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Behind the Palace Walls
‘Kiss me,’ he growled… ‘And make it believable.’
Alone and scared on the dark streets of Moscow, staid, bespectacled Paige Barnes has no choice but to comply with the handsome stranger’s command…
Little does Paige know she’s been rescued by Alexei Voronov—a Russian prince and her boss’s deadliest rival. Now he has Paige unexpectedly in his sights, Alexei is prepared to play emotional Russian roulette to keep her close and discover her true motives. But in his splendid gilded palace his game of chance spins out of control and passion takes over…
It’s only when she’s back home that Paige realises she’s pregnant with the Prince’s baby…
Read an Excerpt
Paige was warm and cozy. Something soft nestled against her cheek as she stirred. She smiled, sighing as she burrowed deeper beneath the cover. The hotel bed was comfortable, but it felt different tonight than it had the night before. Firmer. And why was she still wearing her clothes?
A tendril of unease twisted through her. Something wasn’t right. Her eyes popped open—a second later, she bolted upright. Her gaze darted around the room, but nothing was familiar.
Where was she?
Her surroundings were luxurious—the couch she lay on was covered in silk brocade, oil paintings adorned the walls, and the cover she’d been snuggling into was made out of some kind of fur.
A fire burned softly in the grate, the only sound in the room. Paige stood, wrapping the blanket around her though she was still fully clothed, and turned in a circle. She didn’t have a watch, and she’d lost her cell phone in the square. She had no idea what time it was, or whether Emma had been found.
How had she managed to fall asleep when she was so worried?
She started walking toward a hallway directly behind her. It might be late, but she couldn’t simply sit on the couch and wait until morning. She had to know if Alexei had found Emma.
The thought of her enigmatic rescuer sent a wave of a different kind of heat rolling over her. She’d been wary when he’d first told her she needed to go with him, but once they arrived at his apartment, she’d realized he had money. This apartment was in one of the old Baroque buildings that had withstood time, several wars, and a revolution. It was also furnished with expensive paintings, antiques, and woven rugs.
And he knew Chad, though she still didn’t know how he did, come to think of it.
But she’d relaxed a little then. Surely he did not need to lure poor American women back to his apartment for evil purposes. No doubt women fell all over a man who looked like he did. Add in the money, and you had a sure recipe for success.
No, Alexei did not need to bring her here in order to have his wicked way with her. He’d kissed her because it was necessary, not because he was attracted to her.
Paige lifted her chin. Nor was she attracted to him. He was a handsome man, no doubt, but he wasn’t Chad. Chad was tall, blonde, Texan, bigger than life. Everything she’d ever dreamed about when she was a girl growing up in tiny Atkinsville, Texas.
She knew that Chad taking her to lunch—and picking her to accompany him on this trip—might not mean anything, but a girl could dream. Though he usually dated underwear models, actresses, and beauty queens, he wasn’t seeing anyone just now. She knew because she was the one who usually got the task of ordering the flowers and making the dinner reservations. There had been none of those for over a month now.
Not that it meant anything, she reminded herself, when he’d been working non-stop on this Russian deal.
A lamp burned in one of the rooms off the hallway. Paige pushed the door all the way open. “Alexei?”
There was no answer, but she stepped inside to be sure he wasn’t there anyway. The room was an office, with floor to ceiling bookcases, a desk, and filing cabinets. A computer stood on the desk, and a printer sat idle nearby. There was an Italian leather couch on one wall, and a couple of chairs facing it.
But no one was inside. She turned to leave, biting off a scream as a man stepped through the door.
“Looking for something?”
Paige put a hand to her racing heart. “You scared me.”
“Apparently,” he said, though there was no amusement in his voice.
“I was looking for you.”
One dark eyebrow arched. “Really? Why?”
Paige swallowed. He stood before her in jeans and an unbuttoned white shirt, as if he’d hurriedly pulled it on. His feet were bare, and his hair was mussed. She resolutely focused on his face instead of the naked skin of his chest and abdomen. Or the shadowed indentations of muscle and sinew.
“I’m sorry if I woke you. But I have no idea what time it is. If Emma returned to our room by now, she’ll be worried. I really should go…” Her voice tapered off as she realized she was babbling.
“Your sister is not in your room.”
Paige felt her heart skip a painful beat. She took a step toward him, thought better of it and clutched the blanket tighter instead. “How do you know? Do you know where she is?”
“Da. She is safe, Paige. You have nothing to worry about.”
Relief threatened to buckle her knees.
Alexei reached for her as she swayed, caught her in a strong grip. Then he ushered her to the couch and sat her down. “You are quite good at this,” he murmured.
Paige blinked up at him. “I’m sorry?”
He turned away and went over to a cabinet close by, returned with a glass and thrust it toward her.
Paige held up her hand as her stomach rebelled. “Not again—”
“It is water.”
She took the glass and drank, thankful because her mouth was suddenly so dry. Her head felt light, and her heart thundered in her chest. She’d promised Mama that she’d take good care of Emma. Her sister had only been thirteen when their mother died, and Paige had done her best. If Emma was a bit spoiled, a bit irresponsible, it was Paige’s fault for indulging her.
She’d been trying to make up for the lack of parents, but she hadn’t done the best job. Tonight, she thought she’d failed utterly. To know that Emma was safe filled her with a profound sense of relief.
“Where is she?”
“She is with Chad Russell, as you very well know.”
“Oh thank God,” Paige breathed. Though what made him think she knew where Emma was?
Before she could ask, Alexei’s cool silver gaze pierced her. “Why are you here?”
Paige blinked. “I was looking for you—”
“No, I mean why are you here, in my home?”
It took her a moment to formulate an answer. “Because you told me I had to come with you.”
“Yes, but why did you do so? What did you hope to find? Is Russell so desperate he would send a secretary to spy on me?”
Confusion crashed through her. And a thread of simmering anger.
“Why would I want to spy on you? I don’t even know you!” She set the glass aside and stood, tilting her chin up. It was simply a show of bravado since she was shaking inside her skin. But she’d learned at an early age to bluff her way through the rough spots when necessary. Or, as her mother used to say, never let them see you sweat. She’d had plenty of practice when Child Services had come calling to see if she was capable of taking care of her sister or if Emma needed to go into foster care instead.
“Stop pretending you don’t know who I am,” he commanded.
Paige stomped her foot. It was childish, she knew, but it was instinctive. She couldn’t stop herself whenever she was angry or nervous—though anger was not the dominant emotion at the moment.
“You are Alexei, a man I met in Red Square, who helped me when I was in trouble. You obviously have money, and you knew who Chad was as soon as I mentioned him. But I have no idea who you are.”
It was a troubling thought, not to know the man who seemed to know so much about you.
He closed the distance between them, slipped an arm around her waist beneath the blanket. His fingers traced her jaw, slid into the hair at her nape. “You are a fascinating woman, Paige. No wonder Russell chose you for this task. Or did you volunteer?”
With a tug, she was flush against him. The blanket fell away as she let it go to press her hands against his chest. Paige closed her eyes. His naked chest.
His skin was hot beneath her hands, silky and hard, and she wanted to pet him like a cat.
Stop it. How could she possibly find him sexy at a time like this?
“Let me go,” she breathed.
“Before you’ve done what you came to do?”
“I didn’t come here to do anything.”
“What did Russell offer you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Were you supposed to seduce me? Supposed to leave me sated and exhausted in bed while you went through my papers?” His head dipped toward her. “Because I have to say, Paige, that I am very disappointed in your technique thus far. But I find I am quite willing to allow you to complete your mission.”
She knew she should pull away when his lips touched hers, but it was physically impossible. Not because he held her too tightly, but because her body was zinging with sparks that she didn’t want to end…
Harlequin Presents Extra
June 7, 2011
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