Dimitri could feel her trembling as she unclipped the waistband of his jodhpurs and heard her unsteady rush of breath as she eased down the straining zipper. He shifted uncomfortably on the divan, trying to focus on something other than his body, trying to slow down the race of his own desire—because he could never remember sexual desire feeling quite so potent, nor so dangerous.
As she began to peel the jodhpurs down over his thighs he forced himself to remember that, for all her supposed sweetness and innocence, he couldn’t trust her. He’d put Erin Turner in a different category from any other woman he’d ever known, and he was a fool to have done so. Because she wasn’t different. She was exactly the same. Selfish. Calculating. Single-minded. She hadn’t even given him a chance to get to know his son, or to see whether he’d changed, because it hadn’t suited her to do so. And because children were nothing but pawns in the lives of women. How could he have forgotten a truth as fundamental as that?
His anger had made him even more aroused—something he hadn’t thought possible—and he enjoyed the darkening of her eyes as he breathed out a series of instructions to her. ‘Go over to my wash bag and find my condoms. No, let me put it on—you just concentrate on taking off your dress. Mmm... That’s better. Now your panties. And your bra. And then climb on top of me and take me inside you. Da. Just like that. Oh, God, Erin—just like that.’
With his hands on her narrow hips and her small breasts positioned perfectly for his delectation, he watched as she came very quickly. And so did he. Too quickly, perhaps. He could have carried on having sex with her for hours and already his desire was returning with an intensity which took his breath away, but he forced himself to roll to the other side of the large divan—as if putting distance between them was the only sensible thing he’d done all day.
‘What did you mean?’ he asked, when eventually his breathing was steady enough for him to make himself understood. ‘When you said you weren’t very experienced?’
Her eyes were wary as she looked at him—like a small animal who had inadvertently wandered into a hostile domain—and she shrugged, as if embarrassed.
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘It does,’ he contradicted.
‘Because you say so?’
He smiled. ‘Precisely.’
She began to play with the ends of her hair. ‘You’re the only man I’ve ever had sex with.’
A sudden silence fell between them. Her answer was so unexpected that it took a moment for him to process it.
‘Why?’ he said, at last.
‘Why do you think?’ Her words came out in a rush, as if she had been bottling them up for a long time. ‘First I was pregnant and then I had a tiny baby who wasn’t very fond of sleeping, which meant I kept dozing off at various points during the day and forgetting to wash my hair and my tops always seemed to be stained with milk. That’s never really a good look. And then the baby grew into a demanding toddler who was into everything, so that I felt like some kind of maternal health and safety expert trying to keep him out of trouble. I was helping my sister with the café and trying to keep our heads above water and I...’ Her words faded away and a shuttered look came over her face, as if she’d said too much and only just realised it. ‘There was never really time for men.’
‘So if I was your first lover—’
‘You knew that?’
He gave a faint smile. ‘Of course I knew it. I may have often been accused of a lack of sensitivity towards women—but never when it comes to sex.’
Her green eyes looked confused. ‘But you didn’t...you didn’t mention it at the time.’
‘And neither did you.’ He shrugged. ‘That night was supposed to be about pleasure—not an anatomical discussion about why your hymen was still intact.’
Her green eyes spat fire as she pulled the coverlet up over her breasts. ‘How callous you can be, Dimitri!’
‘You think so?’ He narrowed his eyes as he looked at her. ‘Don’t you think that after everything which has happened between us, we now deserve the truth?’
‘Even if the truth hurts?’
‘But being hurt is a part of life. A big part of it—as is regret,’ he said. ‘And if you must know, I was angry with myself for having sex with you that night.’
‘Angry?’ She sounded bewildered. ‘Why?’
‘Because you were an employee and I liked you that way. I had crossed a line I never intended to cross. And because it is a responsibility when a man takes a woman’s virginity.’
‘Responsibility?’ She repeated the word in horror.
‘Of course it is,’ he said. ‘I didn’t want you fixating on me, or clinging to me or deciding that I was the man who was going to make you happy. And I just couldn’t work out how it had happened, that was the most frustrating thing. How years of a perfectly satisfying platonic relationship had suddenly erupted into something which was so unbelievably X-rated. So tell me, Erin—since we’re being truthful—did you choose me because you were aware of my reputation as a lover and considered me the most suitable candidate to take your virginity? Because you knew that I was the man most likely to give you pleasure?’
She didn’t answer straight away and when she did, her voice was shaking. ‘You flatter yourself,’ she said. ‘As well as misjudging me, if you think I could have been that cold-blooded about it. I didn’t choose you. It just happened.’
‘You just happened to bring a totally unnecessary batch of paperwork round to my apartment when it could have waited until morning?’
‘I was worried about you,’ she said. ‘Worried sick, if you must know. You seemed to have a permanent hangover and to exist on no sleep. Your bodyguard told me you were living like a vampire. And then he resigned and there was all that trouble in Paris and I didn’t trust your new bodyguard one bit. Every time the phone rang I thought it was going to be the hospital telling me you’d been admitted. Or the morgue telling me you were lying on a slab...’
‘So you thought a little creature comfort might bring me to my senses?’ he mocked as her words tailed off. ‘That a taste of the pure and innocent Erin Turner might be enough to make me see the error of my ways?’
‘You are hateful, Dimitri.’
‘Maybe I am. But I’ve never pretended to be anything else,’ he said, steeling himself against the hurt which was clouding her green eyes and telling himself it was better this way. Because although she’d told him she didn’t believe in love, he wasn’t sure he believed her. Women were programmed to believe in it, weren’t they? Better she didn’t start thinking he was someone who was capable of providing her with happiness. Especially not domestic happiness. ‘Didn’t anyone ever teach you that it’s a bad idea to go to a man’s apartment late at night, looking so unbelievably sexy?’
‘I was wearing my navy work suit and a white shirt!’ she protested. ‘It was hardly what you’d call provocative.’
‘Not intentionally, no.’ His voice deepened. ‘But you were. I’ll never forget the sight of you standing there, all wide-eyed and soaking wet.’
‘I didn’t know it was going to rain!’
‘And I wasn’t expecting my secretary to ring the doorbell looking as if she’d just taken part in a wet T-shirt competition.’
He hadn’t been planning to kiss her, either. It had been a combination of factors which had made something inside him snap. Her wide-eyed look of concern, which had contrasted with the erotic spectacle of that forbidding suit clinging to her slim body. Her complete obliviousness as to how sexy she looked had sealed her fate. He had been existing in such