‘What is wrong with you? Did something go wrong with the Plushenko deal?’

It was the mention of the word ‘Plushenko’ that sent Pascha’s fury erupting through his skin.

Because of Emily, he’d finally understood that family meant more than pride.

Because of Emily, he’d gone to his brother with the truth, believing that this time things could be different.

He’d lost it all. Any hope of redemption and forgiveness was gone.

He’d laid everything on the line, revealed that he was the face behind RG Holdings. Revealed his need to make amends for their father’s memory. When he’d finished his speech, he’d extended a hand. ‘So what do you say?’ he’d said. ‘Are you prepared to draw a line under the past?’

Marat had stared at his hand before his thin lips had formed into a sneer. He’d pushed his chair back and got to his feet. ‘I told you two years ago that I wouldn’t sell the business to you. I would rather it went to the dogs than fall into your hands.’

How had he ever allowed himself to think that this time things might be different?

There had been no point in prolonging the meeting. He knew Marat, knew the entrenched look in his eyes. Pascha’s reasoning had been disregarded. To try any more would have been akin to trying to reason with a toddler. ‘I’m sorry you feel that way. I wish you luck in finding another investor.’

He hadn’t reached the door when Marat had pounced, pinning him to the wall. ‘You,’ he’d spat. ‘It was always about you. No money for anything, not even the basics, because it all went on keeping you alive, the cuckoo in the nest who didn’t belong there.’ He’d abruptly let go and stepped back, throwing his hands in the air. ‘And look at you now—rich and handsome. All that chemotherapy didn’t even stunt your growth. You got everything.’ His eyes had glittered with malice. ‘But you didn’t get Plushenko’s. And you never will.’

Pascha had held onto his temper by the skin of his teeth. He was almost a foot taller than his adopted brother and, with around ninety-five per cent more muscle mass, all it would have taken was one punch to floor him and curb his cruel mouth.

Instead, he’d straightened his tie, dusted his arms down and said, ‘It was never about Plushenko’s. It was about family. Goodbye, Marat.’ He’d left the office, striding past the waiting room where the lawyers were holed up, through the foyer and out into the cold St. Petersburg air.

He felt it now, as raw as if he were still in that conference room with his brother.

‘The Plushenko deal is dead. It’s over.’

Ignoring the ashen pallor of Emily’s skin, he kicked his chair back and stormed over to stand before her. ‘Plushenko’s was built from my father’s sweat and my mother’s tears and now it’s gone. Marat’s hell-bent on destroying our father’s legacy and there’s nothing I can do to stop him.’

‘You told him the truth?’ she asked, her voice a choked whisper.

‘Yes, I told him the truth. He threw my offer back in my face.’

Marat hadn’t wanted anything to do with the cuckoo in the nest.

Why had he ever been foolish enough to believe otherwise?

‘You wonder why I can’t bear to look at you? You have everything—a family who loves you. You made me believe I could have that too. You gave me hope that Marat would accept me. You made it sound so easy. It was all a lie, a big, damnable lie, and every time I look at your face all I see is what could have been!’

Because of Emily, and that strange alchemy she had spread over him that had re-awoken his desire for a family of his own, everything had blown up in his face.

The path to his mother’s forgiveness had been detonated. And that was the worst part about it.

‘I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you hoped it would,’ Emily said, breathing heavily, her face no longer pale, angry colour staining her cheeks. ‘But at least you can look at yourself in the mirror and say that you tried, that you fought for a relationship with Marat.’

‘It’s destroyed everything. What hope is there for my mother to believe in me now?’

‘Oh, get over yourself and stop being so defeatist!’ Her fury seemed to make her expand before his eyes. ‘As if presenting her with the gift of Plushenko’s would magically have made things better between you—it hardly worked when you bought an island in her name, did it? Give her the one thing she hasn’t got—her son. You. If I can love a stubborn fool like you, then I’m damn sure your mother can as well. She is not Marat. If you allow your stupid pride to kill your future with her, you have no one to blame but yourself.’

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