to myself, I got very emotional telling him about Mum and my sister, Molly, and I started to cry and he hugged me.’

‘I don’t think I’ll tell you what I thought,’ Abbey confided, drawn by Ophelia’s natural warmth, her own defensive rigidity evaporating. ‘I knew something was going on between all of you—’

‘And Abbey always thinks the worst of me,’ Nikolai imparted above her head.

‘No, of course I don’t,’ she argued for the sake of appearances, but she knew his accusation was the truth.

‘We’ll have the DNA results in a couple of days,’ Lysander Metaxis pronounced with a note of finality.

‘I know already. I don’t need tests!’ Ophelia proclaimed with irrepressible conviction. ‘I know now in my heart that Nikolai is my brother.’

Lysander and his wife took their leave and Abbey did not accompany Nikolai to the hall to see them out. She was trying to be tactful and she had a lot to think about. Everything she had assumed when she saw that tabloid photo of Nikolai and Ophelia together had been knocked on its head and shown to be nonsense.

‘Why didn’t you tell me who Ophelia might be before we went to their party?’ Abbey questioned when Nikolai reappeared.

‘Why didn’t you tell me that your brother and you were being threatened by thugs?’ he riposted.

‘That was a little different. I thought if I told you about it, you would think I was asking you for financial help and I didn’t feel comfortable with that,’ Abbey answered truthfully. ‘I was too proud.’

His lean bronzed face was taut. ‘I said nothing because I thought there would be no real substance to Ophelia’s belief that we were related—’

‘Nor were you prepared to admit how important it was for you to find out who your mother was,’ Abbey guessed.

‘That, too. I always assumed that my mother must have been a prostitute,’ Nikolai revealed, shocking her with that blunt admission. ‘In the days when I knew him, my father was well known for consorting with hookers.’

Abbey could read in his brilliant dark eyes how much that belief had troubled him and her heart swelled inside her. Indeed it was only with the greatest difficulty that she restrained herself from rushing across the room to wrap comforting arms round him.

‘But a schoolgirl, his own daughter’s friend,’ Nikolai added with a disgusted shake of his handsome dark head. ‘Kostya was a nasty piece of work. Ophelia’s mother went on to lead a very troubled and unhappy life. Being forced into early motherhood and having to give up her child at that age would have done nothing to help.’

‘I’m sorry I thought the worst about you and Ophelia.’ Abbey felt light-headed with relief that all her worst nightmares had failed to come true.

‘I don’t mess around with married women and you should have known that.’ Nikolai closed a hand over hers to urge her in the direction of the hall. ‘Now that we have that sorted out, we have a busy day ahead.’

Abbey had nothing noted down in her diary. ‘Have we?’

‘But you’ll have to go home and change first. I’m afraid that you’re not dressed for the occasion.’

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