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Brides For Billionaires

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«Brides For Billionaires» - Линн Грэхем

A four book series about the Marshall sisters by international bestseller Lynne Graham.Four linked books where passion, glamour and drama are guaranteed…A Rich Man’s Whim – Enigmatic Russian Mikhail Kusnirovich offers to pay off Kat Marshall’s debts in exchange for a month on his yacht, in his cabin…The Sheikh’s Prize – When Sheikh Zahir Ra’if Quarishi took a Western woman as his wife it caused outrage amongst his people. Had marrying Sapphire Marshall turned out to be the biggest mistake of Zahir’s life?The Billionaire’s Trophy – What is his intern’s photo doing on an escort website? Bastian Christou doesn’t know if he’s more surprised by her double life or her stunning photo – she’s kept those curves well hidden! Where is his chequebook?Challenging Dante – Topaz Marshall’s search for her father has brought her into shrewd Italian billionaire Dante Leonetti’s world and now she’s experiencing his ferocious reputation first hand – and he is just as terrifying when he is being charming!
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The men who have everything finally meet their match!

The Marshall sisters have carved their own way in the world for as long as they can remember. So if some arrogant billionaire thinks he can sweep in and whisk them off their stilettos he’s got another think coming!

It will take more than a private jet and a wallet full of cash to win over these feisty, determined women. Luckily these men enjoy a challenge, and they have more than their bank accounts going for them!

Brides for Billionaires

A Rich Man’s Whim

The Sheikh’s Prize

The Billionaire’s Trophy

Challenging Dante

Lynne Graham

About the Author

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

Table of Contents


Title Page





Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

html#litres_trial_promo">Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten




Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten





‘I saved your skin. All you need to do now is say thank you,’ Mikhail imparted with quiet emphasis.

‘I’m not going to thank you for your interference in my life!’ Kat snapped back at him, galled by his stinging reminder that he had dug her out from between a rock and a hard place. ‘I’m here to ask you what you want from me in return.’

Without warning Mikhail laughed, startling her, his lean dark features creasing with genuine amusement.

‘I’m prepared to make you an offer,’ Mikhail said huskily, his dark eyes narrowing to gleaming jet chips full of challenge.

‘An offer I can’t refuse?’

‘Agree to spend a month on my yacht with me, and at the end of that month I will sign the house back to your sole ownership,’ Mikhail proposed, absolutely convinced that no matter what she said she would end up with her glorious long legs pinned round his waist, welcoming him into her lithe body.

When, after all, had a woman ever said no to him?

Chapter One

MIKHAIL KUSNIROVICH, RUSSIAN oil oligarch and much feared business magnate, relaxed his big body back into his leather office chair and surveyed his best friend, Luka Volkov, with astonishment. ‘Hiking … seriously? That’s truly how you want to spend your stag weekend away?’

‘Well, we’ve already had the party and that was a little high octane for me,’ Luka confided, his good-natured face tightening with distaste at the memory. Of medium height and stocky build, he was a university lecturer and the much admired author of a recent book on quantum physics.

‘You can blame your future brother-in-law for that,’ Mikhail reminded him drily, thinking of the lap and pole dancers hired by Peter Gregory for the occasion, women so far removed from his shy academic friend’s experience that the arrival of a group of terrorists at the festivities would have been more welcome.

‘Peter meant it for the best,’ Luka proclaimed, instantly springing to the defence of his bride’s obnoxious banker brother.

Mikhail’s brow raised, his lean, darkly handsome face grim. ‘Even though I warned him that you wouldn’t like it?’

Luka reddened. ‘He does try; he just doesn’t always get it right.’

Mikhail said nothing because he was thinking with regret of how much Luka had changed since he had got engaged to Suzie Gregory. Although the two men had little in common except their Russian heritage, they had been friends since they met at Cambridge University. In those days, Luka would have had no problem declaring that a man as crude, boring and boastful as Peter Gregory was a waste of space. But now Luka could no longer call a spade a spade and always paid subservient regard to his fiancée’s feelings. An alpha male to the core, Mikhail gritted his even white teeth in disgust. He would never marry. He was never going to change who and what he was to please some woman. The very idea was a challenge for a male raised by a man whose favourite saying had been, ‘a chicken is not a bird and a woman is not a person’. The late Leonid Kusnirovich had been fond of reeling that off to inflame the sensibilities of the refined English nanny he had hired to take care of his only son. Sexist, brutal and always insensitive, Leonid had been outraged by the nanny’s gentle approach to child rearing and had been afraid that she might turn his son into a wimp. But at the age of thirty there was nothing remotely wimpy about Mikhail’s six-foot-five-inch powerfully built frame, his ruthless drive to succeed or his famous appetite for a large and varied diet of women.

‘You’d like the Lake District … it’s beautiful,’ Luka declared.

Mikhail made a massive effort not to look as pained as he felt.

‘You want to go hiking in the Lake District? I assumed you were thinking of Siberia—’

‘I can’t get enough time off work and I’m not sure I’d be up to the challenge of the elements there,’ Luka admitted, patting his slight paunch in apology. ‘I’m not half as fit as you are. England in the spring and a gentle workout is more my style. But could you get by without your limo, luxury lifestyle and your fleet of minders for a couple of days?’

Mikhail went nowhere without a team of security guards. He frowned, not at the prospect of existing without the luxuries, but at having to convince his protection team that he didn’t need them for forty eight hours. Stas, his highly protective head of security, had been taking care of Mikhail since he was a little boy. ‘Of course, I can do it,’ he responded with innate assurance. ‘And a little deprivation will do me good.’

‘You’ll have to leave your collection of cell phones behind as well,’ Luka dared.

Mikhail stiffened in dismay. ‘But why?’

‘You won’t stop cutting deals if you still have the phones in tow,’ Luka pointed out, well aware of his friend’s workaholic ways. ‘I don’t fancy standing on top of a mountain somewhere shivering while you consider share prices. I know what you’re like.’

‘If that’s really what you want, I’ll consider it,’ Mikhail conceded grudgingly, knowing he would sooner cut off his right arm than remove himself, even temporarily, from his vast business empire. Even so, although he rarely took time out from work, the concept of even a small physical challenge had considerable appeal for him.

A knock on the door prefaced the appearance of a tall beauty in her twenties with a mane of pale blonde hair. She settled intense bright blue eyes on her employer and said apologetically, ‘Your next appointment is waiting, sir.’

‘Thank you, Lara. I’ll call you when I’m ready.’

Even Luka stared as the PA left the room, her slim hips swaying provocatively in her tight pencil skirt. ‘That one looks like last year’s Miss World. Are you—?’

Mikhail was amused and his wide sensual mouth quirked. ‘Never ever in the office.’

‘But she’s gorgeous,’ Luka commented.

Mikhail smiled. ‘Is the reign of Suzie wearing thin?’

Luka flushed. ‘Of course not. A man can look without being tempted.’

Mikhail relished the fact that he could still look at any woman and be tempted, a much more healthy state of affairs in his opinion than that of his friend, he reflected grimly, for Luka clearly now felt forced to stifle all his natural male inclinations in the holy cause of fidelity. Was his old friend so certain that he had found everlasting love? Or should Mikhail make use of their hiking trip to check that Luka was still as keen to make the sacrifices necessary to become a husband? Had Luka’s awareness of Lara’s attractions been a hint that he was no longer quite so committed to his future bride? Forsaking all others … in sickness and in health? Not for the first time, Mikhail barely repressed a shudder of revulsion, convinced that it was unnatural and unmanly to want to make such promises to any woman, and as for the what’s-mine-is-yours agenda that went with it—he would sooner set fire to his billions than place himself in a financially vulnerable position.

Kat tensed in dismay as the sound of the post van crunching across gravel reached her ears. Her sister, Emmie, had come home late and unexpectedly the night before and she didn’t want her wakened by the doorbell. Hastily setting down the quilt she was stitching, she flexed stiff fingers and hurried to the front door. Her stomach hollowed in fear of what the postman might be delivering. It was a fear that never left her now, a fear that dominated her every waking hour. But Kat still answered the door with a ready smile on her generous mouth and a friendly word and as she signed for the recorded delivery letter with the awful tell-tale red lettering on the envelope she was proud that she kept her hand steady.

Slowly she retreated back inside the solid stone farmhouse, which she had inherited from her father. Birkside’s peaceful setting and beautiful views had struck her as paradise after the rootless, insecure existence she had endured growing up with her mother, Odette. A former top fashion model, Odette had never settled down to live an ordinary life, even after she had children. Kat’s father had married her mother before she found fame and the increasingly sophisticated Odette had found the wealthy men she met on her travels far more to her taste than the quiet accountant she had married at too young an age. More than ten years had passed before Odette chose to marry a second time. That marriage had produced twin daughters, Sapphire and Emerald. Odette’s final big relationship had been with a South American polo player, who had fathered Kat’s youngest sister, Topaz. When Kat was twenty-three years old, her mother had put her three younger daughters into care, pleading that the twins in particular were out of control and at risk. Touched by the girls’ distress, Kat had taken on sole responsibility for raising her half-sisters and had set up home with them in the Lake District.

Looking back to those first halcyon days when she had had such high hopes for their fresh start in life now left a bitter taste in Kat’s mouth. A deep abiding sense of failure gripped her; she had been so determined to give the girls the secure home and love that she herself had never known as a child. She tore open the letter and read it. Yet another to stuff in the drawer with its equally scary predecessors, she reflected wretchedly. The building society was going to repossess the house while the debt collection agency would send in the bailiffs to recoup what funds they could from the sale of her possessions. She was so deep in debt that she stood to lose absolutely everything right down to the roof over her head. It didn’t matter how many hours a day she worked making hand stitched patchwork quilts, only a miracle would dig her out of the deep financial hole she was in.

She had borrowed a small fortune to turn the old farmhouse into a bed and breakfast business. Putting in en suite bathrooms and extending the kitchen and dining area had been unavoidable. The steady stream of guests in the early years had raised Kat’s hopes high and she had foolishly taken on more debt, determined to do the very best she could by every one of her sisters. Gradually, however, the flow of guests had died down to a trickle and she had realised too late that the market had changed; many people preferred a cheap hotel or a cosy pub to a B&B. In addition, the house was situated down a long single-track road and too far from civilisation to appeal to many. She had still hoped to get passing trade from day trippers and hill walkers but most of the walkers, she met went home at the end of the day or slept in a tent. The recent recession had made bookings as scarce as hens’ teeth.

A tall beautiful blonde in a ratty old robe slowly descended the stairs smothering a yawn. ‘That postman makes so much noise,’ Emmie complained tartly. ‘I suppose you’ve been up for ages. You always were an early riser.’

Kat resisted the urge to point out that for a long time she had had little choice with three siblings to get off to school every morning and overnight guests to feed; she was too grateful that Emmie seemed chattier than she had been the night before when the taxi dropped her off and she declared that she was too exhausted to do anything other than go straight to bed. During the night, Kat had burned with helpless curiosity because six months earlier Emmie had gone to live with their mother, Odette, in London, determined to get to know the woman she had barely seen since she was twelve years old. Kat had chosen not to interfere. Emmie was, after all, twenty-three years of age. Even so, Kat had still worried a lot about her, knowing that her sister would ultimately discover that the most important person in Odette’s life was always Odette and that the older woman had none of the warmth and affection that every child longed to find in a parent.

‘Do you want any breakfast?’ Kat asked prosaically.

‘I’m not hungry,’ Emmie replied, sinking down at the kitchen table with a heavy sigh. ‘But I wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea.’

‘I missed you,’ Kat confided as she switched on the kettle.

Emmie smiled, long blonde hair tumbling round her lovely face as she sat forward. ‘I missed you but I didn’t miss my dead-end job at the library or the dreary social life round here. I’m sorry I didn’t phone more often though.’

‘That’s all right.’ Kat’s emerald green eyes glimmered with fondness, her long russet spiralling curls brushing her cheekbones in stark contrast to her fair skin as she stretched up to a cupboard to extract two beakers. More than ten years older than her sister, Kat was a tall slender woman with beautiful skin, clear eyes and a wide full mouth. ‘I guessed you were busy and hoped you were enjoying yourself.’

Without warning, Emmie compressed her mouth and pulled a face. ‘Living with Odette was a nightmare,’ she admitted abruptly.

‘I’m sorry,’ Kat remarked gently as she poured the tea.

‘You knew it would be like that, didn’t you?’ Emmie prompted as she accepted the beaker. ‘Why on earth didn’t you warn me?’

‘I thought that as she got older Mum might have mellowed and I didn’t want to influence you before you got to know her on your own account,’ Kat explained ruefully. ‘After all, she could have treated you very differently.’

Emmie snorted and reeled off several incidents that illustrated what she had viewed as her mother’s colossal selfishness and Kat made soothing sounds of understanding.

‘Well, I’m home to stay for good this time,’ her half-sister assured her squarely. ‘And I ought to warn you … I’m pregnant—’

Pregnant?’ Kat gasped, appalled at that unexpected announcement. ‘Please tell me you’re joking.’

‘I’m pregnant,’ Emmie repeated, settling violet-blue eyes on her sister’s shocked face. ‘I’m sorry but there it is and there’s not much I can do about it now—’

‘The father?’ Kat pressed tautly.

Emmie’s face darkened as if Kat had thrown a light switch. ‘That’s over and I don’t want to talk about it.’

Kat struggled to swallow back the many questions brimming on her lips, frightened of saying something that would offend. In truth she had always been more of a mother to her sisters than another sibling and after that announcement she was already wondering painfully where she had gone wrong. ‘OK, I can accept that for the moment—’

‘But I still want this baby,’ Emmie proclaimed a touch defiantly.

Still feeling light-headed with shock, Kat sat down opposite her. ‘Have you thought about how you’re going to manage?’

‘Of course, I have. I’ll live here with you and help you with the business,’ Emmie told her calmly.

‘Right now there isn’t a business for you to help me with,’ Kat admitted awkwardly, knowing she had to give as much of the truth as possible when Emmie was basing her future plans on the guest house doing a healthy trade. ‘I haven’t had a customer in over a month—’

‘It’s the wrong time of year—business is sure to pick up by Easter,’ Emmie said merrily.

‘I doubt it. I’m also in debt to my eyeballs,’ Kat confessed reluctantly.

Her sister studied her in astonishment. ‘Since when?’

‘For ages now. I mean, you must’ve noticed before you went away that business wasn’t exactly brisk,’ Kat responded.

‘Of course, you borrowed a lot of money to do up the house when we first came here,’ Emmie recalled abstractedly.

Kat wished she could have told her sister the whole truth but she didn’t want the younger woman to feel guilty. Clearly, Emmie had quite enough to be worrying about in the aftermath of a broken relationship that had left her pregnant. Kat did wonder if some people were born under an unlucky star, for Emmie had suffered a lot of hard knocks in her life, not least the challenge of living in the shadow of the glowing success and fame of her identical twin, who had become an internationally renowned supermodel. Saffy had naturally suffered setbacks too, but not to the extent Emmie had. Moreover, Saffy, the twin two minutes older, had a tough independent streak and a level of cool that the more vulnerable Emmie lacked. Already damaged by her mother’s indifferent approach to raising her daughters, Emmie had been hurt in a joy-riding incident when she was twelve and her legs had been badly damaged. Getting her sister upright and out of a wheelchair had been the first step in her recovery but, sadly, a complete recovery had proved impossible. The accident had left Emmie with one leg shorter than the other, an obvious limp and significant scarring, a reality that made it all the harder for Emmie to live side by side with her still physically perfect twin sister. Emmie’s misery and the unfortunate comparisons made by insensitive people had caused friction between the two girls and even now, years later, the twins still barely spoke to each other.

Yet, happily, Emmie no longer limped. In a desperate attempt to help her depressed younger sister recover her self-esteem and interest in life, Kat had taken out a large personal loan to pay for a decidedly experimental leg-lengthening operation only available abroad. The surgery had proved to be an amazing success, but it was that particular debt that had mushroomed when Kat found herself unable to keep up the regular repayments, but she would never lay that guilt trip on Emmie’s slim shoulders. Even knowing the financial strain it would place on her family, Kat knew she’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Emmie had needed help and Kat had been willing to move mountains to come to her aid.

‘I’ve got it,’ Emmie said suddenly. ‘You can sell the land to settle any outstanding bills. I’m surprised you haven’t thought of doing that for yourself.’

But Kat had sold the land within a couple of years of settling in the area, reasoning that a decent sum of cash would be of more use to her at the time than the small income that she earned from renting out the land that she had inherited with the house. Raising three girls had unfortunately proved much more expensive than Kat had initially foreseen and there had been all sorts of unanticipated expenses over the years while Odette, who was supposed to pay maintenance towards her daughters’ upkeep, had quickly begun skipping payments and had soon ended them altogether. To add to Kat’s problems during those years, her youngest sister, Topsy, who was extremely clever, had been badly bullied at school and Kat had only finally managed to solve the problem by sending Topsy away to boarding school. Mercifully, Topsy, now in sixth form, had won a full scholarship and although Kat had then been saved from worrying about how she would keep up the private school fees she had still had to pay for that first year and it had been a tidy sum.

‘The land was sold a long time ago,’ Kat admitted reluctantly, wanting to be as honest about the facts as she could be. ‘And I may well lose the house—’

‘My goodness, what have you been spending your money on?’ Emmie demanded with a startled look of reproof.

Kat said nothing. There had never been much money to start with and when there had been, there had always been some pressing need to pay it out again. The front door bell chimed and Kat rose eagerly from her seat, keen to escape the interrogation without telling any lies. Naturally Emmie wanted the whole story before she committed herself to moving back in with her sister. But it was early days for such a decision, Kat reminded herself bracingly. Emmie was newly pregnant and a hundred and one things might happen to change the future, not least the reappearance of the father of her child.

Roger Packham, Kat’s nearest neighbour and a widower in his forties, greeted Kat with a characteristic nod. ‘I’ll be bringing you some firewood tomorrow … Will I put it in the usual place?’

‘Er … yes. Thank you very much,’ Kat said, uncomfortable with his generosity and folding her arms as the bitingly cold wind pierced through her wool sweater like a knife. ‘Gosh, it’s cold today, Roger.’

‘It’s blowing from the north,’ he told her ponderously, his weathered face wreathed in the gloom that always seemed to be his natural companion. ‘There’ll be heavy snow by tonight. I hope you’re well stocked up with food.’

‘I hope you’re wrong … about the snow,’ Kat commented, shivering again. ‘Let me pay you for the wood. I don’t feel right accepting it as a gift.’

‘There’s no call for money to change hands between neighbours,’ the farmer told her, a hint of offence in his tone. ‘A woman like you living alone up here … I’m glad to help out when I can.’

Kat thanked him again and went back indoors. She caught a glimpse of herself in the hall mirror and saw a harassed, middle-aged woman, who would soon have to start thinking about cutting her long hair. But what would she do with it then? It was too curly and wild to sit in a neat bob. Was she imagining the admiring look in Roger’s eyes? Whatever, it embarrassed her. She was thirty-five years old and had often thought that she was a born spinster. It had been a very long time since a man had looked at her with interest: there weren’t many in the right age group locally and in any case she only left the house to buy food or deliver her quilts to the gift shop that purchased them from her.

If she was honest, her personal life as such had stopped dead once she took her sisters in to raise them. Her only serious boyfriend had dumped her when she accepted that commitment and in actuality, once she was engulfed in the daily challenge of raising two troubled adolescents and a primary-school genius, she hadn’t missed him very much at all. No, that side of things had died a long time ago for Kat without ever really getting going. It struck her as a sad truth that Emmie was already more experienced than she was and she felt ill-qualified to press her sister for details about her child’s father that she clearly didn’t want to share. Kat knew little about men and even less about intimate relationships.

As she walked back into the kitchen, Emmie was putting away her mobile phone. ‘May I borrow the car? Beth’s invited me down,’ she explained, referring to her former school friend who still lived in the village.

Guessing that Emmie was keen to confide her problems in a friend of her own age, Kat stifled an unfair pang of resentment. ‘OK, but Roger said there’ll be heavy snow tonight, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the weather.’

‘If it turns bad, I’ll stay over with Beth,’ Emmie said cheerfully, already rising from her chair. ‘I’ll go and get dressed.’ In the doorway she hesitated and turned back, a rueful look of apology in her eyes. ‘Thanks for not going all judgemental about the baby.’

Kat gave her sister a reassuring hug and then steeled herself to step back. ‘But I do want you to think carefully about your future. Single parenting is not for everyone.’

‘I’m not a kid any more,’ Emmie countered defensively. ‘I know what I’m doing!’

The sharp rejection of her advice stung, but Kat had to be content, as it appeared to be all the answer she would get to her attempt to make Emmie take a good clear look at her long term future. She suppressed a sigh, for after eleven years of single parenting she knew just how hard it was to go it alone, to have only herself to depend on and never anyone else to fall back on when there was a crisis. And if she lost the house, where would they live? How would she bring in an income? In a rural area there was little spare housing and even fewer jobs available.

Ramming back those negative thoughts and a rising hint of panic, Kat watched the snow begin to fall that afternoon in great fat fluffy flakes. When the world was transformed by a veil of frosted white it made everything look so clean and beautiful but she knew how treacherous the elements could be for the local farmers and their animals and anyone else taken by surprise, for the long-range weather forecast had made no mention of snow.

Emmie rang to say that she was staying the night with Beth. Kat stacked wood by the stove in the living room while the snow fell faster and thicker, swirling in clouds that obscured the view of the hills and drifted in little mounds up against the garden wall. A baby, Kat thought as she worked on her latest quilt, a baby in the family. She had long since accepted that she would never have a child of her own and she smiled at the prospect of a tiny nephew or niece, quelling her worries about their financial survival while dimly recalling her paternal grandmother’s much-loved maxim, ‘God will provide.’

The bell went at eight and as she started in surprise it was followed by three unnecessarily loud knocks on the front door. Kat darted into the hall where the outside light illuminated three large shapes standing in the small outer porch. Potential guests, she hoped, needing to take shelter from the inclement weather. She opened the door without hesitation and saw two men partially supporting a third and smaller man, balancing awkwardly on one leg.

‘This is a guest house, right?’ the tall lanky man on the left checked in a decidedly posh English accent, while the very large black-haired male on the right simply emanated impatience.

‘Can you put us up for the night?’ he said bluntly. My friend has hurt his ankle.’

‘Oh dear …’ Kat said sympathetically, standing back from the door. ‘Come in. You must be frozen through. I’ve nobody staying at the moment but I do have three en suite rooms available.’

‘You will be richly rewarded for looking after us well,’ the biggest one growled, his heavy foreign accent unfamiliar to her.

‘I look after all my guests well,’ Kat told him without hesitation, colliding with startlingly intense dark eyes enhanced by spiky black lashes. He was extremely tall and well built: she had to tip her head back to look at him, something she wasn’t accustomed to having to do, being of above average height herself at five feet ten inches tall. He was also, she realised suddenly, quite breathtakingly good-looking with arresting cheekbones, well-defined brows and a strong jawline, an alpha male in every discernible lineament.

He stared down at her fixedly. ‘I’m Mikhail Kusnirovich and this is my friend, Luka Volkov, and his fiancée’s brother, Peter Gregory.’

Mikhail had never been so struck by a woman at first sight. Spiralling curls the rich dark colour of red maple leaves rioted in an undisciplined torrent round her small face in glorious contrast to porcelain-pale perfect skin with a scattering of freckles over her small nose and eyes as luminous and deep as emeralds. Her mouth was full and pink and unusually luscious, provoking erotic images in his brain of what she might do with those lips. He went instantly hard and his big powerful body stiffened defensively because he was always in full control of his libido and anything less than full control was a weakness in his book.

‘Katherine Marshall … but everybody calls me Kat,’ she muttered, feeling astonishingly short of breath as she began to turn away on legs that suddenly felt heavy and clumsy. ‘Bring your friend into the living room. He can lie on the sofa. If he needs medical attention, I don’t know what we’ll do because the road’s probably impassable—’

‘It’s only a sprained ankle,’ the man called Luka hastened to declare, his accent identical to the larger man’s. ‘I simply need to get my weight off it.’

Mikhail watched her cross the room, his attention gliding admiringly down over the small firm breasts enhanced by a ribbed black sweater, the tiny waist and the very long sexy legs sheathed in skinny jeans. Aside of the fluffy pink bunny slippers she sported, she was gorgeous, a total stunner, he thought in a daze, disconcerted by the level of his own appreciation.

‘What a hottie …’ Peter Gregory remarked, predictably following it up with a crude comment about what he would like to do to her that would have had them thrown out had their hostess had the misfortune to overhear him. Mikhail gritted his even white teeth in frustration. So far, Peter’s unexpected inclusion in their disastrous weekend of hiking remained the worst aggravation Mikhail had had to bear. Always at his best in a crisis, Mikhail functioned at top speed under stress and enjoyed a challenge. The sudden change in the weather, Luka’s fall and losing battle to tolerate the freezing temperatures, their lack of mobile phones and inability to call for help had all played a part in the ruin of their plans, but Mikhail had dealt calmly with those setbacks. In contrast, having to also tolerate Peter Gregory’s crassness downright infuriated Mikhail, who had virtually no experience of ever having to put up with anyone or anything he didn’t like.

The two men lowered the third to the sofa where he relaxed with a groan of relief. Kat thoughtfully provided Luka with a low stool on which to rest his leg while the tallest man went back out to the porch to retrieve their rucksacks. He returned with a small first aid kit and knelt down to remove his friend’s boot, a process accompanied by several strangled groans from the injured man. They conversed in a foreign language that she did not recognise. Without being asked Kat proffered her own first-aid kit, which was better stocked, and he made efficient use of a bandage. Kat then fetched her father’s walking stick and helpfully placed it next to them before noticing that Luka was shivering and dragging a woollen throw off a nearby chair to pass it to the man tending to him.

‘Have you any painkillers?’ the hugely tall one, Mikhail, asked, glancing up at her so that she could not help but notice that he had the most ridiculously long, lush black eyelashes she had ever seen on a man. Eyes of ebony with sable lashes, she thought, startling herself with that mental flight of fancy.

Her cheeks pink, Kat brought the painkillers with a glass of water, noticing that the younger posh man had yet to do anything at all to help. He had also at one point complained bitterly that the other two men were no longer speaking English.

‘I’d better show you your rooms now. I’ve got one downstairs that will suit you best,’ she informed Luka with a reassuring smile, for he was obviously enduring a fair degree of discomfort.

‘I need to get out of these filthy clothes,’ Peter Gregory announced, storming upstairs ahead of Kat. ‘I want a shower.’

‘Give the water at least thirty minutes to heat,’ she advised.

‘You don’t have a constant supply of hot water?’ he complained scornfully. ‘What kind of guest house is this?’

‘I wasn’t expecting guests,’ Kat said mildly, showing him into the first available room to get rid of him. She had dealt with a few difficult customers over the years and had learned to tune them out and let adverse comments go over her head. There was no pleasing some folk.

‘Ignore him,’ Mikhail Kusnirovich told her smoothly. ‘I do …’

The deep vibrations of his accented drawl raised goose bumps on Kat’s skin, made her feel all jumpy and she swung open the door of the next room, eager to return downstairs.


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