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The Most Coveted Prize

By:Penny Jordan

The Most Coveted Prize
Penny Jordan

       CHAPTER ONE


ALENA had known she wanted him-quite desperately-the minute she'd seen  him. That had been in the foyer of this London hotel earlier in the  week. The fierce surge of previously unknown and unexpected sheer  physical desire that had struck had been so powerful that it had almost  literally knocked her off her feet-and left her in no doubt as to its  meaning or its urgency, shaking tremulously from head to foot and on  fire with the force of her own desire.

He was, she suspected, everything that her elder half-brother Vasilii  had so often warned her against in his own sex. He was dangerous; she  knew that-any woman would know it, even if Vasilii tried to treat her as  though she was still merely a girl and not a woman.

Alena sighed. She did genuinely and really love Vasilii, even if he was  the most aggravatingly old-fashioned, moralistic and over-protective  brother anyone could have. However, there was something about him which  drew and compelled her beyond reason, beyond duty, beyond anything and  everything she had ever known or expected to know. Had she been struck  by love? Had she been struck by its darker sibling lust?

Or perhaps a combination of both? Was it her passionate deep-running  Russian blood that was responsible? Or was it a vulnerability to  wickedly dangerous Russian men she had inherited from her English  mother, who had fall en so swiftly in love with her own Russian father?

It didn't matter. What was happening to her was beyond the skills of  analysis drilled in to her to fit its pupils for the modern age by the  teachers at her all female and very strict school. Nothing mattered  other than the gathering, growing rushing need that now owned her. His  air of openly raw sexuality and her need to offer herself up to it, to  be consumed by it, filled her senses, leaving no room for anything else.  Just the thought of even breathing the same air as him was enough to  send her dizzy with delight and to make her body react as erotically as  though he was already touching it, caressing it, taking it and touching  it, teaching it and her everything that it meant to be a woman.

Alena shuddered in mute acknowledgement of his mastery of her responses.  Any minute now he would turn and see her, and recognise the effect he  was having on her. Her heart gave a fierce bound of mingled anticipation  and apprehension. Oh, yes, he was dangerous-and she ached for it,  hungered for it, craved it.

She might "only' be nineteen, as Vasilii was so fond of reminding her,  but she was more than old enough to know from the one tremulous, daring  glance she had risked earlier in the week into those malachite-green  eyes-so matching in colour the awesome columns of malachite in St  Petersburg's Winter Palace-exactly what the man now standing engaged in  conversation with another Russian on the other side of the exclusive  hotel's even more exclusive lounge lobby was. He was living, breathing,  walking sexual danger-especially to a woman like her. He lived outside  convention and its rules.

Her pulse beating increasingly speedily, she studied him covertly and  eagerly. He was tall -as tall as Vasilii, who was six feet three to her  own five feet nine. He was also slightly younger than Vasilii, she  suspected. Perhaps in his early thirties, whereas Vasilii was now  thirty-five.

His thick hair was a rich tawny brown, reminding her of the colour of  one of Vasilii's hunting jackets, although this man's hair was in need  of a cut to bring it to the kind of order Vasilii favoured.

Everywhere in his face-its bone structure, its contours, its  expression-there were subtle traces of a heritage that said that this  man came from a long line of men born to battle against other members of  his own sex and to stand over their prone bodies when he had defeated  them.

He was pure alpha male, and a man determined to challenge anyone who questioned his right to that heritage.

His name was Kiryl Androvonov. She savoured it inside her head,  unrolling it like a glittering magnificent carpet of delights for her  senses.

She had felt so adult, so strong and in control of her own fate, when  she had asked the doorman so studiedly, mock-casually, if he knew who he  was, pretending that she had recognised him as an acquaintance of her  brother. The name Kiryl meant "noble', but the doorman had told her only  that he was a businessman and that this was his second visit to the  hotel.

Kiryl hadn't intended to look for her-the slender, gazel e-like young  woman with her silky fall of dark blonde hair and her silver-grey eyes  that reminded him of sunlight on the frozen Neva river in winter, or the  Russian fables of the rusilki, the fatal enchantresses who rose from  their watery graves to lure men to join them. For one thing she wasn't  his type, and for another he had far more important things on his mind  than accepting the unspoken but implicit invitation she was giving him.                       
       
           



       

But he had looked, and she was there, in the same chair, at the same  table, pouring tea from the steaming traditional samovar that the hotel  indulged its Russian guests by providing.

She wasn't wearing a wedding ring-not that that meant anything these  days. A high-priced hooker, then, dangling her bait? Maybe, but Kiryl  doubted it. A hooker would have moved in on him before now-time was,  after all, money in any business.

She wanted him, though. He knew that. But he did not want her. Nor did  he intend to allow himself to want her, even if that no doubt  astronomically expensive soft silk top she was wearing was outlining the  undeniably natural and highly desirable shape of her breasts with all  the sensual mastery of a skilled artistic hand. The top, which covered  her from her throat right down to her wrists, shouldn't have been sexy.

Those impossibly small-for-male-fingers shimmering pearl buttons that  closed the neckline all the way from her throat to her breastbone should  not have filled him with a desire to wrest them from their closures and  lay bare to his gaze and his touch the flesh that lay beneath them-but  they did. The diamond stud earrings she was wearing-if real, and he  suspected that they were-would have cost whoever had given them to her  many thousands of pounds. He knew that because his last mistress had  tried to inveigle him into buying her a similar pair, just before he had  decided that she no longer interested him.

As he assessed them-and that was all he was assessing-she looked up and  right at him, the colour coming and going in her face, dark lashes  sweeping down over the silver-grey eyes which had gone from shining like  the frozen Neva to burning with the glow of heated mercury

 …  or the desire of a very aroused woman. Unexpectedly his own body  responded to that swift change from the winter ice of St Petersburg to  the fierce summer heat of the Russian steppes, with all the passion that  the land of his fathers always inspired in him, as fiercely as though  she held within her the essence of all that heritage meant to him. He  could feel within him the surge of his own desire to take and possess  that heritage; to claim it and to refuse to yield it to anyone.



Caught off-guard by the surge of electric male arousal gripping him,  Kiryl recognised that the woman, whoever she was, was causing his  attention to wander from something far more important than some  left-over youth fantasy about possessing a woman who would somehow be a  magical link between himself and his Russian heritage, earthing him in  his right to it.

"And, as I was saying, Vasilii Demidov will be your main stumbling block to winning the contract.'

Kiryl stiffened and focused his attention on the agent he had hired to  help him win the contract he was determined to have for his business.

The knowledge that one of Russia's richest men was also a contender for  the contract had not put him off. Far from it. It had merely sharpened  his desire to win it.

"Demidov has not previously shown any interest in the shipping or  container industry. His business interests lie mainly in owning and  controlling the port side of the business,' Kiryl pointed out.  "Therefore he has no reason to have any interest in the contract.'

"He hadn't, but he is currently in China, finalising another contract,  and as part of the bargain the Chinese want a controlling interest in a  container shipping line. He is in a position to undercut any price you  may offer, even if that means acquiring the contract at an initial loss.  I have it on the very best authority that the selection process for the  contract is now down to the two of you, with the dice loaded very  heavily in his favour. I'm afraid that I must warn you that with Demidov  as your competition you cannot win.'

Kiryl gave his agent a hard look.

"I refuse to accept that.'

He could not and would not lose this contract. It was the final building  block, the final piece in the chess game of his business life, that  would establish his supremacy in his chosen field-not just in his own  eyes but in the eyes of Russia itself. No one could be allowed to stop  him from achieving that goal. No one. He had worked too hard and too  long to let that happen.

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