And then she was caught and captured—lasered by the brilliance of a pair of icy blue eyes—and Erin’s heart plummeted, for this was no mistake. This was real. As real as the silk flowers which stood on the registrar’s desk. As real as the sudden thunder of blood to her heart. Like a fizzing firework thrown into the blackest night, Dimitri Makarov was dominating the room with his unique blend of sex appeal and power, just as he always did.
Her fingers bit into the fleshy stems of her flowers as she stared at him. He was wearing a silvery-grey suit which emphasised his powerful build, and the artificial light from the cheap chandelier had turned his hair to molten gold. Prestige and privilege pulsated from every pore of his muscular body as he flicked his icy gaze over her.
But something about him was different. Gone was the bloodshot glow which had sometimes marred the beauty of those spectacular eyes. And gone, too, was the faint stubble which had habitually darkened his jaw and made him look slightly disreputable. This man was clean-shaven and his eyes were bright and clear and...penetrating.
‘Dimitri,’ Erin breathed.
‘Da. The very same,’ he said, his voice mocking her, but the look on his face sent a shiver down her spine. ‘Pleased to see me, Erin?’
He knows, thought Erin.
She told herself that he couldn’t possibly know. It was over six years since she’d last seen him, when he’d made it clear how little she had meant to him. His attitude towards her had been insulting and dismissive—reminding her all too clearly that she’d only ever been a minion in his life. Somebody he could just shove aside when she got too close. And that was what had happened, wasn’t it? She’d got way too close.
She thought of Leo and why she was here. Of everything she was fighting for, and she forced a smile onto her lips. Because if she showed the slightest sign of weakness, Dimitri would leap on it.
And devour her.
‘This is rather bad timing,’ she said lightly.
‘I disagree. The timing could not have been better.’
‘I’m just about to get married, Dimitri. To Chico.’
‘I don’t think so.’ His gaze flicked over Chico, who was standing with his mouth gaping open and a distinct look of alarm in his eyes.
‘Is there a problem?’ asked the registrar pleasantly, but Erin could see her glancing at the telephone which sat on the desk beside the silk flowers, as if convincing herself that a line to the outside world lay within easy reach.
‘A problem of a purely emotional nature,’ answered Dimitri smoothly as he began to walk towards Erin.
Erin stiffened as he closed the space between them and even as her body started going into some sort of automatic meltdown at his approach the irony of his words did not escape her. Was Dimitri Makarov really claiming something to be of an emotional nature—when he was about as familiar with emotion as a shark was to sitting around a fire and warming its fin?
‘Miss Turner?’ said the registrar, fixing Erin with a questioning look, as if she was eager for the unexpected floor show to be over.
But it wasn’t over. It was nowhere near over. Because Dimitri had now reached her and his tall shadow was enveloping her, like a stifling cloud which seemed to have sucked all the air from her lungs. She told herself to stop him—to scream out her protest or shove at that broad chest with one indignant hand—but she seemed powerless to do anything. And suddenly it was too late, because he was pulling her against him and his hands were wrapped around her back as he held her close. Trapped against his body, she could feel his fingers imprinting themselves on the thin silk of her wedding dress and it felt as if he were touching her bare skin. With a shuddered breath she lifted her face to his, to the icy glitter of his eyes, which studied her for a long moment before he bent his head to kiss her.
Erin could sense the contempt underpinning his action, but that didn’t stop her lips from opening automatically beneath his, or her body starting to tremble the moment he touched her. Weakly, she recognised that this was not a kiss driven by affection or lust, but a mark of possession—a stamp of ownership. Yet it was a kiss too potent to resist and stupidly—even now—it made her start longing for the things she was never going to have.
He was pulling her closer, bringing her up against the proud jut of his hips and the unmistakable hardness at their centre, which was hidden from everyone in the room but her. She thought how...outrageous it was for him to push his erection against her quite so blatantly when there were other people around, but that didn’t stop her from reacting to it, did it—from wanting him deep inside her? She could feel the melting heat of desire and the betraying prickle of her breasts as she tried to stop her body from pushing so insistently against his. Her breathing was shallow as it mingled with the warmth of his and she felt the moist flicker of his tongue, which promised so much pleasure. Oh, why was it Dimitri and only Dimitri who could ever make her feel this way? she thought despairingly.
Fleetingly, she wondered if Chico would do anything to stop what was happening—but what could he do, even if he was that kind of man? How could he tell Dimitri to back off when they were about to commit a crime? That this was nothing but a sham marriage, so that Chico could get his work permit.
She felt the bouquet slide from her nerveless fingers to the ground and she was afraid she might do the same when, suddenly, Dimitri terminated the kiss. His shadowed features tensed as he drew away from her—but not before his eyes had glittered out a warning and Erin knew exactly what that warning meant. She had worked for him for years. She knew how his mind worked—at least, some of the time—and the message in their icy blue depths was as clear as day. Leave this to me, they said, and something inside her rebelled.
Did he really think he could waltz back into her life and start taking over, after all the grief he’d given her in the past? Because Dimitri was a man who took, she reminded herself grimly. Who took and took and never gave anything back. And he wasn’t going to take anything else from her. Not any more. There were good reasons why he was no longer in her life—and even better ones why it should stay that way.
‘How dare you?’ she spat out, her voice shaking. ‘What the hell do you think you’re playing at?’
‘You know exactly what I’m playing at, Erin.’
‘You can’t do this,’ she said, meeting his gaze with a rebellious tilt of her chin. ‘You can’t.’
‘No?’ His pale eyes glittered in response. ‘Just watch me.’
‘Would someone mind explaining exactly what is going on?’ asked the registrar, her polite tone not quite hiding her growing irritation. ‘We have a number of weddings following yours and this unexpected interruption is—’
‘There isn’t going to be any wedding,’ said Dimitri softly. ‘Is there, Erin?’
They had all turned to look at her. Chico. The two witnesses. The registrar. But the only face Erin could see was Dimitri’s and the icy challenge in his eyes. And suddenly it wasn’t so easy to be rebellious. Suddenly, her certainties began to crumble as she recognised the glint of danger in the Russian’s eyes.
She opened her mouth—so dry that it felt like parchment—before shutting it again with a snap. She looked at the faint frown on Chico’s brow. Was he perceptive enough to know that if he dared confront Dimitri, he risked everything—that it would be like a centipede preparing to do battle with a lion? Or had the Russian effectively humiliated him by kissing his bride-to-be in full view of everyone, thus silencing any objections for ever?
But none of this mattered. Not really. Only Leo mattered and she didn’t dare put his livelihood at risk. A mother being dragged in front of the courts for participating in a sham marriage could not really be deemed a fit mother. Imagine the shame