Erin waited for his interrogation to begin, but when Dimitri took a phone call and began what was clearly a business conversation in his native Russian, she was momentarily perplexed. Until she remembered that his ability to switch on and off was legendary. And he was manipulative—that was one of the reasons he was so frighteningly successful. Right now, he would have realised that by leaving her to stew he would only increase her feelings of insecurity and put him in an even stronger position. His clever mind would be carefully stockpiling a series of questions, but he would ask them only in his time, and on his terms.
And really, there was only one question which she was going to have difficulty answering...
The car took them to his skyscraper apartment overlooking the river and Erin was filled with a horrible feeling of déjà vu as they walked into the magnificent marbled foyer, with its forest of tall, potted palms—behind which sat one of the burly porters who were all ju-jitsu trained. Sometimes she used to come here to take dictation if her boss was getting ready to go abroad, and it was a place she had always liked—a coldly magnificent apartment which was worlds away from her own rented home. She’d liked the river view and the fact that you could push a button and the blinds would float down, or another button would send music drifting out from one of the many speakers. She’d liked pretty much everything about it until the night when she’d overstepped the mark. When she’d offered him comfort during the one time she’d seen Dimitri looking vulnerable.
And he’d responded by taking her virginity on his vast dining-room table, tearing off her panties like a man possessed and making that almost feral moan as he drove deep inside her.
She could see the porter looking her up and down as she stepped out of the revolving door in her badly fitting white dress, with Dimitri’s jacket hanging around her shoulders. Briefly, she felt like some sort of crazy woman, especially when he propelled her into the waiting elevator at great speed.
‘Hurry up,’ he said as he pressed the button for the penthouse elevator. ‘I don’t want my reputation being trashed by being seen with a woman in a second-hand wedding dress.’
‘I didn’t think it was possible for your reputation to sink any lower!’
Pale eyes swept over her. ‘You might be surprised how out of touch you are,’ he said mockingly.
‘I doubt it,’ she spat back.
But as the elevator gathered speed Erin knew she had to forget the past and concentrate on the present. She had to think about the situation as it was, not what it used to be. If only she hadn’t allowed her feelings for him to ruin everything. If only she hadn’t started entertaining romantic fantasies about him—when she knew better than anyone that grand passion brought with it nothing but disillusionment.
She bunched up the material of her white dress as he unlocked his apartment and stood aside to let her pass, and she couldn’t work out whether to be happy or sad when she noticed that very little had changed. The vast, wooden-floored entrance hall still provided the perfect backdrop for all the Russian artefacts which were everywhere. The Fabergé eggs he collected were displayed in a casual grouping, which only seemed to emphasise their priceless beauty. There was one in particular which she used to love—a perfect golden sphere studded with emeralds and rubies, which seemed to mock her now as it sparkled in the autumn sunlight.
‘Come with me,’ he said, as if he didn’t trust her to be out of his sight for a second.
He walked into the main reception—a room dominated by a panoramic view over the river and the glittering skyscrapers which housed much of the city’s wealth. Yet it was the room itself which drew the eye as much as the view. He had always kept bonsai trees—exquisite miniature trees which experts came in weekly to tend. Sitting on a polished table was a Japanese Acer—its tiny leaves the bright red colour of a sunset. Erin stared at it with the delight of someone encountering an old friend. How she had always loved that little tree.
But as she glanced up from the vibrant leaves she saw in Dimitri’s eyes the unmistakable flicker of fury.
‘So. Start explaining,’ he bit out.
Her knees had suddenly gone wobbly and she sat down on one of the leather sofas, even though he hadn’t asked her to—terrified of appearing weak when she knew it was vital to stay strong. She looked up into his face and tried to keep her voice steady. ‘I don’t think it needs very much of an explanation, do you? You are as aware of the facts as I am. We spent that night together...’
Her words trailed off because it still felt faintly unbelievable that she’d ended up in his bed, when he could have had any woman on the planet. And yes, she’d found him attractive—in the way that you sometimes looked at the ocean and were rendered speechless by its power and beauty. Erin certainly hadn’t been immune to the carved symmetry of Dimitri’s proud Russian features, or the hair which gleamed like dark gold. There probably wasn’t a woman alive who wouldn’t have looked twice at his powerful body or admired his clever mind or the way a rare flash of humour could sometimes lighten his cold face. But she had never let her admiration show, because that was unprofessional—and she was pragmatic enough to know that she was the kind of woman he would never find attractive, even if she hadn’t been his secretary.
She had worked for him for years. He’d plucked her from a lowly job within his organisation—mainly, she suspected, because she didn’t go into instant meltdown whenever he came into the room. She had trained herself not to be affected by his sex appeal and a charisma undimmed by his haughty arrogance. She’d tried to treat him as she would treat anyone else, with dignity and respect. She had been calm and capable in the face of any storm—he’d told her that often enough. Soon he’d started giving her more and more responsibility until gradually the job had begun to take over her life, so that she’d had little left of her own. Maybe it was always that way when you worked for a powerful oligarch, with fingers in so many pies that he could have done with an extra pair of hands. She’d lost count of the times when she’d had to take a call from him during a dinner date, or miss the second half of a film because Dimitri had been flying in from Russia and needed her.
And she’d liked that feeling of being needed, hadn’t she? She’d liked the fact that such a powerful man used to listen to her—plain, ordinary Erin Turner. Maybe her ego was bigger than she’d given it credit for. Maybe it was that same ego which was responsible for allowing her feelings to slip from the consummate professional to being a woman with a stupid crush, despite her increasing awareness of the murkier side of her boss’s life. She began to nurture feelings about him which were unaffected by his gambling and clubbing and drinking and women. And those feelings began to grow.
She used to watch in mild horror from the sidelines as he played the part of the wild oligarch as if it were going out of fashion—as if he’d needed to prove something to the world, and to himself. There had been luxury yachts and private jets stopping off at Mediterranean fleshpots and Caribbean islands—always with some supermodel hanging on to his arm like a limpet. He’d mixed with empty-eyed men with faces even harder than his own. His hangovers had been legendary. He’d been...reckless—embracing life in the fast lane with a hunger and a speed which had seemed to be getting more and more out of control. Even his trusted bodyguard, Loukas Sarantos, had ended up resigning in frustration as Erin had looked on in despair. She remembered ringing up Loukas in desperation after he’d left—and the terrible bust-up in Paris which had followed.
Had it been her growing feelings for Dimitri which had made her start watching out for him, above and beyond the call of duty? Why she’d gone round to his apartment one dark and rainy night, a stack of papers beneath her arm—worried because he hadn’t been answering his phone and she’d been imagining the worst?
She remembered that her hand had been shaking as she’d rung the doorbell and had started shaking even more when he’d answered the door wearing nothing but a tiny towel, his bronzed body still damp and gleaming from the shower. Erin had been so relieved to see him that she’d been struck dumb, until it had dawned on her that he was almost naked.