‘Of course you took advantage,’ Abbey said ruefully, knowing that Nikolai would always make the most of any opportunity to get what he wanted. He was built that way and aggressively set on winning and nothing would change him.

‘You hated me for it,’ Nikolai growled. ‘It wasn’t worth it.’


‘I have one question I have always wanted to ask. And you must be honest. Sveta, Olya and Darya—what’s the score there?’ Abbey enquired gently.

‘I founded a business school in St Petersburg and I offer jobs to the top graduates. They’re terrific workers. Sveta and I grew up in the same neighbourhood. I have never slept with any of them,’ Nikolai completed with an honesty that she found compellingly attractive.

‘But I’m not sure I could accept them staying with you, because they all want you,’ Abbey responded with equal frankness.

‘I’ll deal with the situation,’ Nikolai asserted. ‘I promise.’

Abbey looked at the ring glittering on her finger and curved her arms round his neck. ‘How long have we got before dinner?’

A wolfish grin slashed his sculpted mouth as he read her expressive face. ‘Long enough, lubimaya,’ he asserted, bending down to lift her and carry her through to the bedroom.

Happiness was racing through Abbey like an ongoing electric shock. She still couldn’t quite credit the ring on her finger and the idea that she was loved. ‘I thought you only committed to sex—’

‘You made me want much more. I wanted to be the very special guy that you had the worthy, important relationship with. I’m hopelessly competitive,’ Nikolai teased. ‘Why do you think I gave you that file on Jeffrey?’

Abbey stiffened and pulled a face. ‘That was awful, but I was glad I finally found out.’

‘That was the night I realised I loved you, because I felt like such a bastard for hurting you like that. I was really worried about you, as well.’

‘I think I shifted from lust to something more that night as well. You were very caring,’ Abbey confided, planting a kiss on the corner of his mouth as she wrenched off his tie and attempted to extract him from his suit jacket.

‘Is this lust or love?’ Nikolai’s eyes were bright with wicked amusement.

‘Does it matter?’

Just then it didn’t. Nikolai claimed her mouth with feverish hunger and for quite some time there was no sensible conversation whatsoever. Clothes were discarded in careless heaps. Passion blazed between them. He made love to her with all the natural fire of his temperament, but there was a new tenderness in their joining. Afterwards she was in tears of happiness again. Suddenly her whole world seemed drenched in sunlight and she was full of bright hopes for the future.

‘What made you pick Cobblefield House?’ Abbey whispered curiously while she still lay in his arms, but carefully arranged so that she could continue to feast her gaze on her glittering engagement ring.

Nikolai groaned out loud. ‘Didn’t it remind you of anything?’

Bemused by the question, Abbey shook her head.

‘The centre portion looks like your doll’s house…’

Her eyes opened very wide. ‘Oh, my word…is that why?’

‘My inspiration…didn’t you realise that’s where I got the idea that you liked Siamese cats?’

‘Lady,’ Abbey sighed comfortably. ‘She was one terrific present. I love that little cat to bits—’

‘When I saw you with the kitten, I thought you would make an amazing mother,’ Nikolai confessed. ‘For the first time ever, I thought of becoming a father without freaking out and I realised that you were different.’

‘I’m not sure I’m ready to be a mother yet,’ Abbey admitted. ‘I’m only just adjusting to the being engaged, and then getting married and living in a giant castle.’

‘I love you. I’ll wait. Whatever makes you happy,’ Nikolai intoned.

Abbey gave him a radiant smile. ‘You make me happy,’ she told him with supreme confidence.

‘Stay still, darling,’ Ophelia Metaxis urged her three-year-old daughter as she adjusted the focus on her camera. ‘I want to get a picture of you beside your baby cousin.’

Little, blond, dark-eyed Poppy was stationed beside Abbey, who was holding her infant son, Danilo, on her lap. The baby, black-haired and blue-eyed, dressed in his magnificent christening robe and shawl, was fast asleep.

‘He really is gorgeous,’ Ophelia remarked and she patted her slightly protruding tummy. ‘I hope my next is a boy.’

At Caroline’s request, Abbey settled Danilo on her sister-in-law’s knee for another set of photos for her side of the family. The DNA tests had been positive: Ophelia and Nikolai were half-brother and sister, the children of the same mother, Cathy. Ophelia had told Abbey about her little sister, Molly, who had been adopted when Ophelia was a teenager. Nikolai was as keen as Ophelia to track down Molly, but so far their enquiries had failed to establish any leads.

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