The Rings that Bind

By: Michelle Smart

On his terms only

The day Rosa agreed to wear Nicolai Baranski’s ring she wasn’t so foolish as to expect love. Yet nothing could have prepared her for the aching loneliness of her husband’s constant indifference—an indifference that proved too much to bear.

Nico is furious—no one turns their back on a Baranski. Rosa has some nerve if she thinks he will just let her walk away. He’ll use every sensual trick at his disposal to bring her back, begging for more. And once he’s got her where he wants her? He’ll let her go. But only when he’s ready!

“You gave me your word eleven months ago.”

“And you gave me yours. I am not the one planning to break my vows.”

For an age they simply stared at each other, neither bending. The tension between them had become so thick a steak knife would have had trouble cutting through it. Yet he could not help but admire her. There were not many people brave enough to face him off.

Rosa caved in first. Extending her hand, she said, “We will shake on it. One month, Nicolai. And if at the end you refuse to give me my divorce then I will show you just how dirty I can play.”

Her fiery declaration sent a frisson of excitement racing through his veins. As he reached for her hand he realized it was the first time their flesh had touched since they had exchanged their rings.

And as he walked back down the stairs, victory still ringing within him, Nico realized it had also been the first time he had set foot in her suite since she had moved in.

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ROSA BARANSKI SAT on the kitchen worktop, ostensibly waiting for the coffee percolator to finish, and gazed down at the slate tiles. She hated the flooring. Even with the benefit of under-floor heating it always felt so cold.

It was incredible to think she had once lived in a house of the same proportions as the place she currently called home. In that, her first children’s home, she had shared the house with forty other children and an ever-rotating shift of adults. The home had been a hub of noise and chaos, something she had hated until she had discovered how terrifying silence could be and how loneliness could destroy your soul.

Back then, her bedroom had been around the same size as the one she had now. Then, she had shared it with four other girls.

In those dark days and nights she had dreamed of escape.

Around two decades on, and for entirely different reasons, she had come to the painful conclusion that she needed to escape again. At least now she had the power simply to leave.

But she could not do anything until she had spoken to Nico. However much her stomach churned at the thought, she could not leave without an explanation. It wouldn’t be fair.

For what seemed the hundredth time she read the text message on her phone, her stomach twisting at the bland, almost curt words that leapt off the screen. It was from her brother. She’d received it a week ago and could not stop reading it. She should delete it but she couldn’t. It was her only tangible link to him.

Shifting her position in order to peer out of the window, she felt her belly do a funny skipping thing as she spotted the sleek black Maserati crunch slowly over the long gravel driveway before disappearing from view.

Nicolai was home.

The dread coursing through her bloodstream was reminiscent of the first time she had met him. She had attended an interview for the role of his temporary PA, providing maternity cover for his regular PA, who had gone into early labour.

She had sat in a large waiting room with five other potential candidates. She hadn’t been able to help but notice that the secretary who had been placed in charge of them visibly braced herself every time she knocked on his office door. The other candidates must have noticed it too. All of them had sat in hushed, almost reverential silence.

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