The Most Coveted Prize

By: 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.

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