“I didn’t tell you,” Nikos continued, “or press charges, because I was trying to protect you. I cut off his lines of credit and informed the banks that I was no longer responsible. If he’d just asked me for the money I would have given it to him, for your sake. But he stole from me. I couldn’t allow that to continue.”
She turned to stare blindly at a nearby gold and lacquer globe. Turning the smooth surface of the world, her fingers rested near St. Petersburg. She wished with all her heart that she was still there, in the dark, cold, crumbling palace without a ruble to her name. She wished Nikos had never found her and dragged her back to luxury. Russia was numb peace compared to this hell.
“And so he went bankrupt. Then died from the shame of it.” She closed her eyes, fighting back tears.
“He was weak. And a coward to leave his family behind.” She felt his hand on her shoulder as he brushed back her hair with his thick fingers. “I’m done protecting you from the truth. You stole from me. Just like him.”
Barely controlling her body’s involuntary tremble at his touch, she blinked fast, struggling to contain tears that threatened to spill over her lashes. She pressed her nails hard against her palms. If he sees me cry, I’ll kill myself.
“I hate you,” she whispered.
His grip on her shoulder tightened. “Good. We’re even.”
“Let me go.”
Pressing her back against the wall of leatherbound books, he ran his hand along the bare flesh of her arm. “You chose to come back with me. Did you think it would cost you nothing?”
Heaven help her, but even now, hating him, she wanted to run her hands along his back, to touch the strength of his muscles and the warmth of his skin. She wanted to lace her fingers through the curls of his short dark hair and pull him down to her, to taste the sweet hardness of his mouth.
Oh, God, what had come over her? Trembling from the effort, she forced her body to stay still and betray nothing. “You’re not some medieval warlord. You can’t toss me in a dungeon and torture me into surrender.”
He gently traced the back of his hand down her cheek. “We have no dungeons here. But I could keep you in my bedroom. Every night. And you wouldn’t escape.” He whispered in her ear. “You wouldn’t want to.”
She sucked in her breath as a hard shiver rocked her body. She couldn’t stop it even though she knew, pressed against her as he was, he’d be able to feel the movement.
He rewarded her with a smug, masculine smile. “Would you like that, Anna?” he murmured against the soft flesh of her ear, his breath hot on the tender skin of her neck. “Would you like to sleep against me again? Or would I have to tie you to the bed and force you to remember how good it once was between us?”
She felt his closeness and power over her and she hated it, even as part of her longed for him with all the strength of her body’s memory.
“I don’t want you,” she gasped, but even as she spoke the words she felt her traitorous body slide against him, melding every soft curve against his well-muscled form.
He leaned forward, lowering his head. Involuntarily she closed her eyes, licking her lips as her body moved against him.
She felt the warmth of his breath. She could smell his skin, a scent of soap and hot desert sun and something more—something she couldn’t describe but that made her yearn for him with all the ferocity of her heart, as she’d once hungered for Christmas as a child.
But Nikos was in no hurry. The seconds it took before his lips finally touched hers were exquisite torture. And when he finally kissed her the world seemed to whirl around them, making her dizzy, making her knees weak.
She’d expected him to savage her lips, to try and break her in his embrace. But his kiss was gentle. Pure. Just like the very first time he’d kissed her, long ago, that night he’d shown up at her door half-mad with confusion and grief…
He deepened the kiss, brushing his hand through her hair as his tongue caressed her own. She clung to him, returning his caress with a rising passion.
He lingered possessively in her arms, kissing her neck and murmuring endearments in Greek. A sigh of pleasure came from deep within her as she ran her hands through his dark, wavy hair.
Then, without warning, he released her.
She blinked up at him, dazed. Caressing the inside of her wrist with a languorous finger, he looked down at her with cold, dark eyes.
“You hate me enough to kidnap my son,” he observed coolly. “But then you kiss me like that.”
He dropped her wrist and stepped away from her. As if she disgusted him. Rejecting her. Again.
Her whole body went white-hot with humiliation as she realized that his gentle kiss had been more savage than any forceful assault. Nikos was too strong for brute force. All he had to do was give her the chance to betray herself. One loving, lying kiss from him, and all her feeble defenses had burned to the ground.
She took a deep breath, trying to regain her balance. “You surprised me, that’s all. It was just a kiss. It meant nothing.”
“It meant nothing to me. But to you…” He looked down at her with a sardonic light in his dark eyes. “I own you, Anna. You’re mine in every way. It’s time you understood that.”
She tightened her hands into fists, fighting for calmness, for some vestige of dignity. “You don’t own me. You can’t own someone.”
He stepped back from her. His face was a dark silhouette against the sunlight flooding the high library windows. She could see the cruel twist to his sensual lips as he stared her down.
“You’re mine. And I will make you suffer for betraying me.”
He meant it, too. She could see that. And she knew how he’d make her suffer. Not by hurting her body—no. But by breaking her will. By breaking her heart. By making her desire him, by giving her pleasure in bed such as she’d never imagined until it ultimately destroyed her soul.
He would poison her with love.
A sob rose to her lips that she couldn’t control.
“Enjoy your time with our son,” he said. He stepped back through the tall library doors, closing them behind him as he departed with a low, grim parting shot. “Because for the rest of your days and nights you are mine.”
As Nikos strode down the hall toward the east wing of the house he smiled grimly, remembering the way Anna had melted into his arms. The bewildered look in her eyes after he pulled away. She was putty in his hands. Like the old song promised, that single kiss had told him everything he needed to know.
She still wanted him.
She still cared for him.
That was her weakness.
Now that he knew, making her suffer would be easier than he’d ever imagined. He’d already begun, by telling her the truth about her worthless excuse for a father. She didn’t want his protection? Fine. He was done protecting her.
He would see her twist and pant helplessly, like a butterfly pinned to a display. He would see the pain in her eyes every day while he mercilessly pounded her heart into dust. Maybe then, someday, she would understand what she’d done to him by stealing his child.
His son was all that mattered now. He was the one who needed Nikos’s protection…and love.
“I waited for you in the nursery,” he heard Lindsey say from down the hall. “When you didn’t come, I gave him to the nanny.”
He turned to see Lindsey leaning against the wall in a sultry pose. “I was delayed,” he replied in a clipped voice.
“That’s okay.” She skimmed a hand over a tanned thigh barely covered by her short skirt, curving her red lips into a smile. “Finding you alone is even better.”
God, no. Another of Lindsey’s clumsy attempts at seduction? He was in no mood.
“I gave you the rest of the morning off,” he said shortly. “The negotiations for the Singapore bid can wait.”
“That’s not why I came looking for you.”
No, of course it wasn’t. Unlike Anna, who’d taken her job so personally, Lindsey would never stick around on a holiday. Her work was barely up to par on regular days.
He hated that he still had Lindsey as his secretary. She wasn’t a fraction of the employee Anna had been. He should have fired her long ago. But firing her would have been like admitting that he’d made a mistake.
“What do you want, Lindsey?” he asked wearily.
She toyed with the slit of her short skirt with her long French-manicured nails, making sure he could see the top edge of her thigh-high stockings. “The question is, what do you want, Nikos?”
It was the most blatant invitation she’d ever tried.
Once, he might have taken her up on her offer, buried his pain in the sweet oblivion of pleasure. No longer. His experience with Anna had taught him that sex could give a worse hangover than tequila and Scotch.
“Just go to the casino office and wait for my call,” he said, walking past her.