‘Not more diamonds, surely,’ Abbey muttered uneasily.
Nikolai laughed out loud at the note of dismay in her voice. He paused to tug down the scarf at her throat and press his expert mouth to the bruise there with a slow, sensual flourish. ‘Who knows what the day will bring? But I’d love to see you wearing something feminine and summery.’
At the touch of his lips, gooseflesh flared at the nape of her neck. She gazed up at him, marvelling at the potent masculine appeal of his lean, dark, handsome face, her attention lingering to admire the black curling ebony spikes of his lashes and the astonishing beauty of his brilliant dark eyes. ‘What’s the occasion? Where are we going?’ she asked.
‘It’s a surprise.’
‘Is it work or play?’
Nikolai banded her close with possessive hands and the proximity of his lean, hard body sent arrows of sexual awareness darting through her slim body. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever looked on you as work and you’re too demanding to fall into the other category.’
‘But we’re still faking a serious relationship, aren’t we?’ Abbey wanted to remind herself of that salient fact to keep her feet securely anchored to the ground.
Nikolai raised a sleek brow. ‘The jury’s still out on that one.’
‘No, it’s not,’ Abbey told him in the lift. ‘We’re faking.’
Just when she wanted him to argue, Nikolai made no comment. He dropped her home and arranged to pick her up again within the hour. The paparazzi took several shots of her smiling face as she got out of his car. She wondered where on earth he was taking her and chose a floral tea dress from her wardrobe, teaming it with elegant high heels and the pearl collar to cover the bruise on her throat. While she was doing her make-up her brother, Drew, phoned her from hospital and told her how generous Nikolai had been and how very grateful he was.
Ophelia phoned her as well before she went out again to invite her and Nikolai to dinner at their home that weekend. Abbey was embarrassed, not knowing how to say that she and Nikolai were not such a couple that she could accept or decline invitations on his behalf. She said she would mention it to him, and would very much like to have known how Nikolai had described her status in his life to his potential sister.
A perfect blue sky and bright sunshine greeted Abbey when she left the limo at a private airfield and boarded the helicopter which Nikolai was to fly. Fierce curiosity assailed her: she could not think where in the world they might be going and conversation above the noise of the rotor blades was impossible.
Abbey was quick to take in the view when finally Nikolai drew her attention to it. Registering that their journey was clearly coming to an end, Abbey noticed that they were flying over a very large expanse of roof. Nikolai turned the helicopter to head for the landing pad and only then did Abbey appreciate that the property below them was a moated and battlemented castle set in beautiful grounds. She assumed it was a hotel.
Vaulting down onto the ground in advance of Abbey, Nikolai scooped her out of the helicopter with enthusiasm. ‘I like the dress…I will never tire of looking at your legs.’
‘Where are we?’ Abbey demanded.
‘Berkshire. Cobblefield House.’
Abbey recognised the name and tensed. ‘What are we doing here?’
‘I told Sveta to arrange a viewing.’
Abbey literally gnashed her teeth at that announcement. She had worked night and day and trailed round all the estate agencies in search of the elusive country property that would ignite his interest and she had got nowhere! She had seen the details of this same property two weeks earlier and had immediately discounted it from her list of possibles because it contained none of the luxury extras that Nikolai was accustomed to finding in his various homes round the world.
‘But it’s a medieval castle,’ she pointed out tartly.
‘The heart of the house may still be, but the building was considerably extended and renovated in the nineteenth century.’
‘And hasn’t been touched much since then. If I’d known that you liked this sort of place, I could have shown you several,’ Abbey pointed out, furious that she had had no idea that he would even consider a historic listed house as a potential base in the country.
But Nikolai failed to rise to the bait of that feminine reproach and strode forward to greet the man crossing the lawn towards them. They were ushered into a fascinating, if cluttered, interior in which many generations of the same family had each left their mark. Their guide was the owner and he was selling up lock, stock and barrel because he had no heir. Abbey was quick to admire the massive fireplaces, the very grand oak staircase and the beautifully shaped mullioned windows. The reception rooms were large and gracious and full of light and the same historical charm and sense of elegant proportion ensured that the bedrooms were equally pleasing to the eye.