‘Your mother was a seamstress?’

‘If she hadn’t had kids at such a young age, she probably would have been. Maybe if she’d lived a bit longer she might have gone on to do it.’ She reached for her glass of wine and took a sip. Was it his imagination or was there a slight tremor in her hand?

Despite her threat to drink herself into a stupor, she’d had only the one rum and Coke, and had hardly touched her second glass of wine.

‘Mum was so proud when I got the job with Hugo,’ she said wistfully. A flash of pain crossed her face before she took another sip of her wine and then visibly braced herself, fixing a smile onto her face to say, ‘Anyway, your turn.’

‘My turn for what?’

‘To tell me why you want to buy Plushenko’s.’

Briefly Pascha considered batting the question away.

‘It’s not as if we’ve anything else we can do other than talk,’ she pointed out, those meltingly gorgeous eyes fixing themselves on him, waiting.

His eyes dropped to her bare shoulder, his skin heating as he considered a different, far more pleasurable way in which they could pass the time...

He gave a brisk shake of his head.

He needed to get a handle on himself.

They might be getting along in the shelter better than he had hoped but it didn’t change the facts. They had blackmailed each other. It was the only reason either of them was there.

‘Marat Plushenko is my brother.’

Emily gave a low whistle. ‘I didn’t see that one coming. You’re trying to buy your own brother’s company? In secret?’

He sighed. There was little point in trying to cheat her with part of the story. ‘We’re not biological brothers. I never knew my biological father—he abandoned my mother before I was born. Marat’s mother died when he was a toddler. Our parents married when I was eighteen months old and Marat five. Andrei adopted me, my mother adopted Marat.’

‘Right...’ She nodded slowly. ‘So you were raised together as brothers?’

‘Yes. We were raised together as brothers but Marat never accepted me as a brother.’ He gave a rueful smile. ‘He always hated me.’

A groove formed in her brow. ‘Why?’

He rubbed his face. ‘Marat never wanted anything to do with Plushenko’s or with me—’

‘Back up a minute,’ she interrupted with a shake of her head. ‘I’ve just got it—Andrei Plushenko is your adopted father, therefore you’re part of the Plushenko dynasty?’

‘A dynasty conveys a sense of longevity. Andrei founded the company.’

‘I see.’

‘Are you sure you weren’t Sherlock Holmes in a previous life?’

She laughed. ‘You were telling me about Marat,’ she prodded.

‘He set up a number of failed businesses—I think it was five in all. Eight years ago he decided he should join the family firm, except he wasn’t prepared to work his way up and learn the business. He wanted to join at executive level.’

‘You didn’t agree with that?’

‘No. To me, it was a ludicrous idea. I was happy for him to join us, almost as happy as Andrei was, but I thought he should learn the intricacies of the business first, just as I did.’ He shook his head. ‘Our father didn’t see it like that. He was desperate for Marat to come aboard, would have given him anything he desired. It came to a head when I made the mistake of giving Andrei, our father, an ultimatum—if Marat joined the board, I would resign.’

‘Did Andrei choose Marat?’

‘Not in so many words.’ He fixed suddenly bleak eyes on her. ‘What he said was, “But, Pascha, he is my blood”. I handed in my resignation the next day.’

‘How did Andrei react to that?’ Her voice was low, soft.

‘He was very upset with my decision. My mother was too. But I was...’ He almost said ‘devastated’ but stopped himself just in time. ‘I was very angry about the situation, angry enough to change my name from Plushenko to my mother’s maiden name. I’d joined the business straight from school, pushed for the international expansion, the new state-of-the-art workshop...’

He blew out a breath and shook his head as more memories assailed him. ‘It took five years before I began to see things clearly but I never got the chance to make amends with Andrei—he died in his sleep three years ago. Marat took the reins. Since then, Plushenko’s has gone to the dogs. Marat won’t sell it to me so I formed RG Holdings as a front company, spent two years building it up and investing in companies so he wouldn’t be suspicious.’

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