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The Drakos Affair: The Pregnancy Shock

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A FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE vehicle collected Alexei and Billie at the harbour. Billie was observing a rigorous silence.

‘I’ve never known you to sulk before,’ Alexei murmured with withering bite.

Her teeth were clenched together so hard that she was surprised they didn’t chip. ‘As far as I’m concerned you invaded my private life last night in a way that you had no right to do,’ Billie responded brittlely.

Alexei closed a hard hand over hers and pulled on it to make her turn round and look at him. His heavily lashed golden eyes struck hers boldly head-on. ‘I did what had to be done. You have no father, no brother, no other male relative or boyfriend, who can protect your interests. In their absence I count myself a friend as well as an employer. I took care of Dean Evans in a way that he understood.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’ A suspicion belatedly occurred to Billie and she gave him a shocked appraisal. ‘Surely you didn’t hit him?’

‘Did you think that I would shake hands with him for what he did?’ Alexei flung his handsome dark head back, his stunning bone structure full of proud challenge. ‘Yes, I hit him.’

In mute despair, Billie shook her vibrant head, the bright hair she had left loose to hide her swollen face behind rippling round her cheekbones. She said nothing, knew there was no point saying anything, and that any local man witnessing such an act the night before would have heartily applauded Alexei’s violence. On every primitive masculine level, Alexei had been raised to react with the raw aggression of a caveman. Crossed in business, he hit back hard and his enmity was feared in the marketplace since he never forgot a slight. He would never turn the other cheek. He would find it impossible to forgive without having first meted out punishment.

‘Well, I wish you hadn’t got involved. I don’t need anyone but myself to look after my interests.’

‘You are very fortunate to have me,’ Alexei responded as if she hadn’t spoken and he gave her a glance of such fierce conviction and confidence in that statement that he left her bereft of speech.

When the four-wheel-drive turned off the road that followed the shoreline up a rough grassy lane, Billie frowned. ‘Where are we going?’

The security guard driving them stopped the car and got out to open the door beside her, forcing her to climb out.

‘I want to show you something…’

Billie swallowed a weary sigh, knowing better than to question a male whose every thought and idea seemed embedded in a driven need to make another fortune on top of the many he had already acquired. Walking into the sloping field, sheep scattering at their every step, Billie glanced in bemusement at Alexei. ‘Isn’t this too close to your family home for a tourist development?’

‘I own this plot and I’m not planning a development here personally,’Alexei said drily. ‘ I’m offering it to you to enable you to build a house.’

Her green eyes opened very wide and she stared at him. ‘I couldn’t afford to buy this—’

‘The plot would be a gift. From my point of view it would be convenient to have you living close by.’

‘A gift? For goodness’ sake, what would your family think?’ Billie lifted an arm to indicate the fabulous view of the bay where the turquoise ocean below washed a long crescent of pale sand. ‘A site like this must be worth a fortune!’

‘I could give you a house in the village. Of course it would mean chucking out the existing tenants first.’

‘Don’t even think about it!’ Billie shot back at him in horror.

‘And a village house, even if there was one currently available, wouldn’t address your problems.’

‘For the last time, I don’t have any problems!’

‘You’re too loyal to acknowledge the strife your mother creates for you, and as long as you live in the village you will still be dragged into Lauren’s messy life. But if you have your own home at this end of the island, you will be left in peace,’ Alexei pronounced.

There was a good deal of truth in what he had said and the idea of a private base where she would be far removed from Lauren’s adventurous love life was a huge draw. ‘I couldn’t possibly accept a site from you. Your mother is already suspicious of me.’

Alexei laughed. ‘So what? Live the life you want, not the life other people would lay out for you.’

‘If only life were that simple…’

Alexei closed a strong hand over hers before she could walk away. Glittering golden eyes assailed hers in stubborn challenge. ‘It is you who makes it complicated. I have more wealth than I could spend in a score of lifetimes. You need an independent home outside the village. You can build a house here and pay for it in stages. If you require finance I will give it to you.

Your only other option will be to take up permanent residence in one of my family’s guest suites.’

‘But I’m hardly ever here!’ she protested.

‘That situation is about to change radically. My father is feeling his age and I have agreed to assume control of Drakos Shipping. I will be spending much more time on the island and you are my most trusted employee. So, cease this argument right now,’ Alexei advised impatiently. ‘You could make a proper home in this place. You know it makes sense.’

Her slender fingers flexed in the hold of his. His expectant gaze was on her, his domineering will bearing down on her like a powerful weight. She made a last ditch attempt to regain equality. ‘If I accept the site, you will have to accept part ownership of any house that I build. That would be the only fair solution.’

Gazing down at her with deceptively indolent eyes of dark gold, a wicked slanting grin slowly slashed Alexei’s wide sensual mouth. ‘If I were to own a share of your house, it would give my mother sleepless nights!’

‘But it would give me peace. I just couldn’t accept the site as a gift. It’s too valuable,’ Billie told him in an urgent rush. ‘You could explain the situation to her.’

‘It is no business of hers.’Alexei stared down intently into the vivid little face so familiar to him that he could instantly discard any awareness of her bruises. Sincerity shone in her clear green eyes while her coppery hair snaked in bold strands across her cheekbones. No woman had ever fought to come up with a way of accepting a gift from him while returning the value of it. He wondered why money had less of a hold on her than on others of her sex. He wondered why he had never noticed before that she had a soft pink mouth as firm and luscious as a ripe peach. Hunger stirred arousal and a familiar delicious heaviness formed at his groin.

Billie felt the change in atmosphere with every fibre of her being but could no more have stepped away than she could have stopped breathing. His gilded gaze was mesmeric in its power to hold her. Her mouth ran dry, frantic tension holding her fast. The pool of liquid heat forming in her belly was sending an electrifying surge of responsiveness through her entire body, pinching her sensitive nipples taut, creating heat and dampness at the secret heart of her.

Alexei closed his arms round her. Cupping her hips with an intimacy that shocked her, he drew her up against his hard muscular length and kissed her. It was a kiss full of a passionate demand that rocked her where she stood. It was like being hit by lightning as she sizzled like meat under a grill and her knees almost crumpled beneath her weight.

It was Alexei’s strong arms that kept her upright while he lightened the pressure of his intoxicating mouth and teased her reddened lips with tiny provocative caresses. Having reduced all resistance to rubble, he finally went in for the kill, dipping his tongue between her lips in a piercingly sweet invasion of her unbearably sensitive mouth and provoked a series of whimpering shivering gasps from somewhere inside her. It was the very first time she had experienced true sexual hunger and it was a raw need so powerful it rolled through her like thunder, blanking out all thought and control. For those split seconds she was both defenceless and aggressive, clinging to his lean hard physique, angling her head back to enable him, her entire body yearning for much more of the same.

‘Will I be the first?’ Alexei prompted in a roughened undertone.

‘Yes,’ she answered before she retrieved her wits and intelligence came back in a floodtide of anxiety and anger and regret. As she pulled free in response to those promptings the slivering pain of sudden separation from him cut through her as sharply as a knife.

Retaining a controlling grip on her slender hand, Alexei walked her back towards the car.

Billie hauled her fingers free of his. ‘No!’ she protested strickenly. ‘I don’t want this!’

Alexei stilled and sent her a frowning look of incomprehension. ‘What don’t you want?’

‘I don’t want to be another notch on your bedpost. Just roll back time a few minutes, please! The kiss didn’t happen, forget it. You’re my boss. I work for you…Neither of us wants to change that relationship!’

‘You sound almost hysterical.’ Hot golden eyes semi-screened by luxuriant black lashes, Alexei squared his aggressive jaw line. ‘Everything changes, nothing stays static—that’s life and you can’t control it.

You can’t turn the clock back either. I want to take this attraction to its natural conclusion, moraki mou.’

‘Only because you’re not accustomed to any woman calling a halt…but I am calling a halt. I’m not like your other women…I don’t do casual,’ Billie proclaimed with proud vehemence.

‘The spark we fired between us is too hot to douse,’ Alexei delivered thickly, dark golden eyes locked to her like an incoming missile attack, making it clear that nothing she had said had impressed him.

‘It was just sex,’ she argued. ‘And sex you can get anywhere with women far more beautiful than I am, so forget it and me in that line!’

‘While I can still taste you in my mouth,’ Alexei murmured huskily, shooting her a shockingly sensual appraisal that burned through her like a hot burning coal. ‘I won’t forget how you made me ache.’

‘Stop it…’ Billie raised her hands to silence him in a rare physical show of eloquence. ‘Stop it! It was a stupid kiss, a mistake, but it’s not important and it’s never going to happen again.’

Alexei stretched out his arms without warning and hauled her back to him, reconnecting her to the lean, tensile power of his muscular thighs and the potent thrust of his erection. Holding her entrapped, he stared down at her with all the cool of a predator stalking prey who knew he had all the time in the world. ‘You can’t tell me it’s not going to happen again—that will only make me want you more.’

Awesomely conscious of the deep desperate longing still whirling inside her and crying out for satisfaction, Billie rested pleading green eyes on him. ‘You know this is wrong. You know you would much rather have me working for you than having sex with you,’ she told him feverishly.

‘But having you fulfil both functions could well be an amazing tour de force,’ Alexei countered with single-minded conviction. ‘I would cut down on the other women.’

Billie almost screamed in frustration because no statement could have told her more clearly how out of alignment they both were. He was not only not getting her message, but also stubbornly refusing to listen to it.

‘And that statement just shows how ill-suited we would be, because I wouldn’t accept you having any other women! I wouldn’t share you. No matter how many diamonds and treats you flung my way it wouldn’t buy you back your freedom at the same time as you were with me.’

Alexei dealt her a lingering appraisal, searching her still-dilated pupils and the revealing redness of her lips while a rueful smile shadowed his beautiful sexy mouth. ‘You’re trying to scare me off—it’s kind of sweet. But you know me better than that. When I want something I keep going until I get it. I don’t switch off to order.’

‘Was this all one big set-up, then? Is this why you’re offering me this magnificent site to build on? Were you trying to buy me?’ Billie flung at him in an emotional surge of accusation.

‘You know me better than that, moraki mou. In any case, I’m more likely to give a reward to a lover at the end of the affair rather than at the beginning,’ Alexei pointed out without an ounce of discomfiture.

Standing there in the sunshine, daring her censure, his lean bronzed features breathtakingly handsome, he could still take her breath away. Billie dropped her gaze and got into the car, wondering if the driver had seen that embrace, praying that he had not. If he had seen it, every member of Alexei’s staff would know about it within twenty-four hours. The Drakos employee grapevine was terrifyingly efficient and the slightest hint that she was more intimate with Alexei than she ought to be would be sufficient to destroy the respect of her coworkers and her reputation.

‘I’ve always been curious about you,’ Alexei volunteered as the car took them back to the harbour. ‘But I didn’t suspect that we might be dynamite together.’

Curious? Would he make love to her out of curiosity alone? Sadly Billie thought that, yes, he would, for novelty attracted Alexei, who with every passing year became more bored with the myriad choices he enjoyed. Why the heck had she admitted that she was still a virgin? It was like whetting the appetite of a big game hunter with the offer of the ultimate quarry. After all, she was different and his lovers, strung across every continent, were almost interchangeable, she reflected tautly. They were actresses, models or socialites, usually tall and blonde, always beautiful, sophisticated and aware that no woman held Alexei’s interest for very long. They entered his life and left it again without causing a single ripple in his routine.

Only one woman had ever dented Alexei’s ego and it had been Lauren who shared that story with Billie. According to island gossip, Alexei had fallen for Calisto Kolovos, the daughter of a rich manufacturer, when he was twenty-one years old. But all along Calisto had had another boyfriend: Xavier Bethune, a much older man who had been a good deal richer and more powerful than Alexei who, in those days, was still dependent on his father. Calisto was said to have married Xavier for his money and, ever since then, Alexei had had a heart of stone when it came to women. Billie was not naïve enough to believe that she could change him. She wanted more than sex from him and, if that was not forthcoming, valued her job more than any short-lived sexual fling that would only last long enough to satisfy his curiosity.

They boarded the yacht together. Tension was simmering like a hissing, boiling pot between them. ‘Alexei…don’t do this,’ Billie urged half under her breath as they crossed the deck.

‘Don’t do what?’ he drawled smooth as glass.

‘It’s not fair to put me in a position like this.’

His bold profile froze.

‘I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,’ she continued awkwardly. ‘I like my job. I want my life to stay the same.’

No woman had ever made a plea to his sense of honour on such terms and it infuriated him that Billie had done so; he felt she should somehow sense that the innate sense of integrity he possessed had the power to make him back off. Dark deep anger burning below the surface, for he was a man very much accustomed to getting his own way, Alexei murmured icily, ‘I find it hard to believe that that is what you want.’

Billie looked towards the sun and wondered how much it resembled the male ego in size and brilliance. Alexei was a hugely powerful and wealthy man, made irresistible by his Greek-god looks and notorious reputation. Women had always wanted Alexei Drakos and it was a truth he had learned so young that her surrender could only seem inevitable to him. ‘In the circumstances—my working for you,’ she extended with care. ‘I don’t want anything to change.’

‘So, if I sack you, I can have you,’ Alexei pronounced flatly.

‘You don’t really want me, you know you don’t. I’m not your type,’ Billie reasoned in a feverish undertone.

‘Make arrangements for a flight to Monaco for me and then take the next couple of days off,’ Alexei instructed just outside the office, startling her. ‘You were assaulted last night. You need recovery time. Naturally you can stay on board Sea Queen.’

And, that fast, she registered that he had listened to her at last. The strangest and most contrary sense of disappointment washed through Billie’s taut figure. The excitement of the chase was over. He had loads of eager female connections in Monaco. Quickly, Alexei would move on, find a more willing woman and forget that he had ever thought she might be worthy of a fling. Her heart felt as if it were being hurled from a cliff down onto jagged rocks. She ignored that fact, her weakness; she had done what had to be done and it was time that she lived a more full life and found a man of her own to be with. In the course of her work, she had turned down many invitations because she had yet to meet anyone who could equal Alexei. But she would have to stop being so picky. By turning away from Alexei, she reminded herself firmly, she kept her excellent job and would hopefully also retain a good working relationship with him.

Alexei was less content. Since when had he, a Drakos male, allowed himself to be upstaged and outmanoeuvred by a female? But she had appealed to his conscience and, although it went against the grain to admit it, she had talked a good deal of sense. Wasn’t that why he employed her? Common sense and calm distinguished Billie and until he had taken that kiss he would have sworn that nothing would faze her. But sex had splintered the calm and put her into retreat. She wasn’t his type, he reminded himself impatiently while he showered later that day on board his private jet. She was just an employee and only in the very early days of creating his empire had he slept with women he employed. There were excellent reasons for respecting boundaries and, even as it was, Billie was always breaking through them and crossing the line. Was that why Billie was the only person in his life who had the power to make him feel human and real? She wasn’t in awe of him, or his wealth or his status. When he had watched her eyes close in dreamy receipt of his mouth he had got a kick out of that susceptibility. At that moment, she had been with him every step of the way.

His brow furrowed. Why the hell was he even still thinking about her? His common sense and practicality did not seem to be the equal of hers, he registered grimly. His libido had him over a barrel. He would have sacrificed their working relationship in a second, had she been waiting in the cabin bed for him…and to hell with the immorality, inconvenience and poor long-term outlook of it all!

Three months after that day, Billie went out on a date with a charming Italian businessman called Pietro Castronovo. He took her out to dinner in a very fancy Florentine restaurant where she toyed with food that was too rich for her taste and tried to respond to his flirtatious chatter.

At ten o’clock, Alexei rang her and wrecked the evening. ‘You should have checked with me before you went out. Pietro is a married man with two kids.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ Billie murmured flatly.

‘I’ve got some work for you to do.’

‘Right now, I’m on an evening out,’ she responded thinly.

‘Surely you’re not planning on spending any more time with a married man?’Alexei enquired sardonically.

Billie came off her phone and apologised to Pietro for having answered it. ‘I always take Alexei’s calls.’

‘You stand very high in his regard,’Pietro commented.

Billie breathed in deep. ‘Are you married?’

Her companion’s thin, good-looking face tightened and she knew the answer before he even parted his lips and acknowledged that he was. ‘I should have asked,’ she said ruefully. ‘I wouldn’t be here if I had known.’

Pietro tried to dissuade her from cutting the evening short, but Billie stood firm and wondered why she was so much angrier with Alexei than with Pietro. After all, Alexei’s warning had been a timely one, coming as it did before she could get any more involved with the handsome Italian. But, somehow, being saved at the eleventh hour from a mistake by a male who had very few morals of his own simply incensed Billie.

When she returned to the penthouse hotel suite Alexei was occupying, Alexei was at work with the rest of the team. She sent him an accusing glance but would not have dreamt of telling him how she felt about his previous phone call in front of an audience. When the business was dealt with, he called her back before she could leave.

‘Did you shake Castronovo off? He was born with the gift of the gab,’ Alexei said very drily. ‘I should have warned you about him.’

‘I am able to look after myself,’ Billie told him starchily. ‘Thank you for the warning on this occasion, but please don’t interfere like that again.’

‘Naturally I interfered. I knew that you wouldn’t intentionally date a married man.’

There was a little devil inside Billie’s head and it deeply resented his assumption that she would never do anything untoward. ‘Actually, that’s not necessarily one hundred per cent true.’

‘You were back at the hotel within thirty minutes of my phone call,’Alexei countered with dark amusement. ‘Don’t be ashamed of your principles. Too many people have none at all.’

And still she had wanted to slap him. Her long-overdue venture onto the dating scene had gone bellyup and left her with egg on her face. The person she most hated for his interference was, without a shadow of a doubt, Alexei. She would never choose to date another woman’s husband, but Alexei had once again managed to make her feel a fool.

Eight months after that mortifying evening, Billie was in a better mood. She was sitting in her office in the Drakos villa on Speros, watching beautiful people through the windows. Got up in their fabulous evening outfits, the guests were laughing and drinking on the terrace outside the entertainment suite. The party she had arranged for Constantine’s eightieth birthday was a huge success. Having made an appearance as instructed and stayed around long enough to check that the party schedule was running smoothly, Billie had bowed out to finish off some work.

In recent months her working hours had been very long, even though she now enjoyed the services of an assistant because her duties currently stretched to taking charge of Alexei’s parents’ social and travel arrangements as well. At the same time, she was making a hundred and one decisions about the building of her new house, which was currently two-thirds of the way towards being completed. She had picked the doors, the door handles, the bathroom and kitchen fittings and tiles. By spring the following year, she would be living under her own roof and could still hardly believe it.

In the planning stage the house had been a nightmare. Since anyone doing anything on Speros always looked first to the local community to supply services and skills, she had hired the island architect, Damon Marios, to design her new home. Damon, long since married and the father of two sturdy children, was still a friend. Alexei, however, had insisted on seeing the plans and changing things, pointing out that if he had an interest in the house, he also had the right to voice his viewpoint and ensure that the property was worthy of the site.

‘I wanted something that fitted in with the island architectural style,’ Billie had argued, fighting for the simple little cottage that Damon had designed.

‘There is no style here.A century ago, dirt-poor people built dwellings that were the cheapest of the cheap,’Alexei had derided, urging Damon to use a little creativity and open up windows and doors to the fabulous views in a much more contemporary—and expensive—approach.

‘Plain can be stylish,’ Billie had said sharply.

‘No wonder people talk about you and Alexei,’ Damon had remarked in the aftermath of hearing that rough-edged exchange of views between them. ‘I can’t believe the way you argue with him.’

‘It may be an unconventional working relationship but it works well for us,’ Billie declared lightly.

It had been easy to silence Damon, make him cloak the curiosity she saw in his eyes, for he was too polite to persist. She was accustomed to being questioned about Alexei and her relationship with him. Just about everyone was madly curious about Alexei: how he lived, what made him tick, his women, his houses, his yachts and his sporting prowess. He provided an endless stream of fascination for others. Since he had taken the helm of Drakos Shipping, he had become a hugely powerful tycoon. The richer he became, the more the media wanted to know about him and the less they found out, because Alexei didn’t grant interviews. Paparazzi lay in wait for his every public appearance but his brutally efficient security team barred and evaded their invasions. Some of his lovers had, of course, gone to the press to sell stories, acts of betrayal that had only increased the level of interest in him and his lifestyle.

‘Billie!’ A voice intervened, separating Billie from her thoughts and making her look up from her computer screen to smile in some dismay at the slender brunette in her fifties framed in the doorway. ‘I knew you would sneak off to work!’ Natasha Drakos scolded. ‘Come back to the party, please.’

Billie surrendered gracefully; Alexei’s mother was a strong-willed woman. From the moment Alexei had taken over the family shipping business, Billie had started working long hours in the office suite at the Drakos villa and inevitably the two women had got to know each other better. While her son flew one woman after another out to Speros for entertainment during his hours of leisure, Natasha had soon realised that she had nothing to fear from Billie and had been considerably more concerned about some of the wilder females in her son’s incomparable little black book.

Billie, a slim, vibrant figure in an apple-green dress, reflected that she had had to build an armour-plated shell to cope with the heartache of constantly seeing Alexei with other women. Her sole consolation was that none of them seemed to have the power to hold onto him for very long. But constantly controlling her thoughts, reactions and expressions in Alexei’s radius was a strain. Even now when she was chatting to his mother about the party, Billie was already bracing herself for a glimpse of Alexei with his current love, the English socialite Tia Flint.

Alexei was so tall that it was the work of a moment to pick him and Tia out of the crowd. Tia, an eye-catching blonde in a black glistening sheath dress, was wound round him like a vine. Billie studied Alexei, noting the stubborn angle of his strong jaw and the distance in his brilliant dark eyes. Tia was giggling and gesticulating with her hands to a bunch of friends nearby. In his tailored dinner jacket, Alexei looked as coolly beautiful and remote as a classic bronze statue.

‘Tia is on the way out,’ Natasha forecast knowledgeably. ‘He’s bored.’

‘Maybe,’ Billie responded, watching the way Tia’s fingers were smoothing acrossAlexei’s shirtfront with the familiarity of a lover. It hurt her to look, yet some awful fascination prevented her from snatching her gaze away.

As the hostess drifted off to relocate her husband Damon crossed the floor to greet Billie. ‘You owe me a dance.’

Billie tensed because Damon’s wife, Ilona, was the possessive type. She had visited the site on several occa-sions and had made it clear that she wanted to be sure that any interaction between her husband and his former school friend remained strictly related to business. ‘Do I?’

‘Sorry, Damon, you missed the boat a long time ago,’ Alexei breathed sardonically, stepping between them without warning and closing an arm round Billie to sweep her straight out onto the dance floor.

‘What on earth are you doing?’ Billie gasped, thoroughly taken aback by his sudden appearance and that crack that harked back nine years to her first crush as a schoolgirl.

‘Saving your good name,’ he censured with a curled lip. ‘Damon’s wife took the kids and went home to her parents last week. His marriage is over. Damon making a beeline for you is a bad idea as you’ll get the blame for breaking them up.’

‘You couldn’t care less about my good name,’ Billie riposted.

Hooded dark golden eyes dropped to her tense heart-shaped face. ‘Damon’s looking for consolation, so give him a wide berth. Remember the guy who cut you dead on the ferry all those years ago. You look sexy in green—’

‘Out of line, Alexei,’ Billie framed, wildly aware of the strength and power of his tall, well-built body against hers and the hand splayed to her taut spine. She was barely able to breathe for nerves. ‘Where’s Tia?’

‘With her friends. She’s drunk and angry I won’t go to the races with her next week. Organise a flight home for her tomorrow.’

‘Yes.’ So, Tia was yesterday’s news. However, the ef-fervescent blonde had lasted six weeks, which was a good month longer than many did.

The hand at her spine eased down to her derrière. Heat curled in her pelvis, her breasts stirring within the confines of her bra, the nipples distending in response.

‘Oh…look at your parents out on the terrace!’ Billie suddenly exclaimed, and she stilled to watch the older couple dancing outside alone. ‘They’re really enjoying their party.’

Alexei lowered his arrogant dark head, his breath fanning her cheek. The familiar scent of him, a specific aroma composed of warm husky male and the designer cologne he wore, assailed her nostrils and sent an arrowsharp dart of longing through her. If he came too close she suffered that instinctive response half a dozen times in her working day. The awesome physical awareness he could inflict on her was terrifying.

Alexei held her back from him the better to look at her. Simmering dark golden eyes roamed over her like caramel melting on a hot day, burning everywhere his gaze touched. ‘Stop trying to change the subject,’ he husked. ‘The way that fabric clings to your breasts is indecent and very flattering.’

And she glanced down and saw that her prominent nipples were clearly visible beneath her frock. Mortification engulfed her like a tidal wave. A hot pink flared up below her fine skin and washed her face with colour. Turning on her heel, she walked off the floor, furious with him, furious with herself. He was baiting her. He knew she was still attracted to him and he used it like a weapon against her. But she shouldn’t have reacted.

The party, Billie decided ruefully, would be fine without her. She smiled at the touching recollection of Alexei’s parents wrapped in each others’arms as they danced alone outside. It did not occur to her, nor indeed to anyone else that evening, that this image might be one of the last she or they would ever have of the older couple…


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