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Clementine did a double-take in front of the ornate windows, almost pressing her nose up to the glass.
Lustthat was what she was feeling. Unadulterated desire.
In the window sat her Anna Karenina fantasy. Thigh-high, fur-lined, suede Russian boots.
She told herself she was only in St Petersburg for one more day after today. She deserved something to remember it by.
Five minutes later she was standing on the worn raspberry-coloured carpet inside, sliding one stockinged foot and then the other into her dream. She felt like Cinderella trying on her glass slippers. The real test was zipping them up above her knees. She was six feet tall and her legs held much of her height. She had shape to them. She had shape to all of her.
She almost gave a whoop of delight when the boots zipped up a treat.
The girl kneeling before her lifted the flaps. 'They can go higher. Shall we try?'
She spoke English, but in these luxury stores everybody did.
Without hesitation Clementine hitched up her burgundy leather skirt, feeling slightly naughty as she flashed her suspenders. She reached down and pulled the fur-lined suede up and up, to kiss the fleshy curve of her inner thigh.
Her legs looked impossibly long with the leather skirt clinging to her hips. Absorbed in her own reflection, she slung out a leg and stroked the fur meditatively. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a flash of movement behind her in the mirror, and looked up to collide with the gaze of a man standing by the door.
He wasn't idling in the doorway, lurking. He was purposefully filling the space. Announcing his presence up front. Owning it.
And he was looking right at her.
He had to have a head of height on her, and he was built to go with it, and Clementine would bet her last pair of designer knickers on that size being one hundred per cent lean muscle.
He was quite a sight. They didn't make men like that any more.
Maybe they had in earlier centuries, when Russian men went into battle with muskets, or even earlier when they needed to club things and skin animals to feed their families. Oh, yes, she could imagine him half naked and marked by claw-marks across his back and chest, bestriding the steppes. In factshe nibbled her bottom lipshe could imagine that quite vividly.
But nowadays, in an age of technology and convenience and the liberation of women, you just didn't need men like this any more.
Except in bed. An unexpected flush of warmth moved through her body.
Imagine if he laid his hands on you.
Imagine if it was him adjusting the tops of your boots.
Her eyes flicked to the mirror and registered that the Cossack hadn't shifted an inch, but instinctively she just knew he'd moved some muscles because the look on his face mirrored her own: unadulterated fascination. With her. Male, down-and-dirty fascination. As if she was his own personal little sex show.
Clementine felt his eyes on her like a slow burn, sliding straight up the inside of her bare, exposed leg. It was that good, and almost as tantalising as being touched.
She should cover herself up, but after a year of keeping herself nice she was enjoying the attention. It was harmless. If this guy wanted to look, let him look. It wasn't as if he could put his hands on her. They were strangers. It was a public place. She was safe.
She was enjoying it.
She bent down, nice and slow, folding over one fur flap to reveal the length of her bare upper thigh and then the other. Then she ever so slowly tugged down the leather bunched at her hips and lengthened her skirt, inch by inch, as she had seen so many models do for the camera, until she was decently covered.
There. Show over.
Time to pay for the beauties, head back to the rats' nest where she was staying and catch up on some sleep. Except when she looked back at the mirror the Cossack was still there, holding up the world on those big shoulders. He'd folded his arms and Clementine registered powerful muscle under the strain of his jacket.
Her pulse leapt. He was every woman's fantasy, and also a little bit scarynot only because of his size. With his clear intent she got the absolute impression he was waiting for her.
A shivering awareness ran through her body like an electrical shock, but she got herself moving, fumbling with her handbag as she dug out the equivalent cost of her meals for the rest of the week to pay for the boots.
'You have an admirer,' said the girl, boxing up her old shoes with a discreet glance in the direction of the door.
'Probably a shoe fetishist,' murmured Clementine, but there was a smile on her lips as she said it.
Inhaling a deep breath, she swung round and headed for the exitonly to discover he wasn't there. She actually dropped a step, idling for a moment in the doorway, disappointed.
She emerged into the street and swung her designer bag as she headed southand that was when she spotted him. Leaning against a limo, thumbs in designer pockets, running a gaze over her that sped up and slowed down depending on which part of her body he got hooked on. Clementine lost a breath and then her heartbeat raced.
Okay, Clementine, walk on, she lectured herself. There's no way you're going over there and introducing yourself. Guys dressed like that with limos on tap were not territory she wished to stray into. She'd already had her brush with his type. Never again. The industry she worked in was rife with women who cashed in on their desirability for a certain lifestyle. She wasn't one of them, and she wasn't starting now.
Serge fastened on the sway of her hips as she walked away, flashing those sensational thighs showcased by fur and sheer stockings. He knew what was holding those stockings up: delicate midnight-blue suspenders.
He had been leaving the jeweller Krassinsky's, where he'd left his father's wedding cufflinks to be repaired, and crossing the art nouveau atrium that linked several highend stores in this building when he had spotted her through the shop's entrance.
A young woman bent at the waist, a leather skirt hiked up around her hips, as comfortable in the middle of the shop as if it had been her boudoir, her shapely bottom encased in burgundy leather, swaying provocatively. He'd seen two strips of pale flesh before the lacy tops of her stockings took over, attached to delicate suspenders.
It had ground him to a standstill.
When she'd started tugging up those boots lust had flashed through him like a lightning strike.
If she'd stopped there he might have dragged himself away, but all of a sudden she'd hooked out a leg and he'd got an eyeful of her inner thighthat soft, fleshy curve at the very top of a woman's leg, pressed into prominence by the clasp of the stockings clinging to her legs. Serge had swallowed hard as she'd begun smoothing the fur right up to that spot.
That's the girla bit higher very nice.
As if hearing his thoughts she'd lifted her head and met his gaze in the freestanding mirror. She'd frozen. Her face was heart-shaped, her mouth wide, her chin pointed. Despite the clothes, despite the pose, despite the lashings of make-up, she looked as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. He had waited for her reaction and been rewarded by a small private smile, and then she'd bent and slowly peeled the fur down to expose the tops of her thighs. To him.
Because it had all been for him. She'd known he was watching her.
Which had made it incredibly hot.
As her skirt had slithered down he'd known he'd be thinking not only about that spot at the top of her left thigh but also about her smile for the rest of his day.
He'd watched the girl switch her attention to the salesgirlno longer his little show but simply a woman making a purchaseand it had chastened him. This wasn't Amsterdam. She wasn't on the market and she wasn't his type. The hooker look had never interested him, and whatever frisson she had got from the experience was over.
He'd left her to it, but as he'd handed his bag over to his driver he'd found himself lingering by the car, just waiting to see her emerge. Curious, interested.
She stepped out of the building in those ridiculous boots and above the revving of his libido he got the full impact of a fifties pin-up come to life. Lustrous golden-brown hair, narrow shoulders, full breasts, curvaceous hips and a lick of a waist. Her legs were strong and shapely and went on and on. And on.
The realist inside him told him he should let her go. He had places to be, and it wasn't as if he couldn't find another woman to warm his bed.
Then she moved and he forgot about every plan he had for the rest of the day.
He knew the moment she noticed him. Her lashes dropped, screened her eyes, and she just took off, those sensational legs in those infamous boots eating up the pavement. Her leather skirt twitched provocatively over the bounce of her heart-shaped bottom. She'd be gone in a few minutes, lost in the late-afternoon crowd.
As if sensing his indecision, she chose that moment to turn her head over one pretty shoulder and give him a smile Mona Lisa would have envied. Subtle, but it was there. Come and get me.
Then she was off with a swish of her long hair. Serge propelled himself away from the car, and with a brusque instruction to his driver to follow took off after her.
Clementine hadn't been able to help herself. She'd cast a last look over her shoulder, and when she'd seen his gaze was still glued to her she'd smiled. Apparently that was enoughbecause now he was coming after her.
Instinctively she sped up, her whole body tightening with anticipation.
When she checked again he was still there, impossible to miss, taller than anyone else, a big, insanely gorgeous man, with chestnut hair falling carelessly over his temples, curling at the base of his broad neck. In the bright sunshine she could see the faint shadow of where he'd shaved, and the square cut of his chin and the sheer bravado of his grin as he caught her looking.
She shouldn't be encouraging this. She should turn around on this crowded street and confront him. But she didn't. She slowed down. She put a little more sway in her hips and kept walking.
She checked again. He was clocking her, but not closing in. She felt relatively safe.
Serge pulled back his pace momentarily as Boots turned out of the Nevsky, watched her cross against the schizophrenic traffic, earning a few hoots and screeching tyres from driversprobably more at the sight of those long legs than any traffic infringement.
She had a real energy in her body that translated into the sexiest walk he had ever seen on a woman. And what struck him was the fact that she seemed utterly oblivious to the chaos she caused around her.
He didn't want to lose her.
Clementine risked another glance over her shoulder but she couldn't see him. Disappointment slowed her walk, prosaic reality returning with every step. Game over. Damn.
Up ahead was the underpass. She hated those mucky tunnels, never felt completely safe, but it was the only route she knew. The boots were starting to rub, and without the distraction of her ridiculous sexual fantasy the worries of the day began to crowd into her mind.
Serge stood at the kerb and watched as she began to descend into the underpass on her own. He saw the danger closing in around her at the same moment, and without another thought launched into a run.
Bozhe, this woman took chances. She'd known he was on her tail, and now two men were honing in on her bag, flapping on that lavish hip, and she just kept walking, lost in her own little world.
She shouldn't be let out on her own. The thought briefly crossed his mind before the more savage Take them down intruded and he lunged into the underpass, aiming at the guy who was already reaching for the strap of her bag.
He grabbed her assailant by the scuff of his neck and dragged him off.
It was satisfying to use his body for something other than sitting in a plane and a car. He was fitboxing and running took care of thatbut to fight was in his blood and he hadn't had one in many years.
Not that it was proving much of a challenge. The first assailant launched a fist that he blocked.
Instead of acting smart and getting the hell out of the way, Boots was launching an attack of her own with her bag, smacking it with gusto into the back of the head of the guy nearest her.
She distracted him and the first guy got in a lucky punch, grazing his face. Fast was best, and Serge slugged him one, then zeroed in on the second thug who moved fast, snatching the bag she was flapping around as if it was a club.
At least she wasn't stupid. She let go, and the guy started running. The one on the ground crawled to his feet and took off, leaving Serge flexing his knuckles and alone with Boots.
'You let him go!' She was standing there in that short skirt, looking outraged.
Serge shrugged, rubbing his abused jaw. He didn't feel like explaining that beating both men to a pulp was the only way he could have kept them there, and that her safety had been foremost in his mind. Instead he opted for the more obvious standby. 'Are you all right?'
'They took my bag!' she wailed.
Foreign. British? Her voice was pitched low, slightly husky.
'You're lucky that's all they took,' he answered her in English. 'These underpasses aren't safe. If you'd read your guidebook, moya krasavitsa, you'd know that.'
She looked at him with clear grey eyes full of reproach.
'So it's my fault, is it?'
She had her hands on her hips now, stretching that white satin blouse across her breasts until the buttons strained. Bozhe, there was black lace under the white. This girl seemed incapable of keeping her clothes on. She was a walking incitement to the male libido. What did she expect was going to happen to her if she went around dressed like this?
Bizarrely, he wanted to tear off his jacket and wrap it around herwhich would just ruin his view.
She wasn't quite what he'd expected up close. She was better, but in a less upfront, more feminine way, and the longer he looked at her the more other things began to leap out besides the obvious. Up close she was younger than he had imaginedcloser to twenty than thirty. It was all that makeup. She didn't need it. Her skin was luscious, like a ripe peach.
She swore creatively, pushing the fringe off her forehead. 'What am I going to do?' she said fiercely.
He had the answer to that, but he would wait for her to suggest it.
Hands still firmly on her hips, she walked a few steps in the other direction, then turned and met his eyes properly for the first time. Some of the agitation had left her, and she turned up a face more interesting than conventionally attractive. She had thick brown eyelashes and clear grey eyes and a dappling of freckles across her nose.
She really was lovely.
'I'm sorry,' she said earnestly. 'I've been very rude to you.
Thanks for scaring them off. You didn't have to, but it was a nice thing to do.'
He hadn't expected thator her sincerity. He shrugged it off. He didn't need to get sentimental about picking up a girl in downtown St Petersburg. He only had to drop his gaze ever so slightly to remind himself she wasn't a shrinking violet.
'Don't men look after women where you come from, kisa?'
'I imagine they do.' She gave an awkward shrug, then another one of those little smiles of hers. 'Just not me. But thanks again.'
With that she took off, the slender heels on those boots clicking on the cobbles. She held out her arms stiffly from her body, as if balancing herself, a gesture that reminded him she had experienced a nasty shock.
He couldn't believe she was walking away.
Damn. 'Hold up.'
She looked over her shoulder.
'Can I give you a lift somewhere?'
She hesitated, looked at him with those doe eyes, and said, 'No, I don't think so. But thanks, Slugger,' and damn well kept walking.
Click, click, click.