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Excerpt: Kholodov's Last Mistress

‘Hello, Hannah.’

Sergei watched the smile slide off her face and he felt a jolt because he recognised the blankness that replaced it, that careful ironing out of expression. He did it himself all the time, had ever since he’d been a child and realised that tears and laughter both earned punishment. Better to be silent. Better not to reveal a single thing.

Yet he hadn’t expected it from Hannah.

‘What are you--’ She paused, moistened her lips--just as rose-pink as he remembered--and started again. ‘What are you doing here?’

He smiled faintly. ‘Well, I didn’t come to see the sights, I can assure you.’ She still looked blank so he clarified, ‘I came to see you.’

‘To see me,’ Hannah repeated. At first Sergei thought Hannah sounded incredulous, which he could understand, but then she let out a hollow laugh and with another jolt of shock he realised she sounded like him. She sounded cynical.

Perhaps she had changed after all.

Hannah stared at Sergei in disbelief, half-expecting him to disappear, like a mirage or an impostor. Maybe a ghost. He couldn’t be real. He couldn’t be here, having come all the way from Russia just to see her?

It was impossible. Ridiculous. Real. He was here, and he was still staring at her, smiling faintly, waiting.

For what?

Her mind spun, unable to fathom why. The memory of the derisive, dismissive smile he’d given her as he’d put his arm around that woman--Varya--was still frozen in her brain. In her heart. He’d tired of her, just as he’d said. He’d wanted her gone. So why on earth had he come and found her?

She lifted her chin, regarding him coolly. ‘What do you want?’

‘I told you, to see you.’

‘Why?’

He paused, his head cocked, his gaze sweeping slowly over her. Something flickered across his face, a dark emotion Hannah couldn’t identify, and then his face cleared. Blanked. ‘I wanted to see if you were the same.’

‘The same?’ Hannah repeated sharply. ‘What do you mean? I’m two years older, in any case.’ She turned away from him to fold yet again the sweaters Liz had dropped off. Her hands trembled.

‘And two years wiser, perhaps.’

She let out a sharp bark of a laugh. ‘If you mean am I still annoyingly optimistic, then no, I’m not.’

His breath came out in a soft sigh. Hannah didn’t turn around. ‘Refreshingly optimistic, I also said.’

‘It hardly matters.’ She pressed her hands down hard on the soft pile of sweaters in a desperate bid to stop their trembling. Why did he affect her so much? Still? They’d had one evening together. One kiss. She should barely remember his name.

Sergei who?

The thought was laughable. When he’d come into the shop, despite the shock that had raced through her, another part of her had felt like she’d been waiting for him to come. Had remembered exactly the piercing blue of his eyes, the hard line of his jaw. The feel of his lips.

‘So.’ She turned around, her hands laced together, fingers wrapped around knuckles as hard as she could. ‘Satisfied?’

‘Not in the least.’

She shook her head slowly. ‘I have no idea why you’re here, Sergei.’

He gave her a rueful smile, a smile that was soft and strangely gentle, and so at odds with the man she remembered, the man she had convinced herself in the last two years was only cold. Calculating. Cruel. ‘I don’t know, either.’

‘Well, then.’ She drew in a ragged breath. ‘Maybe you should just go.’ Even if part of her didn’t want him to. A large part. A stupid part.

‘Go? I just drove four hours to get here, Hannah. I’m not leaving quite that quickly. And,’ he added, his voice dropping to a husky murmur she remembered far too well, ‘I don’t think you want me to.’

‘You don’t know anything about me.’

‘Are you sure about that?’

Excerpt From: KHOLODOV'S LAST MISTRESS by Kate Hewitt
Copyright © 2011 by Kate Hewitt
Permission granted by Harlequin Books S.A. All rights reserved.

January 2008