The Ruthless Magnate's Virgin Mistress(9)

By: Lynne Graham

‘Sorry, I’m too busy.’

‘What do you think I am?’ he riposted.

‘Are you really not going to make a donation to Futures unless I go out with you?’ Abbey heard herself demand without even being aware that she was going to ask that question. It told her how much that concern had been playing on her mind, even though she had told herself that she shouldn’t allow his unfair tactics to weigh on her conscience.

‘I never say what I don’t mean.’

Abbey grimaced at her end of the phone. ‘Now I feel like I’ve deliberately deprived the charity of money that they badly need. How’s that supposed to make me feel?’

‘Hopefully bad enough to change your mind about me and give me a chance to prove what a great guy I can be.’

‘Over lunch?’ Abbey’s conscience was taking a beating and once again she was asking herself if she should be refusing to spend just a couple of hours of her time in his company. Certainly if self-belief was a plus, he was very confident that he could win her approval.

‘Make it dinner. Are you in or out?’ Nikolai prompted.

‘In…What time?’

‘I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty.’

‘My address—’

‘I already have it.’

‘We won’t get on,’ she warned him ruefully.

‘I’ll pledge my donation this afternoon.’ With that assurance Nikolai rang off.

Abbey replaced the receiver and stared at it as if it were an unexploded bomb. She could barely credit that she had agreed to see him again and that she’d allowed his tactics of bribery and pressure to win him what he wanted.

Nikolai was buoyant. He decided that she was a very clever woman. He had been keen, but now he was considerably keener. He was convinced that Abbey Carmichael knew how to play a man to heighten his interest. He instructed Sveta to contact the charity and announce his donation, and he put Olya in pursuit of the blue evening gown that Abby had modelled at the charity fashion show.

Late that afternoon, Caroline phoned Abbey in a flood of happy excitement and informed her that Nikolai had donated half a million pounds to Futures. It was the charity’s largest ever single endowment and Nikolai had even promised to consider becoming a patron for the organisation. Abbey wondered what Caroline would say if she told her how the Russian had used his wealth and the charity’s desperate need for funds to persuade her into seeing him again. But, just then, confessing that truth would have been the ultimate spoiler to Caroline’s rare sense of achievement.

‘I’m dining with Nikolai tonight,’ Abbey said instead.

‘That’s great news. I want to see you having a good time and enjoying the fact that you’re young and single!’ Caroline confided cheerfully. ‘And Drew just sent me flowers. He probably got the idea from Nikolai sending them to you, but who cares what prompted the gesture?’

Abbey smiled, relieved that her brother was making an effort and that Caroline was pleased. Drew’s use of the word suffocating with regard to his marital and working life was still troubling her. She was also wondering why she hadn’t asked him where he headed when he went out while she had had the chance. On the other hand, perhaps she had interfered enough. She was hardly qualified to set herself up as a marriage guidance counsellor, she reasoned ruefully. Fate hadn’t allowed Abbey and Jeffrey to even get as far as a wedding night together.

The fact that they had never had the opportunity to enjoy sexual intimacy was one of Abbey’s biggest sources of regret. In that field she had no precious memories to hang on to, for Jeffrey had insisted that they should wait until they were married to make love. It embarrassed Abbey to acknowledge that she was still a virgin and it was not an admission she had ever made to anyone else. Her face could still burn at the lowering recollection that her eagerness to explore those physical mysteries with the man she loved had seemed to turn him off rather than on. In retrospect she blamed her late husband’s sexual reticence on his respect for her staunchly moral father and on the fact that he had been a good deal older than his bride-to-be. She studied the photo of the blond, green-eyed man with clean-cut features on her desk: Jeffrey had been a very attractive man. It was little wonder that she had fallen so hard for him and it still amazed her that he had chosen to marry a teenage school-leaver rather than one of the more eligible career women whom he met in the course of his work as a successful barrister.

Late afternoon, several impressive boxes were delivered to Abbey with Nikolai Arlov’s compliments. By the time Abbey had finished unwrapping them her desk was a sea of crumpled tissue paper. She could barely credit that he had sent her the blue gown from the show in spite of her clearly stated lack of interest. That he had also thrown in the matching shoes and jewellery shook her even more. The devil was certainly in the detail.

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