The Rings that Bind(7)

By: Michelle Smart

Nico nodded, understanding. ‘I like the idea of a wife who can accompany me to functions and hold an intelligent conversation.’ He chose his words carefully. ‘But the thought of all that emoting couples are supposed to do leaves me cold.’

‘Tell me about it,’ she agreed with pursed lips.

He looked, at her—really looked at her. Serge’s assessment had been right. Rosa would be an asset to any businessman. And he would be that businessman.

She could be a female version of him! Both were perfectionists. Both were dedicated to their work. Nico had long wanted marriage for the respectability it afforded, but after Galina—his one heavy entanglement and the only failure in his life—he had known he was not cut out for relationships. He was not made that way.

‘We could marry,’ he said idly, watching closely for her reaction.

The vodka Rosa had just poured into her mouth was spat out.

‘Think about it,’ he said, warming to his theme. ‘We would be perfect together.’

‘Yes,’ she said, pulling a face once she had finished choking. ‘And all those socialites would have to stop harassing you for marriage.’

‘More importantly, from your perspective, Stephen would get the picture that you are never coming back. But that’s neither here nor there. You are a woman of great intellect. We work well together. There is no reason we could not have a successful marriage.’

‘This all sounds fabulous,’ she said, with a roll of her eyes. ‘But there are a couple of slight problems.’

‘Which are?’

‘One: we don’t fancy each other.’

Even Nico was vain enough to bristle slightly at that remark. ‘That means there is no chance of us falling into bed and messing things up by letting emotions get in the way.’ Although, looking at her, he had to admit there was something appealing about her in a fresh-faced, pretty kind of way. Not that he would ever be tempted to do anything about it. No. Rosa was not his type at all.

‘Two.’ She ticked the number off on her fingers. ‘I don’t believe in mixing business with pleasure.’

‘Neither do I. But as this is a business proposal that would not be a problem.’

Her eyes suddenly widened. ‘My God, are you serious?’

‘Absolutely. Think about it, Rosa. We would be perfect together. We both want marriage...’

‘Just not to anyone who would expect us to compromise our lives for it,’ she finished with an unexpected sparkle.

‘This calls for a drink.’ He poured them both another hefty measure of vodka and chinked his glass to hers. On the count of three they downed them.

Done, Nico reached for his smartphone and started a search.

‘We can marry here, tonight, in California,’ he said, reading quickly. ‘As long as we’ve got our passports, we’re good to go.’

‘Excellent.’ She pulled her briefcase onto her lap and rummaged through it.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Looking for a pen and some paper.’

‘What for?’

She had looked at him, amusement written all over her face. ‘If we’re going to get married it’s only right we make a contract for it. Shall I write it in English or Russian?’

And that had been it. They had married, still slightly tipsy, the next morning.

Not once had he been given cause to regret their impulsive decision—the only impulsive decision he had made in his thirty-six years.

And now she had the nerve to sit there, eleven months on, and tell him she had changed her mind.

Not only that, but she had slept with her ex.

A wave of nausea rolled through his stomach—so violent he almost retched.

He was in no position to complain. He should be able to accept that. They had made an agreement that theirs would be an open marriage. As long as they exercised discretion they could sleep with whomever they chose.

Was he not a modern, twenty-first-century man? He had no right to feel possessive about a woman who was his wife in name only.

Intellectually, he knew all the right things to think.

Under the surface of his skin, though, his latent Neanderthal had reared up and punched him hard, right in the solar plexus.

She had slept with someone else. That little gem had lodged in his chest and was piercing into him with regular stabbing motions.

She had slept with someone else and had the nerve to think that she could call the shots.

He had bought her a birthday present. The first personal gift he had ever bought a woman. And she had slept with someone else.

Had she slept with her ex as punishment for him not returning in time for her birthday? With any other woman the answer would be a resounding yes. But Rosa was not made in the same mould as other women. Or so he had thought.

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