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Грэхем Линн

The Pregnancy Shock

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Chapter Three

‘THAT should wrap it up,’ Alexei pronounced, stabbing a final button on the keyboard before pushing away his laptop in a rare gesture of rejection. Rising up, he stretched like a lion, flexing strong muscles bunched up by the constraint of sitting at a desk before shrugging back his sleeve to check the slender gold Rolex on his wrist. It was after one in the morning. ‘You should have told me how late it was.’

Blinking, Billie stifled a yawn. ‘I did.

That quiet rejoinder made his handsome mouth quirk. Billie was the only employee who ever answered him back. He studied her with narrowed eyes, taking in the white sleeveless top she wore and the full rounded thrust of her breasts against the fine cotton that was pulling at the pearl buttons. More than a lush handful, he calculated, pressure building at his groin as he instinctively pictured the baring of her firm pink-tipped flesh. He was startled by his reaction. Evidently, it had been too long since he had been with a woman, he reflected in exasperation.

Even as he looked, Billie was reaching for the jacket she had removed. In the past two years during which Billie had been on his staff, she was always covered up, buttoned up, zipped up, just as her hair was always clipped, plaited or tied—everything held in tight restraint. In an age when other women were happy to reveal as much flesh as possible, Billie’s modesty made her stand out from the crowd. Even when she went swimming she donned a modest black swimsuit that would not have shamed a nun. Yet the feminine my stique she was careful to preserve was strangely and powerfully sexy, Alexei acknowledged. Odd, too, how he felt guilty even thinking about her in such a way. But then he was almost certain that, rare as it would be, Billie was still a virgin.

‘You’ll have to stay here tonight. You can’t disturb your mother this late,’ he commented, lifting the house phone to issue instructions to the housekeeper, Anatalya.

‘I’m sure it won’t bother her if I wake her up,’ Billie protested, uneasy at the prospect of spending the night at the Drakos villa where she generally felt like a peasant-born intruder.

‘Don’t make a fuss,’ Alexei groaned in all-male irritation, silencing her.

Behind his back, Billie flushed at the reproof. The door opened, revealing not the maid she had expected, but Alexei’s mother, Natasha.

‘I’ll show you upstairs,’ the tall, still-beautiful brunette said with an artificial smile. Billie was never more conscious of her humble little-island-girl beginnings than she was in the radius of Alexei’s glamorous and patronising mother.

Alexei said something in Russian to the older woman. Dark eyes warming only as they rested on her only child, Natasha left the room to escort Billie up the palatial staircase. ‘Do you often work this late for my son?’

‘Not that often. But I’m very well paid, Mrs Drakos. Occasional long hours go with the territory,’ Billie pointed out.

A door was pressed open. Rather stiff and taut, Billie walked in. She was always aware that Alexei’s mother didn’t approve of her working for Alexei. She had no idea why, only the vague suspicion that Natasha didn’t think Lauren Foster’s daughter was good enough to work in so trusted a position.

Her reluctant hostess was already turning to leave when Billie noticed the man’s shirt lying discarded on the carpet and put two and two together fast. ‘Is this…Alexei’s room?’ she breathed in dismay.

‘Why, yes, I assumed that…’ Natasha Drakos gave a little suggestive shrug of her slim shoulders.

‘You assumed wrong.’ It was Alexei’s assured drawl from behind the older woman that broke the tension and the brief, awkward silence that had fallen.

Billie’s face was drenched with colour and she could barely bring herself to look at him or his parent. ‘I really think I should go home—’

‘I’m sorry,’ Natasha Drakos murmured. ‘I misunderstood.’

Rather than make more of a scene, Billie allowed herself to be shown into the room next door but she felt humiliated. She was well qualified and she performed her job to the highest standards, for no Drakos had yet been born capable of accepting shoddy work. Why did Alexei’s mother have to assume that her role automatically extended to warming her son’s bed? That was a very demeaning supposition. Locked in that thought, she was then nonplussed by the discovery that her hostess had yet to leave her alone.

‘You probably think you’re very clever getting so close to Alexei and worming your way into his confidence,’ the older woman breathed with cold dark eyes, her angry hostility laid bare now that her son was no longer within hearing. ‘But you’re wasting your time. He’s a Drakos and, although he’ll think nothing of sleeping with you when there’s not a more attractive prospect available, he’ll never marry beneath him.

Billie did momentarily toy with the idea of responding with the simple fact that Alexei’s father had done exactly that when he chose to wed his pregnant mistress, a little-known fashion model from a poverty-stricken home in some obscure industrial town in Russia. But Billie had never been bitchy and she was reluctant to rattle Natasha’s cage when she was an increasingly frequent visitor to the villa.

With that acid condemnation, Natasha mercifully departed and Billie exhaled. At least she now knew why Alexei’s mother didn’t like her. She thought Billie was too close to her son and in spite of Alexei’s denial that he and his PA were intimate, Natasha remained unconvinced. Initially, Billie was vaguely amused to think she could figure as a clever, calculating gold-digger in Natasha’s eyes, but she was not at all amused by the comment that Alexei would only sleep with her if she was the only woman available to slake his high-voltage libido.

How much more hurtful and wounding could one woman be to another? Billie wondered once she had got into the comfortable bed. She was already very much aware that she was not good looking. After all, she had grown up in the shadow of a handsome mother and Alexei’s women were always noted beauties. Billie knew her best points and her worst ones. She was now also wondering if it had been a mistake not to date at least one of the men who had asked her out since she started working for Alexei. Perhaps if, at some stage, she had had a boyfriend Alexei’s mother would not have regarded her with such poisonous suspicion.

Billie lay in the moonlit room and mulled over the awful truth that daily exposure to Alexei had made other men pale by comparison. Alexei had more sex appeal than any man she had ever met. Although she tried not to think about her employer on those terms, he was gorgeous to look at and usually very entertaining to be with, because he was clever, witty and dynamic while also being amazingly attuned to what women liked. Only Alexei would order her a hot chocolate topped with melted marshmallows at the end of a particularly long or difficult day, or send her for a relaxing hot stone massage when she got headaches at that certain time of the month. Times without number he’d picked up on things other men would have failed to notice.

Maybe, Billie began thinking anxiously, it was her own fault that Alexei’s mother had thought it necessary to warn Billie off her son. Maybe her own behaviour was to blame for Natasha’s belief that she shared Alexei’s bed. Just at that moment it suddenly struck Billie that, for a mere employee, she was far too attached to Alexei. Somewhere down the line her protective barriers had crumbled. Alexei was brilliant in business and working for him was exciting. But she admired him too much, she conceded grudgingly. When once she had disapproved of his energetic sex life, now she turned her head away from the evidence of it, reasoning that his lovers were experienced women who knew the score. When had she started making excuses for his lifestyle?

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