Authors: Helena Newbury
Tags: #Russian Mafia Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #new adult romance
I closed my eyes.
And my training kicked in with an answer. There was a way out of this, a simple way. A way that would put everything back how it was. I could contact Nikolai and say that there’d been a mistake, make up a story about Gabriella killing Lev and taking me hostage. I could rejoin the brotherhood and life could return to normal.
All I had to do was one little thing.
I drew in a long, shuddering breath and opened my eyes.
It was the only thing that made sense. It was what I’d been told to do, after all, what I was good at. The
thing I was good at.
I stood up and walked silently over to the bed.
I looked down at her as she slept. She was on her back, one arm down by her side and one arm thrown out over her head. She’d rolled in her sleep and her head was in the gap between the two pillows. The covers had fallen down to just below her bra. She was indescribably beautiful.
I picked up one of the pillows, taking care not to wake her.
Then I positioned it above her face and prepared to push down.
This is right,
said a voice inside me.
This is what you do. This is all you do.
I was a monster, after all. And the monster doesn’t fall for the princess: he kills her.
I lowered the pillow until it was almost touching her nose. I couldn’t see her face, now, just that spray of soft, walnut-colored hair spread out across the sheet. That made it easier.
I prepared to press down, bracing myself for her struggle and panic. It would be over in less than a minute. I took a deep breath—
And smelled her scent. Honeysuckle and strawberries and
the first thing I’d noticed about her. I froze, the pillow just brushing her nose.
This is right!
The voice inside my head was screaming, now.
You can put everything right! You can have it all back!
But I didn’t want to. Didn’t. Want. To.
How many have you killed? What difference does one more make?
But it was
I imagined her slumbering face beneath the pillow: that soft skin, those perfect lips. The way she’d said
when I’d grabbed her wrist in the coffee shop.
Do you think she’ll ever love you? You can’t have her! Not a man like you!
I knew that.
But I felt something rise up in myself. A stubbornness, a resistance to following orders. It was something I thought had been beaten out of me a long time ago, back in my army days, but now I realized it was like a block of lead, absorbing each blow, but getting a little harder each time. It had been hammered for years, and now it was hard enough to bore through a planet.
I lifted the pillow up and away, revealing her face.
I was a monster.
But I was going to do this
I could never have her. But maybe I could save her.
Very gently, I reached down, lifted her head with one hand, and slipped the pillow underneath so that she was comfortable.
She half-woke, smiled and murmured, “Thank you.”
When I woke, there was a moment of panic as I realized I wasn’t in my own bedroom. Then the weight of everything that had happened the day before slammed down on me and I groaned.
“Good morning.” A low rumble from behind me. I rolled over.
He was still sitting in the same chair. God, had he sat there all night? I sat up, remembered I was still in my underwear and tugged the comforter up as well. “Hi.”
We looked at each other. Then I glanced down at the pillow, frowning as I remembered something. “Did you put a pillow under my head in the night?”
“Yes. You’d rolled off it.” He looked embarrassed.
“Well...thank you.” I nodded at the chair. “Didn’t you sleep?”
“I can sleep sitting up. I take shower now, though.” The slightly mangled grammar, combined with the accent, was a reminder of just how different he was, how far away he came from.
He ambled past the bed to the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He must have been waiting for me to wake up, so that he didn’t wake me.
I slipped out of bed and went over to the window. The curtains were still drawn but the sun was blasting around the edges. I sneaked a peek around the edge….
A street I’d never seen before. Another motel across the street. An utterly new place, without familiar anchor points—
I felt that
as the panic started. It’s like when you unexpectedly slip on ice, but with your soul and mind instead of your body.
I wasn’t sure I could find my way home.
I quickly pressed the curtain against the wall and turned away. I wanted to shower before I put on fresh clothes so I was sort of stuck until Alexei had finished in the bathroom.
Alexei...just the shape of it felt weird on my tongue. I’d come across plenty of Russian names since Lilywhite put The Sisters of Invidia together and invited me to join, but they’d always been just letters on a screen. I never thought I’d actually meet one of the Russian mafia...let alone be thinking so much about him.
I took a look around at the room—I’d been too freaked out, the night before, to really take it in. A TV, its remote held together with Scotch tape; white walls with a big water stain on the ceiling and a big, creaky bed. One bed. Two people.
How long were we going to be here? Was he going to sleep in the chair every night?
I couldn’t get a handle on this thing between us. He’d seemed into me in the coffee shop, then he’d been ready to kill me, then he’d saved me and now...now I didn’t know.
At that moment, I heard the bathroom door open behind me and spun around. He was done
I was used to showers taking a half hour, but he’d been in there two minutes! Then I saw him and all conscious thought stopped.
He had his pants on but was still doing up his shirt. I got a glimpse of his naked chest and
even my shower fantasy hadn’t done him justice. He wasn’t pumped-up and veiny like a bodybuilder, he was just
like he’d been born that way.
like some hero peasant blacksmith who’d won a battle with only his sledgehammer. I hadn’t been ready for the way his pecs stood out: it looked as if you could hurl cinder blocks at those hard slabs of muscle and the blocks would shatter into dust. Or as if you could put your head on them, as you lay next to him, and be very comfortable indeed.
I pressed my palms against my hips. I was getting an almost uncontrollable urge to run my hands over that chest, just to see what it felt like.
The other thing I hadn’t been ready for were the tattoos. I’d almost forgotten about glimpsing the very tip of his ink over his shirt collar. Now, I could see the full thing: a scorpion, its claw open menacingly. And the tattoos continued on his chest: a rose and a snorting, charging bull. I knew they had meaning: it was an entire story, written in a language I couldn’t understand. It should have been terrifying and it was, in a way. But I was drawn to it, as well. This stuff was raw and real and darkly exciting.
“Seen enough?” he asked. And I looked up to see him looking right into my eyes.
Which was when I remembered I was standing there in my underwear.
I wondered how much looking
been doing while I stared at his chest. Had he been checking me out? A deep, hot throb went through my body as I looked into his eyes. I could see the traces of lust still fading.
been checking me out.
And there was something else there, as well, beyond the coldness and the lust. Something lighter than his ruthless efficiency, more human. Determination.
“Go have a shower,” he said. “Then we eat.”
I grabbed a blouse and my jeans and hurried in there, closing the door behind me before either of us did something we regretted.
Twenty minutes later, we were sitting in the diner. I’d been twitchy and nervous on the street, but the inside of the diner wasn’t as bad: maybe because it was stereotypical, with its squeeze-bottles of ketchup and its booths. I hadn’t been to a diner in years but, thanks to movies and TV, I felt right at home.
I knew it was going to be a different matter when we went further from the motel and tried to actually run. The world outside was huge and dangerous. Stepping outside felt like stepping out of the shallow end in a swimming pool, your feet flailing for a floor that’s no longer there.
I tried to think of something,
else. I looked at his food. “Oatmeal?” I asked. “Seriously?”
He looked down at his bowl. “What’s wrong with oatmeal? In Russia, we have
like this, but with butter.” He spooned some up. “I eat this every day since I come here.”
I blinked. “Every day?”
I pictured him, hulking over the table at some diner every morning, or in his apartment, eating oatmeal. “You like it that much?”
He looked at me as if I was crazy. “It’s good for you. It gives you energy.”
“So you don’t care about the taste?”
He frowned and then shrugged. “It doesn’t have taste. It’s fuel.”
“But don’t you ever want to eat something you
Don’t you enjoy food?”
He tilted his head slowly to one side as if he was studying a strange new species.
My food arrived then. Juice and coffee, two eggs, bacon, toast and a few hash browns. The hash browns were so fresh off the griddle, they were still hissing. A truly glorious smell wafted up. I felt hungry for the first time since all this had started. It also brought home what I’d been missing out on, cooped up in the apartment. You can cook a big breakfast at home, but it’s not the same as a diner breakfast.
Alexei watched me eat. His eyes went from my plate to my body. Eventually, he blurted, “Is it trick? Are you hiding it under table?” Most of the time, I’d noticed, his English was pretty good, but just occasionally, when he was in a hurry, he’d mangle his grammar.
I swallowed my last mouthful, then looked down at the huge plate and my small form. “I have a lot of nervous energy,” I told him.
And just for a second, I saw a flicker at the corners of his mouth. It was gone again immediately, but I knew what I’d seen.
Alexei had nearly smiled.
I felt better when we’d eaten, pleasantly buzzing from caffeine and glowing from the carb rush. Alexei walked me back to the room, then said he was going out. “I need to call my boss,” he told me. “I need to find a payphone.”
“There’s one in the office,” I said, pointing.
“One that’s not here. But close.”
“I want to see how much trouble we’re in.”