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Грэхем Линн

Brides For Billionaires

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Chapter Eight

KAT LEANT BACK against her door, her heart hammering inside her chest … You know where to find me.

On the other side of the door she had locked. Could she really blame him for telling her to take the initiative for a change? She had made such a deal over not sleeping with Mikhail and, without ever meaning to be unfair, she had allowed him to touch her and then had withdrawn that licence at the last possible moment. But then right from the first minute she had laid eyes on Mikhail Kusnirovich, she had wanted him, wanted him more than she had ever thought she could want any man, and, unhappily for both of them, desire had decimated her common sense and control.

And common sense and control, Kat recognised, had absolutely nothing to do with the way she felt about Mikhail. Desire was a much more primitive feeling it was an unquenchable craving that it literally hurt to deny. With impatient hands she shed the green dress and her underwear and left her clothing lying in a heap, defying her instinctive urge to put every item tidily away. For too long she had lived by a rigid set of rules and she had questioned nothing. Instead she had blindly obeyed those rules like an obedient little girl.

Now all of a sudden she was looking back at the last conservative decade of her life and she was finally done with playing safe and even more sick of always trying to do the right thing to set a good example! What gains had her good example achieved? It hadn’t stopped Emmie from getting pregnant outside marriage any more than it had stopped Emmie’s twin, Saffy, from getting married and divorced too young.

But it was still that conviction that she had to set a good example that had ensured that Kat hadn’t had a man in her life for more years than she cared to recall. How dared Mikhail call her a coward? Cowardice had had nothing to do with it! There had been no arbitrary decision to remain a virgin. Instead she had consciously chosen to put her sisters’ need for stability ahead of her own needs as a woman.

But would it really have damaged her siblings so much had she enjoyed intimacy with a lover? Now her sisters were moving on, making their own lives and leaving her behind, still ridiculously ignorant for a woman of her age. Continuing such self-denial was pointless. It really didn’t matter if she only slept with Mikhail to satisfy her curiosity about sex, she thought painfully. It didn’t even matter if she loved him and hoped for more than she would ever receive from him. A mistake was a mistake and not a disaster, and she was strong enough to survive making mistakes. Never again would she run away from the unknown like a frightened child or use her mother’s errors of judgement as her safety valve.

Clad in a gossamer-thin silk nightgown, Kat unlocked the door between her suite and the master suite to push it wide with an unsteady hand. Mikhail appeared in the bathroom doorway, only a towel linked round his lean bronzed hips. His black diamond eyes settled on her and a smile of satisfaction instantly curved his wide sensual mouth. Half naked he was an imposing sight, his black hair spiky and damp from the shower, water droplets scattered across his powerful hair-roughened pecs and rock-hard abdominal muscles. He had a fabulous body, she acknowledged helplessly, and her face coloured as she tried very hard not to stare at his potent male perfection.

‘I feel as though I’ve been waiting for you for ever,’ Mikhail husked, moving forward to scoop her up in his arms and settle her down on the wide divan bed.

‘And I can’t believe I’m here,’ Kat confided jerkily.

‘Believe, moyo zolotse.’ His mouth swooped down on hers in a kiss as evocative as rough velvet brushing her parted lips, his tongue spearing between and tangling with her own. The intoxicating taste of him was more than enough to chase the goose bumps of nervous tension from her skin and she shivered helplessly against him. Her fingers curved to his broad brown shoulders while damp heat surged between her thighs and she could feel her breasts swelling, the nipples tingling as she pushed the sensitive mounds into the hard muscular wall of his chest. Even through the thickness of the towel she could feel the hard wedge of his erection against her thigh and she trembled at the thought of him pushing inside her to sate the tormenting ache stirring in her pelvis.

He pulled back, remarkably beautiful eyes skimming her hectically flushed face while his hands roamed over her silk-clad curves, cupping her breasts before rising to slide down the straps on her shoulders and bare her tender flesh. The gown slid to her waist and he captured her distended nipples between finger and thumb and tugged to send arrows of longing shooting down into her groin.

‘Mikhail …’ She was breathless, quivering, almost frightened by the powerful surges of response assailing her.

‘Your breasts are so sensitive that I want to torture you with pleasure,’ Mikhail growled.

His mouth captured a rosy beaded tip and she gasped, jerking at the response that travelled straight down to heat her pelvis and making no protest as he lowered her down against the pillows. With his tongue and the edges of his teeth he played with the engorged buds while easing the nightie from round her hips to cast it aside. In the lamp light the porcelain purity of her slender figure glowed like polished alabaster. Big hands cupped her hips, parted her thighs and traced a trail to the silken heart of her where she was so desperately wet and swollen.

Pure undiluted hunger fired Mikhail’s eyes and he pulled lithely back from her to draw her down towards the foot of the bed. She was limp with surprise and uncertainty, tensing when he pushed her knees apart and freezing into rigidity when he spread her wide to expose that part of her that she usually kept hidden. ‘What are you doing?’ she demanded strickenly.

‘Trust me … relax,’ Mikhail soothed. ‘I want tonight to be the best night you’ve ever had with a man—’

‘It’ll be the only night,’ she reminded him shakily while she fought the urge to snap her thighs shut like scissors and blanked her overpowering awareness that she was naked and exposed.

‘Not our only night,’ Mikhail forecast with confidence. ‘But I’ll make it good, moyo zolotse …

‘Promises, promises …’ Her voice shook uncontrollably as she dared to voice that sally.

He sank his hands below her hips to lift her and his tongue swiped across her clitoris. That instant pleasure was almost too intense to be borne and her hands clawed convulsively into the bedding beneath her as he teased her tender flesh. She tried very hard to swallow back the noises rising in her throat but his unnerving skill at heightening her responses made that an impossible challenge. Her back arched, her hips rose and she cried out as his fingers penetrated her in the way she most needed to be touched, giving her just a little of what she helplessly craved. She went out of control so fast then that she had no idea of what was happening to her.

She was shaking, alternately rigid and then weak before the great surge of irresistible pleasure shock-waved through her with almost brutal force and she was crying out and splintering and shuddering with the intensity of her climax.

Blinded by that all-encompassing pleasure, she looked up into his face and he gazed down at her through a veil of thick dark lashes as flattering as a fringe of ebony lace and muttered hungrily, ‘I love watching you come …’

Her face burned and she tensed as he rose over her and she felt his bold shaft ease into her. He was thick and amazingly hard and he felt like an incredibly tight fit while her muscles slowly stretched to accommodate his size. His groan of uninhibited pleasure sent a jolt of delight darting through her. The raw tension in his lean, powerful muscles told her of the care and control he was exerting, but there was no escape from the brief but sharp sting of pain that assailed her when he sank deeper into her and broke through the final barrier of her innocence.

‘I’m sorry,’ Mikhail growled, stunning black diamond eyes glittering with the raw excitement he could not hide. ‘I was trying not to hurt you.’

‘It’s all right … It’s not hurting any more,’ Kat confided, lifting her hips up to him in an instinctive movement and moaning as he drove deep into her again.

‘You feel so good I don’t think I could stop,’ Mikhail groaned, pulling out of her receptive body and then plunging back into her hot slick depths again with a rough growl of satisfaction.

He taught her that rhythm very quickly and the constant physical stimulation fed into the overwhelming excitement he had unleashed. Her slim body rose below his again, her eyes like stars as the ripples of her second orgasm pulsed through them both, so that he drove even harder into her and shuddered over her with a shout of satisfaction he could not restrain.

Her heart was thumping so fast that even lying down she felt dizzy and breathless and utterly unlike her usual sane and sensible self. Her arms closed round him. ‘Is it always that exciting?’ she whispered shyly.

Mikhail pinned her to his hot damp body. ‘Rarely. It’s the best sex I’ve ever had, milaya moya.’

And for a split second she was pleased by the compliment and the overpowering sense of intimacy that she was enjoying while she lay in his arms. But the feeling of peace and relaxation didn’t last once she thought about the label of having given him the best sex he’d ever had. Somehow instead of making her feel complimented that made her feel cheap, as if she had supplied just another novelty experience to a male who had already enjoyed a wide variety of experiences in the field of sex.

‘Time for a shower,’ he breathed, rolling her to the side of the bed with him and urging her in the direction of the bathroom.

Her legs felt as collapsible as a deckchair’s and she clung to a muscular male arm, wincing when she felt the dulled ache at the heart of her.

‘You’re sore …’ Mikhail husked, studying her expressive face, laughing when she blushed crimson. ‘Well, what did you expect?’

‘I should go back to my room,’ Kat muttered, pulling back from the big tiled wall he was about to step around.

‘No, I want you to stay,’ Mikhail confided, hauling her up against his big powerful body as he switched on the water.

‘Thought you liked your privacy,’ Kat reminded him tautly, disconcerted by the amount of intimacy being forced on her all at once, uneasy with her nakedness below the strong overhead lights.

‘But I like the thought of you in my bed first thing in the morning even more,’ Mikhail growled against her throat as he pinned her to the tiled wall, dropped his hands to her hips to hold her there and crushed her lush mouth with hungry urgency beneath his.

Imprisoned by his big powerful body, Kat couldn’t breathe for excitement and she discovered that even the tenderness between her thighs couldn’t stop her wanting him again with a level of hunger that shook her. ‘Now my hair’s wet,’ she complained prosaically.

‘You’ll survive,’ Mikhail breathed, letting his tongue delve between her lips in an urgent rhythmic foray that mimicked the act of intercourse so closely that she quivered with spellbound yearning, the distended tips of her breasts grazing his hard pectoral muscles. Against her stomach she could feel him rigid and urgent again and she marvelled at his speedy recovery.

And Kat, who never would have dreamt of going to bed with wet hair forgot about her hair, and forgot to worry about what it would look like the next morning. In the grip of passion, Mikhail was too determined to withstand. He strode from the shower with her wrapped round him and seated her on the granite vanity counter. It was the work of a moment for him to snatch a contraceptive from a drawer, tear the packet open and don a condom. He stepped between her spread legs to ease into her honeyed softness again with a sigh of profound relief.

‘Thought you were going to wait until tomorrow,’ Kat reminded him, her teeth gritting on a spasm of erotic pleasure so devouring it resembled pain because he was being extraordinarily cautious and gentle and slow. Little tremors of exquisite excitement made her clench tight around him.

‘Never was any good at waiting,’ Mikhail growled, fighting to stay in control as he rocked against her, fearful of hurting her but wanting her so desperately it was like a mounting fever in his blood.

The ball of his thumb circled the little nub of nerve-endings at the swollen heart of her and she moaned wildly under his mouth, her arms tightening round him, her nails digging into his shoulders as he quickened the pace of his possession.

In the morning he took her again, his mouth tracing the corded delicacy of her throat to awaken her before he sank his thickness into her receptive body over and over again until she screamed her explosive release into the pillow beneath her head.

‘Shower with me,’ he urged afterwards.

Kat knew he wasn’t to be trusted in the shower and reluctantly laughed. ‘I’ll use my own.’

‘Breakfast in ten minutes,’ he told her firmly.

Kat didn’t move until he had vanished safely into his bathroom. The ache of overindulgence was so strong that she gritted her teeth when she got out of bed and returned to her own room to freshen up. A cry of horror was wrenched from her when she looked in a mirror and saw her curls all standing on end in a wall of frizz. She looked like a rag doll who had been tortured. With no time to do anything with her recalcitrant curls, she scraped the messy russet torrent back and secured her tumbled hair with a clip.

Showered, she dabbed on a little light make-up, trying to conceal the swollen contours of her mouth and the evidence of his stubble marking her with a beard rash across her cheeks and throat. She pulled on underwear and yanked a sundress from the dressing room, hurrying because she knew he was so impatient that he would come looking for her if she didn’t appear on time.

So that was sex, she reflected in a daze, so much more than she had expected: more exciting, more intimate, more everything really. And she had loved everything he had done to her, had swiftly got over her shyness and uncertainty to appreciate that he was a good lover and that she was lucky to have had so considerate and skilled an introduction to intimacy. But now she was wondering if she had lived up to his expectations or whether at the end of the day he could be wondering what all the fuss had been about.

Breakfast was served on the extensive private deck beyond Mikhail’s suite. Sunlight glancing off the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean sea, Kat sipped her coffee and tried to stop smiling, indeed to cram a lid down on the bubbling happiness welling up inside her. Happiness wasn’t fitting. They didn’t have a relationship for her to celebrate or pin hopes on. All they had was an affair and now that they were actually having an affair that agreement they had made had to become history, Kat thought ruefully.

‘You can’t give me the farmhouse back now,’ Kat told Mikhail squarely.

An ebony brow quirked. ‘Why not?’

‘It would be inappropriate now that we’re sleeping together,’ Kat pointed out flatly as she took a seat.

‘According to whose book of sexual etiquette?’ Mikhail queried very drily.

‘If I accepted the house back now, it would be like accepting payment for sex—’

‘Don’t look for trouble where none exists. I don’t offer payment for sex, never have, never will.’

‘I wouldn’t feel comfortable now letting you return the house to me,’ Kat explained stubbornly.

‘Tough,’ Mikhail remarked, unimpressed. ‘We made that agreement and I see no reason to deviate from it. That house is your home.’

‘That house belongs to you now,’ Kat retorted in crisp disagreement.

Mikhail vented a sound of exasperation. ‘Zatk’nis! Shut up!’ he told her impatiently. ‘You’re talking nonsense.’

Her green eyes flared. ‘Think about what I’m saying … You know it makes sense!’

‘But I’m not listening,’ Mikhail responded with an imperious shift of a lean brown hand that dismissed the discussion in its entirety.

Her teeth gnashed together.

‘I tell you what to do … you do it,’ Mikhail drawled softly. ‘That was also in the agreement and I wouldn’t like you to lose that talent now.’

Sheer frustration sent Kat up out of her seat again and she rested her slender forearms on the rail to stare out to sea. ‘You sound like a Neanderthal again.’

Strong hands skimmed down her spine to curve down over her hips. ‘Whatever turns you on—’

That doesn’t,’ she told him succinctly.

Long fingers inched up her skirt and glided up the silken length of her thigh and she froze. ‘What the heck are you doing?’ she exclaimed in consternation.

Masculine fingertips flirted with the lacy edge of the knickers interrupting his exploration. ‘Take them off,’ he said.

‘Of course I’m not taking them off!’ Kat protested in disbelief. ‘Have you gone insane?’

‘Just the thought of you naked below that dress excites me,’ Mikhail purred, pressing his lips to a delicate spot just below her ear in a caress that left her hot and breathlessly eager for more. ‘What’s wrong with that?’

‘I wouldn’t feel right without them on,’ Kat muttered tautly while shamelessly angling her head back to provide easier access for his wide sensual mouth.

In answer, Mikhail hauled her up against him and kissed her with a hungry fervour that thoroughly unsettled her. With her cradled in his arms he sank down into his seat with her again, long caressing fingers stroking her slim thighs below the skirt of her dress. Recognising that he really didn’t know how to take no for an answer but simply pursued another path when he met with opposition, Kat slapped a hand down on the hem of her dress to prevent it from rising any further and to restrict his clever hands. ‘No,’ she told him flatly. ‘I’m keeping my underwear on!’

‘You’re so stubborn,’ Mikhail growled in complaint against her lush mouth.

‘You’re even worse,’ Kat complained, idle fingers brushing through his luxuriant black hair while her languorous gaze admired the exotic slash of his cheekbones, the arrogant jut of his nose and the strength of his jaw line. ‘But luckily for you, you’re also incredibly sexy …’

Mikhail tilted his imperious dark head back and laughed out loud. ‘Am I?’

Barely able to credit that she could already be so relaxed in his company that she could tease him, Kat grinned. ‘I think so … but shouldn’t we be joining your guests for a farewell breakfast?’

‘Stop being so sensible,’ Mikhail urged with a frown.

‘I’m always sensible,’ Kat told him ruefully.

‘If you were that sensible you would have avoided me like the plague,’ Mikhail asserted with conviction.

And that he could coolly issue that warning sent a cold shiver down Kat’s vulnerable spine. It was sex, only sex, that had brought them together, she reminded herself urgently, nothing more involved or dangerous. He was fantastic in bed and that was that: she didn’t have any other feelings for him. No, not one single tender feeling or stab of womanly curiosity, she reflected, and on that soothing thought she dragged her fingers out of his hair and shifted off his lap as though someone had harpooned her with a flaming arrow. After all, she didn’t want to give him the impression that he was sleeping with a clinging vine.

‘My mother died when I was six years old,’ Mikhail admitted grudgingly.

‘What did she die of?’ Kat prompted, ignoring the I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-this signals he was emanating in a defensive force field. He never ever mentioned his family or his childhood and, considering that he knew everything there was to know about her, his determined reticence was starting to annoy her.

‘Being pregnant. She went into labour at home. Something went wrong and she bled to death. The baby died as well,’ Mikhail spelt out grimly.

‘That must have been very traumatic for you and your father,’ Kat said quietly, disconcerted by the tragedy he had revealed.

‘If she’d had proper medical attention, she probably would have survived but my father didn’t want her going into hospital.’

Her brow furrowed. ‘Why not?’

Lean, darkly handsome features taut, his black diamond eyes glittered and his handsome mouth compressed into a hard line of dissatisfaction. ‘I don’t want to talk about this. It’s not my favourite topic of conversation … vy menya panimayete … do you understand me?’ he bit out with harsh emphasis, swinging round and striding away.

Kat suppressed a sigh. Three weeks of unparalleled exposure to Mikhail had taught her that she apparently had the tact of an elephant in hobnail boots. She was no good at pussyfooting round the things he didn’t want to discuss. Indeed the minute she realised he was holding back on her that topic became what she most wanted him to talk about. Secrets nagged at her. What was wrong with curiosity? Surely it was natural for her to be curious?

The problem was that in recent weeks she had begun to feel misleadingly close to Mikhail. They had spent so much time together. Another party of guests had come and gone midway through the cruise. Barbecues had been staged on deserted beaches, trips organised to exclusive clubs and designer shops. He had complimented her on her skills as a hostess but she hadn’t had to make much of an effort. She liked meeting different people and loved to ensure that they enjoyed themselves and relaxed. After all, those same traits had once persuaded her to open a guest house. But on a more personal level she could not afford to forget that the man who slept beside her all night long was only a lover and not a partner. There were limits to their relationship and evidently she had just breached them and caused offence. Unfortunately for her, she was continually battling the desire to break down Mikhail’s reserve.

In the office on the upper deck, Mikhail opened his laptop. Kat would sleep in her own bed tonight. He could get along without her for one night. He had never been dependent on a woman in his life and she was no different. Well, she was different in one aspect: he wasn’t tired of her yet, hadn’t yet had enough of that slender, soft-skinned body of hers that melted into his as if she had been created to be his perfect fit. Sex was amazing with her, everything he had ever wanted, everything he had never dreamt he might find with one woman. The pulse at his groin stirred, the stubborn flesh swelling and hardening behind his zip even at the thought of her. Three weeks and she was still turning him on hard and fast. He didn’t like it—he resented her power over him, loathed it when she tried to plunge him into the kind of meaningful dialogue he never had with women. In a sudden movement he snapped the laptop shut again and rose lithely upright, six feet five inches of powerfully frustrated and aggressive male.

‘Where is she?’ he asked Stas, who was hovering by the door.

‘Still out on deck,’ the older man confirmed.

He found Kat leaning against the rail looking out to sea, her dress fluttering against her slim curves in the breeze. His hands came down on her shoulders and she jerked in surprise.

‘Stop snooping,’ Mikhail told her, tugging her back into the hard heat of his big body.

‘I wasn’t snooping!’ Kat argued vehemently without turning her head. ‘I’m not a snoop!’

‘My childhood wasn’t exactly a bowl of cherries,’ Mikhail breathed curtly.

‘Neither was mine but you accept that and move on …’

‘I don’t think about it, so there’s nothing to move on from, milaya moya.’ Mikhail pressed her up against the rail and buried his mouth hungrily in the soft sensitive curve of flesh where her neck joined her shoulder. She shivered, imprisoned by his body, achingly aware of her own and the hunger he could ignite so easily.

‘The fact you don’t think about it and won’t talk about it says it all,’ Kat quipped. ‘Why all the secrecy?’

‘I have no secrets,’ Mikhail fielded.

And not for one moment did Kat believe that claim, for he was a fascinatingly complex man, who revealed very little about himself on a personal level.

‘My mother was from a tribe of nomadic herders in Siberia,’ he volunteered with startling abruptness. ‘My father was trying to buy up oil and gas rights in the region when he saw her. He said it was love at first sight. She was very beautiful but she didn’t speak a word of Russian and she was illiterate—’

‘It sounds very romantic to me,’ Kat said defiantly. ‘He had to marry her before her family would let her go. He took her from life in a herders’ tent and put her in a mansion. He was obsessed with her. He enjoyed the fact that she had to depend on him for everything, that she understood nothing about the life he led or the world he lived in as a wealthy businessman. He liked her ignorance, her subservience,’ Mikhail breathed scathingly. ‘He never took her out. Behind closed doors, he treated her like a domestic slave and when she got things wrong he beat the hell out of her!’

Kat twisted round and focused stricken green eyes on his lean, strong face. ‘Did he beat you as well?’

‘Only when I tried to protect her,’ Mikhail replied, his handsome mouth twisting at the recollection. ‘I was only six when she died, so I might have got in his way a few times but I wasn’t physically capable of preventing him from hurting her. He suffered from violent rages yet she worshipped the ground he walked on because she didn’t know any better. She thought it was her duty to make her husband happy and if he wasn’t happy she believed it was her fault.’

‘It was probably the way she was raised. It’s hard to shake that kind of conditioning,’ Kat muttered soothingly, sensing the pain that he refused to express. There had been violence in his childhood. He had loved and pitied his mother and had been powerless to help her. She could imagine the wound of regret and frustration that that must have engraved on his soul.

‘You fight me every step of the way,’ Mikhail pointed out.

‘Maybe you would have preferred a subservient woman—’

No!’ The interruption was harsh, unequivocal. ‘I wouldn’t want you if you were scared of me or always trying to impress or please me.’

‘I never really understood why you do want me,’ Kat murmured truthfully.

Mikhail flipped her round and stared down at her with smouldering dark eyes. ‘You don’t need to understand.’

Long fingers were gently smoothing her upper arms, awakening her to the hunger she couldn’t restrain. He mightn’t scare her but the hunger did. It overpowered her will, made her desperate and needy, two things she always hid from him. Even now, when he simply looked at her, arousal ran like a current of fire through her body as her breasts swelled and peaked and liquid heat curled between her thighs.

‘I want you now, moyo zolotse,’ he husked and the dark rough edge of his voice slid over her senses like silk.

‘Because I upset you—’

‘I wasn’t upset—’

Her winged brows arched in disbelief at the claim. ‘You were furious!’

An appreciative laugh was wrenched from Mikhail. His face etched with amusement. He really was a breathtakingly handsome man, she conceded dizzily. He pulled her up against him, fingertips brushing a slender thigh as he lifted her skirt.

‘I was about to say that you’ll never make diplomatic status but perhaps I was wrong. You’re bare and you know how much I like that.’ Mikhail breathed a little raggedly as he scooped her off her feet and carried her back indoors.

Her face was burning with colour. She was a shameless hussy who rarely wore a full set of underwear in his radius. Three weeks as this man’s lover had changed her and she didn’t think she could ever go back to the prim and cautious woman she had been before. Although she was always waiting to see him betray some sign of boredom or lack of interest, he never seemed to get enough of her.

He settled her down on the bed and stood over her, ripping off his shirt to expose the six-pack abs that she so admired and unzipping his chino pants to reveal a very healthy erection. She reached out to touch him, stroking his thick hardness with gentle fingers, watching his eyes narrow below his lush lashes and shimmer with unashamed desire. He came down on top of her and kissed her with hungry driving urgency, his tongue stabbing between her parted with lips with an erotic skill.

He wasn’t prepared to free her for long enough to remove her dress in the proper fashion and as he attempted to impatiently extract her from its folds fabric ripped and she gasped, ‘Mikhail! I liked this dress—’

With a stifled curse he concluded the struggle by pulling it over her head and finally flung it aside. ‘Ti takaya valnuyishaya … you are so exciting. I can’t wait—’

‘We only got out of bed a couple of hours ago,’ Kat reminded him, swiping the tip of her tongue over his wide full lower lip, loving the scent and the taste of him.

‘Obviously you should have given me more attention while we were there,’ Mikhail quipped speciously, his hands cupping the soft full mounds of her breasts and rubbing her straining pink nipples, so that her breath caught in her throat and the smart answer on the tip of her tongue got lost somewhere in the passage from her brain.

Her eyes drifted closed as he kissed her again and stroked between her legs. She quivered, hips rising as he pleasured her with consummate sizzling ease, touching her where she needed to be touched, setting alight every nerve ending in her writhing body until an uncontrollable ache built at the heart of her.

‘You’re so hot and tight,’ Mikhail growled against her throat, pushing back from her to close his hands round her waist and turn her over onto her stomach. ‘I need you now.’

He tugged up her hips and sank into her in one long deep thrust that made her cry out in shock and delight. Her level of pleasure went into overload as he took her hard and fast. Intense sensation laced with wild excitement seized hold of her. The slam of his body into hers kicked off a chain reaction of spellbinding heat in her pelvis. The excitement surged to an unbearable level and she was gasping, whimpering, begging until the skilled brush of his thumb over her clitoris sent her rocketing into a blazing paradise of erotic pleasure that splintered through her quivering length like an explosion. She collapsed down on the bed as he groaned his own release into her shoulder.

‘You’re crushing me,’ she protested, struggling desperately to catch her breath again.

Mikhail expelled his breath and released her from his weight, rolling onto the bed beside her before pulling her back into his arms to kiss her with lingering appreciation. ‘You set me on fire,’ he muttered thickly. ‘But the moment I stop I only want to do it again—’

‘Forget it … I won’t be capable of moving again this side of midnight,’ Kat mumbled, her body still pulsing and thrumming from the intensity of her climax, her limbs resting so heavily on the mattress that they felt like iron weights.

‘I’m ready and willing to do all the work.’ But then, in a disconcertingly sudden movement, Mikhail fell back from her and swore in Russian. ‘I didn’t use a condom!’

Consternation gripped Kat. She sat up, seriously startled by that admission, for he never took risks in that department. No matter when or where they made love he was always careful to use contraception to protect her. Being in a relationship where pregnancy could even be a risk was, however, still so new and surprising to Kat that her mind refused to even estimate the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy.

‘And if my calculations are correct we may have chosen a bad day to be careless,’ Mikhail breathed tautly, his strong jaw line hardening at the prospect. ‘Less than two weeks have passed since your last period, which puts us slap bang in the middle of your fertile phase.’

His intimate grasp of the workings of her female body embarrassed Kat, but there was no hiding such facts in a relationship such as theirs. ‘But I’m at an age where my fertility is probably going downhill,’ she told him thinly, not really wanting to be reminded of that possibility but keen to stop him worrying.

‘These days lots of women are giving birth in their forties,’ Mikhail fielded drily. ‘I doubt that you have any grounds to assume that you’re infertile.’

‘Well, let’s hope we don’t have cause to find out whether I am or not,’ Kat muttered ruefully, sliding off the bed and heading into the bathroom because all of a sudden she needed a moment alone and unobserved.

The Kat she saw reflected in the mirror was all shaken up, her eyes dazed, her face pale and troubled. An affair seemed trouble free until the real world threatened and there could be nothing more real world than an accidental pregnancy. For goodness’ sake, her sister Emmie was pregnant and hadn’t she disapproved, deemed her irresponsible and feared for her sibling’s future? How much less excuse did she have at her age? She should have taken care of birth control even before she got on the yacht. Better safe than sorry should have been her guiding principle. She had been so sure she wouldn’t end up in Mikhail’s bed and where had that belief got her?

Mikhail joined her in the shower. He ran a reproving fingertip along the anxious line of her compressed lips. ‘Stop worrying about it. If you conceive, we’ll handle it together. We’re not frightened teenagers,’ he pointed out levelly.

But the day after tomorrow she would be leaving the yacht and he would no longer be part of her life. He had said nothing to make her think otherwise and she preferred that. She didn’t want him promising to phone and then not bothering. She had fallen in love with him but that wasn’t his fault. He had made her no promises and told her no lies. So, how had she managed to fall for him?

Was it when he first ensured that she got her favourite chocolate breakfast drink every morning even though he thought it was a disgustingly sweet concoction? When he started teaching her simple words of Russian? When he tolerated her obsession with a certain television reality show and let her watch it even though it bored him to death? Or was it when he most unexpectedly ran her a hot bath when she found herself suffering one evening from embarrassing cramps? Or even when he treated her as though she was the only woman in the world for him, angling his head down to catch her every word, offering advice on the way she handled her sisters, telling her where she had gone wrong with her guest house? No, Mikhail’s full attention was not all a source of joy, she conceded with wry amusement, for he thought he knew everything and that there was no problem he could not fix.

Sometimes she lay awake in bed beside him, studying his lean bronzed profile and the black lashes almost hitting his spectacular cheekbones, and she would try to remember what life had been like without him. Unhappily for her, she didn’t want to remember that time or the absence of fun and passion that had made her life so colourless and predictable. Life was never that predictable in Mikhail’s radius. It shocked her that she could have lived so many years without ever discovering such joy and delight in another person.


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