A Rich Man’s Whim

By: Lynne Graham


MIKHAIL KUSNIROVICH, RUSSIAN oil oligarch and much feared     business magnate, relaxed his big body back into his leather office chair and     surveyed his best friend, Luka Volkov, with astonishment. ‘Hiking...seriously? That’s truly how you want to spend your     stag weekend away?’

‘Well, we’ve already had the party and that was a little high     octane for me,’ Luka confided, his good-natured face tightening with     distaste at the memory. Of medium height and stocky build, he was a university     lecturer and the much admired author of a recent book on quantum physics.

‘You can blame your future brother-in-law for that,’ Mikhail     reminded him drily, thinking of the lap and pole dancers hired by Peter Gregory     for the occasion, women so far removed from his shy academic friend’s experience     that the arrival of a group of terrorists at the festivities would have been     more welcome.

‘Peter meant it for the best,’ Luka proclaimed, instantly     springing to the defence of his bride’s obnoxious banker brother.

Mikhail’s brow raised, his lean, darkly handsome face grim.     ‘Even though I warned him that you wouldn’t like it?’

Luka reddened. ‘He does try; he just doesn’t always get it     right.’

Mikhail said nothing because he was thinking with regret of how     much Luka had changed since he had got engaged to Suzie Gregory. Although the     two men had little in common except their Russian heritage, they had been     friends since they met at Cambridge University. In those days, Luka would have     had no problem declaring that a man as crude, boring and boastful as Peter     Gregory was a waste of space. But now Luka could no longer call a spade a spade     and always paid subservient regard to his fiancée’s feelings. An alpha male to     the core, Mikhail gritted his even white teeth in disgust. He would never marry. He was never going to change who and what     he was to please some woman. The very idea was a challenge for a male raised by     a man whose favourite saying had been, ‘a chicken is not a bird and a woman is     not a person’. The late Leonid Kusnirovich had been fond of reeling that off to     inflame the sensibilities of the refined English nanny he had hired to take care     of his only son. Sexist, brutal and always insensitive, Leonid had been outraged     by the nanny’s gentle approach to child rearing and had been afraid that she     might turn his son into a wimp. But at the age of thirty there was nothing     remotely wimpy about Mikhail’s six-foot-five-inch powerfully built frame, his     ruthless drive to succeed or his famous appetite for a large and varied diet of     women.

‘You’d like the Lake District...it’s beautiful,’ Luka     declared.

Mikhail made a massive effort not to look as pained as he felt.     ‘You want to go hiking in the Lake District? I assumed you were thinking of     Siberia—’

‘I can’t get enough time off work and I’m not sure I’d be up to     the challenge of the elements there,’ Luka admitted, patting his slight paunch     in apology. ‘I’m not half as fit as you are. England in the spring and a gentle     workout is more my style. But could you get by without your limo, luxury lifestyle and your fleet of minders for a     couple of days?’

Mikhail went nowhere without a team of security guards. He     frowned, not at the prospect of existing without the luxuries, but at having to     convince his protection team that he didn’t need them for forty eight hours.     Stas, his highly protective head of security, had been taking care of Mikhail     since he was a little boy. ‘Of course, I can do it,’ he responded with innate     assurance. ‘And a little deprivation will do me good.’

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