A month with the ruthless Russian…
Kat Marshall has sacrificed everything for her younger sisters. And with money tighter than ever, she’s in desperate need of help. Innocent Kat has hidden her dreams away until she meets enigmatic Russian, Mikhail Kusnirovich, whose outrageous offer could make them all come true…. Billionaire Mikhail doesn’t have dreams. He has money, lots of it, and he always gets what he wants. Bedding Kat should be easy, but the tempting redhead is impossible to seduce! So Mikhail offers to pay off her debts-in exchange for a month on his yacht, and in his cabin, virginity included!
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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 toinflame 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.