“How could you force my son to live like this?” he abruptly demanded. “What kind of mother are you?”
Anna’s turquoise eyes widened as she gripped the gilded edge of a high-backed chair. “I kept him warm and safe—”
“Warm?” Incredulously, he looked at the single inadequate fireplace, the flickering candles on the wooden table, the frost lining the inside of the window. “Safe?”
Anna flinched. “I did the best I could.”
Nikos shook his head with a derisive snort as Cooper, his right-hand man and director of security, entered the room. He gave Nikos a nod.
Nikos made a show of glancing at his sleek platinum watch. “Your things are packed in the truck. Are you coming, or should we toss your suitcases in the snow?”
“We just need a minute for Natalie to pack her things—”
“Perhaps I have not made myself clear? There is no way in hell that I’m taking your sister with us. You’re lucky I’m bringing you.”
Anna folded her arms, thrusting up her chin. He knew that expression all too well. She was ready to be stubborn, to fight, to prolong this argument until he had to drag her out of this place by her fingernails.
“Stay, then.” He turned to leave, motioning for Cooper and his bodyguards to follow. “Feel free to visit our son next Christmas.”
Precisely as he’d expected, Anna grabbed his arm.
“Wait. I’m coming with you. You know I am. But I can’t just abandon Natalie.”
He tried to shake off her grip, but she wouldn’t let go. He looked into those beautiful blue-green eyes, wet with unshed tears. What was it about women and tears? How were they able to instantly manufacture them to get what they wanted? Well, it wouldn’t work on him. He wouldn’t be manipulated in this way. He wouldn’t let her…
“You might have to go with him, Anna,” Natalie said defiantly. “But I don’t. I’m staying.”
Nikos glanced at Anna’s sister. The girl had fought like a crazed harpy to protect her nephew. Now, she just looked heartbreakingly young.
Something like guilt went through him. Angrily, he pushed it aside. If the Rostoffs were penniless, it wasn’t his fault. As his secretary, Anna had been paid a six-figure salary for the last five years—enough to support her whole family in decent comfort.
So where had that money gone? He’d never seen Anna splurge on clothes or jewelry or cars. She bought things that were simple and well made but, unlike his current secretary, she avoided flashy luxury.
Anna’s sister didn’t look terribly royal either. In her bulky sweatsuit, covered by an artist’s smock, she stood by the frost-lined window with a bowed head. She was staring wistfully at the broken pieces of the blue china teacup he’d smashed against the fireplace.
His jaw tightened.
He gestured to Cooper, who instantly came forward. “Yes?”
“See that the girl has all the money and assistance she requires to live here or return to New York, as she wishes.” In a lower voice, he added, “And find a replacement for that damn cup. At any price.”
Cooper gave a single efficient nod. Nikos turned to Anna. “Satisfied?”
Anna raised her chin. Even now, when he’d given her far more than she deserved, she was defiant. “But how do I know you’ll keep your word?”
That one small question made fury rise tight against his throat. He always kept his word. Always. And yet she dared insinuate that he was the one who was untrustworthy. After her father had stolen his money. After she herself had stolen his child.