Purchased by the ruthless tycoon
From the moment he sees Abbey at a charity fashion show, Russian tycoon Nikolai Arlov wants every inch of that curvy, creamy body. When she refuses him, he mercilessly switches tactics, aiming straight for her vulnerable heart. With her family’s business in serious trouble, Abbey knows Nikolai’s money is their only hope. She submits to his lethal brand of seduction and blackmail-ready and willing to do anything he desires. Only, Nikolai has no idea his reluctant mistress is…a virgin.
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‘YOU look amazing,’ Sally, the beautician, chattered as she fanned out Abbey’s unruly mane of flame-coloured curls over her slim shoulders. ‘You’re going to be the star tonight.’
Abbey seriously doubted that forecast and reckoned that only a woman confident of her face and body would actually want to take part in a fashion show. She was only there by default, stepping in last minute for the amateur model who had twisted her knee in a fall during the dress rehearsal. Abbey had never liked either her face or her body. When she was a child the mirror had been her enemy, destroying her every dream of being a fairy princess in disguise.
One of her earliest memories had been of hearing her father complain that she was an ugly duckling. Sadly for her, however, the swan phase had failed to transpire, Abbey reflected wryly. Her hair had stayed defiantly red, her freckles had increased and her elongated gawky legs had continued to ensure that she towered over most people at a comfortable five feet nine inches in her bare feet. In her opinion, her unfashionably large breasts and hips only increased her oddness. Only once in her life had Abbey considered herself blessed by any claim to attraction. That had been the miraculous day when Jeffrey Carmichael had asked her out. During the months that had run up to their wedding day the world had truly seemed to be a joyous place sprinkled with stardust and happiness. But even Jeffrey had once suggested that she might look better as a blonde.
‘Caroline is incredible,’ Sally commented as a fair-haired woman in a wheelchair sped busily past. ‘I really do admire her. To have lost so much and still be so keen to help others.’
‘That’s Caroline all over,’ Abbey agreed as she admired her brother’s wife equally. Caroline might have lost the power of her legs six years earlier, but she still cared for her husband and two children, met the demands of a full-time job and made room for fund-raising activities to support Futures, the spinal injuries charity that had helped her in her hour of need. The fashion show that Abbey had helped to organise was being held in aid of Futures.
‘Someone told me that she got hurt in a car crash on her brother’s wedding day…’
‘Yes,’ Abbey confirmed, her freckles standing out against her sudden pallor. ‘A drunk driver.’
‘I’m sure I read about it in the newspaper at the time.’
‘There was a lot of press coverage.’ Abbey did not want to think back to what had happened to the wedding party that dark, wet October day. One moment she’d had everything to live for, the next nothing, but she knew how lucky she was to have emerged virtually unscathed from the wreckage. Her brother’s life had been torn apart and, although the pessimistic had forecast otherwise, his marriage had survived the cruel blow that Caroline had suffered.
‘Love the make-up, Sally,’ Caroline remarked, wheeling to a halt beside them. ‘You’ve done Abbey proud.’
‘It wasn’t difficult. She’s got great bones and eyes.’
‘You look wonderful,’ Caroline told her sister-in-law warmly.
Abbey studied her reflection. She thought she looked outrageous with her violet-coloured eyes smothered in exotic plum shades and glitter and diamante shimmering in an artistic arc across her cheekbones, but she supposed that the spectacular heavy make-up was all part and parcel of the illusion of glamour. ‘Is Drew here yet?’ she enquired.
Caroline’s face shadowed. ‘No. He was still at the office when I called.’
Abbey felt Caroline’s disappointment and wondered what her brother was playing at. Nobody had worked harder than Caroline to get this show on the road and she deserved for her husband to take respectful notice of her achievement. But, then, the family concierge business, Support Systems, had recently moved to upmarket premises in Knightsbridge and hired more staff, substantially increasing overheads. As a result, all of them were working longer hours and dealing with more clients. Abbey adored the busyness and variety of her job. Customers hired them to take care of everything they could not find the time to do for themselves—wide-ranging tasks that ran from walking the dog and picking up dry cleaning to booking holidays, shopping for presents and finding domestic staff and repairmen.
It was all a far cry from the life her snobbish sexist father would have chosen for her. He had refused to allow her to go to university or to train for a profession. Abbey remained painfully aware that, next to her brother, she had been a nobody in her father’s eyes. The older man had often treated his only daughter as an irritation and a disappointment. In fact only on the day Abbey married Jeffrey had her father looked at her with approval and pride as if marriage to a successful man was her biggest achievement.
‘You look like the Queen in Snow White,’ her niece, Alice, whispered, big eyes fixed in fascination to her aunt’s face.
‘The baddie who thought she was gorgeous and cracked the magic mirror she was always talking to?’ Abbey groaned.